Why is Bonhoeffer even MORE relevant today?

We live in a world where God is no longer central to our culture.  We live in a world where angry voices sometimes make being a voice of peace much harder.  History shows that others have faced these challenges before. Their experience can help us to understand the role our faith has in a society that has gone far away from God.  This is the story of one of the great theologians of our time who faced just such challenges.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born on the 4th February 1906 in Breslau Germany into a middle-class family. The First World War saw the Bonhoeffers lose one son and another wounded. They suffered the privations of the Allied blockade and the treaty of Versailles for which Dietrich never forgave the allies. Dietrich was given the best education and it was a great surprise to his family when he chose to study theology.

 As Hitler’s power and persecution of the Jewish people grew in 1933, he spoke out on their behalf calling them “Worthy Citizens”.   This open opposition of the tide of hatred robbed him of a blossoming career.

It was perhaps unsurprising then that Dietrich saw Christianity as a faith that has a cost to its followers. In 1937 he wrote “The Cost of Discipleship” which spoke of, Cheap and Costly Grace. “Grace” can be defined as unconditional love toward a person who has done nothing to deserve it”. “Cheap Grace” essentially is grace where we know we are forgiven and carry on how we like, and it’s the grace without the following, grace without the discipleship. However, then he talks about the flip side, costly grace.

“Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life.

He then says “Costly Grace” may call us to do things we may feel unworthy of or unprepared at the time we are called. Our job is to follow the call.


“‘Discipleship is not limited to what you can comprehend – it must transcend all comprehension. Plunge into the deep waters beyond your own comprehension, and I will help you to comprehend even as I do. Bewilderment is the true comprehension. Not to know where you are going is the true knowledge. My comprehension transcends yours.”

One thing that makes this journey easier is that with Christ as our mediator we become one humanity.  This binding of us through Christ makes intercessionary prayer the most powerful thing we can do. The Christ that mediates and acts in us, exists and acts in our brothers and sisters.   

“However loving and sympathetic we try to be, however, sound our psychology, however frank and open our behaviour, we cannot penetrate the incognito of the other man, for there are no direct relationships, not even between soul and soul.

Christ stands between us, and we can only get into touch with our neighbours through him. That is why intercession is the most promising way to reach our neighbours, and corporate prayer offered in the name of Christ, the purest form of fellowship” (Take a look at Ephesians 2 and see how Paul explores the same theme of “One Humanity” mediated by Christ).

His explanation of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 shows that this fellowship extends beyond the tribe we belong too.  The first mistake Bonhoeffer thinks the lawyer made was to ask, ‘who is my neighbour?’   I think you can hear that question being asked today in our time, and of course, Bonhoeffer could hear that question in his time. Bonhoeffer’s response to this question is as follows.

We have literally no time to sit down and ask ourselves whether so-and-so is our neighbour or not. We must get into action and obey – we must behave like a neighbour to him. But perhaps this shocks you. Perhaps you still think you ought to think out beforehand and know what you ought to do. To that, there is only one answer. You can only know and think about it by actually doing it. You can only learn what obedience is by obeying. It is no use asking questions; for it is only through obedience that you come to learn the truth.

In simple terms, Bonhoeffer says that discipleship should always cost us something and change the way we behave.  That Christ is in all humanity, and that means we share in the suffering of Christ and of our fellow humans. That all of our fellow humans have Christ in them and as a result become our neighbours. That like Peter as he left his nets, this call and response should be immediate and without question, as should our love for our neighbour.

As Hitler’s power grew, he created “Reich Churches” which removed bibles and replaced them with Mein Kampf. In response to this Bonhoeffer helped create the illegal “Confessing Church” and became the leader of a seminary in Finkenwaldein.  Here he wrote “Life Together” that still influences Christian communities on what it means to live a life before God.

The major themes of this book are that Christian communities have been built to become a dwelling in which God lives.  Various ministries should be present in these communities, Meekness, Listening, and Helpfulness, Bearing one another’s Burden, Proclamation and Confession.  

At one point he escaped to America but felt he had to come back because he felt that he could not lead the church in Germany after the war if he had not tried to do so during it.   He was at arrested on a minor charge in 1943 and taken to Tagel Prison.   While in prison it became clear he was involved in the failed plot to assassinate Hitler. His correspondence became the posthumous “Letters and Papers from Prison”. 


In them, he wondered what a Christian’s role is in a Godless world where God isn’t needed for answers.   Where God is no longer “A Priori”, that is to say, a given, or an automatically assumed truth. How should Christians behave in a world where God isn’t used for guiding our ethics, science etc.

On July 18th 1944 he wrote to his friend Eberhard Bethge in response to this question

“The human being is called upon to share in God’s suffering at the hands of a godless world. Thus, we must really live in that godless world and not try to cover up or transfigure its godlessness somehow with religion.”

The conclusion he reached from this is that

“It is not a religious act that makes someone a Christian, but rather sharing in God’s suffering in the worldly life. That is “μετάνοια,” not thinking first of one’s own needs, questions, sins, and fears but allowing oneself to be pulled into walking the path that Jesus walks, into the messianic event, in which Isaiah. 53 is now being fulfilled!”

This is the relevance of Christ in a Godless world for Bonhoeffer. Humanity is unified by the Christ in all of us. “Religious” rites do not make us right with God. Our Lord wants our discipleship, our following. Our Lord suffers because his children suffer, and as we have the suffering Christ in us, we share his suffering.  The only resolution, therefore, is to love our neighbour and to know that everyone is our neighbour. We must do this openly and, in the world, not cloistered away, letting the world see, this is why we are as we are.

If all that has left, you thinking Bonhoeffer was some sort of “Superman” that we can neither aspire to nor learn from?  My last words are a poem he wrote shortly before his execution on the 9 April 1945.

Who am I?

They often tell me

I would step from my cell’s confinement

calmly, cheerfully, firmly,

like a squire from his country-house.

Who am I?
They often tell me

I would talk to my warders

freely and friendly and clearly,

as though it were mine to command.

Who am I?
They also tell me

I would bear the days of misfortune

equably, smilingly, proudly,

like one accustomed to win.

Am I then really all that which other men tell of?

Or am I only what I know of myself?

restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,

struggling for breath, as though hands were

compressing my throat,

yearning for colours, for flowers, for the voices of birds,

thirsting for words of kindness, for neighbourliness,

trembling in expectation of great events,

powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,

weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,

faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?

Who am I? This or 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.


We only have Bonhoeffer’s early work as he was murdered at age 39. 

I hope you learn to love him as much as I do.

Why does it hurt to be Christian?

In various places Jesus reminds us that he is in us, and we are in him.In fact Jesus is in every person born and unborn, been , present and will be. Therefore every person that has, is or will ever suffer is in Jesus right now, and this is why when we become Christian we lose the ability to ignore others suffering. The closer we draw through prayer the more impossible it becomes to do so.

Also it becomes clear that we lose patience with tribalism, nationalism, disunity, separatism, bigotry, etc. This is for the same reason, we are one humanity under Christ and cannot separate ourselves from the undivided whole that is the omniscient Christ.

My prayer as we end this year, is that we are all not so much undivided but a single spirit, a part of the Trinitarian whole that is made whole by the outrageous love of Jesus Christ. One humanity under God.


Midnight Mass Prayers 2018

Lord, we thank you for the gift of your son our saviour Jesus Christ
We thank you for saving us from our weakness and fallibility
We thank you for joining our story, to show us how to be close to you, to guide us, to lead us home
Lord, we thank you for your amazing unending grace, given through the selflessness of love

Lord help us to be your disciples and be more like you.
Help us follow the true light that is coming into the world this night
Help us to shine your light into even the worlds darkest places
Help us to show the world what it is to love and be loved
Help us to be your children, come to you as children on the night your child was given to us.

Help us follow the true light that is coming into the world this night
Help us to shine your light into even the worlds darkest places
Help us to show the world what it is to love and be loved
Help us to be your children, come to you as children on the night your child was given to us.

Lord as our families come together help us to be more loving to each other
Help us heal any rifts, make peace with our loved ones,
Help us to be that voice of peace, the wise voice the loving voice
Lord for all those that can’t be with the ones they love help them know your love
Help them know they are never alone because you are always with us.

Lord help all those that are working through uncertain times
Our leaders, our politicians, all those with hard decisions to make
Lord give them your wisdom, help them make wise caring choices.
Help our country and communities unite around them as we move forward

Lord help all our clergy here tonight and those that have followed your call to fresh challenges
Help us to help them and those that come to join us in the worship of you
Help us make our church a place for all to know your love
Help us build a place that gives your love, and welcomes all

Lord, we pray for our poor and our homeless
Help us to build a world where no one sleeps out on cold nights
Lord on the night where you were homeless
Help us to help others find their home, in the warm, with those they love
Help us to build a world where everyone has a home with you.

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Jesus for beginners (and those that need reminding)

As you walk through the main entrance of any church , look up and you will see a statue of a man suffering on a cross, look around and you will see him again and again. We hope one day you will meet him in all manner of ways, times and places.

jesus on a cross

If I might take a few minutes of your time, I would like to introduce you to the core character in Christianity.

The man you can see is our lord Jesus Christ the founder and perfecter of our faith, who endured that agony for you (Hebrews 12-2).  To the reader of this guide, please note he did that very specifically for YOU.

You may wonder how a man, who lived a long time ago, had you in mind, long before you were born. You see that man; Jesus of Nazareth is both man and God…

In Psalm 139 it says “In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed”.  That psalm says just how inescapable the God who made you is.  To truly separate you from God would be like trying to take the milk out of your tea, after it has been poured in. He said “He is in God, You are in Him and He is in you” (John 14:20).

The implications of him being a God and dying a horrible death for specifically you are quite clear. He let that happen to him, he chose that death. He wasn’t guilty of any crime that he had committed, he was paying for yours.    Peter who was one of his disciples said that he never sinned, he never told a lie (1 Peter 2:22).   So that’s an innocent man up there, who chose to die for you.

So why did he decide to do that, and why did he need to do that for you?
The why

The why? Because of love for you, a love that means he wants to be alongside, in you, around you, every step of the way. Not just in this life but for eternity.
Every sin large or small, every time we mess up, every time we hurt each other, are angry, or deceitful, every time we are unkind, uncaring, or just not caring enough.  That man is paying the price for all those moments so that you can join him one day in his kingdom.  Can you see how broken he has allowed himself to be?  How he has allowed himself to become the object of ridicule by those that don’t understand him, or know who he is? That is entirely consistent with who he was in his 33 years on earth.

In his mortal life he kept company with the marginalised, had those most reviled by society as his closest confidants.  He healed the lame from the poorest parts of his society, showed love to the people who society starved or threw stones at. He spoke to those that nobody would speak to. Indeed he often held those same people up as examples, templates etc.

Unforgivable would mean that you are beyond the reach of his love, and nobody is, because you are his creation, and you are in him and he is in you, right now.
He is naked because, the people who did that to him stripped him of everything, drew lots and sold his clothes, then on the way to being put on that cross they pushed a crown made of wicked thorns on his head.
They ridiculed him, and they laughed at him as he died slowly on the cross.

The crown was due to the fact they had come to the conclusion that this man thought he is the messiah, and the world couldn’t imagine that someone who is the messiah, both God and Man would let that happen.  But he did, and he does.   He had committed no crime, and went, willingly.   The crime he was paying for, the punishment he was making atonement for is yours and mine.

He does the same today. He loves you and me, despite any shortcoming you or society may think you or me, ever had or will have. Nobody is beyond his love and he accomplished that by being made as low as you see him on that cross.
The him and you

If you ask him into your life, he will make you the best “you”, you can ever be, he will also change you, and build you,  so that you can become that person, he will live every step, every moment of that journey.  He will forgive every stumble and spur you on again.

Your world will change, maybe only how you think about it, maybe in reality.  His constant love will transform you from the inside out; you can’t stay angry or bitter, or afraid, or scared, or jealous when being given such love, and support and a foundation for your life.

He does ask that you ask him, that you choose him, you have free will. Ask him into your life so that he can transform it by transforming you.  He asks that you believe his words and try to follow them, and he asks that you believe in things you cannot see, but can feel and interact with in your heart and through prayer and see in your life.

In return your life will be transformed by love.  Your life will be truly changed in every possible way for the better. We don’t do the prosperity gospel in this house, so don’t think your bank balance will explode, but your wealth will be in the joy and contentment, the end of searching for the next big thing, or following the herd.  Why, because you have found the biggest, best thing of all.  The things he will give are not destroyed by moths or rust, or indeed anything this world has to offer.

There’s loads of other stuff that he did that you may feel drawn to do,  help the oppressed (Matthew 6:1-34),  share your bread (Matthew 25:37-40),  show love to everyone (Matthew 22:34-40),  clothe the naked (Luke 6:29-30), feed the hungry (Matthew 25:37-40), never lie, let your yes be yes (Matthew 5:37),   don’t be greedy (Luke 12:15), don’t judge others(Matthew 7), etc.

But honestly all those things happen a lot easier with his help, and he helps you lots. Indeed you try willingly because you can see when you share his love, and help those he created he creates a new you, in you outside of you, all around you. He creates in you a joy at seeing these things, a new lens on the world, his lens.

This building is populated in the main by people that try and share that lens, they share his love, and wobble along fallibly trying to be like him, and follow him and they are part of the “body” of Christ. They are Christians, and they are as unique, as precious, as broken and wonderful as you.  The fellowship of that body of Christ is a wonderful, enabling, supporting, aspect of being with him.

Where is he?
This God is with you, alive and helping you right now, every second, every moment.  Not a God to punish, and judge, but to assist and care and help you come to him. Not a God shocked into anger by your sin, and unwilling to help. Not a God cowed by whatever your burden is, or whatever the world has burdened you with.
Not a God who wrote the instruction manual and wandered off.

Albeit, he is shown up on high on a dais in our churches, he with us and all his creation high or low, alongside lifting you up. Not up there, down here, a servant king right he in the mess and muck of life. Wherever it gets the most horrible, sinful, oppressed, messy, nasty, brutal, poor in whatever way you can be poor, angry, etc. That’s where this God is found.
There’s no place in your soul, he can’t lift up through love. His forgiveness becomes yours. You are forgiven, in turn, in time you will forgive.
This is a God who wanted to lift your burden from you 2000 years ago and he wants you to give it to him so that he can carry it. He wanted that SO badly he died to do just that.
An even more amazing thing is that although he is shown clearly dying up there on the cross, he isn’t dead. That is why I keep speaking in the present tense about a man clearly dying an agonising death?

He did die, on that cross, and they brought him down, and covered him with sheets and put him in a tomb and rolled a massive rock over that tomb. Three days after he had died, they looked in that tomb and the man that was dead had gone.

He then showed himself and spoke with his disciples, and when many people had seen him, spoken to him, even examined the wounds inflicted on his body, he rose to join his father in heaven.

The Father had sacrificed his Son on the cross, so that you can be with him today and forever. Jesus is that Son. Death has been defeated, love has conquered evil, your debt is paid and your life however lowly or broken, however wrong it has been or will be is loved by the man you see right up there.

Death will become an illusion, a stage, a transformation, a chance.  All the errors you or others have done in your life can be forgiven; you can start afresh, born again into a new you.

However, as I have said, the essential step in all of the above is asking.

How you ask him to help, is through prayer, he is waiting right now for you to make that prayer, and the second you do he will rush to help. Doesn’t matter where you are, or where you have been. He will rejoice, and bring you close, with a love that has no memory.

Billy Graham had the prayer for the moment that you decide to do this.
If you’re feeling ready sit yourself down in one of those pews, and maybe look up at the man suffering for you, waiting for you right now.  Then say words something like this…

Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow you as my Lord and Saviour. In Your Name.

 

Amen.
I pray that whoever reads this guide to who that man up their does just that.

Join me in the body of Christ. It’s wonderful.

 

References

 

Billy Graham “Sinners Prayer” Various Youtube recordings of him.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fTX9DctytUk

 

Biblical Quotations and References From

Holy Bible with Apocrypha, New Revised Standard Version [Anglicised edition) (Cambridge University Press 2007, (Reprinted 2015)