Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Pericopes for the Week: Christ's Love and Our Enemies

On January 23, 1938, at the secret and illegal seminary in Gross-Schlonwitz, Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), who would later be executed by the Hitler regime for his involvement in the plot to assassinate the German dictator, delivered a sermon on "Christ's Love and Our Enemies." The biblical text that served as the basis for this message was Romans 12:17-21.

I was thinking about this sermon in light of the euphoria that some have been expressing since Sunday's announcement that Osama bin Laden had been killed by a U. S. commando unit on the orders of the President. Like many others, I have been troubled by this assassination and the subsequent dancing, not because bid Laden was a good person--he wasn't--but because I don't think God wants us to gloat over the deaths of any human being, however justified those deaths might be "in the civil realm."

When Bonhoeffer himself participated in the conspiracy to murder Hitler, he knew that he was sinning. He followed the Luther-an dictim, "sometimes it becomes necessary to sin boldly--that any course of action or inaction in a given situation is marked by sin--so one must sometimes 'sin boldly' but believe in the grace of God more boldly still." If Hitler had been killed, I cannot imagine that Bonhoeffer and his sober associates would have been dancing in the streets and shouting prideful slogans. He hints at this in his letter to his friend, Eberhard Bethge, on the day after the July 20 plot failed: "...By this-worldliness I mean living unreservedly in life's duties, problems, successes and failures, experiences and perplexities. In so doing we throw ourselves completely into the arms of God, taking seriously, not our own sufferings, but those of God in the world--watching with Christ in Gethsemane. That, I think, is faith; that is metanoia; and that is how one becomes human and a Christian (cf. Jer. 45!). How can success make us arrogant, or failure lead us astray, when we share in God's sufferings through a life of this kind?..." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer to Eberhard Bethge, July 21, 1944, in A Testament to Freedom, ed. Geffrey Kelly and F. Burton Nelson [HarperCollins, 1995], 510)

And from the 1938 sermon:

"'Never be conceited'--lest you become murderers of your brothers. Don't believe that you know on your own how to get along with other people, or how to deal with enemies, or what good and evil are, lest humankind devour itself completely. 'Never be conceited'--rather look to God's way with us, with our enemies, that way, which Scripture itself calls foolish, the way of God's love for our enemies, which God demonstrates to us by sending God's Son all the way to the cross. The best wisdom is recognizing the cross of Jesus Christ as the insuperable love of God for all people, for us as well as for our enemies. Or are we of the opinion that God loves us more than God loves our enemies: Would we believe that we are God's favorite children? Were we to think that, we would show ourselves to be of like mind with the Pharisees, we would have stopped being Christians. Is God's love any less for our enemies, for whom God just as much came, suffered, and died, as God did for us? The cross is nobody's private property, but belongs to all; it is intended for all mankind. God loves our enemies--the cross tells us that. God suffers on their account, feels anguish and sorrow because of them. God gave the beloved Son for them. That is the whole point every time we encounter enemies we remember at once: God loves them, God gave everything for them. Therefore, never be conceited" (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, "Christ's Love and Our Enemies," A Testament to Freedom, 285).

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