On October 18, I had the privilege to preach at the Church in Neumünster named after the great Protestant theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Bonhoeffer was a brilliant student who turned away from a promising career as Professor of Theology to live the teachings of Jesus’ life among everyday people as a pastor. He actively opposed Hitler even before he took office and through all the twelve years of his reign.
Opportunities to escape Hitler came to Bonhoeffer from prestigious institutions in New York and London, but like Moses at the Burning Bush, Bonhoeffer could not resist the call to return to Germany despite the danger he faced.
The Nazis executed Dietrich Bonhoeffer at the Flossenbürg concentration camp shortly before the end of the war.
One of his most famous teachings is: To be silent in the face of evil, is to be complicit in evil.
Near the church is a center welcoming and processing thousands of refugees from tyranny in Syria and several other countries. It was my great privilege during my sermon to welcome these Islamic and Christian refugees as my cousins through Abraham.
I noted that on display in the church was the exhibit about Vickie’s 94-year-old mother, Stefanie Steinberg, who fled Germany as a 14-year-old refugee in 1936.
“Though she experienced difficult times,” I said, addressing the refugees, “her story has a happy ending. I hope and pray that each of yours will too.”
Three wonderful pastors ably lead the Dietrich-Bonhoeffer Kirchegemeinde:
Pastor Tobias Gottesleben came to our Simchat Torah service in Bad Segeberg and hosted the study evening at which I spoke two weeks ago. When I preached there, though, he was visiting the church’s mission community in the Congo.
Pastorin Ulrike Wohlfahrt led yesterday’s service with warmth and deep spiritual feeling. It was a privilege to be there. She led the worship with inspiring respect of the Jewish roots of Christianity, saying, “We have so much to gain by listening to and learning from each other.”
Pastorin Isabel Frey-Ranck organizes and coordinates the church’s sacred mission of helping the waves of refugees that have come to Neumünster from Syria and several other countries acclimate to their new home.
I see each of these wonderful people as very worthy to lead a church that bears Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s name.
During my sermon I noted that Christians often ask me what do I think of Jesus? My answer: It depends on what his followers make of him.
If, as has been the case far too often over the past 2000 years Jesus name has been invoked as justification for persecuting Jews, forcing us to convert, exiling and killing us, then Jesus does not rate high with me.
Of course Jews will never see Jesus as God or as an object of worship as Christians do.
But when Jesus is the inspiration to feed the hungry, clothe the naked and do the things I see so many churches in Germany do today in his name, I look at him very positively.
And when—as in the case of Dietrich Bonhoeffer— Jesus’ example is the impetus to sacrifice position, comfort and even his life to oppose the scourge of Nazism, then I become an admirer of Jesus. In fact I become a very big fan indeed.