Lent with Bonhoeffer: Who Can Be Saved?

Friday, March 2, 2018

“And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:23-26, ESV)

The shocked question of the disciples–“Who then can be saved?”–seems to indicate that they regarded the case of the rich young man not as in any way exceptional, but as typical. For they do not ask: “Which rich man?” but quite generally, “Who then can be saved?” For every man, even the disciples themselves, belongs to those rich ones for whom it is so difficult to enter the kingdom of heaven. The answer Jesus gives showed the disciples that they had understood him well. Salvation through following Jesus is not something we men can achieve for ourselves–but with God all things are possible.

-from The Cost of Discipleship, pg. 85

Lent with Bonhoeffer: Driven to Prayer

Thursday, March 1, 2018

“Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against his people, and he stretched out his hand against them and struck them, and the mountains quaked; and their corpses were as refuse in the midst of the streets. For all his anger has not turned away, and his hand is stretched out still.” (Isaiah 5:25, ESV)

When I think of you every morning and evening, I have to try very hard not to let all my thoughts dwell on the many cares and anxieties that beset you, instead of praying for you properly…. Psalm 50 says quite clearly, “Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.” The whole of history of the children of Israel consists of such cries for help. And I must say that the last two nights have made me face this problem again in a quite elementary way. While the bombs are falling like that all round the building, I cannot help thinking of God, his judgment, his hand stretched out, and his anger not turned away (Isaiah 5:25 & Isaiah 9:11-10:4), and of my own unpreparedness. I feel how men can make vows, and then I think of you all and say, “better me than one of them”–and that makes me realize how attached I am to you all. I won’t say anything more about it–it will have to be by word of mouth; but when all is said and done, it is true that it needs trouble to shake us up and drive us to prayer, though I feel every time that it is something to be ashamed of, as indeed it is.

-from Letters and Papers from Prison, pgs. 198-199

(This portion comes from the letter Bonhoeffer wrote from Tegel prison to his friend, Eberhard Bethge, on January 29-30, 1944.)

(These reflections from Dietrich Bonhoeffer can be found in a collection entitled A Year with Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Daily Meditations from His Letters, Writings, and Sermons. It can be purchased HERE.)

Lent with Bonhoeffer: Strength for the Day

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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Prayer offered in early morning is decisive for the day. The wasted time we are ashamed of, the temptations we succumb to, the weakness and discouragement in our work, the disorder and lack of discipline in our thinking and in our dealings with other people–all these very frequently have their cause in our neglect of morning prayer. The ordering and scheduling of our time will become more secure when it comes from prayer. The temptations of the working day will be overcome by this breakthrough to God. The decisions that are demanded by our work will become simpler and easier when they are not made in fear of other people, but solely before the face of God. “Whatever you do, do it from your hearts, as done for the Lord and not done for human beings” (Colossians 3:23). Even routine mechanical work will be performed more patiently when it comes from the knowledge of God and God’s command. Our strength and energy for work increase when we have asked God to give us the strength we need for our daily work.

-from Life Together, pg. 76

(These reflections from Dietrich Bonhoeffer can be found in a collection entitled A Year with Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Daily Meditations from His Letters, Writings, and Sermons. It can be purchased HERE.)

Lent with Bonhoeffer: Good Work

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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

In this process work does not cease to be work; but the severity and rigor of labor is sought all the more by those who know what good it does them. The continuing conflict with the “It” remains. But at the same time the breakthrough has been made. The unity of prayer and work, the unity of the day, is found because finding the You of God behind the “It” of the day’s work is what Paul means by his admonition to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). The prayer of the Christian reaches, therefore, beyond the time allocated to it and extends into the midst of the work. It surrounds the whole day, and in doing so it does not hinder work; it promotes work, affirms work, gives work great significance and joyfulness. Thus every word, every deed, every piece of work of the Christian becomes prayer…

-from Life Together, pgs. 75-76

(These reflections from Dietrich Bonhoeffer can be found in a collection entitled A Year with Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Daily Meditations from His Letters, Writings, and Sermons. It can be purchased HERE.)

Lent with Bonhoeffer: Working toward God

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Monday, February 26, 2018

Work puts human beings in the world of things. It requires achievement from them. Christians step out of the world of personal encounter into the world of impersonal things, the “It”; and this new encounter frees them for objectivity, for the world of the “It” is only an instrument in the hands of God for the purification of Christians from all self-absorption and selfishness. The work of the world can only be accomplished where people forget themselves, where they lose themselves in a cause, reality, the task, the “It”. Christians learn at work to allow the task to set the bounds for them. Thus, for them, work becomes a remedy for the lethargy and laziness of the flesh. The demands of the flesh die in the world of things. But that can only happen where Christians break through the “It” to the “You” of God, who commands the work and the deed and makes them serve to liberate Christians from themselves.

-from Life Together, pg. 75

(These reflections from Dietrich Bonhoeffer can be found in a collection entitled A Year with Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Daily Meditations from His Letters, Writings, and Sermons. It can be purchased HERE.)

Lent with Bonhoeffer: Prayer and Work

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Second Sunday in Lent, February 25, 2018

Praying and working are two different things. Prayer should not be hindered by work, but neither should work be hindered by prayer. Just as it was God’s will that human beings should work six days and rest and celebrate before the face of God on the seventh, so it is also God’s will that every day should be marked for the Christian by both prayer and work. Prayer also requires its own time. But the longest part of the day belongs to work. The inseparable unity of both will only become clear when work and prayer each receives its own undivided due. Without the burden and labor of the day, prayer is not prayer; and without prayer, work is not work. Only the Christian knows that. Thus it is precisely in the clear distinction between them that their oneness becomes apparent.

-from Life Together, pgs. 74-75

(These reflections from Dietrich Bonhoeffer can be found in a collection entitled A Year with Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Daily Meditations from His Letters, Writings, and Sermons. It can be purchased HERE.)

Lent with Bonhoeffer: Legitimate Obedience

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Saturday, February 24, 2018

Obedience to Jesus’s call is never an autonomous human deed. Thus, not even something like actually giving away one’s wealth is the obedience required. It could be that such a step would not be obedience to Jesus at all, but instead, a free choice of one’s own lifestyle. It could be a Christian ideal, a Franciscan ideal of poverty. It could be that by giving away wealth, people affirm themselves and an ideal, and not Jesus’s command. It could be that they do not become free from themselves, but even more trapped in themselves. The step into the situation is not something people offer Jesus; it is always Jesus’s gracious offer to people. It is legitimate only when it is done that way, but then it is no longer a free human possibility.

-from The Cost of Discipleship, pg. 83

(These reflections from Dietrich Bonhoeffer can be found in a collection entitled A Year with Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Daily Meditations from His Letters, Writings, and Sermons. It can be purchased HERE.)

Lent with Bonhoeffer: Simple Obedience

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Friday, February 23, 2018

Fundamentally eliminating simple obedience introduces a principle of Scripture foreign to the gospel. According to it, in order to understand Scripture, one first must have a key to interpreting it. But that key would not be the living Christ himself in judgment and grace, and using the key would not be according to the will of the living Holy Spirit alone. Rather, the key to Scripture would be a general doctrine of grace, and we ourselves would decide its use. The problem of following Christ shows  itself to be a hermeneutical (biblical interpretation) problem. But it should be clear to a gospel-oriented hermeneutic that we cannot simply identify ourselves directly with those called by Jesus. Instead, those who are called in Scripture themselves belong to the word of God and thus to the proclamation of the word…. Simple obedience would be misunderstood hermeneutically if we were to act and follow as if we were contemporaries of the biblical disciples. But the Christ proclaimed to us in Scripture is, through every word he says, the one whose gift of faith is granted only to the obedient, faith to the obedient alone. We cannot and may not go behind the word of Scripture to the actual events. Instead, we are called to follow Christ by the entire word of Scripture, simply because we do not intend to wish to violate Scripture by legalistically applying a principle to it, even that of a doctrine of faith.

-from The Cost of Discipleship, pg. 82

(These reflections from Dietrich Bonhoeffer can be found in a collection entitled A Year with Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Daily Meditations from His Letters, Writings, and Sermons. It can be purchased HERE.)

Lent with Bonhoeffer: Stepping into Faith

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Jesus says to anyone who uses their faith or lack of faith to excuse their acts of disobedience to his call: “First obey, do the external works, let go of what binds you, give up what is separating you from God’s will!” Do not say, “I do not have the faith for that.” You will not have it so long as you remain disobedient, so long as you will not take that first step. Do not say, “I have faith, so I do not have to take the first step.” You do not have faith, because and so long as you will not take that first step. Instead, you have hardened yourself in disbelief under the appearance of humble faith. It is an evil excuse to point from inadequate obedience to inadequate faith, and from inadequate faith to inadequate obedience. It is the disobedience of the “faithful” if they confess their unbelief where their obedience is required and if they play games with that confession (Mark 9:24). You believe–so take the first step! It leads to Jesus Christ. You do not believe–take the same step; it is commanded of you! The question of your belief or unbelief is not yours to ask. The works of obedience are required and must be done immediately. The situation is given in which faith becomes possible and really exists.

-from The Cost of Discipleship, pgs. 66-67

(These reflections from Dietrich Bonhoeffer can be found in a collection entitled A Year with Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Daily Meditations from His Letters, Writings, and Sermons. It can be purchased HERE.)

Lent with Bonhoeffer: Disobedient Belief

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Wednesday, February 21, 2018

No one should be surprised that they cannot come to believe so long as, in deliberate disobedience, they flee or reject some aspect of Jesus’s commandment. You do not want to subject some sinful passion, an enmity, a hope, your life plans, or your reason to Jesus’s commandment? Do not be surprised that you do not receive the Holy Spirit, that you cannot pray, that your prayer for faith remains empty! Instead, go and be reconciled with your sister or brother; let go of the sin which keeps you captive; and you will be able to believe again! If you reject God’s commanding word, you will not receive God’s gracious word. How would you expect to find community while you intentionally withdraw from it at some point? The disobedient cannot believe; only the obedient believe.

-from The Cost of Discipleship, pg. 66

(These reflections from Dietrich Bonhoeffer can be found in a collection entitled A Year with Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Daily Meditations from His Letters, Writings, and Sermons. It can be purchased HERE.)