In our adult class on Sunday mornings we are currently reading The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis. I find myself saying over and over, "this is a wonderful quote." Lewis has a profound understanding of human nature and the spiritual struggle that goes on in our lives, and so many of his thoughts ring true. I don't have space to quote everything, so here is a priceless one (if not the best): Hell is a bureaucracy in which "everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment."
Bonhoeffer is one of my personal heroes of the faith, and his book, The Cost of Discipleship had a profound impact on me in college. His writings were influential in my calling to go to seminary.
A few thoughts from this profound work:
“Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate….Costly grace is…the call of Jesus Christ…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. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price, and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us.”
He is commemorated on this day (April 9th) of his martyrdom.
O God our Father, the source of strength to all your saints, who brought your servant Dietrich Bonhoeffer through imprisonment and death to the joys of life eternal: Grant that we, being encouraged by their examples, may hold fast the faith that we profess, and that we may seek to know, and acccording to our knowledge to do, your will, even unto death; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Bonhoeffer was born in 1906, son of a professor of psychiatry and neurology at the University of Berlin. He was an outstanding student, and at the age of 25 became a lecturer in systematic theology at the same University. When Hitler came to power in 1933, Bonhoeffer became a leading spokesman for the Confessing Church, the center of Protestant resistance to the Nazis. He organized and for a time led the underground seminary of the Confessing Church. His book Life Together describes the life of the Christian community in that seminary, and his book The Cost Of Discipleship attacks what he calls "cheap grace," meaning grace used as an excuse for moral laxity. Bonhoeffer had been taught not to "resist the powers that be," but he came to believe that to do so was sometimes the right choice. In 1939 his brother-in-law introduced him to a group planning the overthrow of Hitler, and he made significant contributions to their work. (He was at this time an employee of the Military Intelligence Department.) He was arrested in April 1943 and imprisoned in Berlin. After the failure of the attempt on Hitler's life in April 1944, he was sent first to Buchenwald and then to Schoenberg Prison. His life was spared, because he had a relative who stood high in the government; but then this relative was himself implicated in anti-Nazi plots. On Sunday 8 April 1945, he had just finished conducting a service of worship at Schoenberg, when two soldiers came in, saying, "Prisoner Bonhoeffer, make ready and come with us," the standard summons to a condemned prisoner. As he left, he said to another prisoner, "This is the end -- but for me, the beginning -- of life." He was hanged the next day, less than a week before the Allies reached the camp.
I think every person’s prayer life is different, but I have often felt closer to God in the evening and night. I appreciate the opportunities we have in Lent and Advent to worship using different forms of evening prayer, which often include hymns appropriate for the closing of the day. One that we sang several times this past Lent has “stuck” with me: Abide with Me (#272 in the Lutheran Book of Worship). Both the tune and text bring peace to my soul.
On September 4, 1847, Henry Francis Lyte, whose health had been undermined, preached a farewell sermon to his congregation at Brixham, South Devonshire, England. After holding other pastorates, this man had devoted himself for a quarter of a century to the pastoral care of uncultured but warm-hearted seamen and had gained their love and confidence in a high degree. He visited the fishermen and sailors, both on the ships and in their huts. He provided every outgoing ship with a Bible.
Toward evening of the day when he preached his farewell sermon, he went down the garden path to view the setting of the sun over Brixham harbor. While this lovely scene of nature was before his eyes, the pastor in a long, fervent prayer, as he later told his family, asked his God for ability to write a hymn that might comfort his survivors. No sooner had the sun gone down than he returned to his study, as his children thought, to rest.
But an hour later the door opened, and the pastor came forth with the manuscript of the immortal hymn he had just written:
Abide with me, fast falls the eventide. The darkness deepens; Lord, with me abide. When other helpers fall and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, oh, abide with me.
The final stanza is the prayer:
Hold thou thy cross before my closing eyes, Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies; Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee; In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.
This Easter season, we celebrate the fact that the Lord does abide with us in the joys and trials of our life, and that he will not abandon us at our time of death, our hour of greatest need. Certainly our congregation has had our share of deaths recently, but because of the resurrection of Jesus, we can pray with confidence in the words of St. Paul, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” When Martin Luther’s beloved 14-year-old daughter lay deathly ill, her father prayed: “Lord, I love her very much and should like to keep her, but, dear Lord, since it is Thy will to take her away, I am glad to know that she will be with Thee.”
"Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image. Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression. Help us like your servant Martin to use our freedom to bring justice among peoples and nations, to the glory of your name; through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord." (Lutheran Book of Worship)
Today we remember the martyrdom of Martin Luther King, Jr., and praise God for his witness and dream of a better society.