A Collection of Sermons from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, something I’ve been hanging out to read for a while, arrived today.
In the process of browsing through the texts, some statements in particular held my attention:
The historical context of this sermon is Lent and Hitler’s coming to power in Germany, January 1933[i].
‘Gideon responded, “but sir, how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” The Lord said to him, “But I will be with you…” (Judges 6 – 8)
‘Who would be willing to say that he or she has never heard this call and has never answered, as Gideon did: Lord, with what am I supposed to do such great things? But then Gideon is silenced; today as just in those days, he’s told to shut up. You’re asking, “With What?” Haven’t you realised what it means that this is God calling to you? Isn’t the call of God enough for you; if you listen properly, doesn’t it drown out all your “With What” questions? “I will be with you” – that means you are not asked to do this with any other help. It is I who have called you; I will be with you; I shall be doing it too…
…Do you hear that, Gideon of yesterday and today? God has called you, and that is enough. Do you hear that, individual doubting Christian, asking and doubting Christian? God has plans for you, and that does mean you. Be ready and see to it. Never forget, even when your own powerlessness is grinding you down to the ground, that God has phenomenal, immeasurable, great plans for you. I will be with you.
…Gideon conquers, the church conquers, we conquer, because faith alone conquers. But the victory belongs not to Gideon, the church, or ourselves, but to God. And God’s victory means our defeat, our humiliation; it means God’s derision and wrath at all human pretensions of might, at humans puffing themselves up and thinking that they are somebody’s themselves. It means the world and its shouting is silenced, that all our ideas and plans are frustrated; it means the cross. The Cross over the world…
…The people approach the victorious Gideon with the final trial, the final temptation: “Be our lord, rule over us.” But Gideon has not forgotten his own history, nor the history of his people…The Lord will rule over you, and you shall have no other lord….Beside us kneels Gideon, who was brought through fear and doubt to faith, before the altar of the one and only God, and with us Gideon prays, Lord on the cross, be our only Lord.
(Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Berlin 1933)
The content of the sermon reflects a response to the ideological ‘will-to-power’ present within fascism, spreading its hands across Europe at the time. The overall text of the sermon hints at Bonhoeffer’s political theology. Here he firmly warns us that human loyalties may sway, but the Lordship of Jesus remains intact as a matter of fact.
Bonhoeffer appears to be saying that because of God’s grace there is only one Lord. He alone, is for us – to be our God and we His people. He stands against us in His loving Yes to us. Even though humans may seem to succeed for a time in their pride filled quest for lordless power, they are inevitably confronted with ‘defeat’ and ‘humiliation’; ‘the world and its shouting is silenced’ by ‘the cross of Jesus Christ – that means God’s lordship over the world.’[ii]
For me, the relevance of Lent and Ash Wednesday is apparent. This gives weight to Bonhoeffer’s chief point, and is made all the more intense with references to ‘dust’, ‘faith in action’[iii], humiliation and defeat. In addition what is seemingly stated to contrast with the Swastika (or crooked cross), a symbol now synonymous with Nazism, Bonhoeffer’s ‘cross over the world’[iv] remark is subtle, and deliberate, highlighting a theologically well defended political subtext.
In pointing us to the liberating contents of the Biblical genres, Bonhoeffer is reminding us that Jesus the Christ reigns, as Lord, over the lords of this world, whether they (or we) like having Him as their (our) Lord or not[v].
8 thoughts on “Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Lent 1933”
it’s so easy to forget we are in a battle and it’s not about us or our happiness.
The text reminded me of your article on faith in speech and action. In hindsight (kicking myself for not doing it) I should have linked to it 🙂 I finished the editing late. Then Jonda and I completed the evening with a biopic called ‘Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace’.
Bonhoeffer is one of my heroes. Loved Metaxes’s biography. I wish he could’ve lived longer to write more. It’s maddening that he was killed so close to the end of the war…a great loss.
Our children have read smaller biographies about Bonhoeffer and Corrie Ten Boom. So I read Metaxes’s book around the end of last year to help me better understand his theology and teach them about Christians who resisted the surrender of theology to ideology. Unfortunately, the academic criticism of Metaxes’s book made me take a step back because of questions about its historical reliability. In a response to a comment I made about the book on another blog an academic responded with: ‘the book is shitte’ (not paraphrased). He then proceeded to recommend German biographies ‘which were more balanced’ (paraphrased). My latin needs work and I wrestle with my Koine Greek, so learning to read German and those books is on the list, but not a priority.The criticism seemed to be more about how much ‘American Evangelicalism’ (the American ”religio-political right”) influences Metaxes’s retelling. I did understand the concern and the criticism, but didn’t think they were enough to reject the biography outright. The comment this academic had made seemed to betray an academic arrogance which often leads people in this office to miss the ‘forest for the trees’. Personally, I got a lot from the book. It did help me better understand Bonhoeffer’s context and as a result his theology.
Interesting. I hadn’t heard any such criticism. What was the complaint? That Metaxas got historical details wrong? That he misrepresented Bonhoeffer’s theology? That he mistranslated the multitude of personal letters cited? I’m curious how the academic feels that “American Evangelicalism” influenced Metaxas’s retelling. I would assume it did, since Metaxas is an American Evangelical, but neither are the “balanced” authors free from bias.
Thanks for the reply Scott. Metaxas broke through the esoteric fog and spooked ivory tower academics. I.e.: He brought Bonhoeffer to the masses in an academic language they could understand. The underprivileged who will never read any biographical work in German now have a solid place to start. It’s a lot like when some of the church elite resisted sermons being read in the local dialect instead of Latin. The dislike was that Metaxas (who is “not a scholar”) misrepresented Bonhoeffer’s theology et.al, ‘because he got in over his head’ – Re: http://www.challies.com/articles/counterfeit-bonhoeffer (Blog I mentioned: http://dogmatics.wordpress.com/2013/08/05/thoughts-on-pietism/) & http://www.andyrowell.net/andy_rowell/2011/02/reviews-of-bonhoeffer-by-eric-metaxas.html
Thank you for taking the trouble to post the links. I will copy them and check them out when I get an opportunity.
– Grace and peace…