Life Together

25 08 2015

The pastor of the church I attended while a student at university often mentioned the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This charismatic Swedish Covenant pastor spoke of the ecumenical German Lutheran pastor with so much respect that I decided to buy some of Bonhoeffer’s books.  These included The Cost of Discipleship, Ethics, Letters & Papers from Prison, and Life Together.

Decades have passed. Recently, I was inspired to pull that last one listed from the shelf and take a new look at it. Even though the book was first published in English by Harper & Row in 1954, reading it anew in 2015 has been a renewing experience.

As the blurb on the back of the Harper Jubilee edition says, “This story of a unique fellowship in an underground seminary during the Nazi years reads like one of Paul’s letters. It gives practical advice on how life together in Christ can be sustained in families and groups. The role of personal prayer, worship in common, everyday work, and Christian service is treated in simple, almost Biblical, words. Life Together is bread for all who are hungry for the real life of Christian fellowship.”

Many fine Christian scholars over the years have taught that, in this Age of the Church (which is also called the Age of Grace), the office of prophet is performed by those who preach and teach the Bible. In Pastor Bonhoeffer’s case, that title is indeed befitting. He really does sound like a New Testament apostle speaking with the authority and accuracy of an Old Testament prophet. In this epistle on how to be a church, and how to do church, Bonhoeffer’s words become, in those of an earlier minister of the Gospel, “quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

This is due in great part to Bonhoeffer’s reverence for the Word: Christ Jesus the Word of the Triune God, and the words spoken and written by the prophets and apostles on behalf of the Triune God. As Bonhoeffer insists, not a person and not an assembly can be any good in the Church of our Savior and Lord Christ Jesus without centering in thought, speech, and action on the Word.

“The Christian lives wholly by the truth of God’s Word in Jesus Christ. If somebody asks him, Where is your salvation, your righteousness? he can never point to himself.  He points to the Word of God in Jesus Christ, which assures him salvation and righteousness. He is as alert as possible to the Word. Because he daily hungers and thirsts for righteousness, he daily desires the redeeming Word. And it can come only from the outside. In himself he is destitute and dead. Help must come from the outside, and it has come and comes daily and anew in the Word of Jesus Christ, bringing redemption, righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.

“But God has put this Word into the mouth of men in order that it may be communicated to other men. When one person is struck by the Word, he speaks it to others. God has willed that we should seek and find His living Word in the witness of a brother, in the mouth of man. Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation.”

Bonhoeffer presupposes this occurs in church … that is, within what we typically designate as church: services and ceremonies both formal and informal conducted inside ecclesiastical buildings.  But Bonhoeffer has other assemblies in mind, too, such as monasteries and convents, communes, families and households.  As Jesus Himself said, “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.”

And Bonhoeffer has much to say to individuals. “We recognize, then, that only as we are within the fellowship can we be alone, and only he that is alone can live in fellowship. Only in fellowship do we learn to be rightly alone and only in aloneness do we learn to live rightly in fellowship. Each by itself has profound pitfalls and perils. One who wants fellowship without solitude plunges into the void of words and feelings, and one who seeks solitude without fellowship perishes in the abyss of vanity, self-infatuation, and despair.”

Life Together is not one of those books to be skimmed and then cast amid the jetsam navigated by garage sailors. Read it and read it again. The book is worthy of the kind of meditation encouraged by Bonhoeffer.

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Sweet Peace

7 02 2013

Sweet Peace, where dost thou dwell? I humbly crave,
Let me once know.
I sought thee in a secret cave,
And ask’d, if Peace were there,
A hollow wind did seem to answer, No:
Go seek elsewhere.

I did, and going did a rainbow note:
Surely, thought I,
This is the lace of Peace’s coat:
I will search out the matter.
But while I looked the clouds immediately
Did break and scatter.

Then went I to a garden and did spy
A gallant flower,
The crown imperial. Sure, said I,
Peace at the root must dwell.
But when I digged, I saw a worm devour
What showed so well.

At length I met a rev’rend good old man,
Whom when for Peace
I did demand, he thus began:
There was a Prince of old
At Salem dwelt, who lived with good increase
Of flock and fold.

He sweetly lived, yet sweetness did not save
His life from foes.
But after death out of his grave
There sprang twelve stalks of wheat;
Which many wond’ring at, got some of those
To plant and set.

It prospered strangely, and did soon disperse
Through all the earth;
For they that taste it do rehearse,
That virtue lies therein;
A secret virtue, bringing peace and mirth
By flight of sin.

Take of this grain, which in my garden grows,
And grows for you;
Make bread of it: and that repose
And peace, which ev’ry where
With so much earnestness you do pursue,
Is only there.

George Herbert

 

On Wheat:

And Jesus answereth them, saying, “The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you: except a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it abideth by itself alone; but if it die, it beareth much fruit.

He that loveth his life loseth it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me. Where I am, there shall also my servant be. If any man serve me, him will the Father honor.”

John 12:23-26

“But ye shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit is come upon you: and ye shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”

Acts of the Apostles 1:8

On Bread:

Jesus therefore said unto them, “Verily, verily, I say unto you: it was not Moses who gave you the bread out of heaven; my Father gives you the true bread out of heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world… I am the bread of life: he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes on me shall never thirst… Verily, verily, I say unto you: he who believes has eternal life.

“I am the bread of life…

“This is the bread that comes down out of heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread that came down out of heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever…”

John 6:32,33,35,47,48,50,51

On Peace:

“But the Comforter, even the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you: not as the world gives, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be fearful.”

John 14:26-27

On Peace:

For by grace have you been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, that no man should boast.

We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God beforehand prepared that we should walk in them. 

Wherefore remember that, once you – the Gentiles in the flesh who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called Circumcision in the flesh, made by hands – that you were at that time separate from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of the promise, having no hope and without God in the world.  But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off are made nigh in the blood of Christ.  He is our peace, who made both one, and broke down the wall of partition. Having abolished in the flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances, He created in Himself of the two one new man, so making peace, and reconciled them both in one body unto God through the cross, having slain the enmity thereby.  He came and preached peace to you that were far off, and peace to them that were nigh, for through Him we both have our access in one Spirit unto the Father.

So then you are no more strangers and sojourners. You are fellow-citizens with the saints and of the household of God, being built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the chief corner stone. In Him each building, fitly framed together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In Him you also are built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:8-22

On Peace:

“What man is he that desireth life, And loveth many days, that he may see good? Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile. Depart from evil, and do good. Seek peace, and pursue it.”

Psalm 34:12-14

On Peace:

“The Lord bless thee, and keep thee. The Lord make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee. The Lord lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.”

Numbers 6:24-26

On the Secret Cave:

Read 1 Samuel 22:1-2 and the passages following through chapter 26. Read also 1 Kings 19:1-21.

On the Rainbow:

Read Genesis 9:8-17.

On the Garden:

Read Genesis 2 and 3.

 





This Christmas

24 12 2012

Glory be to God on high,
And peace on earth descend;
God comes down, He bows the sky,
And shows Himself our Friend!
God th’invisible appears,
God the Blest, the Great I AM,
Sojourns in this vale of tears,
And Jesus is His Name.

Him the angels all adored,
Their Maker and their King;
Tidings of their humbled Lord
They now to mortals bring;
Emptied of His majesty,
Of His dazzling glories shorn,
Being’s Source begins to be,
And God Himself is born!

See th’eternal Son of God
A mortal Son of Man,
Dwelling in an earthly clod
Whom Heaven cannot contain!
Stand amazed, ye heav’ns, at this!
See the Lord of earth and skies
Humbled to the dust He is,
And in a manger lies!

We, the sons of men, rejoice,
The Prince of Peace proclaim,
With the angels lift up our voice,
And shout Immanuel’s Name;
Knees and hearts to Him we bow;
Of our flesh, and of our bone,
Jesus is our Brother now,
And God is all our own!

Charles Wesley