Sunday 3rd May – Standing Up

Reflections on Luke 10:25-37 by Rev’d Sabrina Groeschel 

It is impressive when people can give courage to others, even when the situation they are in is indescribably difficult for themselves. There is no recipe and no trick for that. That is precisely why I am fascinated by someone who managed to do this particularly well. It is the Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer who 75 years ago consoled his fiancée with letters from his prison cell and since then has given courage to many other people through his writing. I am sure, to many of you, he probably is no stranger, Peter mentioned him in his Palm Sunday Sermon. I first came across him when the minister of the church I grew up in gave me Bonhoeffer’s biography as a Confirmation present at the age of 14. Reading his biography sparked an enthusiasm in me to want to stand up against injustice and I guess this has eventually led to me working for Action Reconciliation Service for Peace today.

Bonhoeffer is in prison, tortured and harassed, and he writes another letter to his fiancée, just a few weeks before his execution by the Nazi regime. He writes a text that is still touching today: “By gracious powers wonderfully sheltered, and confidently waiting, come what may, God is with us at night and in the morning and certainly on every future day.”

A fascinating man who, despite being in the most hopeless of situations, manages to console others. He had the chance to avoid imprisonment, and eventually death, at the hand of the Nazis. He could easily have taken a job abroad and escaped. He studied in New York, from 1933-35 he was minister to two German speaking churches in London and in 1939 he took another trip to New York. And yet he returned to Germany, even though he knew that it would be dangerous for him. He was involved in the training of ministers for the Confessing Church, which was one of the very few Christian resistance movements in Germany during the Nazi era. He saw himself as a pacifist and knew that this could also require tough political resistance.

It has been 75 years since Bonhoeffer wrote his poem to his fiancée. He died on 9th April 75 years ago and remembering him, as well as the end of WWII, must also sharpen awareness of the present. Today, we again see a rise of extremist political groups, of nationalism, of racism and anti-Semitism. Again, violent acts against minorities are downplayed. Bonhoeffer opposed such things and reasoned with his faith. And he does so through the use of poetic language, which is pleasantly calm, in a context where others mob and scream. To not let yourself be infected by inhuman and shabby language, this is also an act against violence, according to Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

In the current situation of Covid-19 we all certainly can do with the comfort and courage that come from Bonhoeffer’s words. However, no matter how difficult our own situation might be at present, if we truly want to follow Bonhoeffer’s example, we must not turn our backs on injustices and those who are even worse effected by the crisis than we are. Yet while the news pages are full of reports of the birth of the prime minister’s son, they hardly mention the dreadful situations in many the refugee camps in Greece, Turkey and elsewhere. Of course, the on-going lack of help for those in the camps is not unlike the story of the man who was beaten up in the ditch and everyone walks past. Everyone has good reasons why they supposedly can’t help. Only one person acts without much concern and simply does the obvious thing: help. Whether out of faith, idealism, compassion or simply common sense: to help those in need of protection without any ifs and buts, unquestioned and immediately – if that is not the lowest common denominator of humanity, then what is?! The story of the Samaritan and the example of Bonhoeffer command us to not to turn a blind eye to what is going wrong in our world, but to take action, may it be practical action like the Samaritan or writing and speech like Bonhoeffer.

Let us just remind ourselves of Bonhoeffer’s poem to his fiancée: “By gracious powers wonderfully sheltered, and confidently waiting, come what may, God is with us at night and in the morning and certainly on every future day.” What great trust of a man who is awaiting his execution? No cheap comfort, no romantic talk, but great sobriety and serenity. He knows that God is with him no matter how bad it gets; no matter what comes next. And that is what gives him the strength to stand up against what is wrong and unjust!