“Gracious God, the Beyond in the midst of our life, you gave grace to your servant Dietrich Bonhoeffer to know and to teach the truth as it is in Jesus Christ, and to bear the cost of following him; Grant that we, strengthened by his teaching and example, may receive your word and embrace its call with an undivided heart; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”
– From Lesser Feasts and Fasts, 2003
“Dietrich Bonhoeffer (4 February 1906 – 9 April 1945) was a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, dissident anti-Nazi and founding member of the Confessing Church. His writings on Christianity’s role in the secular world have become widely influential, and many have labelled his book The Cost of Discipleship a modern classic. Apart from his theological writings, Bonhoeffer became known for his staunch resistance to the Nazi dictatorship. He strongly opposed Hitler’s euthanasia program and genocidal persecution of the Jews. He was also involved in plans by members of the Abwehr (the German Military Intelligence Office) to assassinate Adolf Hitler. He was arrested in April 1943 by the Gestapo and executed by hanging in April 1945 while imprisoned at a Nazi concentration camp, just 23 days before the German surrender.”
– From Wikipedia
My first interaction with the works of Dietrich Bonhoeffer was of course, in seminary. The course was Christian Social Ethics. We were assigned to read his very influential book, Ethics. At some point along the seminary journey, I read another of his great works, The Cost of Discipleship. In reading both of these masterpieces, I learned a very valuable lesson on what it takes to be a clergyman in the midst of mortal danger and social injustice.
As the above description from Wikipedia states, he was a clergyman in Germany during the Nazi regime. A little more background: Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran minister. He graduated from seminary and the University of Berlin at 21 years old, however, he was not old enough to be ordained. In the mean time, he went to study at Union Theological Seminary in New York and was exposed to the Black Church experience. He served at the historical Abyssinian Baptist Church as a Sunday School teacher. Being inspired by a sermon from Adam Clayton Powell Sr., and the connection to the Negro Spirituals, Bonhoeffer decided to return to Germany to help those who were captive. The rest is history.
Bonhoeffer could have remained in Harlem. He was pressured to do so. If he stayed, he would have been one of the most sought after seminary professors and ministers in the United States. He would have cemented his name as a giant in the theological academy. However, he knew that there was more for him. He knew that it wasn’t about him and his legacy, but rather the nation of Germany (his homeland), the persecuted Jewish people, and his example of the love of Christ.
As we continue on our respected journeys, we must keep in mind that the gifts we are given are not ours. We must fight the urge to put our own goals of building a legacy and place God first. If we are truly disciples of God, we will do this. Bonhoeffer died as a result of doing this. His death was not in vain. It was indeed the cost of discipleship.