Saturday, November 1, 2014
The German Martyr
My first encounter with Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1905-1946) was through one of his writings. "The Cost of Discipleship" was required reading for anyone in seminary back in the early '70's. I had no idea at the time how the faith journey of this German Christian would shape my own journey with Christ. His was one of those books kept beyond seminary days and one that was looked at often. It long ago fell apart from repeated readings and referencing. Anytime a sermon text came from the Sermon on the Mount, his one of those books I pulled out.
Bonhoeffer's world was the one Germany experienced between and during the two great wars. As the church of Germany came under the growing influence of the Nazi government, Bonhoeffer was compelled to move toward a reformed church which sought to exist outside the state church sanctioned by the government and separate from ecclesiastical endorsement of church communities outside of his homeland. At one point he came to the United States, but soon realized he could have no part in post-war Germany if he did not work from within it when it was in peril. He returned to Germany and actively worked in unsuccessful efforts to remove Adolf Hitler from power. His faithfulness to this task and to what he understood to be the calling of God cost him his life as he was executed by the Hitler regime shortly before the end of the war.
Bonhoeffer not only wrote about the cost of discipleship, but he lived it and died it. Surely, his most quoted sentence is "When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die." I cannot begin to count the times I have sense that my journey of faith was being shaped by the German martyr's radical faith. Neither can I begin to count the number of times I have held his life and witness up before my congregation in preaching. Dietrich Bonhoeffer's years may have been few, but he has shaped many a soul on its way toward God, including, mine.