Summary: By comparing the lives of John the Baptist and Dietrich Bonhoeffer I show that God does not despise our questions and doubts; He uses them to and make us whole.
A HOPEFUL CONFIRMATION
SERMON # OF THE ADVENT SERIES “HOPE IS ON THE WAY”
Big idea: God does not despise our questions and doubts; He uses them to and make us whole.
2 When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples 3 to ask him, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" 4 Jesus replied, "Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. 6 Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me." 7 As John's disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: "What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? 8 If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings' palaces. 9 Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. 10 This is the one about whom it is written: " 'I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.' 11 I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.
John the Baptist was a man’s man. He was filled with passion and determination. He was obsessed, maybe even possessed, by a spirit of justice. His presence captivated your attention and his words demanded your consideration. It has been said of John that he was “incapable of seeing evil without rebuking it. He spoke too fearlessly and too definitely for his own safety” (Wm. Barclay, the Gospel of Matthew).
John’s prophetic voice and in-your-face demeanor landed him in prison and eventually cost him his head. He was executed at the command of Herod.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born on February 4, 1906, in Breslau, Germany. He was raised in a comfortable home, was well educated and wrote his dissertation at the end of three years at the University of Berlin (1924-1927) where he was awarded his doctorate with honors. We became a professor at Berlin University and a parish priest in various assignments.
His upbringing and his demeanor could not be more contrasting to John the Baptist’s and yet they had more in common than we might discover at first glance. You see, Bonhoeffer, like The Baptist, proved incapable of “not rebuking evil.” He, too, had a deep conviction regarding justice and the will of God; he, too, was unable to compromise. Neither was “a reed shaken by the wind.” Bonhoeffer's opposition to the National Socialism of Nazi Germany was founded upon his faith and made him a leader, along with Karl Barth, in the anti-Nazi Confessing Church of Germany. He was an advocate on behalf of the Jews. It was his efforts to help a group of Jews escape to Switzerland that led to his arrest and imprisonment in the spring 1943. He was hanged in the concentration camp at Flossenburg on April 9, 1945 specifically because of his faith and support of the Protestant resistance movement.
John the Baptist wore camel’s hair, kept to a strict and unusual diet, spoke brashly and lived on the outskirts of society. Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived a life of prestige and enlightenment. He wore the clothing of clergy, dined with the elite, and spoke the language of the educated. But both men had an unswerving commitment to God and desired to see His “kingdom come and his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Both men were “incapable of seeing evil without rebuking it.” Both men “spoke too fearlessly and too definitely for their own safety.” Both men were executed for their faith.
Now if we are not careful we will idealize men such as this. We will think there are no chinks in their armor. Last week in our Advent text from Matthew 3:1-12, we listened to the bold declarations and demands of The Baptist and there was not a hint of fear or doubt in what he said. In a similar manner, Bonhoeffer never compromised on his rejection of the evils of Nazi Socialism and one would think from reading his writings that he was always the man of conviction and strength.
But is either picture accurate? Were there no weaknesses in their convictions?
There is a small piece written by Bonhoeffer titled, “Who Am I?” It does not get as much attention as his book, “The Cost of Discipleship” but it may be just as significant. I want you to hear him morning.