Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

April 9, 2008
The Chapel of the Resurrection

Matthew 13.47-52

On this day in 1945, a young Lutheran pastor ascended a gallows at Flossenbürg Concentration camp in Germany and was hanged. This pastor was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a brilliant theologian and brave defender of the faith. The true tragedy of Bonhoeffer death is that Flossenbürg was just days away from being liberated by American military forces. And his death came just twenty-one days before Hitler’s suicide, and thus the end of the war.

Bonhoeffer is truly one of the greats of Christianity in the twentieth century and one of my personal heroes.

The message of Dietrich Bonhoeffer for us today is one of the most important messages we can receive. The question Bonhoeffer asks us is a vital one: what would YOU die for?

When we think about what Bonhoeffer did, it truly was a sacrifice. It would have been easier for him to have done what other pastors were doing in Germany at that time—just go along with the flow, follow the crowd, accept the government as it was and bide his time. It was life-threatening to stand up to the authority of the Nazi government in Germany at that time. But he did. He spoke out against Hitler. He proclaimed loudly his belief that Hitler was the anti-Christ. And he supported the assassination of Hitler. To do so was, of course, to be seen as unpatriotic, to be a traitor. And that is what he died as—as a traitor.

What’s even more amazing about Bonhoeffer is the fact that he had plenty of opportunities to leave Germany for good, and he did. He went to America and loved the U.S. But as things got worse in Germany, he made the decision to go back, knowing full well as he did so that he might die for his beliefs.

So, again, the question of Bonhoeffer to us is: what would you die for?

Of course, most of us would quickly say that we would lay down our lives for our families. But would we lay down our lives for our faith in Christ? Would we be willing to stand up and point our fingers at what we perceive to be the anti-Christ—that person who truly is the opposite of Christ?

The anti-Christ for Bonhoeffer was more than just a supernatural being. For him, the anti-Christ was that which is opposite of Christ. Where Christ came in love, the anti-Christ came in hatred. Where Christ came to save, the anti-Christ came to destroy. Where Christ came to give life, the anti-Christ came to bring death.

Could we—would we—stand up to and accuse the anti-Christ in our midst? I don’t know if I would have the guts or bravery to do so, though I hope so. It’s uncomfortable to even venture there in my thoughts.

But I hope that if the situation arose, I would have the strength to persevere even to the end as Bonhoeffer did. I hope that any of us, called as Christian, called to follow Christ even to the cross, would have the strength to persevere even to that last breath, even to the point in which we would have to go to that place Bonhoeffer did, slowly strangling to death from a noose in a concentration camp just within days of freedom.

To follow Christ to the cross, to give up our lives for Christ, we first of all have to have a strong faith. We have to have a faith that will sustain us even in that last moment of our lives. And we have to have a faith that gives us strength to recognize the anti-Christ among us and the strength to stand up and say “no” to the anti-Christ.

I will close with Bonhoeffer’s own words, words that still speak loud and clear to us as Christians even after sixty years:

“I believe that God can and will bring good out of evil, even out of the greatest evil. For that purpose he needs men who make the best use of everything. I believe that God will give us all the strength we need to help us to resist in all time of of distress. But he never gives it in advance, lest we should rely on ourselves and not on him alone. A faith such as this should allay all our fears for the future. I believe that even our mistakes and shortcoming are turned to good account, and that it is no harder for God to deal with them than with our supposedly good deeds. I believe that God is no timeless fate, but that he awaits for and answers sincere prayers and responsible actions.”

(Letters and Papers from Prison)

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