more than thin air and thoughts

Eric Metaxas, in Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, on Bonhoeffer’s instruction to his students while a lecturer in theology  in 1932-33:

“Bonhoeffer was not interested in intellectual abstraction. Theology must lead to the practical aspects of how to live as a Christian. Karding was surprised when Bonhoeffer asked his students whether they sang Christmas carols. Their answer was noncommittal, so he said, ‘If you want to be pastors, then you must sing Christmas carols!’ For him, music was not an optional part of Christian ministry, but de rigeur. He decided to tackle this deficiency head-on. ‘On the first day of Advent,’ he said to her, ‘we will meet each other at noon…and we will sing Christmas carols.’ She remembered that he ‘played the flute wonderfully’ and sang ‘magnificently.'”

Just one of the ways that Bonhoeffer’s faith had a wonderful practicality, an earthiness. He would later write to his fiancee that,

human beings were taken from the earth and don’t just consist of thin air and thoughts.”

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admiring Jesus vs. taking him seriously

Dietrich Bonhoeffer in a lecture given while serving as a pastor in Barcelona, at age 22:

“One admires Christ according to aesthetic categories as an aesthetic genius, calls him the greatest ethicist; one admires his going to his death as a heroic sacrifice for his ideas. Only one thing one doesn’t do: one doesn’t take him seriously. That is, one doesn’t bring the center of his or her own life into contact with the claim of Christ to speak the revelation of God and to be that revelation. One maintains a distance between himself or herself and the word of Christ, and allows no serious encounter to take place. I can doubtless live with or without Jesus as a religious genius, as an ethicist, as a gentlemen – just as, after all, I can also live without Plato and Kant…Should, however, there be something in Christ that claims my life entirely with the full seriousness that here God himself speaks and if the word of once became present only in Christ, then Christ has not only relative but absolute, urgent significance for me.”

Quoted in Eric Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

We mustn’t be more pious than God

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison:

I believe that we ought so to love and trust God in our lives, and in all the good things that he sends us, that when the time comes (but not before!) we may go to him with love, trust, and joy. But, to put it plainly, for a man in his wife’s arms to be hankering after the other world is, in mild terms, a piece of bad taste, and not God’s will. We ought to find and love God in what he actually gives us; if it pleases him to allow us to enjoy some overwhelming earthly happiness, we mustn’t try to be more pious than God himself and allow our happiness to be corrupted by presumption and arrogance, and by unbridled religious fantasy which is never satisfied with what God gives… . Everything has its time, and the main thing is that we keep step with God, and do not keep pressing on a few steps ahead — nor keep dawdling a step behind. It’s presumptuous to want to have everything at once — matrimonial bliss, the cross, and the heavenly Jerusalem, where they neither marry not are given in marriage. “To everything there is a season.

HERE.

Confession beneath the Cross

Preparing to preach on confession of sin, centering on Proverbs 28:13 – “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”

In preparation, I returned to that rich little classic, Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. Two of his insights into confession and community:

1) Without confession of sins, there is no true Christian fellowship.

“He who is alone with his sin is utterly alone. It may be that Christians, notwithstanding corporate worship, common prayer, and all their fellowship in service, may still be left to their loneliness. The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinners. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is suddenly discovered among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy.” (110)

2) Only a Christian who has truly and personally encountered the Cross of Christ is a safe person to receive a confession.

Anybody who lives beneath the Cross and who has discerned in the Cross of Jesus the utter wickedness of all men and of his own heart will find there is no sin that can ever be alien to him. Anybody who has once been horrified by the dreadfulness of his own sin that nailed Jesus to the Cross will no longer be horrified by even the rankest sins of a brother. Looking at the Cross of Jesus, he knows the human heart. He knows how utterly lost it is in sin and weakness, how it goes astray in the ways of sin, and he knows that it is accepted in grace and mercy. Only the brother under the Cross can hear a confession. (118)

Do not forget the greater service

Preparing to preach on some of the listening texts in proverbs (there are many). In doing so, I’ve returned to Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. In his chapter entitled “Ministry”, he has a section on the ministry of listening. He writes:

Christians, especially ministers, so often think they must always contribute something when they are in the company of others, that this is the one service they have to render. They forget that listening can be a greater service than speaking.

Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening. But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God either; he will be doing nothing but prattle presence of God too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there is nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words.