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“Come die with us”

“Come die with us”

 

“Come die with us.” What a thing to put on a big digital church sign by the freeway. Not exactly what church consultants would recommend to entice the seeker. Most followers of Jesus would have an idea of what the statement means, but they would dare not make it part of their public persona. It sounds out of touch, too frontal, too costly, too everything. Wouldn’t it be better to say, “Come live with us?” or “Come have an adventure with us?” People don’t like to think morbid thoughts, especially when it’s about them. But then again it would depend on what one thinks is at the heart of the Christian experience. “Come and die with us” is the most apt way of calling upon anyone to join in following Jesus, for the dying comes before the living. A church with such a slogan requires the right pastor. Ah, I know who that pastor should be. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who knows a little bit about dying. He was born in Berlin in 1906 to a large prestigious family. As a boy he was prettier than his twin sister Sabina, sitting there in his lederhosen with his nearly shoulder length blond hair. Dietrich was not a religious boy, and his family was not church going. He surprised everyone when at age fourteen he decided to study theology. Many thought it was for the purpose of sorting out his confusion over his older brother’s death. Walter had died in battle during the Great War. Dietrich did become a pastor and a brilliant theologian. His Doctorial Thesis, “The Communion of the Saints” was praised by Karl Barth as a theological miracle. It was Bonhoffer who said it out loud and to everyone in his classic work, The Cost of Discipleship, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” [1]

 

In 1939, Bonhoeffer moved to New York City as a teaching fellow at Union Theological Seminary. His friends had convinced him that he was important to the future of Germany, and therefore, he needed to be safe from the Nazis. He walked the streets and strolled through the parks of Manhattan asking only one question, the only one that counts for a dead man walking, “What is the will of God?” His soul was not at rest; he needed to know. God impressed upon him to return to Germany. Bonhoeffer thought that he would not have any credibility in Germany after the war if he were not willing to risk his life to resist Hitler during the war. He participated in a plot to assassinate Hitler; when the plot failed he was found out and was imprisoned. He spent two years in prison, then he and several more political prisoners were moved in the waning days of the war. On April 9 in the prison yard at Flossenburg, Bonhoeffer was marched naked to the gallows; his last words were ones for the ages. “This is the end, for me the beginning of life”

 

For a person who has answered the call to die to self and follow Christ, “what is the will of God?” is the only important question. A disciple lives for others. In this case the Holy Other is God. When one lives for God, then God’s will is what will advance the Kingdom and give him the greatest glory. It is not about our lives and our ministries and our careers. Bonhoeffer lived only 39 years. It was a short life, but it was God’s will for him. Therefore, Bonhoeffer’s life got maximum impact; it was a life that we still benefit from today. It is probable that if Bonhoeffer had stayed in New York and lived a long life that we might know of him, but it is very unlikely that we would revere him as we do or that the many books and films about him would have been made. I am quite sure this short article would not have been written about him or that this author would have been inspired and changed by his example.



[1] Bonhoeffer, Dietrich The Cost of Discipleship page 7 , Macmillan Publishing, NY 1937