God Is On The Cross - Lenten Reflections
This Lenten season we are reading together reflections from Dietrich Bonhoeffer collected in a book titled "God is On The Cross." If you have questions or your own reflections to share, email me at email@example.com.
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Sunday, February 18 - God Needs The Whole Heart
"Those who have received God's word must begin to seek God. They can do no other... We can seek God nowhere except in his word, but this word is alive and inexhaustible, for God himself lives in it. If God's word has found us, then we can say: 'With my whole heart I seek you' (Psalm 119:10). For with half a heart we would seek an idol, but never God himself. God needs the whole heart." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer as cited in the book, God is On The Cross)
Again, watching the Olympics, I was tuned into the Women's Freestyle Skiing competition. I used to be a freestyle skier myself, but never anything even remotely approaching the amazing feats these young women were doing. What impressed me most, though, was watching athlete after athlete go flying into the air, reaching and pressing to the absolute limits to make the biggest trick possible, only to crash miserably on the landing. What impressed me most was not the arial acrobatics (which were truly impressive). No, what impressed me the most was the joy on the face of the competitors who just crashed - their hopes of Olympic glory gone. They seemed to arise from their snowy crash, equipment scattered, clothing twisted, spitting snow, but absolutely joyful. They went for it! The put their whole heart into this thing they loved. They did not hold back, but gave it their all. And even when the result wasn't gold medal worthy, they were nonetheless satisfied - more than that, joyful. That's what "whole hearted" looks like.
God does not expect perfection. God expects, no demands, our whole heart. Let us not be half-hearted in our faith. Let us not be half-hearted in loving our neighbor. We may crash, we may not win the prize held up by the world, but we will have truly lived as our maker intended us: joyful and full of life!
Monday, February 19 - Hope Abides
"A faith that does not hope is sick. It is like a hungry child who will not eat or a tired person who will not sleep. As certainly as people believe, so certainly do they hope. And it is no shame in hoping, in hoping boundlessly. Who would even talk of God and not hope? Who would want to talk of God without hoping one day to see him?... And why should we be ashamed of our hope? We will one day have to be ashamed, not of our hope, but of our miserable and anxious hopelessness that trusts nothing to God..." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer from God is On The Cross)
It is important to remember that these words from Bonhoeffer came in the context of Nazi Germany in the middle of WWII, and Bonhoeffer himself was a part of the resistance movement that took a stand against this brutal regime. He even participated in an attempt to assassinate Hitler. And for his part in it, Bonhoeffer was imprisoned and later executed.
We don't hope for what we have, we hope for what eludes us. We hope for a better day, for a cure, for peace, for love, for a lost loved one to be restored to us.
Hope is a powerful thing. With it we can endure the worst the world has to throw at us. Without it, all of life is unbearable.
Some who are without faith think we are delusional, that we are kidding ourselves, that we are clinging to fairy tails in order to avoid the harsh realities of life. Maybe. But I would rather live my life in the delusion of hope than to live a hopeless life. Hopelessness gives birth to things like despair, hate, fear and violence. Hope gives birth to things like patience, endurance, courage and love.
A life of hope in God and in Jesus is not a delusional denial of the troubles we will inevitably encounter in this life, it is the very real power to keep us moving forward in the face of trouble. It is the only fruitful response to evil, destruction and chaos. Jesus said "In the world you have troubles [or "you will face persecution"]. But take courage; I have conquered the world!” (John 16:33)
Tuesday, February 20: God can Wait
"Human beings are the losers; God is the winner. God lets human beings start; he lets them make progress, have success, and seems himself to be totally passive. His countermoves seem rather insignificant, and we seldom notice them at all. So we march forward, proud and self-confident and certain of our success and ultimate victory. But God can wait; sometimes he waits year after year... God waits in the hope that people will finally understand his moves and want to turn their life over to him. But once in every life—perhaps it will not be until the hour of death—God crosses our way, so that we must stop and in fear and trembling recognize God's power and our own weakness and wretchedness..." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer from God is On The Cross)
Yesterday I wrote of hope - our hope in God. Today Bonhoeffer writes of God's hope in us! God is patient. God is not in a hurry. God has invested in us and is willing to give the investment enough time to mature and begin paying dividends. God is unwilling to give up on us even though we give him more than enough reason to believe we are a bad risk, a poor return on the investment.
We are not so patient. We demand instant gratification. We want to see results! We are impatient. And perhaps in our impatience, our need to move ahead on our own (with or without God) that we fail to see, fail to listen, fail to comprehend God's presence, God's guidance, God's wisdom in our affairs.
Violence erupts, another shooting occurs, bloody images of broken bodies and pain-wracked faces of the grieving flood the airwaves. We cry out, "God, do something!"
What is God waiting for? Maybe he is waiting for what he has already done to take effect. God did NOT send the shooter to wreak havoc on his beloved children, but he did turn our eyes toward the violence, the hate, the fear that is festering inside us. He has opened our ears the cry of the victims' families. Are we listening? Do we hear? Are we watching? Do we see? Is this the moment when God finally does act, stepping in front of us while we rush headlong toward a cliff? Is this the moment God blocks our way and rescues us from our own blind scurrying over the edge and into the abyss?
Wednesday, February 21: Simple Obedience
"When Jesus demanded voluntary poverty of the rich young man, the latter knew that there were only two chioces: to obey or not obey (Matt. 19:21). When Levi was called from his tax collecting and Peter from his nets, there was no doubt that Jesus was serious about his call. They were to leave everything and follow him (Mark 2:14; 1:16-17). When Peter was called onto the rolling sea, he has to get up and venture forth (Matt. 14:29). In all of this, only one thing was demanded: to rely on the word of Jesus Christ and accept his word as a more secure foundation the all the securities of the world."
(Dietrich Bonhoeffer from God is On The Cross)
We, fleshy human beings, like things that are concrete. We want to see it, touch it, smell it, measure it, weigh it. That's how we know it is real and what its qualities are. It' how we assign it a value.
Why then do we try to "spiritualize" Jesus and make his call something unearthly? Why do we relegate his word to analogy and metaphor?
Jesus' call is concrete. It is specific. It is rooted and grounded in life on earth. "Feed my sheep." "I was naked and you clothed me, in prison and you visited me, thirsty and you gave me drink... as you did it to the least of these, you did it to me."
These are not metaphors. These are not spiritual concepts on which we are to meditate at home in the dark. These are callings, commands, directives to do - to go out into the world and perform, to act upon, to accomplish. We have only two choices: simple obedience or willful disobedience.