Rev. Paul Mims

THE COURAGE TO GO BACK

Posted by Rev. Paul Mims
This sermon was preached at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Cherry Log, Georgia on March 3, 2013 by Pastor Paul Mims.

Acts 14:21-28

Early in January 1939, the precocious German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, age thirty-two, learned that all males in his age had been ordered to register with the military.

The solution was provided by America’s most illustrious theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr. Nine years earlier, Bonhoeffer had spent a year in the United States as a free-floating exchange student at Union Theological Seminary, arriving not long after Niebuhr had moved there from Detroit. He had made such a positive impression on Union’s faculty that Niebuhr jumped at the opportunity to bring him back. If we fail to offer him a job, he told Union’s president, Henry Sloane Coffin, Bonhoeffer will wind up in a concentration camp. This was not the stuff of run-of-the-mill letters of recommendation. Union extended the offer. Grateful to have a way out of his dilemma, Bonhoeffer booked passage, and in June 1939 found himself safe in America.

Safe, but unhappy. Bonhoeffer’s second visit to the United States lasted only twenty-six days.
In his beautifully constructed biography, Metaxas calls Bonhoeffer’s return to Germany in 1939 “the great decision.” Before he arrived in New York, Bonhoeffer was already his country’s most prominent theologian; in the German language, only Switzerland’s Karl Barth outranked him. After he went back to Berlin, Bonhoeffer added the roles referred to by Metaxas’s subtitle: martyr, prophet, spy. In 1945, the Nazis arrested Bonhoeffer, sent him to a series of prisons and camps including Buchenwald, and—two weeks before the Allied troops arrived at the Flossenbürg concentration camp—killed him. He was not yet forty. (Metaxas)

Bonhoeffer in five years rallied the churches of Germany to oppose the Hitler madness and has blessed every generation since with his example and writings.

He was certainly in the tradition of the Apostle Paul. The first Missionary journey had gone to its farthest point and they had to decide what they would do. Would they take the safe and easy route home or would they go back to encourage the churches the way they had come? The short way home would have been through the Taurus Mountains to Seleucia and on to Antioch. But they decided to go back where they had experienced hardships and threats of death. Let’s look at this undaunted courage.

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