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The Cost of Discipleship

April 9, 2021

“Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” Matthew 10:39

Today the church commemorates Dietrich Bonhoeffer, theologian. Most of you likely know Bonhoeffer’s story well. A brilliant theologian, Bonhoeffer was deeply shaped by his time at Union Theological Seminary. While he was largely unimpressed with the state of American academics, his friendships and experiences proved transformative. He started to see things “from below,” from the perspective of the oppressed and marginalized. He noted, “the Black Christ is preached with rapturous passion and vision.”

Returning to Germany in the 1930s, Bonhoeffer continued to write and teach. He became a driving figure within the Confessing Church. This movement stood in opposition to Hitler and Nazism, insisting upon the Lordship of Christ. His work at the underground seminary in Finkenwalde finds expression in the masterful Life Together. He returned to America in 1938, but regretted it. His place was with his people in Germany.

Linked to a plot to assassinate Hitler, Bonhoeffer was imprisoned in Tegel Prison (Berlin) for a year and a half. He was then sent on to Buchenwald, and then to Flossenbürg. On April 9, 1945, just two weeks before American soldiers liberated the camp, Bonhoeffer was hanged. Before he was led away, he said to English prisoner Payne Best, “This is the end, but for me the beginning of life.”

What has always struck me about Bonhoeffer is how much he enjoyed life. I think this is because he deeply trusted the promise of resurrection, which allowed him to love life but also to hold it loosely.

On March 11, 1928, Bonhoeffer said this in a sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent, when life still stretched out before him:

Good Friday and Easter – the days of God’s overpowering acts in history, acts in which God’s judgment and grace were revealed to all the world – are just around the corner. Judgment in those hours in which Jesus Christ, our Lord, hung on the cross; grace in that hour in which death was swallowed up in victory. It was not human beings who accomplished anything here; no, God alone did it. He came to human beings in infinite love. He judged what is human. And he granted grace beyond any merit.

Life, just around the corner. Always.

Be well, friends. You are loved.

Lord of life, we thank you for the witness of Dietrich and for all the saints and martyrs. May we live life with passion, knowing it springs from you alone – on both sides of the grave. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Image: Bonhoeffer in Sugurdshof, 1939, author unknown (used with permission).

From → COVID-19

One Comment
  1. Paul Haberstock permalink

    The story goes on. You might ask Cantor Costello about Christoph von Dohnanyi or google. He was the young teen son of Bonhoeffer’s sister who was married to a state official and collaborator in the anti Hitler efforts. Christoph was home when police stormed in and took his mother into custody following his father’s arrest. I believe Christoph’s father was executed about the time DB was. I don’t know about his mother’s fate.

    Christoph’s grandfather, Ernst von Dohnanyi emigrated to the U.S. and finished his days as a Professor at Florida State University.

    Truly a story of family as well as family in the faith.

    Paul Haberstock

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