So, Rabbi, What Do You Really Think about Jesus?
I recently had the privilege of preaching at a church in Neumünster, Germany, named after the great Protestant theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer.
Bonhoeffer was a brilliant student who turned away from a promising career as a professor of theology to instead live the teachings of Jesus’ life among everyday people as a pastor. He actively opposed Hitler even before he took office and through all 12 years of his reign.
Opportunities to escape Hitler came to Bonhoeffer from prestigious institutions in New York and London, but like Moses at the Burning Bush, Bonhoeffer could not resist the call to return to Germany, despite the danger he faced.
The Nazis executed Dietrich Bonhoeffer at the Flossenbürg concentration camp shortly before the end of the war. One of his most famous teachings is, “To be silent in the face of evil is to be complicit in evil.”
Three wonderful pastors ably lead the Dietrich-Bonhoeffer-Kirchengemeinde, each of whom I see as being very worthy of leading a church that bears Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s name.
Pastorin Ulrike Wohlfahrt led the service with warmth, deep spiritual feeling, and inspiring respect of the Jewish roots of Christianity, saying, “We have so much to gain by listening to and learning from each other.” It was a privilege to be there.
Pastor Tobias Gottesleben came to a Simchat Torah service we hosted this year in Bad Segeberg, and he hosted a study evening at which I spoke a few weeks ago. When I preached there, however, he was visiting the church’s mission community in the Congo.
Pastorin Isabel Frey-Ranck organizes and coordinates the church’s sacred mission of helping the waves of refugees that have come to Neumünster from Syria and several other countries acclimate to their new home.
Near the church is a center that welcomes and processes thousands of refugees from tyranny in Syria and several other countries. It was my great privilege, during my sermon, to welcome these Islamic and Christian refugees as my cousins through Abraham.
During that sermon, I noted that Christians often ask me what I think of Jesus. My answer: It depends on what his followers make of him.
If, as has been the case far too often over the past 2,000 years, Jesus’s name is invoked as justification for persecuting Jews – forcing us to convert, exiling and killing us – then Jesus does not rate high with me.
Of course, Jews will never see Jesus as God or as an object of worship as Christians do. But when Jesus is the inspiration to feed the hungry, cloth the naked, and do the things I see so many churches in Germany do today in his name, then I look at him very positively.
And when, as in the case of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Jesus’s example is the impetus to sacrifice position, comfort, and even his life to oppose the scourge of Nazism, then I become an admirer of Jesus. In fact, I become a very big fan indeed.
On display in the church that bears Bonhoeffer’s name was an exhibit about my wife Vickie’s 94-year-old mother, Stefanie Steinberg, who fled Germany as a 14-year-old refugee in 1936.
“Though she experienced difficult times,” I said, addressing the refugees, “her story has a happy ending. I hope and pray that each of yours will, too.”