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Posts Tagged ‘Dietrich Bonhoeffer’

13 “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

In the 70s, symphony conductor and composer, Leonard Bernstein wrote a kind of an opera/musical called “Mass” which the story of the celebrant of a Roman Catholic Mass and his faith and loss of it, and restoration, told within the parts of the Christian Liturgy. .  The opening is “Simple Song”. Part of the song’s lyric has stuck with me now for years, “Sing like you like to sing; God loves all simple things. For God is the simplest of all” A simple man is a humble man.  Jesus said, Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.(St. Matthew 11).  God is the humblest of all, compared to the preening of his creation, man.  Man, wanting to be like God, will only say I am humble to impress someone.  Someone wrote, How odd of God to choose the Jews.  Only odd to man who thinks he’s god. He chose a people needing choosing, despite themselves, Israel.  He chose as His first disciples 3 fishermen. He began the Sermon on the Mount with beatitudes with the first Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.  His blessing is simple. For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly,     but the haughty he knows from afar. Psalm 138: 8 And before Sermon on the Mount,  the Lord simply called His first disciples.

One day Carl asked Jesus:
 

He called, the fishermen followed but it is in the Lord’s calling they followed, by His Word.   He baptized, we follow, all His Words from love your enemies to seek ye first the kingdom of God, coming to realize only by staying close to Him as He is to us, we are not straying. Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.  His last beatitude before today’s Gospel, Blessed are you when you are persecuted.  The message of His forgiveness will not be received well in self-sufficient, self-made, self-invented world that is Olympic in it’s ambitions. 

You are and you are, the salt of the earth, the light of the world. The Lord loves simple things, after all He created them.  We take salt and light for granted yet without salt and light there would be no life on the earth.  The first thing the Lord created was light.  He created salt to sustain life.   Salt and light are so simple.  You are the salt of the earth, the light the word:  these are plain declarative sentences.  They are not imperatives, You must be the salt of the earth, you must be the light of world.  There is nothing to achieve in our Lord’s declarative statements but everything to receive by faith in His call to us all.  It is you He redeemed to be salt and light and they are meant to be in the earth, here and now. It makes not sense to light a candle and put it under a basket!  Maybe we, as a mission, should not be hidden away here in the Piovano room here in the library. 

 Jesus is describing His Church, His own Body.  Salt is bitter and is so different from that which it preserves, seasons and yes, saves.  Light is so different from darkness so that we can see the way and yes, be saved.  The Apostle Paul really only had one mission strategy:  For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  We have tasted and seen that the Lord is good, so good that He died alone, shamed, bloody and naked on the cross to save us from even our selves.  So good, He rose again from the dead and gives us His Body and blood, taste and see the Lord is good, His mercy endures forever, as the psalmist prayed. The Cross is so different from the tasteless and dark world. If any pastor or minister in his preaching and sermons does not lead always to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, he’s not doing his job.  The apostle Paul said we preach Christ and Him crucified, present tense.  Jesus Christ is the present tense Savior for present tense sinners.   His Word pierces the darkness as to who He saves us to be:  the salt of the earth, the light of the world.  Our righteousness is to exceed that of the Pharisees. And, as Pr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer commented on this lesson:  “…the disciple had the advantage over the Pharisee in that his doing of the law is in fact perfect. How is such a thing possible? Because between the disciples and the law stands one who has perfectly fulfilled it, one with whom they live in communion. They are faced not with a law which has never yet been fulfilled, but with one whose demands have already been satisfied.” The righteousness it demands is already there, the righteousness of Jesus which submits to the cross because that is what the law demands.  Jesus Christ was born under it that in Him we have the righteousness that comes by faith, exceeding the law.  He deepens our righteousness into our very hearts and will as we will see next week. 

A few years back I saw an ad for this kind of hand-held olive wood cross with this ad copy, ““Shaped to comfortably fit into the palm of your hand as you pray and meditate, crafted to inspire you with its deep meaning in your faith.” The cross is no talisman. His Cross is not about fitting comfortably into the world but that we be comforted and fit into His hand, forgiven, loved before the foundations of the world. Pastors, congregations, have tried so many ways to make the church tasty to attract new members, or maybe consumers.  A comedian once quipped that when he came back to church, in addition to communion, they now have a salad bar.  Trying to be tasty, we become tasteless.  Our calling is not to use the salt but not to lose the savor of His grace, mercy and peace in our lives.  Our good works in our Monday through Saturday life will point not to our selves but to Him, which we won’t even know we are doing pointing to Him who is our beatitude, our righteousness and peace. His Cross is not fitting comfortably into the world but that we be comforted and fit into His hand, forgiven, loved before the foundations of the world and we will look different than the world, in Him we point to him, who bore the Cross, we preach Christ and Him crucified, a present-tense Savior for present tense sinners, forgiven.  I conclude with a portion of a sermon preached by Pr. Johann Gerhard:

The Lord  the Master,  dies instead of the servants

In place of the debtors, the Faithful One; 

The Physician dies for the good of the patient;

The Shepherd rescues His sheep,

The King dies for the sins of His subjects;

The Peace-maker for the warriors;

The Creator dies for His creation;

God Himself wins man’s salvation!

What now should the servant, the debtor,

the sick one, the sheep, the nation, the multitude do? What should the creatures, mankind, do?

In love extol his Redeemer!

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

 

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Lessons:

The Apocalypse of St. John the Divine 7: 2—17   Psalm 149 1 John 3: 1—3 St.Matthew 5: 1—12

Almighty and everlasting God,  You knit together Your faithful people of all times and places into one holy communion, the mystical body of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Grant us so to follow Your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living that, together with them, we may come to the unspeakable joys You have prepared for those who love You; through Jesus Christ, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

About All Saints’ Day: This feast is the most comprehensive of the days of commemoration, encompassing the entire scope of that great cloud of witnesses with which we are surrounded (Hebrews 12:1). It holds before the eyes of faith that great multitude which no man can number: all the saints of God in Christ—from every nation, race, culture, and language—who have come “out of the great tribulation … who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9, 14). As such, it sets before us the full height and depth and breadth and length of our dear Lord’s gracious salvation (Ephesians 3:17-19). It shares with Easter a celebration of the resurrection, since all those who have died with Christ Jesus have also been raised with Him (Romans 6:3-8). It shares with Pentecost a celebration of the ingathering of the entire Church catholic—in heaven and on earth, in all times and places—in the one Body of Christ, in the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Just as we have all been called to the one hope that belongs to our call, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:4-6). And the Feast of All Saints shares with the final Sundays of the Church Year an eschatological focus on the life everlasting and a confession that “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18). In all of these emphases, the purpose of this feast is to fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, that we might not grow weary or fainthearted (Hebrews 12:2-3).

Reflection:

“Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the door, and see all the people”

Some of you may remember the child’s rhyme about the Church above.  In The Large Catechism, Dr. Luther explains that when we think of “church”, we usually think of the church building, as “we are going to church”, but he points out that the only reason a sanctuary is called a “church”.  “But the house should not be called a church except for the single reason that the group of people assembles here.”  The people who assemble are the Church, the communion or the community, “the holy Christian Church” (Third Article of the Apostles Creed).  

The rhyme above could be redone:  “Here’s God’s House, here’s the steeple, open the door and see all God’s people.”  We have spent a lot of time of fussing over the church building, instead of concentrating on building up God’s people, His Church.  This is done by preaching, teaching, praying and administering Christ’s Word and Sacraments. As the Apostle Peter wrote:  “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious,  you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2: 4-5). 

Further, this building up of Christ’s holy people, His baptized saints, is not according to our building specs, plans and blueprints. We are being built, passive tense. In my cynical moments, I have redone the rhyme above, “Here’s the church, here’s the steeple, open the door and where’s all the people?”.  And sadly stats and surveys have been documenting the downward spiral of church attendance.  Well-meaning Christians cry out: “We’ve got to do something!”   Then come the ways to save the church.  We seen what happens when men and women build the church according to their best laid plans of mice and men: see the Mormons, see the feminist church, e.g. as “womanchurch”.  Those are the more obvious examples of not building according to God’s Word. Over the years, I have seen “models of ministry” paraded before pastors’ groups, and new programs like mega-church.  Remember harvest gold refrigerators, kulats, dickies, and the like?  We most likely want to forget them all! As I do all those programs that steered us away from God’s Word.

 Fads don’t build up His Church, only the labor of love of God’s Word in His saints by faith through His grace alone in the unity of the Holy Spirit.  Roman Catholic G. K. Chesterton wrote that the Church is the democracy of the dead, those saints before us have a vote.  This is what All Saints is also about.  When we gather for Holy Communion, the pastor will pray, “…with angels and archangels, AND ALL THE COMPANY OF HEAVEN…”, even with 2 or 3 gathered together, there are countless more!  The saints before us were built only by one way:  the Word of Law and Grace.  We are called to keep the faith with the dead, who live in Christ waiting together the day of the general resurrection.  

Yet, the saints labor and the saints who have died, “…from their labors rest” but who Thee by faith before the world, Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blest, Alleluia!”(#677, For All the Saints, Lutheran Service Book). I think we are entering ever darkening days, in which the little flock will be persecuted…but that’s how it’s been in times past.  As in hymn lyrice, the saints confessed Jesus Christ.  This is our calling from the Lord to His Church this day and every day, for every day in Christ is All Saints Day.  I close with this quote from Pr. Bonhoeffer’s sermon from 1933 in Berlin after the Germans under the Nazis voted in “the whore of Babylon” the “German Church” totally compatible with National Socialism, that  is the Nazi ideology.  

it is not we who build. He builds the church. No human being builds the church but Christ alone. Whoever intends to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it; for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it. We must confess-he builds. We must proclaim—he builds. We must pray to him-that he may build. We do not know his plan. ‘We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are times of collapse are for him the great timesof construction. It may be that from a human point of view great times for the church are actually times of demolition. It is a great comfort which Christ gives to his church: you confess, preach, bear witness to me, and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is my province.
Do what is given to you to do well and you have done enough. But do it well. Pay no heed to views and opinions, don’t ask for judgments, don’t always be calculating what will happen, don’t always be on the lookout for another refuge! Let the church remain the church! But church, confess, confess, confess! Christ alone is your Lord, from his grace alone can you live as you are. Christ builds.

And the gates of hell shall not prevail against you. Death, the greatest heir of everything that has existence, here meets its end. Close by the precipice of the valley of death, the church is founded, the church which confesses Christ as its life. The church possesses eternal life just where death seeks to take hold of it; and death seeks to take hold of it precisely because it possesses life. The Confessing Church is the eternal church because Christ protects it. Its eternity is not visible in this world. It is unhindered by the world. The waves pass right over it and sometimes it seems to be completely covered and lost. But the victory is its because Christ its Lord is by its side and he has overcome the world of death. Do not ask whether you can see the victory; believe in the victory and it is yours.

Thou wast their Rock, their Fortress, and their Might;
Thou, Lord, their Captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou, in the darkness drear, their one true Light.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

 Oh, may Thy soldiers, faithful, true and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old
And win with them the victor’s crown of gold.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

O blest communion, fellowship divine,
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

 

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“Jesus calls men, not to a new religion, but to life.”

Biographical Introduction:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born on Feb. 4, 1906, in Breslau, the sixth of eight children, along with his twin sister, Sabine.  His father Karl  was a leading professor of neurology and psychiatry; his mother was the granddaughter of a distinguished church historian. When Dietrich was 6, his family moved to Berlin. He was educated at the universities of Tübingen (1923-1924) and Berlin, where he was awarded a doctorate in 1927 at the age of only 21.  He surprised his family by his choice of theology and becoming a pastor as his vocation.

Early Career

Bonhoeffer’s doctoral dissertation, The Communion of Saints(1930), introduces some of his most characteristic emphases: a passionate concern that Christianity be a concrete reality within the real world of men; a wholly Christ-centered approach to theology, grounded entirely in the New Testament; and an intense preoccupation with the Church as “Christ existing as community.” (see 1 Corinthians 12:27)

After a year as curate of a German-speaking congregation in Barcelona, Spain (1928-1929), Bonhoeffer spent the academic year 1930-1931 in the United States as Sloane fellow at Union Theological Seminary. In fall 1931 he became a lecturer in theology at Berlin University, and his inaugural dissertation was published that year as Act and Being. Two collections of his lectures were later published: Creation and Fall (1937), an interpretation of chapters 1-3 of Genesis; and Christ the Center, published posthumously from student notes. The latter work foreshadows the central idea of his last writings–Christ’s whole being is His being-for-man, and His powerlessness and humiliation for man’s sake are the fullest disclosure of the power and majesty of God.

Resistance to Nazism

Bonhoeffer was one of the first German Protestants to see the demonic implications of Nazism. After Hitler came to power in 1933, Bonhoeffer helped organize the Pastors’ Emergency League, which became the nucleus of the Confessing Church of anti-Nazi German Protestants. While serving as minister to a German-speaking congregation in London (1933-1935), he sought support from international Christian leaders for the German Christians who were protesting Nazism.

In 1935 Bonhoeffer returned to Germany and founded a clandestine seminary to train pastors for the illegal anti-Nazi church. The seminary, located chiefly at Finkenwalde, continued despite Gestapo harassment until 1937. Bonhoeffer organized the seminary as a living workshop in Christian community and developed close relationships with his students. Out of Finkenwalde came The Cost of Discipleship (1937), a clarion call to active obedience to Christ based on the Sermon on the Mount, and Life Together (1939), a brief study of the nature of Christian community.

As war became increasingly inevitable, friends arranged an American lecture tour for Bonhoeffer with the hope that he would remain in the United States indefinitely. But only 6 weeks after his arrival in New York, he decided to return to Germany to suffer with his people.

Bonhoeffer became a member of the German resistance movement, convinced after much soul searching that only by working for Germany’s defeat could he help save his country. From 1940 to 1943 Bonhoeffer worked on a study of Christian ethics, which was grounded in the biblical Christ as the concrete unity between God and the world. The sections he completed were later published as Ethics (1949).

In January 1943 Bonhoeffer became engaged to Maria von Wedemeyer, a longtime acquaintance. In April, however, he was arrested; while incarcerated he wrote the correspondence that later appeared as Letters and Papers from Prison (1951). In these fragmentary but highly original writings he developed his earlier ideas into a highly positive evaluation of modern secular thought and life, and a strongly negative judgment on traditional religiosity.  These last writings had an inordinate influence on post-war liberal Protestantism.  Generally speaking, his two books, Cost of Discipleship and Life Together, are the tomes he is most remembered.  After the abortive attempt on Hitler’s life by the resistance (July 20, 1944), evidence came to light that incriminated Bonhoeffer, and he was hanged at Flossenbürg on April 9, 1945.

A Reflection:

During the Nazi years, the Nazis developed the “German Christian Church” which fused Nazism and Christianity, or more precisely:  the neo-paganism of the “blood and soil” mythology loved by the Nazis under the name of Christianity. (See:  2 Timothy 3:4-6

Two of the phrases used by the German Christians were  “practical Christianity” and “positive Christianity”.  In our time  so-called practical and positive Christianity is espoused  in many quarters today.  It is the grist of much Christian publishing.  These folks say that  such preaching should be about, for instance, “real life” and practical living, not  the real life we have in Christ Jesus, and most decidedly not the Cross and true repentance.  They say that this fills pews and sadly it does. I am not saying these folks are Nazis.  But the Old Adam does not want to die to sin, to live in Christ, but live and fluorish on his own terms.  Any Christianity which is a fusion with whatever nation and culture it is in, ‘German-Christian’, ‘American Christianity’ is a sell out. The true Church does not sell out because it has been bought for a price.  If Christianity and the Church is about moral uplift, a positive message and the like, then  it is like putting a band-aid on a corpse.  Our Lord faced our sin and death and died that we might live.  We also must so serve  His Word from Pulpit, Podium, Prayers and Sacrament in face of  the death and horrors of our times. As did Pr. Bonhoeffer.   No band-aids, only the Cross. (see  1 Corinthians 2:2Bonhoeffer knew that and by God’s hard-as-nails -grace, Pr. Bonhoeffer lived it with many others in the minority in the Truth which alone sets us free (see John 8:30-32). Christ is risen. –Pr. Schroeder

QUOTES FROM THE WRITINGS OF PASTOR BONHOEFFER

On Preaching in American Churches during Bonhoeffer’s Year at Union Seminary, NYC, 1930-1931:

As at Union Seminary…”Things are not much different in the church. The sermon has been reduced to parenthetical church remarks about newspaper events. As long as I’ve been here, I have heard only one sermon in which you could hear something like a genuine proclamation, and that was delivered by a negro (indeed, in general I’m increasingly discovering greater reli­gious power and originality in Negroes). One big question continually attracting my attention in view of these facts is whether one here really can still speak about Christianity … There’s no sense to expect the fruits where the Word really is no longer being preached. But then what becomes of Christianity per se?Quoted by Eric Metaxas in his biography: Bonhoeffer:  Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

On the Two Types of Love

“Human love is directed to the other person for his own sake, spiritual love loves him for Christ’s sake.”

“…spiritual love does not desire but rather serves, it loves an enemy as brother. It originates neither in the brother nor in the enemy but in Christ and His Word.  Human love can never understand spiritual love, for spiritual love is from above; it is something completely strange, new and incomprehensible to all earthly love.”

“…this spiritual love will speak to Christ about a brother more than to a brother about Christ.

We are bound together by faith, not by experience.From Life Together

 On Being Pious 

In matters of piety, the “I will” can cause the greatest harm…”

“God alone knows our good works; all we know is His good work.”

On Being a Pastor 

The Church does not need brilliant personalities but faithful servants of Jesus and the brethren.  Not in the former but in the latter is the lack.  The Church will place its confidence only in the simple servant of the Word of Jesus Christ because it knows that then it will be guided, not according to human wisdom and human conceit, but by the Word of the Good Shepherd.

The question of trust, which is so closely related to that of authority, is determined by the faithfulness with which a man serves Jesus Christ, never by the extraordinary talents he possesses.  Pastoral authority can be attained only by the servant of Jesus who seeks no power of his own, whom himself is a brother among brothers submitted to the authority of the WordFrom Life Together

 On Life Experience

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to thy word. It is very presumptuous and wrongheaded to think that a man has to become entangled deeply in the guilt of life in order to know life itself, and finally God.  We do not learn to know life and guilt from our own experience, but only from God’s judgment of mankind and his grace in the cross of Jesus Christ.

On “Das Fuhrer Prinzip”

“This Leader, deriving from the concentrated will of the people, now appears as longingly awaited by the people, the one who is to fulfill their capabilities and their potentialities. Thus the originally matter-of-fact idea of political authority has become the political, messianic concept of the Leader as we know it today. Into it there also streams all the religious thought of its adherents. Where the spirit of the people is a divine, metaphysical factor, the Leader who embodies this spirit has religious functions, and is I the proper sense the messiah. With his appearance the fulfillment of the last hope has dawned. With the kingdom which he must bring with him the eternal kingdom has already drawn near. Could one ally the religious attitude of the group towards its Leader in the youth movement with the pietistic ideal of community, the political, messianic idea of the leader would lie in the line of the ideal of a universal kingdom of God on earthas it was striven for in the religious movements summed up under the title ‘Enthusiasm’, and in the French Revolution, and later take up again and again.” (from a paper“Das Führer-Prinzip” (The Leader Principle) by Pr. Bonhoeffer, which he was going to deliver on the radio in 1933 in Berlin but twenty minutes into the talk, he was cut off)

 On Marriage 

In your love you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind. Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than some­thing personal – it is a status, an office. Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man. As you first gave the ring to one another and have now received it a second time from the hand of the pastor, so love comes from you, but marriage from above, from God. As high as God is above man, so high are the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of marriage above the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of love. It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.

From “A Wedding Sermon from a Prison Cell”, May 1943, Letters and Papers from Prison

 On Confession and Absolution

In confession the break-through to community takes place. Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person the more destructive will be the power of sin over him,  and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of the unexpressed it poisons the whole being of a person. This can happen even in the midst of a pious community. In confession the light of the Gospel breaks into the darkness and seclusion of the heart.  The sin must be brought into the light. The unexpressed must be openly spoken and acknowledged. All that is secret and hidden is made manifest. It is a hard struggle until the sin is openly admitted. But God breaks gates of brass bars of iron (Ps. 107: 16).From Life Together

 On Building up the Church 

“It is not we who build. [Christ] builds the church. No man builds the church but Christ alone. Whoever is minded to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it; for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it. We must confess—he builds. We must proclaim—he builds. We must pray to him—that he may build.  We do not know his plan. We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are times of collapse are for him the great times of construction. It may be that the times which from a human point of view are great times for the church are times when it is pulled down.  It is a great comfort which Christ gives to his church: you confess…, bear witness to me and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is my province. Do what is given to you to do well and you have done enough. But do it well. Pay no heed to views and opinions. Don’t ask for judgments. Don’t always be calculating what will happen. Don’t always be on the lookout for another refuge! Church, stay a church! But church, confess, confess, confess! Christ alone is your Lord; from his grace alone can you live as you are. Christ builds” (No Rusty Swords, [New York: Harper and Row, 1965] 216-217 On the Cross and the Bible

“Either I determine the place in which I will find God, or I allow God to determine the place where He will be found. If it is I who say where God will be, I will always find there a God who in some way corresponds to me, is agreeable to me, fits in with my nature. But if it is God who says where he will be, then that will truly be a place which at first is not agreeable to me at all, which does not fit so well with me. That place is the cross of Christ. And whoever will find God there must draw near to the cross in the manner which the Sermon on the Mount requires. That does not correspond to our nature at all; it is, in fact, completely contrary to it. But this is the message of the Bible, not only the New Testament but also the Old. (Is. 53!) In any case, Jesus and Paul understand it in this way — that the cross of Jesus fulfills the Scriptures of the Old Testament. The entire Bible, then, is the Word in which God allows himself to be found by us. Not a place which is agreeable to us or makes sense to us a priori, but instead a place which is strange to us and contrary to our nature. Yet, the very place in which God has decided to meet us.” From Meditating on the Word 

On the Cross and the Bible 

“God is completely other than the so-called eternal verities.  Theirs is an eternity made up of our own thoughts and wishes. But God’s Word begins by showing us the cross. And it is to the cross, to death and judgment before God, that our ways and thoughts (even the ‘eternal’ ones) all lead.  Does this perspective somehow make it understandable to you that I do not want to give up the Bible as this strange Word of God at any point, that I intend with all my powers to ask what God wants to say to us here?  Any other place outside the Bible has become too uncertain for me.  I fear that I will only encounter a divine double of myself there.” Ibid

 

From Pr. Bonhoeffer’s Poem, “Who am I?”, the last stanzas (Letters and Papers from Prison):  

“Whom am I?  This of the other?

Am I one person today, and tomorrow another?

Am I both at once?  A hypocrite before others,

And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?

Or is something within me still like a beaten army,

Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I?  They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.

Whoever I am, thou knowest, O God, I am Thine.”

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The Gospel for Ash Wednesday is usually St. Matthew  6: 1—6,   16—21 .  This is Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount preaching on fasting, almsgiving praying.  The refrain is:  “And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”  This Word suggests both solitude and promise, the Lord’s promise to reward us.  Reward us with what?  I think Himself and not the acclamation of the world for our piety, for “then we have our reward”.  Solitude is key.

“Oh, you’re pouring?  Yes, I’ll have another cup of coffee” Then holding out the cup in hand, it moves and so risking 2nd degree burns.  “Please, put the cup down…thanks”.  Resting on  a sure foundation so the host can fill your cup.  A moving cup can not be filled. The Lord will fill us by His Word but like a cup we need to be still for the Lord to fill, to clean the cup of the stain of sin and fill us with His Word, Himself, His forgiveness, the blood of the new testament.  “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46: 10). The Gospel writers tell us that Jesus prayed and so stayed the course.  He needed to be still to hear His Father’s will.  So us.   Still, alone, with the Lord He will reward us, in secret and yet not alone.  During the day, we all need to be monks, alone with Him alone. Then His Word, stable and sure like a table, like an altar’ so  that the fragile coffee cup is steadfast, resting in Him alone, He can fill us.  The hunger in our stomach to remind us the hunger in our soul that only the Lord can fill, the emptiness of our neighbor that our love in Christ can fill, the fullness of prayer to the Lord who prays for His Church.

Alone but with the Church, His Body, our brothers and sisters in the Lord, each one of us crucial.  Pr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer makes this so clear in Life Together:

Is the invisible presence of the Christian fellowship a reality and a help to the individual? Do the intercessions of others carry him through the day? Is the Word of God close to him as a comfort and a strength? Or does he misuse his aloneness contrary to the fellowship, the Word, and the prayer? The individual must realize that his hours of aloneness react upon the community. In his solitude he can sunder and besmirch the fellowship, or he can strengthen and hallow it. Every act of self-control of the Christian is also a service to the fellowship. On the other hand, there is no sin in thought, word, or deed, no matter how personal or secret, that does not inflict injury upon the whole fellowship. We are members of a body, not only when we choose to be, but in our whole existence. Every member serves the whole body, either to its health or to its destruction. This is no mere theory; it is a spiritual reality.

We do not go to ‘church’, we go as the Church, Christ’s Body.  As Pr. Bonhoeffer makes plain, we are not alone even in secret, but are ever walking in Thy sight, O Lord and with His brothers and sisters in His Church.  This is seen by God so His love may be seen by many in the world in the preaching and teaching of His Word.

Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word.                                                    (Martin Luther)

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TEXT: Matt. 16:13-18
If it were left to us, we would rather avoid the decisions which are now forced upon us; if it were left to us, we would rather not allow ourselves to be caught up in this church struggle; if it were left to us, we would rather not have to insist upon the rightness of our cause and we would so willingly avoid the terrible danger of exalting ourselves over others; if it were left to us, we would retire today rather  than tomorrow into private life and leave all the struggle and the pride to others. And yet-thank God-it has not been left to us.

Instead, in God’s wisdom, everything is going exactly as we would rather not have it go. We are called upon to make a decision from which we cannot escape. We must be content, wherever we are, to face the accusation of being self-righteous, to be suspected of acting and speaking as though we were proud and superior to others. Nothing shall be made easy for us. We are confronted by a decision, and a difference of opinion. ‘For this reason, if we are honest with ourselves, we will not try to disguise the true meaning of the church election today. In the midst of the creakings and groanings of a crumbling and tottering church structure, which has been shaken to its very foundations, we hear in this text the promise of the eternal church, against which the gates of hell shall not prevail; of the church founded on a rock, Christ has built and which he continues to build throughout all time.

Where is this church? Where do we find it? Where do we hear its voice? Come all you who ask in seriousness, all you who are abandoned and left alone, we will go back to the Holy Scriptures, we will go and look for the church together. Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.

Jesus went out into a deserted place with his disciples, close to the edge of the pagan lands, and there he was alone with them. This is the place where for the first time he promises them the legacy of his church. Not in the midst of the people, not at the visible peak of his popularity; but in a distant and unfrequented spot, far from the orthodox scribes and pharisees, far from the crowds who on Palm Sunday would cry out “Hosanna” and on Good Friday, “Crucify him,” he speaks to his disciples of the mystery and the future of his church. He obviously believed that this church could not be
built in the first place on the scribes, the priests, or the masses; but that only this tiny group of disciples, who followed him, was called to this work. And clearly he did not think that Jerusalem, the city of the Temple and the center of the life of the people, was the right place for this, buthe goes out into the wilderness, where he could not hope that his preaching would achieve any eternal, visible effectiveness. And last of all he does not consider that any of the great feast days would have been suitable time to speak of his church, but rather he promises this church in the face of death, immediately before he tells of his coming passion for the first time. The church of the tiny flock, the church out in the wilderness, the church in the face of death–something like this must be meant.
Jesus himself puts the decisive question, for which the disciples had been waiting: “Who do people say that the Son of man is?” Answer: “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Opinions, nothing but opinions; one could extend this list of opinions as much as one wanted. . . some say you are a great man, some say you are an idealist, some say you are a religious genius, some say you are a great champion and hero, who will lead us to victory and greatness. Opinions, more or less serious opinions– but Jesus does not want to build his church on opinions. And so he addresses himself directly to his disciples: “But who do you say that I am?” In this inevitable confrontation with Christ there can be no “perhaps” or “some say,” no opinions but only silence or the answer which Peter gives now: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living: God.”

Here in the midst of human opinions and views, something quite new suddenly becomes visible. Here God’s name is named, here the eternal is pronounced, here the mystery is recognized. Here is no longer human opinion, but precisely the opposite, here is divine revelation and confession of faith. “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”

What is the difference between Peter and the others? Is he of such heroic nature that he towers over the others? He is not. Is he endowed with such unheard-of strength of character?  He is not. Is he gifted with unshakable loyalty? He is not. Peter is nothing, nothing but a person confessing his faith, a person who has been confronted by Christ and who has recognized Christ, and who now confesses his faith in him, and this confessing Peter is called the rock on which Christ will build his church.  Peter’s church–that
means the church of rock, the church of the confession of Christ. Peter’s church, that does not mean a church of opinions and views, but the church of the revelation; not a church in which what “people say” is talked about but the church in which Peter’s confession is made anew and passed on; the church which has no other purpose in song, prayer, preaching, and action than to pass on its confession of faith; the church which is always founded on rock as long as it remains within these limits, but which turns into a
house built on sand, which is blown away by the wind, as soon as it is foolhardy enough to think that it may depart from or even for a moment neglect this purpose.

But Peter’s church-this is not something which one can say with untroubled pride. Peter, the confessing, believing disciple, Peter denied his Lord on the same night as Judas betrayed him; in that night he stood at the fire and felt ashamed when Jesus stood before the high priest; he is the man of little faith, the timid man who sinks into the sea; Peter is the disciple whom Jesus threatened: “Get thee behind me Satan”; it is he who later was again and again overcome by weakness, who again and again denied and fell, a
weak, vacillating man, given over to the whim of the moment. Peter’s church, that is the church which shares these weaknesses, the church which itself again and again denies and falls, the unfaithful, fainthearted, timid church which again neglects its charge and looks to the world and its opinions.
Peter’s church, that is the church of all those who are ashamed of theirLord when they should stand firm confessing him.

But Peter is also the man of whom we read: “He went- out and wept bitterly.” Of Judas, who also denied the Lord, we read: “He went out and hanged himself.” That is the difference. Peter went out and wept bitterly. Peter’s church is not only the church which confesses its faith, nor only the church which denies its Lord; it is the church which can still weep. “By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion” (Ps.137:1). This is the church; for what does this weeping mean other than that one has found the way back, than that one is on the way home, than that onehas become the prodigal son who falls to his knees weeping before his father?  Peter’s church is the church with that godly sadness which leads to joy.

It does indeed seem very uncertain ground to build on, doesn’t it? And yet it is bedrock, for this Peter, this trembling reed, is called by God, caught by God, held by God.  “You are Peter,” we all are Peter; not the Pope, as the ‘Roman Catholics would have it; not this person or that, but all of us, who simply live from our confession of faith in Christ, as the timid,faithless, fainthearted, and yet who live as people sustained by God.

But it is not we who build. He builds the church. No human being builds the church but Christ alone. Whoever intends to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it; for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it. We must confess-he builds. We must proclaim—he builds. We must pray to him-that he may build. We do not know his plan. ‘We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are times of collapse are for him the great timesof construction. It may be that from a human point of view great times for the church are actually times of demolition. It is a great comfort which Christ gives to his church: you confess, preach, bear witness to me, and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is my province.
Do what is given to you to do well and you have done enough. But do it well. Pay no heed to views and opinions, don’t ask for judgments, don’t always be calculating what will happen, don’t always be on the lookout for another refuge! Let the church remain the church! But church, confess, confess, confess! Christ alone is your Lord, from his grace alone can you live as you are. Christ builds.

And the gates of hell shall not prevail against you. Death, the greatest heir of everything that has existence, here meets its end. Close by the precipice of the valley of death, the church is founded, the church which confesses Christ as its life. The church possesses eternal life just where death seeks to take hold of it; and death seeks to take hold of it precisely because it possesses life. The Confessing Church is the eternal church because Christ protects it. Its eternity is not visible in this world. It is unhindered by the world. The waves pass right over it and sometimes it seems to be completely covered and lost. But the victory is its because Christ its Lord is by its side and he has overcome the world of death. Do not ask whether you can see the victory; believe in the victory and it is yours.

In huge capital letters our text is etched into the dome of the great church of St. Peter’s, the papal church in Rome. Proudly this church points to its eternity, to its visible victory over the world, across the centuries. Such splendor, which even our Lord did not desire or bear, is denied to us. And yet a splendor which is immeasurably greater than this splendor in the world, is assured to us. Whether the band of believers is great or small, low or high, weak or strong, if it confesses Christ the victory is assured
to them, in eternity.

Fear not, little flock, for it is my Father’s pleasure to give you the kingdom. Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. The city ofGod is built on a sure foundation. Amen.

From:  No Rusty Swords, Fontana, 1977
pg.  213-217

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“Jesus calls men, not to a new religion, but to life.

Biographical Introduction:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born on Feb. 4, 1906, in Breslau, the sixth of eight children, along with his twin sister, Sabine.  His father Karl  was a leading professor of neurology and psychiatry; his mother was the granddaughter of a distinguished church historian. When Dietrich was 6, his family moved to Berlin. He was educated at the universities of Tübingen (1923-1924) and Berlin, where he was awarded a doctorate in 1927 at the age of only 21.  He surprised his family by his choice of theology and becoming a pastor as his vocation.

Early Career

Bonhoeffer’s doctoral dissertation, The Communion of Saints(1930), introduces some of his most characteristic emphases: a passionate concern that Christianity be a concrete reality within the real world of men; a wholly Christ-centered approach to theology, grounded entirely in the New Testament; and an intense preoccupation with the Church as “Christ existing as community.” (see 1 Corinthians 12:27)

After a year as curate of a German-speaking congregation in Barcelona, Spain (1928-1929), Bonhoeffer spent the academic year 1930-1931 in the United States as Sloane fellow at Union Theological Seminary. In fall 1931 he became a lecturer in theology at Berlin University, and his inaugural dissertation was published that year as Act and Being. Two collections of his lectures were later published: Creation and Fall (1937), an interpretation of chapters 1-3 of Genesis; and Christ the Center, published posthumously from student notes. The latter work foreshadows the central idea of his last writings–Christ’s whole being is His being-for-man, and His powerlessness and humiliation for man’s sake are the fullest disclosure of the power and majesty of God.

Resistance to Nazism

Bonhoeffer was one of the first German Protestants to see the demonic implications of Nazism. After Hitler came to power in 1933, Bonhoeffer helped organize the Pastors’ Emergency League, which became the nucleus of the Confessing Church of anti-Nazi German Protestants. While serving as minister to a German-speaking congregation in London (1933-1935), he sought support from international Christian leaders for the German Christians who were protesting Nazism.

In 1935 Bonhoeffer returned to Germany and founded a clandestine seminary to train pastors for the illegal anti-Nazi church. The seminary, located chiefly at Finkenwalde, continued despite Gestapo harassment until 1937. Bonhoeffer organized the seminary as a living workshop in Christian community and developed close relationships with his students. Out of Finkenwalde came The Cost of Discipleship (1937), a clarion call to active obedience to Christ based on the Sermon on the Mount, and Life Together (1939), a brief study of the nature of Christian community.

As war became increasingly inevitable, friends arranged an American lecture tour for Bonhoeffer with the hope that he would remain in the United States indefinitely. But only 6 weeks after his arrival in New York, he decided to return to Germany to suffer with his people.

Bonhoeffer became a member of the German resistance movement, convinced after much soul searching that only by working for Germany’s defeat could he help save his country. From 1940 to 1943 Bonhoeffer worked on a study of Christian ethics, which was grounded in the biblical Christ as the concrete unity between God and the world. The sections he completed were later published as Ethics (1949).

In January 1943 Bonhoeffer became engaged to Maria von Wedemeyer, a longtime acquaintance. In April, however, he was arrested; while incarcerated he wrote the correspondence that later appeared as Letters and Papers from Prison (1951). In these fragmentary but highly original writings he developed his earlier ideas into a highly positive evaluation of modern secular thought and life, and a strongly negative judgment on traditional religiosity.  These last writings had an inordinate influence on post-war liberal Protestantism.  Generally speaking, his two books, Cost of Discipleship and Life Together, are the tomes he is most remembered.  After the abortive attempt on Hitler’s life by the resistance (July 20, 1944), evidence came to light that incriminated Bonhoeffer, and he was hanged at Flossenbürg on April 9, 1945.

A Brief Reflection:

I am currently reading Eric Metaxas’ 2010 Biography:  Bonhoeffer:  Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. I find this bio edifying.  During the Nazi years, the Nazis developed the “German Christian Church” which fused Nazism and Christianity, or more precisely:  the neo-paganism of the “blood and soil” mythology loved by the Nazis under the name of Christianity. (See:  2 Timothy 3:4-6) Two of the phrases used by the German Christians were  “practical Christianity” and “positive Christianity”.  At the risk of using the “N” word, Nazism, as in political discourse:  so-called practical and positive Christianity espoused  in many quarters today and is the grist of much Christian publishing and even given those titles.  These folks say that  such preaching should be about, for instance, “real life” and practical living, not  the real life we have in Christ Jesus, and most decidedly not the Cross and true repentance.  They say that this fills pews and sadly it does. I am not saying these folks are Nazis.  But the Old Adam does not want to die but live and fluorish.  So any Christianity, liberal or conservative, which says that the Lord’s call is not to repentance, but evil/sin is some “them” out there (for the Nazis it was Communists, for socialists its capitalists, etc. etc.), the Old Adam is left untouched and loves it.  If Christianity and the Church is about moral uplift, a positive message and the like, then  it is like putting a band-aid on a corpse.  Our Lord faced our sin and death and died that we might live.  We also must so serve in His Word from Pulpit, Podium, Prayers and Sacrament in face of  the death and horrors of our times.  No band-aids, only the Cross. (see  1 Corinthians 2:2) Bonhoeffer knew that and by God’s hard as nails grace, lived it with many others in the minority in the Truth which alone sets us free (see John 8:30-32).–Pr. Schroeder

QUOTES FROM THE WRITINGS OF PASTOR BONHOEFFER

On Preaching in American Churches during Bonhoeffer’s Year at Union Seminary, NYC, 1930-1931

As at Union Seminary…”Things are not much different in the church. The sermon has been reduced to parenthetical church remarks about newspaper events. As long as I’ve been here, I have heard only one sermon in which you could hear something like a genuine proclamation, and that was delivered by a negro (indeed, in general I’m increasingly discovering greater reli­gious power and originality in Negroes). One big question continually attracting my attention in view of these facts is whether one here really can still speak about Christianity … There’s no sense to expect the fruits where the Word really is no longer being preached. But then what becomes of Christianity per se?” Bonhoeffer:  Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas

On the Two Types of Love

“Human love is directed to the other person for his own sake, spiritual love loves him for Christ’s sake.”

“…spiritual love does not desire but rather serves, it loves an enemy as brother. It originates neither in the brother nor in the enemy but in Christ and His Word.  Human love can never understand spiritual love, for spiritual love is from above; it is something completely strange, new and incomprehensible to all earthly love.”

“…this spiritual love will speak to Christ about a brother more than to a brother about Christ.”

“We are bound together by faith, not by experience.”

From Life Together

On Being Pious

In matters of piety, the “I will” can cause the greatest harm…”

“God alone knows our good works; all we know is His good work.”

On Being a Pastor

The Church does not need brilliant personalities but faithful servants of Jesus and the brethren.  Not in the former but in the latter is the lack.  The Church will place its confidence only in the simple servant of the Word of Jesus Christ because it knows that then it will be guided, not according to human wisdom and human conceit, but by the Word of the Good Shepherd.

The question of trust, which is so closely related to that of authority, is determined by the faithfulness with which a man serves Jesus Christ, never by the extraordinary talents he possesses.  Pastoral authority can be attained only by the servant of Jesus who seeks no power of his own, whom himself is a brother among brothers submitted to the authority of the Word.

From Life Together

On Life Experience

How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to thy word. It is very presumptuous and wrongheaded to think that a man has to become entangled deeply in the guilt of life in order to know life itself, and finally God.  We do not learn to know life and guilt from our own experience, but only from God’s judgment of mankind and his grace in the cross of Jesus Christ.”

On Marriage

In your love you see only the heaven of your own happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind. Your love is your own private possession, but marriage is more than some­thing personal – it is a status, an office. Just as it is the crown, and not merely the will to rule, that makes the king, so it is marriage, and not merely your love for each other, that joins you together in the sight of God and man. As you first gave the ring to one another and have now received it a second time from the hand of the pastor, so love comes from you, but marriage from above, from God. As high as God is above man, so high are the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of marriage above the sanctity, the rights, and the promise of love. It is not your love that sustains the marriage, but from now on, the marriage that sustains your love.

From “A Wedding Sermon from a Prison Cell”, May 1943, Letters and Papers from Prison

On Confession and Absolution

In confession the break-through to community takes place. Sin demands to have a man by himself. It withdraws him from the community. The more isolated a person the more destructive will be the power of sin over him,  and the more deeply he becomes involved in it, the more disastrous is his isolation. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of the unexpressed it poisons the whole being of a person. This can happen even in the midst of a pious community. In confession the light of the Gospel breaks into the darkness and seclusion of the heart.  The sin must be brought into the light. The unexpressed must be openly spoken and acknowledged. All that is secret and hidden is made manifest. It is a hard struggle until the sin is openly admitted. But God breaks gates of brass bars of iron (Ps. 107: 16).

From Life Together

On Building up the Church

“It is not we who build. [Christ] builds the church. No man builds the church but Christ alone. Whoever is minded to build the church is surely well on the way to destroying it; for he will build a temple to idols without wishing or knowing it. We must confess—he builds. We must proclaim—he builds. We must pray to him—that he may build.  We do not know his plan. We cannot see whether he is building or pulling down. It may be that the times which by human standards are times of collapse are for him the great times of construction. It may be that the times which from a human point of view are great times for the church are times when it is pulled down.  It is a great comfort which Christ gives to his church: you confess…, bear witness to me and I alone will build where it pleases me. Do not meddle in what is my province. Do what is given to you to do well and you have done enough. But do it well. Pay no heed to views and opinions. Don’t ask for judgments. Don’t always be calculating what will happen. Don’t always be on the lookout for another refuge! Church, stay a church! But church, confess, confess, confess! Christ alone is your Lord; from his grace alone can you live as you are. Christ builds” (No Rusty Swords, [New York: Harper and Row, 1965] 216-217 On the Cross and the Bible

“Either I determine the place in which I will find God, or I allow God to determine the place where He will be found. If it is I who say where God will be, I will always find there a God who in some way corresponds to me, is agreeable to me, fits in with my nature. But if it is God who says where he will be, then that will truly be a place which at first is not agreeable to me at all, which does not fit so well with me. That place is the cross of Christ. And whoever will find God there must draw near to the cross in the manner which the Sermon on the Mount requires. That does not correspond to our nature at all; it is, in fact, completely contrary to it. But this is the message of the Bible, not only the New Testament but also the Old. (Is. 53!) In any case, Jesus and Paul understand it in this way — that the cross of Jesus fulfills the Scriptures of the Old Testament. The entire Bible, then, is the Word in which God allows himself to be found by us. Not a place which is agreeable to us or makes sense to us a priori, but instead a place which is strange to us and contrary to our nature. Yet, the very place in which God has decided to meet us.”

From Meditating on the Word

On the Cross and the Bible

“God is completely other than the so-called eternal verities.  Theirs is an eternity made up of our own thoughts and wishes. But God’s Word begins by showing us the cross. And it is to the cross, to death and judgment before God, that our ways and thoughts (even the ‘eternal’ ones) all lead.  Does this perspective somehow make it understandable to you that I do not want to give up the Bible as this strange Word of God at any point, that I intend with all my powers to ask what God wants to say to us here?  Any other place outside the Bible has become too uncertain for me.  I fear that I will only encounter a divine double of myself there.”

Ibid

From Pr. Bonhoeffer’s Poem, “Who am I?”, the last stanzas (Letters and Papers from Prison)

“Whom am I?  This of the other?

Am I one person today, and tomorrow another?

Am I both at once?  A hypocrite before others,

And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?

Or is something within me still like a beaten army,

Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I?  They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.

Whoever I am, thou knowest, O God, I am Thine.”

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