- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, April 9, 1945
Many among us are fearful today as we witness the mass breakdown of societal norms and standards. We don't know what to expect, when or what will come and how we are likely to respond. Well, the answer to that is not a difficult one, but it does require courage. And so, on today's Sunday Morning Coming Down, I want to offer an example of what a brave man of the twentieth century did to deal with those fears, while later offering words that should warm our hearts and keep us strong.
On April 9, 1945, mere weeks before World War II ended with the surrender of Nazi Germany, a brave German Lutheran minister, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, was awakened at dawn to face his fate with death by hanging. Bonhoeffer had been well known in the United States as a superb man of faith, preaching with dignity and grace about his love for Christ and what it should truly mean to us. Rather than staying safe in the United States where he was welcome after his many wonderful sermons, he said of learning about The Reich and what Hitler had in store for his homeland, he needed to go home and be with his original parishioners, saying that was his calling. And back in Germany where his own church had been co-opted by blasphemy as many allowed Hitler to be placed at the same level as God in their teachings, Bonhoeffer instead went underground in order to keep the traditionalists pure. He masked his mission by working in an administrative capacity for the state, while also sending information to the Allies by way of London. He was caught in 1943 and sentenced to prison, where he remained while awaiting his punishment, but rather than languish in sorrow and self-pity, he ministered to his guards, other prisoners and even his doctor assigned to keep him well. After all, Germany saw him as prize to use as evidence for their good treatment of captives, a propaganda gimmick to cover her crimes. But when it finally became apparent that the Reich would be totally defeated and offered no special terms by suing for peace, those plans were cancelled and Bonhoeffer's fate was sealed on that April morning.
Before dawn on that day, Bonhoeffer was suddenly awakened, ordered to strip of his clothing on a frosty morning, and forced to walk barefoot and naked across the cold cobblestone courtyard to the nearby gallows. As he prepared to climb the final steps of his life, he showed a dignity, grace and courage of amazing strength, raising his right arm upward with index finger pointed toward heaven as he looked skyward with a big smile of hope on his face. He climbed the steps, said a short prayer to God and accepted his fate. It was so dramatic, and he had developed such a rapport with both prisoners and guards that many quickly realized there was something so powerful and so glorious that had given him his strength that it must be true. Even his prison doctor was converted almost on the spot, saying there could be no other answer for real Truth other than the beliefs of Bonhoeffer.
So, what can we in 2020 learn from this story. Well, it's really quite simple. Just as Jesus died on the Cross for us and yet returned from the dead, we also can avoid death by taking Him into our hearts and giving our lives to Him. For no matter what we face and how brutal it might seem, the Way of Jesus is the way of Salvation and Eternal Life. You see, evil societies and their minions can physically abuse us and even torture us, but through the gift that Jesus brought us, that pain and suffering can be overcome. He will never allow us to withstand more than we can take, and if we stand strong for Him and stick to His wishes for us, in the end we will exchange this mortal life for a love of such beauty and splendor in a new body which feels no pain or suffering. If we choose not to do so with our free will, well, I will just leave the result of that to your own imagination. But remember, it will ultimately be in darkness, not in warm and uplifting light. And that, my friends, is my message this day. Be blessed on this Sunday, the Lord's Day and just know that He is always there for us. He will never fail us, but He expects us to come to Him and accept it, not the other way around. So, be of good cheer, for the Lord, God is near and He awaits us. Are you ready?