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Collect of the Day

Almighty God, You have enriched Your Church with the proclamation of the Gospel through the evangelist Mark.  Grant that we may firmly believe these glad tidings and daily walk according to Your Word;  through Jesus Christ, our Lord,who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Readings: Isaiah 52: 7-10 Psalm 146  2 Timothy 4: 4-18  St. Mark 16: 14-20

Bio:  St. Mark was the author of the second Gospel, which he composed, according to some Early Church Fathers, when the Christians in Rome asked him to write down the preaching of the apostle Peter. Mark, also known as John Mark, was originally from Jerusalem, where the house of his mother Mary was the center of the early Jerusalem Church (Acts12:12). He was brought from Jerusalem by Paul and Barnabas to Antioch (Acts 12:25), and it was from this city that they set out on the first missionary journey. When Paul and Barnabas were preparing to go on the second missionary journey, Barnabas wanted to take Mark with them again, but Paul objected because Mark had left them during the first journey. Barnabas took Mark and went to Cyprus, while Paul took Silas as his new companion (Acts 15:37-40). Later, Paul reconciled with Mark and was working with him again (Colossians 4:10; Philemon 24; 2 Timothy 4:11). Finally, Mark was found laboring with Peter in Rome (1 Peter 5:13). Tradition says that Mark was instrumental in founding the Church in Alexandria, becoming its first bishop, and, also that he suffered a martyr’s death. (from The Treasury of Daily Prayer, CPH)

Early non-Biblical Attestation to the Authorship of St. Mark from Papias (early first third of the 2nd Century):

We shall add, as being a matter of primary importance, a tradition regarding Mark who wrote the Gospel, which [Papias] has given in the following words: “And the presbyter said this. Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately whatever he remembered. It was not, however, in exact order that he related the sayings or deeds of Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor accompanied Him. But afterward, as I said, he accompanied Peter, who accommodated his instructions to the needs [of his listeners], but with no intention of giving a regular narrative of the Lord’s sayings. That is why Mark made no mistake when he wrote these things as he remembered them. Above all else, he took special care not to omit anything he had heard and not to put anything fictitious into what he wrote.”

—Fragments of Papias, a bishop of the early Church)

And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 38And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.

St. Mark alone uses a pointed verb for both our Lord’s Baptism and when the curtain of the temple divided. From this Greek verb,  σχίζω, schiso, we derived our word, “schism”.  The heaven were ripped asunder when Jesus came up out the Jordan and the Holy Spirit descended as a dove.  The temple curtain was likewise torn,ripped-asunder.  The Temple curtain was, as seen below, a large curtain between the Holy Place Image result for the temple curtain tornand the Holy of Holies.  The Holy of Holies held in the first temple, the Ark of the Covenant. Only the great High Priest, properly cleansed by sacrifices and ablutions, could enter into the Holy of Holies once a year, on the Day of Atonement.  Knowing these facts, the Book of Hebrews  is understood in its many references to Jesus as the High Priest, e.g.:

when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9)

Jesus, the great High Priest, did not need to be made holy and offer sacrifice for the sin of the world, yours and mine, as He is the Holy One of God who offered Himself as the Sacrifice, once and for all, so that  by faith through grace He makes us holy.

Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5)

When  the temple curtain which is the final barrier that separates God’s people from his immediate presence is torn open, the Kingdom of God is open to all believers (see the Te Deum Laudamus in Matins).  In Jesus’ Baptism, the wall of separation is violently ripped open. Jesus is baptized unto the death. The tearing open of the heavens is an expression of God’s desire to be at one with humanity, with you and I, as well as a vivid picture of the price that would have to be paid. “Mark would have us know our Lord’s entire ministry is a passion story, whereby he tears open the curtain of separation between God and man, and ensuring an everlasting Yom Kippur, that is, a Day of Atonement.” (Dr. David Scaer). 

On the Eve of the Festival of St. Mark, thirty-five years ago, I was ordained into the Holy Ministry of the Church.  Maybe the main directive for every pastor is to show people and God’s people the open door to heaven by and through teaching and preaching the Word of God, and the right administration of the Sacraments. The goal of every Christian is to show people to the church door, through which, the Lord said He is present in His Word and in His Sacraments.  As Jesus said, I am the door of the sheep.  When we say to someone, Let me show you door, it is a rebuke to tell the person to get out.  In Christ, when a pastor says, let me show you the Door, he is guiding you to the gate of eternal life with the door marked with His own blood.  

15 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
16For he shatters the doors of bronze
and cuts in two the bars of iron. (Psalm 107)

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.   He maketh me to lie down in green pastures

So there will be one flock, one shepherd.   St.John 10: 16c

There is one flock, one shepherd.  ‘Hey, wait a minute, pastor, ONE flock?  Hardly.  There are so many denominations, church bodies and the like.’  Jesus was wrong?  By no means!   Still a fair question is: which is the real church?!  Which one is the real flock?  This is so perplexed a young man in Palmyra, New York in the 19th century, he came up with an answer, another church body!  This time he said this was the real thing:  the Mormon church.  There are two major church bodies that assert they are the alone saving church: Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.  Which one?  So which is the real church, the real flock, the actual bride? 

First, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod does not confess that we are the alone saving church. If we say you must join this or that church to be saved, then man has put a condition on grace, God’s free gift, for us wandering, bleating sheep. It is another demand of some kind as necessary in addition to faith.  The only condition of entrance is the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep, with the authority from His Father, to take it up again. John 10 is the Lord’s testament to His dying, ever living love for sheep lost and lone to bring us together.

Second, divisions are as old as the New Testament: 

when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you. And I believe it in part, 19 for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized. (1 Corinthians)

Even divisions can serve the Lord’s purposes for us and our salvation! Joseph was divided from his 11 brothers who sold Joseph into slavery.  And as Joseph said them years later, you meant this for evil, but God meant it for good as you can see.  We do not seek division, but acknowledge it and we pray for healing of the divisions in the Church, but not according to man’s desire, theology, and expertise, but according to the Lord who builds His Church through sound doctrine. The Church is His new creation by water and the word, we cannot make a new creation.

Third:  so was Jesus wrong about “one flock, one shepherd”? If we don’t see the visible, denominational unity, then the Lord was wrong?  By no means!  Not only does the one flock have one good Shepherd, the Church is the bride of Christ and He does not have many brides. The Lord  is not a polygamist.

If there is not one flock, then when we confess the Creeds, I believe in ONE holy Christian Church,  we are outright lying. We confess the truth, not lies, so there is ONE catholic and apostolic church. IN the great hymn, The Church’s One Foundation, there is this stanza,

Elect from every nation,
Yet one o’er all the earth,
Her charter of salvation
One Lord, one faith, one birth.
One holy name she blesses,
Partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses,
With every grace endued.

The word “one” is used 6 times in that one stanza. Are we lying about this one Church, the one Flock, the one Bride?  We are not. “…thank God, a seven-year old child knows what the Church is, namely, holy believers and sheep who hear the voice of their Shepherd.  So children pray, ‘I believe in one holy Christian Church.’” Elect from every nation and every denomination!  In every church, small “c”, church body, the Lord has worked faith. C.F.W. Walther, founded of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod said it well:

No one must be induced to join the Lutheran Church because he thinks that only in that way he can get into the Church of God. There are still Christians in the Reformed Church, among the Methodists, yea, among the papists. We have this precious promise in Is. 55, 11: “My Word shall not return unto Me void.” Wherever the Word of God is proclaimed and confessed or even recited during the service, the Lord is gathering a people for Himself. The Roman Church, for instance, still confesses that Christ is the Son of God and that He died on the cross to redeem the world. That is truth sufficient to bring a man to the knowledge of salvation. Whoever denies this fact is forced to deny also that there are Christians in some Lutheran communities in which errors have cropped out. But there are always some children of God in these communities because they have the Word of God, which is always bearing fruit in converting some souls to God.

Then why am I a Lutheran in the Missouri-Synod?  I speak personally. I belong to the Lutheran Church for the sole reason that I want to side with the truth. I quit the Church to which I belonged when I found that it harbors errors with which I do not wish to be contaminated. I do not wish to become a partaker of other men’s sins, and by quitting a heretical community I confess the pure and unadulterated truth. I adapted my statement from Dr. Walther.   When I read this, finally my mind was convinced, I had to leave the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  The Lord saves us through His pure Word, both Law and Promise.  His Word saves because the Word became flesh.  The Law of God points out my sin and the Word of the Gospel, of the kingdom, points me and ever orients me to the Savior.  When I was in Concordia Junior College, I was visiting my grandparents in Minnesota.  I was visiting with my Aunt Birdie. Her husband was my uncle Elroy, and like my Father, grew up in the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod.  I was one of my Aunt Birdie’s favorite nephews.  I was putting down the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and for the first time she became sharp with me, “Mark, you know I was raised in the Mennonite church and I knew Jesus is my Savior, but when I married your Uncle, and became a Lutheran, I knew why.”  What did my Aunt Birdie know?  Answer: the pure doctrine of salvation in Jesus Christ in the correct interpretation of Holy Scripture in the Lutheran confessions. The reason is pure doctrine. 

Paul Kretzmann wrote in his commentary in 1914 on today’s sermon text:

There may be various folds, though one flock. The dreams of unionism find no support in this passage. The “holy Christian Church, the communion of saints,” has been gathered in the world ever since the first proclamation of the Gospel, and all the true believers in Christ form the great invisible Church. But there is not a word here of uniting visible church organizations into one great, powerful body.

The “unionism” of which he wrote became what we know as “ecumenism”. 1910 was the beginning of the ecumenical movement in Scotland.  Where are we ecumenically?  We have least common denominator denominationalism, as ecumenism. In other words, the way many church bodies got together was tossing out what they believed in, that is doctrine, and in the spirit of the times, becoming the Progressivist Church in America. It became informed more by man’s theology that God’s Word.  So the allowance of gay unions, abortion, partisan power politics, quota systems but the bottom line:  the jettison of the Bible as authoritative and inerrant.  

How do we respond? Form another church body?  Form another theological platform? Go the blogs?!  The internet and social networking?!  By no means! We are taught today from 1 John:

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 17 But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? 18 Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.

that he laid down his life for us is the Church’s message and eternal life. Was Mohammed the good shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep? Buddha?  Confucius? Lao T’ze?  Joseph Smith?  Even if they did, did they take up their life again to give us eternal life, by grace through faith? Hardly. Jesus did. This is what we tell of God’s good and perfect and complete work in His Son in the unity of the Holy Spirit.

Then flowing out of the Lord, we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.  Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.  In deed and truth, means to teach and preach the truth in Christ in the love of God.  Pastor and Professor spells it out clearly the way we are taught the Way:

My sheep here My voice He says, and I know them and they follow Me, and I give them eternal Life. Just as Christ’s teachings are a complete rule of faith, so also is His life a clear, complete mirror for every good work. Learn from Me, He says in Matt, 11-29, as if to say: You have enough to learn about My love, about My patience, My humility, meekness, friendliness to do you for the rest of your lives. As a result, you will well forget about the commandments of men with which you serve God fruitlessly and in vain, Matt. 15:9. O God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, highly praised in all eternity: Give us all such an obedient, willing heart for following the voice of Christ in doctrine and life. (Pr. Johann Gerhard)

The Law is but a mirror bright to bring the inbred sin to light.  The Gospel is a mirror clear to bring good works to neighbors near.

20 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.(Hebrews)

 

Image result for my sheep hear my voice

“Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of  the sheep” (St. John 10:7)

My sheep here My voice He says, and I know them and they follow Me, and I give them eternal Life. Just as Christ’s  teachings are a complete rule of faith, so also is His life a clear, complete mirror for every good work. Learn from Me, He says in Matt, 11-29, as if to say: You have enough to learn about My love, about My patience, My humility, meekness, friendliness to do you for the rest of your lives. As a result, you will well forget about the commandments of men with which you serve God fruitlessly and in vain, Matt. 15:9. O God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, highly praised in all eternity: Give us all such an obedient, willing heart for following the voice of Christ in doctrine and life. 

“The entire Bible tells us that Christians are called to be involved in the world.  But again, we have to understand what is meant by that.  We are there to give testimony about a justification which washes away sin but which never makes it legitimate…”

“If God loved the world, it is because the world was not lovable and good. If God reconciled the world to himself, it is because the world was in a state of rebellion and rejection. It is not yet the Kingdom.  The works of the world remain works of darkness, but darkness into which a light has come, which does not validate or justify the darkness.”

Jacques Ellul (1912-1994), The False Presence of the Kingdom (first published in 1963).  Mr. Ellul  was a French sociologist and member of the Reformed Church in France

Image result for mega church

“What does man expect?—quite simply that the Church, speaking for God, should tell man that he is right—quite simply that one should proclaim “Jesus’ faith in man.”  In that case man can calmly go back to his business and act as he sees fit!  In his eyes the Church is there to provide him with justification, but not, of course, the justification which Jesus Christ provides!”

When kings turned to the Church, it was to have theologians explain to them what superb kings they were and how their works enjoyed the approval of God.  When (the middle class) went to church, it was to hear it said that their work was blessed by God and that riches were a sign of grace.”

Jacques Ellul (1912-1994), The False Presence of the Kingdom (first published in 1963).  Mr. Ellul  was a French sociologist and member of the Reformed Church in France. 

Image result for Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

Text, John 20: 19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

In the 1960s one of the clichés used in protests against the Vietnam War was the protesters encouragement to “wage peace” as opposed to waging war.  So many of those anti-war protests involved bombing and burning of buildings as the protesters waged peace, even murder. Our good works, from the supposed “goodness of our hearts”, our right intentions and good motives, apart from the Lord can quickly degenerate into degenerate acts.  The Apostles are sent, though, in a sense, to “wage peace” and this works only in Christ Jesus who by faith through the grace of His atonement can purify the heart and will of man.  He was purifying and sending the Apostles as recorded in today’s Gospel reading. As the Paul wrote,

“…we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5). 

Three times in the Gospel Reading for the Second Sunday of Easter our Lord says, “Peace be with you”.  In Hebrew “peace be with you” is Shalom Aleichem.  Shalom/peace be with you is not just a fine how-do-you-do!   Coming out of the mouth of Lord, He conveys what His Word does: peace, shalom.  Peace has to be backed up, and his peace is:  His blood shed for sinners, enemies of God and in rebellion.

What is peace? 

When we think of peace we probably think of peaceful feelings.  Usually, by ‘peace’ what is meant are “peaceful feelings” as being “at peace”. The usual definition of peace is  the absence of conflict, war, struggle.  This definition is only a negative, a lack of something, an absence. There are a few tried and not so true ways of obtaining peaceful feelings: 

  • At a sad extreme: A person can have a frontal lobotomy and be peaceful but it is vacuous and empty.

  • Then there are the peaceful feelings which are drugged-induced.

  • Books, gurus, ministers et. al. make money over their programs and nostrums to produce peacefulness. 

Our sinful lust for more, even for peacefulness, to fill a swept and empty house results in doing anything to fill the void and  feel peaceful and good again:   more drugs, more pleasures, more satisfactions.  The last state can become worse than the first: peace, peace and there is no peace.

Now, in their place, good feelings in general are desirable:  they can tell us we are okay and so are bad feelings, as in pain, as they can tell us something is wrong.  A feeling is the result of something else, good or bad. Peaceful feelings are a symptom but not the cause.  One can take away physical pain but if the cause of that pain is left untreated, it will only cause trouble for another day.  Clearly, feelings of peace are not the cause of peace.  Jesus came to the root of the problem:  the heart of man.  God’s Word clearly teaches us that peace may not produce  peacefulness, instead, readiness with the Gospel of peace, prepares us for battle!    

In Ephesians 6, the Apostle Paul encourages the church and her Christians to put on the whole armor of God including  for the feet of the Christian warrior: and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.  The Roman soldiers boot was thick soled sandal, studded with nails, in order to stand firm in the day of battle.  A soldier’s boot needs to well made and solid to go the long marches.  It is clear that the Roman soldier’s sandal is like no footwear sold at Walmart!  

Likewise, peace in the Bible is not like what is literally sold out in the world. It is no spiked heel for show, or a dress shoe. Nor is it for mere comfort.  For instance:   The Apostle Paul makes this so clear in Ephesians 6 about the whole armor of God. Some 4 times, he uses the word  “stand”, to take a stand, to withstand, to fight against the powers and principalities.  It is not a struggle against someone else’s flesh and blood, only our flesh and blood.  It is struggle against the false doctrine and teachings of the world to want and covet more and more; in the lusts resulting in an ideology that says if it feels good, do it and look what has happened to marriage and the family.  But like those Roman Soldier’s sandals, His peace is for us to take stand upright and firm in His grace and mercy for us and for others, to battle for souls and lives.  

But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14For He Himself is our peace-Ephesians 2: 13-14

The Lord’s peace is the vessel which holds  all His gifts in the grace of His forgiveness.  The Lord shows us that peace is not absence but presence:  the real Presence. Peace has a name: Christ Jesus. He sent out His apostles in His peace filled with content:  the Holy Spirit.  He breathed on them the Holy Spirit and in that same holy breath he charged them to forgive sins.  Retain them when the message is refused, always in the hope the Lord will be heard.

He alone cures the fever in our blood by His blood shed for warring humanity. It is recorded in John’s Gospel alone the Lord’s teaching on peace, taught in the night in which He was betrayed:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

This was not a peace after the manner of the world, a mere external, temporal blessing. Mao Tse-Tung (old spelling), once dictator of communist China wrote that peace comes from the end of a gun barrel.  In one sense, he was correct, tragically correct.  It will look like peace, but only being terror and tragic emptiness. True and eternal Peace does not come from the end of a gun barrel but it has come from the foot of His Cross and fullness of His life, eternal life.   Peace is reconciliation through the blood of Jesus Christ in His forgiveness of the entire world, received in faith as pure gift which fills His chalice with the blood of the new testament for you and I.

The Lord’s peace which will insure quietness and security in the midst of turmoil and trouble. It will take the terror out of the hearts of the believers, even when the enemies are threatening murder and every form of abuse. The person that has the peace of a good conscience in the full assurance of God’s grace and mercy will be unmoved in the midst of upheavals that threaten the very foundations of the universe, Ps. 46. And Jesus testifies to the disciples that His announcement of His going away, far from filling their hearts with sorrow, should rather redound to their joy.

Peaceful feelings are usually only about the self, the person alone.  Christ, our peace, is for us and our salvation, that the “dividing wall of hostility” is  broken down in His flesh (Ephesians 2:13-15). For our families so we can love as we first been loved.  All Christians who cling as lambs to the Shepherd and as children to their Father, know each other.  They know each other as sinners.   Pr. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote,  “In the presence of a psychiatrist I can only be a sick man; in the presence of a Christian brother I can dare to be a sinner.”  But sinners forgiven in Jesus Christ.  They know each other forgiven. His peace is reconciliation.

His peace then prepares us for battle.  His peace is for the “good fight of faith” 2 Timothy 4:6-8.  Again, Pr. Bonhoeffer:  ““When all is said and done, the life of faith is nothing if not an unending struggle of the Spirit with every available weapon against the flesh.”  This is called “sanctification”, being made holy by the Holy Spirit in the work of Jesus through the Word and Sacraments.  It is the struggle against the world, the flesh and the devil.

“The Gospel is not only a report of the salvation earned by Jesus, but it is the application of this message, the imparting of the forgiveness of sins” (Rev. Paul Kretzmann). Jesus sends them out, not only with “a report of the salvation earned by Jesus” but with the very means of grace, in repentance and forgiveness giving the fruit of His Cross in the preaching and teaching of the Word. His forgiveness is our peace.  Further, the Lord sends the Church out not to wield the sword of government to kill people, but the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, for our salvation in His forgiveness (cf. Ephesians 4: 17;  Hebrews 4: 12). His peace is His Word to us. Christ is our peace. His peace is His reconciliation

From that locked room, the apostles would leave it with the message.  In last week’s Easter weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal, George Weigel, in his article The Easter Effecy asked:  How did this happen? How did a ragtag band of nobodies from the far edges of the Mediterranean world become such a dominant force in just two and a half centuries?

In a nutshell, Mr. Weigel said it was plain:  Jesus had risen from the dead!  Upon the disciples, “…the end of the ages” (1 Corinthians 10:10-12) had come, us as well.  Just think: after over two centuries of persecution, from mild to severe, including martyrdom, up a half of the Roman Empire was Christian.  Why?  He is risen, He risen indeed, Alleluia!

As Benedict XVI put it in his 2010 Easter message:

 “Easter does not work magic. Just as the Israelites found the desert awaiting them on the far side of the Red Sea, so the Church, after the Resurrection, always finds history filled with joy and hope, grief and anguish. And yet this history is changed…it is truly open to the future.

History is open to the future in hope on account of Christ Jesus and we are in the wilderness of this world   The Apostles and the Church went forth to conquer an Empire without drawing the sword, waging jihad or the support of government.  The sword they wielded was the “sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” (Ephesians 6: 17).  His Word encourages  that the risen  Lord calls us to wage peace, not worldly peace, but the Godly peace of His forgiveness which He breathes upon His Church. We are blessed of the Lord when we are peacemakers.  With the Apostle Paul, Lord calls us to wage the good fight of faith for the salvation of many. Jesus has broken every barrier down.

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

“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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