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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By Contrast

17 07 2014

Oh to be free of myself,
With nothing left to remember,
To have my heart as bare
As a tree in December;

Resting, as a tree rests
After its leaves are gone,
Waiting no more for a rain at night
Nor for the red at dawn;

But still, oh so still
While the winds come and go,
With no more fear of the hard frost
Or the bright burden of snow;

And heedless, heedless
If anyone pass and see
On the white page of the sky
Its thin black tracery.

Sara Teasdale

ghost willow lite

Oh, like a tree
Let me grow up to Thee!
And like a Tree
Send down my roots to Thee.

Let my leaves stir
In each sigh of the air,
My branches be
Lively and glad in Thee;

Each leaf a prayer,
And green fire everywhere …
And all from Thee
The sap within the Tree.

And let Thy rain
Fall–or as joy or pain
So that I be
Yet unforgot of Thee.

Then shall I sing
The new song of Thy Spring,
Every leaf of me
Whispering Love in Thee!

John Frederick Freeman

evening willows





The Church Song

13 07 2014

Come on now, choir, quit your singing;

And preacher, just stop your preaching!

I’ve got places to get.

 

Well, I admit,

I simply cannot stand it,

can’t stand it no more.

 

And why does the prayer never end?

Are they punishing me for my sin?

 

And is it just me,

or does it seem they’re from a foreign country?

 

Besides, there ain’t no way their joy is real.

Those plastic happy faces just conceal,

‘cause if they’re anything like me,

they are hiding reality.

 

No doubt they are hypocrites, too;

Judgmental hateful folks, I am sure.

It must be a show;

if I probe they’re a wreck, I just know.

 

That’s what I once thought.

Yet in spite of it all,

I heard you, Lord, speaking to me,

when I finally gave in

and repented of my sin.

Wow! Did I taste and see!

‘Cause to my surprise,

the Lord opened my eyes

to far more than I imagined.

 

Then I joined the choir,

and learned to like prayer,

and I’ve even preached a few sermons.

 

But I speak their own language when I speak,
And I try not to put them to sleep.

 

But I preach the Word,

and they’re raised to life by the good Lord.

They’re not perfect, all those church folks;

sometimes, not even close.

But I’ve found no closer friends

who will love and will give to the end,

and despite all the blemishes,

I believe that the Church is

God’s main way to reach His world.

 

So by grace I’ll spend my life

loving His Bride and

washing Her with His Word,

washing her feet as I serve.

 

 

Casey Getz

 

(Copyright 2012; used by permission.)

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My Grandmother’s Favorite

7 03 2013

yellow roses

 

I come to the garden alone
While the dew is still on the roses
And the voice I hear falling on my ear
The Son of God discloses.

And He walks with me, and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His own;
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.

He speaks, and the sound of His voice,
Is so sweet the birds hush their singing,
And the melody that He gave to me
Within my heart is ringing.

C. Austin Miles





With Meditation

15 02 2013

Ceres

Happy the man, whose wish and care
   A few paternal acres bound,
Content to breathe his native air,
                            In his own ground.
Whose herds with milk, whose fields with bread,
   Whose flocks supply him with attire,
Whose trees in summer yield him shade,
                            In winter fire.
Blest, who can unconcernedly find
   Hours, days, and years slide soft away,
In health of body, peace of mind,
                            Quiet by day,
Sound sleep by night; study and ease,
   Together mixed; sweet recreation;
And innocence, which most does please,
                            With meditation.
Thus let me live, unseen, unknown;
   Thus unlamented let me die;
Steal from the world, and not a stone
                            Tell where I lie.
Alexander Pope
morning light
For further meditation …

 

 And Yahweh God planted a garden in Eden in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed.

And Yahweh God took the man and set him in the garden of Eden to cultivate it and to keep it.

Genesis 2:8, 15, 18

Then Yahweh God said, “It is not good that the man is alone. I will make for him a helper as his counterpart.”

1 Thessalonians 4:10-12

But we urge you, brothers, to progress even more,and to aspire to live a quiet life, and to attend to your own business, and to work with your hands, just as we commanded you, so that you may live decently toward those outside, and may have need of nothing.

2 Thessalonians 3:10

For even when we were with you, we used to command this to you: that if anyone does not want to work, neither should he eat.

Ephesians 4:28

The one who steals must steal no longer, but instead must labor, working with his own hands what is good,

so that he may have something to share with the one who has need. 

Galatians 6:2-5

Carry the burdens of one another, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something although he is nothing, he is deceiving himself. 

But let each one examine his own work, and then he will have a reason for boasting in himself alone, and not in someone else. For each one will carry his own burden.

Romans 14:7

For none of us lives for himself and none dies for himself.

Hebrews 12:14-15

Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord. Take care that no one falls short of the grace of God…

Micah 4:1-4

 

And it will be that at the end of those days,
the mountain of Yahweh
    will be established as the highest of the mountains,
and it will be lifted up above the hills,
    and people will stream to it.
 And many nations will come and say,
“Come! Let us go up to the mountain of Yahweh,
    and to the temple of the God of Jacob,
that he may teach us his ways,
    and that we may walk in his paths,”
for the law will go out from Zion,
    and the word of Yahweh from Jerusalem.
 And he will judge between many peoples
    and will arbitrate for strong nations far away;
and they will beat their swords into plowshares
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation will not lift up a sword against a nation,
    and they will no longer learn war.
 But they will sit, each under his vine
    and under his fig tree,
and no one will make them afraid,
    for the mouth of Yahweh of hosts has spoken.

Scripture quotations are from the Lexham English Bible. Copyright 2012 Logos Bible Software.  Link to http://www.lexhamenglishbible.com.