First Grace’s 2018 Lenten Discipline
Each week of Lent, First Grace will be given one of the “Ministries of Life Together” that Rev. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote for his flock. We are invited to read, reflect and practicethe ministry for the week in all aspects of daily life. Perhaps you will add to the ministries that Bonhoeffer wrote of. He spoke of the Ministry of Listening, The Ministry of Holding One’s Tongue, The Ministry of Meekness, The Ministry of Helpfulness, The Ministry of Bearing the Burden of Each Other, and the Ministry of Proclamation-Speaking the Truth in Love.
DIETRICH BONHOEFFER was a German pastor and theologian known for his opposition to National Socialism-Nazism and Adolf Hitler. His ties to the July 20, 1944 conspiracy to assassinate Adolf Hitler and to overthrow the Nazi regime led to his arrest. In April 1945, weeks before the war ended, Bonhoeffer was hanged.
His theological writings are regarded as classics throughout the Christian world. One of those writings is Life Together-a Discussion on Christian Fellowship. Bonhoeffer had opened an underground seminary where he served as dean. He wrote Life Together for the seminarians who were having a difficult time-living together and being the church for each other.
Bonhoeffer was engaged in a most serious, dangerous and joyful life-giving endeavor-living the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For him and for us the gospel is one of both social transformation AND personal transformation. These two transformations do not happen in unison. Bonhoeffer confronted the ills in society and the ills in himself. His faith as a disciple of Jesus Christ enabled him to do both. Like the first disciples of Jesus, he was silenced, imprisoned and executed. Yet Bonhoeffer was known roundly as the kindest and most generous of souls. He even provided pastoral counseling for his Nazi prison guards. He is truly among the cloud of witnesses.
(Our thanks to Rev. John Winn who introduced me to this book when I entered pastoral ministry. Rev. Winn’s paraphrasing with a few edits is employed for this Lenten study.)
First Grace’s 2018 Lenten Discipline
LIFE TOGETHER by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
WE SPEAK, THIRD, of the service that consists in bearing others. “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). Thus, the law of Christ is a law of bearing. Bearing means forbearing and sustaining…IT IS ONLY WHEN A PERSON IS A BURDEN that the person is really a brother or a sister and not merely an object to be manipulated…
IT IS, FIRST of all, the FREEDOM of the other person, of which we spoke earlier, that is the burden to the Christian. Another person’s freedom collides with my own autonomy, yet I must recognize it. I could get rid of this burden by refusing his or her freedom, by constraining that other person and thus doing violence to their personality, by stamping my own image upon that person. But if we recognize that God is creating God’s own image in that person, we by this token give the other person his or her freedom and that person bears the burden of this freedom. The freedom of the other person includes all that we mean by a person’s nature, individuality, endowment. It also includes their weaknesses and oddities, which are such a trial to our patience, everything that produces frictions, conflicts, and collisions among us. To bear the burden of the other person means involvement with the created reality of the other, to accept and affirm it, and, in bearing with it, to break through to the point where we take joy in it.
It is doubtless this bearing of another person, respecting that person’s freedom, that the Scripture means when it speaks of “Bear with one another” (Colossians 3:13). “…lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:1-2)
THEN, BESIDES THE, other’s freedom, there is the abuse of that freedom that becomes a burden for the Christian. The sin of the other person is harder to bear than that person’s freedom; for in sin, connectedness with God and with the sister or brother is broken. Here the Christian suffers the rupture of his or her connection with the other person that had its basis in Jesus Christ. But here, too, it is only in bearing with our brothers and sisters that the great GRACE of God becomes wholly plain. To cherish no contempt for the sinner but rather to prize the privilege of bearing the person means not to have to give him or her up as lost, to be able to accept that person, to preserve community with them through forgiveness. “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. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted” (Galatians 6:1). As Christ bore and received us as sinners so we in his community may bear and receive sinners into the community of Jesus Christ through the forgiving of sins.
THE SERVICE OF FORGIVENESS is rendered by one to the others daily. It occurs, without words, in the intercessions for one another. And every member of the community, who does not grow weary in this ministry, can depend upon it that this service is also being rendered to them by their brothers and sisters. When we bear others we know that we, ourselves, are being borne, and only in this strength can we go on bearing.
Bonhoeffer’s “Four Services” have been modified
to be gender inclusive byJohn Winn