By Gracious Powers
“By gracious powers so wonderfully sheltered,
And confidently waiting come what may,
We know that God is with us night and morning,
And never fails to greet us each new day.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, 1944
How many of you can name individuals whose life stories serve as an inspiration for you? I imagine the answer to that question is most everyone! Whether that question takes your thinking to people in your own family, mentors you knew in childhood, friends who have walked beside you, or others who you know only by reading or reputation, certainly we all have individuals who have inspired us; those whose lives have served as inspiration for the living of our own.
One such person for me is the 20th century theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Many of you have likely heard his story. Born on February 4, 1906, Bonhoeffer was instrumental in the German “Confessing Church” movement during WWII. His aim was to keep the church faithful during a time in which the Nazi party was co-opting the church for its own purposes. In the course of his work, he also became aligned with “Abwehr” (a German military intelligence organization) which plotted (unsuccessfully) to assassinate Hitler. As a result of his associations, he was arrested and spent the last two years of his life in prison before being executed by hanging on April 9, 1945 in the Flossenburg Concentration Camp. His death came a mere two weeks before the camp was liberated by U.S. forces.
Certainly, Bonhoeffer’s commitment to keeping the church faithful in the midst of great corruption is inspiring in itself. The martyrdom he suffered for the sake of his unwavering confession of Christ was unmistakable. But the thing that really inspires me is the witness that Bonhoeffer gave to his faith during the weeks and months of his imprisonment. The letters that he wrote from prison and the testimony given by those who were with him there portray a man who continued to know and share the joy and confidence of his faith even in the most discouraging circumstances. Like Paul and Silas, Bonhoeffer preached and proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ – even in chains! Behind bars, he sang the hymns of the church that gave words to the faith that kept him strong. And in the final months of his life, he penned the words of the hymn quoted above. The final verse of that hymn proclaims,
“Yet when again in this same world You give us,
The joy we had, the brightness of Your sun,
We shall remember all the days we lived through,
And our whole life shall then be Yours alone.”
What steadfast testimony to Bonhoeffer’s trust and assurance in the gracious power of God. What a witness to his belief in God’s goodness and providence. What a proclamation of the truth that indeed the entirety of our lives belongs to God alone!
Eberhard Bethge, a student and dear friend of Bonhoeffer’s writes of a man who witnessed the execution: “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer… kneeling on the floor praying fervently to God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the few steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”
Friends, may our lives and faith be inspired even today by the powerful witness of this God’s faithful servant! ~ PastorPete
Rev. Pete Ullmann began his ministry at Jesup Presbyterian Church in December 2013. He is a native of Tampa, Florida where he earned his undergraduate degree at the University of South Florida. Following college, Pastor Pete moved to Richmond, Virginia where he earned graduate degrees in Divinity and Christian Education from Union Theological Seminary in Virginia and the Presbyterian School of Christian Education. Since his ordination in August, 1997, Pastor Pete has served churches in Middle Tennessee and North Georgia prior to moving to Jesup. He and his wife Dawn are enjoying living in Wayne County, along with their nine year old son Nate.