DIETRICH BONHOEFFER

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German evangelical pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident, and key founding member of the Confessing Church. His writings on Christianity's role in the secular world have become widely influential, and his book The Cost of Discipleship has been described as a modern classic. Bonhoeffer was known for his staunch resistance to Nazi dictatorship, including vocal opposition to Hitler's euthanasia program and genocidal persecution of the Jews. He was arrested in April 1943 by the Gestapo and imprisoned at Tegel prison for one and a half years. Later, he was transferred to Flossenbürg concentration camp. After being accused of being associated with the July 20 plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler, he was quickly tried and then hanged on 9 April 1945 as the Nazi regime was collapsing, 21 days before Adolf Hitler committed suicide.

DAYS 1-10   DAYS 11-20  DAYS 21-30

Day 40

Near the end of his life, Bonhoeffer was reported to have said the following:

What bothers me incessantly is the question…who Christ really is for us today?

Biblical Wisdom

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the son of Man is?” and they said, “some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets?” he said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the messiah, the Son of the living God.” Matthew 16:13-16

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you? Luke 6:46

Questions to Ponder

  • What is the relationship between who Jesus was two thousand years ago and “who Christ really is for us today”?
  • Is there a difference between asking who Christ is for us and who Christ is for me? Explain.
  • How do we go about answering the question about “who Christ really is for us today”?

Psalm Fragment

“Be still, and know that I am God!
   I am exalted among the nations,
   I am exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10

Journal Reflections

  • If someone asked you who Christ really is for you today, how would you answer?
  • You have finished a 40-Day Journey with Dietrich Bonhoeffer. How was the journey? What did you learn from Bonhoeffer? Has your understanding of what it means to be a Christian․to follow Jesus․changed? If so, how? What will be different in your life of faith for having taken this 40-day journey?

Intercessions

Pray for all those who will read this book, that their journey with Bonhoeffer might lead them closer to Christ.

Prayer for Today

Loving God, for where I have been and for where I am going on my journey with Jesus, I give you thanks and praise.

Day 39

In prayer we go to our enemies, to stand at their side. We are with them, near them, for them before God. Jesus does not promise us that the enemy we love, we bless, to whom we do good, will not abuse and persecute us. They will do so. But even in doing so, they cannot harm and conquer us if we take this last step to them in intercessory prayer. Now we are taking up their neediness and poverty, their being guilty and lost, and interceding for them before God. We are doing for them in vicarious representative action what they cannot do for themselves. Every insult from our enemy will only bind us closer to God and to our enemy. Every persecution can only serve to bring the enemy closer to reconciliation with God, to make love more unconquerable.

How does love become unconquerable? By never asking what the enemy is doing to it, and only asking what Jesus has done. Loving one’s enemies leads disciples to the way of the cross and into communion with the crucified one.

Biblical Wisdom

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Matthew 5:44

Questions to Ponder

  • · Why should we․in intercessory prayer․do for our enemies what they cannot do for themselves? What can’t they do for themselves?
  • · Where does one get the strength to love, bless, and do good to their enemies knowing that they will most likely be abused and persecuted in response?
  • · Why would Bonhoeffer say that: “Loving one’s enemies leads disciples to the way of the cross and into communion with the crucified one”?

Psalm Fragment

In God, whose word I praise,
   in the Lord, whose word I praise,
   in God I trust; I am not afraid.
What can a mere mortal do to me?
My vows to you I must perform, O God;
   I will render thank offerings to you.
For you have delivered my soul from death,
   and my feet from falling,
   so that I may walk before God
   in the light of life. Psalm 56:10-13

Journal Reflections

  • · What emotions surface within you when you think of interceding on behalf of your enemies?
  • · Does your community of faith actively seek to love, bless, and do good for enemies? If so, how? If not, how could you encourage the practice?

Intercessions

Name your enemies, picture them in your mind, “stand at their side” before God, pray for them.

Prayer for Today

Lord of peace and justice, let me not so much want victory over my enemies as true and mutual reconciliation with them.

Day 38

Words and thoughts are not enough. Doing good involves all the things of daily life. “If your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink” (Romans 12:20). In the same ways that brothers and sisters stand by each other in times of need, bind up each other’s wounds, ease each other’s pain, love of the enemy should do good to the enemy. Where in the world is there greater need, where are deeper wounds and pain than those of our enemies? Where is doing good more necessary and more blessed than for our enemies?

Biblical Wisdom

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.” Luke 6:27-28

Questions to Ponder

  • Does it seem counterintuitive to “do good to the enemy”? Why, or why not?
  • Why should the needs of our enemies matter to us?
  • What happens to the word “enemy” if we follow Bonhoeffer’s advice and treat them like brothers and sisters?

Psalm Fragment

Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies,
   for it is always with me. Psalm 119:98

Journal Reflections

  • Does Jesus command to: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” give you strength and vision for living in the midst of enemies? Why, or why not?
  • Jesus teaching seems to call for non-violence in dealing with our enemies. Reflect in writing what you think about that.

Intercessions

Pray that your “enemies” might receive every good from the hand of God and in response become instruments of God’s love and justice.

Prayer for Today

Holy God who loves us all with an everlasting love, let my love for my enemies be a matter not only of words or thoughts but of specific and concrete actions.

Day 37

(Bonhoeffer’s view of a life among enemies was formed in the Nazi Germany of the 1930s, a situation that was becoming increasingly hostile to Christians.)

The Christian cannot simply take for granted the privilege of living among other Christians. Jesus Christ lived in the midst of his enemies. In the end all his disciples abandoned him. On the cross he was all alone, surrounded by criminals and the jeering crowds. He had come for the express purpose of bringing peace to the enemies of God. Christians, too, belong not in the seclusion of a cloistered life but in the midst of enemies. There they find their mission, their work.

Biblical Wisdom

“See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.” Mathew 10:16

Questions to Ponder

  • How would you define the “enemies” Christians are to live “in the midst of”?
  • What is the “mission” or “work” of Christians toward these “enemies”?
  • Jesus said: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you” (Luke 6:27-28). Does this fit with the reading from Bonhoeffer for today? How, or how not?

Psalm Fragment

You prepare a table before me
   in the presence of my enemies;
   you anoint my head with oil;
   my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
   all the days of my life,
   and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
   my whole life long. Psalm 23:5-6

Journal Reflections

  • As a Christian, do you find yourself living “in the midst of enemies”? How, or how not? If so, who are they? How do you feel about them?
  • What do you understand to be your personal mission or work in the midst of these enemies?

Prayer for Today

Lord Jesus, give me the faith, the courage, and the love to live faithfully in the midst of enemies as you did.

Day 36

When another Christian falls into obvious sin, an admonition is imperative, because God’s Word demands it. The practice of discipline in the community of faith begins with friends who are close to one another. Words of admonition and reproach must be risked when a lapse from God’s Word in doctrine or life endangers a community that lives together, and with it the whole community of faith. Nothing can be more cruel than that leniency which abandons others to their sin. Nothing can be more compassionate than that severe reprimand which calls another Christian in one’s community back from the path of sin. When we allow nothing but God’s Word to stand between us, judging and helping, it is a service of mercy, an ultimate offer of genuine community. Then it is not we who are judging; God alone judges, and God’s judgment is helpful and healing.

Biblical Wisdom

My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Galatians 6:1

Questions to Ponder

  • Is sin taken seriously in today’s church and by today’s Christians? How is it, or how is it not?
  • Why might it be “cruel” not to admonish someone whose behavior is obviously sinful? What are the dangers in admonishing someone?
  • How might the church and individual Christians avoid being hypocritical and judgmental when admonishing a Christian brother or sister?

Psalm Fragment

Restore us again, O God of our salvation,
   and put away your indignation toward us. Psalm 85:4

Journal Reflections

  • Have you ever been admonished by another Christian? If so, write about the experience. How was it done? How did it feel? What were the results?
  • Have you ever offered a word of admonition to another person? If so, write about the experience. How did it feel? What were the results?
  • If you answered no to the above two questions, spend some time in writing reflecting upon the idea of taking sin seriously enough to admonish another and receive admonition from another.

Prayer for Today

Lord, open my ears that I may hear from your Word whatever words of admonition I need to hear that I might grow in love and faithfulness.

Day 35

Thus there remains only one path for those who in following Jesus want to truly serve God in worship, and that is the path of reconciliation with their sisters and brothers. Anyone who comes to the word and sacrament with an unreconciled heart stands judged by doing so. Such a person is a murderer in God’s sight. That is why you must “first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.” It is a difficult path Jesus imposes on his disciples. It includes much humiliation and dishonor for the disciples themselves. But it is the path to him, our crucified brother, and thus, it is a path full of grace. In Jesus, service to the least brother or sister and service to God became one. He went and was reconciled to his human kindred, and then he came and offered himself, the one true sacrifice, to his Father.

Biblical Wisdom

“So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother and sister, and then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24

Questions to Ponder

  • Bonhoeffer states that: “It is a difficult path Jesus imposes on his disciples.” What makes it difficult?
  • He also states that, “it is a path full of grace.” Where is the grace?
  • How did Jesus model the truth that, “service to the least brother or sister and service to God became one”?

Psalm Fragment

O guard my life, and deliver me;
   do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
May integrity and uprightness preserve me,
   for I wait for you. Psalm 25:20-21

Journal Reflections

  • Is there someone with whom you need to be reconciled? Write about the circumstances that led to alienation from this person.
  • What step(s) might you take to begin the process of reconciliation?

Prayer for Today

Gracious God, thank you for reconciling me to yourself; now make me a reconciler.

Day 34

Often we combat our evil thoughts most effectively if we absolutely refuse to allow them to be verbalized. It is certain that the spirit of self-justification can only be overcome by the spirit of grace; and it is just as certain that the individual judgmental thought can be limited and suppressed by never allowing it to be spoken except as a confession of sin…. Thus it must be a decisive rule of all Christian community life that each individual is prohibited from talking about another Christian in secret. It is clear and will be shown in what follows that this prohibition does not include the word of admonition that is spoken personally to one another. However, talking about others in secret is not allowed even under the pretense of help and goodwill. For it is precisely in this guise that the spirit of hatred between believers always creeps in, seeking to cause trouble.

Biblical Wisdom

Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29

Questions to Ponder

  • Talking with people about someone else you are having trouble with when they are not there is called “triangulation.” In what ways does triangulation harm a community of faith?
  • How can a community of faith enforce the rule “that each individual is prohibited from talking about another Christian in secret”?
  • Would this be a good rule to generalize and apply to the workplace, school, families, among friends? Why, or why not?

Psalm Fragment

Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord;
   keep watch over the door of my lips.
Do not turn my heart to any evil,
   to busy myself with wicked deeds
   in company with those who work iniquity…. Psalm 141:3-4

Journal Reflections

  • Have you ever experienced being triangulated․being talked about negatively when you where not there? If so, write about the experience. How did it feel?
  • Have you ever engaged in triangulation? If so, write about the experience. How did it feel?

Prayer for Today

Spirit of love, may the words I speak be the kind that build people up.

Day 33

Every act of self-discipline by a Christian is also a service to the community. Conversely, there is no sin in thought, word, or deed, no matter how personal or secret, that does not harm the whole community. When the cause of an illness gets into one’s body, whether or not anyone knows where it comes from, or in what member it has lodged, the body is made ill. This is the appropriate metaphor for the Christian community. Every member serves the whole body, contributing either to its health or to its ruin, for we are members of one body not only when we want to be, but in our whole existence. This is not a theory, but a spiritual reality that is often experienced in the Christian community with shocking clarity, sometimes destructively and sometimes beneficially.

Biblical Wisdom

For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. Romans 12:4-5

Questions to Ponder

  • What do you think Bonhoeffer means by an “act of self-discipline”?
  • How can an individual’s sins “harm the whole community”?
  • What are the implications of Bonhoeffer’s assertion that, “we are members of one body not only when we want to be, but in our whole existence”?

Psalm Fragment

Search me, O God, and

 know my heart;
test me and know my thoughts.
See if there is any wicked way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting. Psalm 139:23-24

Journal Reflections

  • Reflect on your experience in your community of faith. Does it feel like a living body of which you are a member? Explain.
  • How might you better serve “the whole body”?

Prayer for Today

Holy God, thank you that you have made me a member of the Body of Christ; help me keep healthy that I may not harm the whole body.

Day 32

Intercessory prayer is also a daily service Christians owe to God and one another. Those who deny their neighbors prayers of intercession deny them a service Christians are called to perform. Furthermore, it is clear that intercessory prayer is not something general and vague, but something very concrete. It is interested in specific persons and specific difficulties and therefore specific requests. The more concrete my intercessory prayer becomes the more promising it is…

All this proves that intercessory prayer is a gift of God’s grace for every Christian community and for every Christian. Because God has made us such an immeasurably great offer here, we should accept it joyfully. The very time we give to intercession will turn out to be a daily source of new joy in God and in the Christian congregation.

Biblical Wisdom

“Moreover, as for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you.” 1 Samuel 12:23

Questions to Ponder

  • Is it a contradiction to say that intercessory prayer is both a “daily service Christians owe to God and one another” and “a gift of God’s grace for every Christian community and for every Christian”? Why, or why not?
  • Could the lack of joy evident in many Christians and in many Christian communities be a sign of a lack of specific, concrete, intercessory prayer? Explain.

Psalm Fragment

But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,
so that those who love your name may exult in you. Psalm 5:11

Journal Reflections

  • Write about how you feel when praying for others in your community of faith.
  • Is intercessory prayer “a daily source of new joy in God and in the Christian congregation” for you? Why, or why not?

Intercessions

Pray that your community of faith in particular, and all communities of faith in general, would experience the joy in God and in each other that comes from the service of daily prayer on behalf of their members.

Prayer for Today

Holy God, thank you for the joy of bringing people into your presence this day and every day.

Day 31

Offering intercessory prayer means nothing other than Christians bringing one another into the presence of God, seeing each other under the cross of Jesus as poor human beings and sinners in need of grace. Then, everything about other people that repels me falls away. Then I see them in all their need, hardship, and distress. Their need and their sin become so heavy and oppressive to me that I feel as if they were my own, and I can do nothing else but bid: Lord, you yourself, you alone, deal with them according to your firmness and your goodness.

Biblical Wisdom

Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective. James 5:15-16

Questions to Ponder

  • How does seeing others under the cross of Jesus Christ cause all that “repels me” about them to fall away?
  • In what way is everyone equal under the cross?
  • How does looking at other people through the lens of God’s mercy change our feelings about them and about ourselves?

Psalm Fragment

May he judge your people with righteousness,
   and your poor with justice.
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
   and the hills, in righteousness.
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
   give deliverance to the needy,
   and crush the oppressor. Psalm 72:2-4

Journal Reflections

  • Make a list of the people whom you would like to bring into the presence of God today.
  • Write a line or two describing the nature of your relationship with each of these people.

Intercessions

For each person listed in your journal today, pray: Lord, you yourself, you alone, deal with (name) according to your firmness and your goodness.

Prayer for Today

Forgiving and transforming God, thank you that under the cross of Christ we all stand equally together under your love and mercy.

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