the good Reverend Larry Laskie at yesterday's celebration of his 50 years of ministry.
As I listened to folks speak yesterday at a celebration of a friend’s 50 years of ordination as a Christian pastor, I squirmed in dissatisfaction. It wasn’t that they spoke foolishly or inaccurately, but it was – it was just – it was that they didn’t seem to understand what an extraordinary accomplishment this was.
by Charlie Leck
by Charlie Leck
It was a wonderful service of celebration in that little Iowa town yesterday. The pastor of the church was being recognized for the 50 years of service as a Christian pastor. All sorts of wonderful things were said about him for this accomplishment. Yet…
Not once did I hear the word “disciple” or “discipleship!” It was a gargantuan omission. Here’s how I would have said it….
It was about 52 or 53 years ago that Larry – Reverend Laskie – and I took together a course in Christian Ethics that was led by a brilliant young professor who would have an enormous impact on both of our lives. During that course, we were assigned the reading of a book that would have a very deep and lasting impact on my life as a Christian – and, I think, on Larry’s also. It was a book by – when I say his name I find myself needing to do so reverently and with great admiration and love – it was a book by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Doctor Bonhoeffer was born in Breslau, Germany, in early 1906.
At the age of 14, young Dietrich began to study religion and theology in a rather serious way (not as we know confirmation youngsters study today). At the age of 17, Dietrich entered Tübingen University. The following year he transferred to the University of Berlin. There, he became familiar with the works of the great Biblical theologian Karl Barth.
So that what I am saying this morning will be particularly clear, I must add that Dietrich also spent a year of study – 1930 – at Union Theological Seminary in New York City.
But, let us jump over a number of years to a time when all of Dietrich’s learning and beliefs would be tested to the ultimate degree. Dietrich was a pastor and theologian in Germany when Adolph Hitler rose to power, installed as chancellor of that great nation in 1933. It was while in New York City that Dietrich began to tell Americans about the great danger that was possible if Adolph Hitler gained ultimate power in Germany. He sent loud and clear signals.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was one of the first to recognize the great dangers that Hitler posed to the nation and to all of Europe; and he clearly and openly declared himself an adversary of the great leader, denouncing the political system that gave such authority to a single person.
Again, let me jump ahead, so I can make my point about Reverend Laskie. Bonhoeffer became an announced and very public opponent of the cruelty and evil that composed Adolph Hitler. Dietrich was very much a part of one coalition that attempted to assassinate Hitler. The young pastor and theologian paid the ultimate cost for that. In 1944 Bonhoeffer was imprisoned as a declared enemy of the Third Reich. From prison, Dietrich continued to write about the responsibilities of the Christian in times of evil. In 1945, only days before American forces sprung open the prison where he resided, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed as an enemy of Hitler’s own evil dreams. As he was taken away from the other prisoners, on the way to his execution, he turned to one of them – a friend – and whispered: “This is the end! For me, the beginning of life!”
The life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and reading the books he wrote was a major part of our education in seminary.
Here then is what he wrote in his book, The Cost of Discipleship, and it is this that frames how enormous are the achievements of the Reverend Larry Laskie:
“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die… Suffering, then, and death is the badge of true discipleship.”
Discipleship! Larry Laskie was called to be a disciple of our Lord, Jesus Christ; and when the Lord bids a man “come,” he is asking him to put all else aside and to follow in his footsteps –even to the cross. Among Christians, there is no greater calling and the timid ought step aside.
Bonhoeffer liked to distinguish between “cheap grace” and “costly grace!” Cheap grace is grace without a price – without cost! Costly grace requires paying a price and sacrificing. Less precious money! Less comfort! Less time with the family! Less fame and notoriety! Less praise!
“Follow me,” Jesus said to those who were willing to be disciples. “Follow me!” And the way leads to the cross and to all the pain attending Jesus and the disciples there; but it also leads to the resurrection and the joy and wonder of new life.
Larry Laskie, at his ordination, became more than a pastor, priest and minister. He became a disciple of Christ and that led him to a difficult passage. The now famous hike over the Appalachian Trail that is talked of with such admiration is nothing compared to the trail that the followers of Jesus Christ take. When Jesus came to those fishermen by the sea and he called them to follow him, it required that they lay down all the tools of their normal life – all that gave them comfort and a means – to go and follow Jesus along the dusty, steep trails all through Galilee and, eventually, to the hillside at Golgotha, outside Jerusalem.
Larry Laskie took the vow of discipleship at his ordination and no vow is to be more honored and praised. It is a difficult and trying path that he walked, following his Lord, but the rewards, which most people cannot understand, are remarkable and fulfilling.
This man – this classmate – this dear friend heard the call to discipleship and he was willing to pay the cost. And I am as proud of him today as one could possibly be. And on behalf of him who called Larry to follow, I give him earnest and deeply sincere thanks from all the Christian world!
I've written a number of times here about Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Here are some other blogs about him...
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