The Collected Sermons of Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Publication Year: 2012
Preaching, according to Bonhoeffer, is like offering an apple to a child. The gospel is proclaimed, but for it to be received as gift depends on whether or not the hearer is in a position to do so. Offered here are thirty-one of Pastor Bonhoeffer's sermons, in new English translations, which he preached at various times of the year and in a variety of different settings. Each is introduced by Bonhoeffer translator Isabel Best who also provides a brief biography of Bonhoeffer. The foreword is by Victoria J. Barnett, general editor of the Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, English edition, published by Fortress Press, from which these sermons are selected.
In his preaching, Bonhoeffer's strong, personal faith—the foundation for everything he did—shines in the darkness of Hitler's Third Reich and in the church struggle against it. Though not overtly political, Bonhoeffer's deep concern for the developments in his world is revealed in his sermons as he seeks to draw the listener into conversation with the promises and claims of the gospel—a conversation readers today are invited to join.
Published by: Augsburg Fortress Publishers
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Title Page, Copyright
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Dietrich Bonhoeffer is usually not remembered as a preacher. Although he preached throughout his adult life, there were only two relatively brief periods in which he actually preached every Sunday to a congrega-tion. Both periods were in parishes outside Germany. In 1928, he served as pastoral assistant vicar to the overseas German-speaking congregation in Barcelona, Spain, and then from October 1933 to the spring of 1935 ...
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Dietrich Bonhoeffer is considered one of the foremost Protestant theo-logians of the twentieth century. He was a German Lutheran pastor, best known for his active part in the German Resistance movement that sought to remove Hitler from power during the Second World War. At the time of Bonhoeffer’s execution by the Nazis in 1945 at the age of only thirty-nine, he was writing groundbreaking theology. He had also been a ...
God Is with Us
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Bonhoeffer preached this sermon and the next while serving as a pastoral assistant (German: Vikar) in a Lutheran congregation in Barcelona, Spain, as part of his training for ordination. Even though he was speaking in German to German-speaking people, Bonhoeffer found preparing and delivering his first sermons challenging. But he was eager for the experience, and his supervising pastor...
Waiting at the Door
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We know from a letter Bonhoeffer wrote to his family at this time that he was still having to work hard all the preceding week on his sermons. But he had become popular as a preacher. Attendance at Sunday services increased, and the senior pastor stopped announcing ahead of time which of them would be preaching. On this occasion, he was absent, Bonhoeffer begins with words about waiting, a traditional Advent ...
National Memorial Day
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The year 1932 was a grim time for Germany. Its new postwar republican government was struggling amid inflation, unemployment, and pov-erty. Hitler’s movement, along with Communist and socialist movements, was underway. Bonhoeffer shared in the fears for his country’s future, but he also foresaw suffering for the church. German theologian Günther Dehn (whom Bonhoeffer refers to in this sermon as a “seer”) had questioned the ...
The Promised Land
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In the year following his ordination on November 13, 1931, Bonhoeffer had to fulfill various pastoral assignments before he could apply for a par-ish of his own. A particular challenge was preparing young teenage boys for confirmation in a working-class Berlin neighborhood. The unruly class of more than forty boys was the despair of their pastor, but Bonhoeffer had experience as a youth leader in Harlem, New York, and soon won them ...
God Is Love
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Pentecost, or Whit Sunday, is the fiftieth day after Easter, often called the “birthday of the church.” The text for the day—Acts 2—recalls the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Jesus’ disciples. Since ancient times, the church has observed Pentecost Sunday with the celebration of baptisms. We have here Bonhoeffer’s homily when he baptized his eight-month-old nephew Thomas, son of Klaus and Emmi Bonhoeffer, on a Pentecost Sun-...
Lazarus and the Rich Man
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Bonhoeffer did not have his own pulpit during his ministry in Berlin; rather, his opportunities to preach came when a colleague needed a substitute. For whom and in which church he was substituting was not always recorded with his sermon manuscripts, as they have been preserved. Bonhoeffer found preaching an awesome responsibility, and often sought to share sermon ideas with colleagues. In 1931, the Swiss theo-...
Risen with Christ
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Bonhoeffer preached on this occasion at the request of his friend Gerhard Jacobi. Jacobi was pastor of a church that was destroyed in the bombing of Berlin and is well-known today for having been rebuilt after World War II amid the ruins of the original church. Many of Bonhoeffer’s students would have attended the service, but he was also concerned about the members of the...
The Things That Are Above
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Bonhoeffer had preached the previous Sunday on these verses from the apostle Paul’s letter to Christians in Colossae (see page 41). But he had taken so much time that day in presenting his clear view of the contem-porary world that he still had much more to say. So he asked his colleague Gerhard Jacobi, for whom he was substituting, to let him preach again on In this sermon, Bonhoeffer refers both to literature and to world events ...
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In January 1933, shortly before Hitler came to power, Bonhoeffer preached this sermon at a vespers service on the evening of the second Sunday after Epiphany. It was a time of great tension in Berlin, and of widespread fear. The Hindenburg government was tottering, indeed was about to go under, and with it Germany’s fragile first republic, cre-ated at Weimar after World War I. There was fear of Communism—the ...
Gideon: God Is My Lord
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In this sermon, the first that he preached after Hitler’s takeover of power, Bonhoeffer was concerned to put things in place, to proclaim at this moment when even German cathedrals were hung with swastika flags that for Christians there is only one Lord. He took as his text the Old Testament story of Gideon, a young man chosen by God to save the Israelites from their enemies and to turn them away from the worship of false ...
The Joy of Ascension
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Ascension Day is a traditional religious holiday in Europe, observed forty days after Easter, on the Thursday ten days before Pentecost. In Bonhoeffer’s time, schools and most workplaces were closed, and many faithful Christians went to church on that day. On Ascension Day 1933, Bonhoeffer didn’t try their patience with a long sermon, but gave them a cheering word to take away with them. He quoted the first line of the ...
Who Do You Say That I Am?
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Bonhoeffer preached his last sermon in Berlin on a day of great tension in the Protestant church. On short notice and in defiance of German law, Hitler had called national church elections for that very day, to allow the German Christians to put in place church leaders more to his liking. Bonhoeffer and his Young Reformation students and friends campaigned hard for opposing candidates under the slogan “Church must remain ...
Ambassadors for Christ
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In the summer of 1933, Bonhoeffer exchanged letters with the retiring pastor of St. Paul’s and Sydenham Churches, both congregations for German-speaking people in London, and made a quick trip there to preach his candidate sermon. In October, in haste amid many other decisions that needed to be made and commitments fulfilled, he moved into two rooms in a building that housed a German school, which served as the parsonage. Bonhoeffer looked forward greatly...
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Some European churches observe a Day of Repentance and Prayer in the autumn, near the end of the church year. The day was a national holiday in Germany in Bonhoeffer’s time (it isn’t any longer) and was of such importance that it was observed even by the German-speaking congregations in London Bonhoeffer was serving in 1933. He may have preached this sermon at a...
As a Mother Comforts Her Child
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A day dedicated to remembrance of those who have died in the past year and in years long past is observed by Christians in many different cultures. In Germany, this “Day of the Dead” comes in late autumn, on length about the experience of death—he still carried the vivid child-hood memory of his brother’s death—but also of the hope and comfort offered by the church. His text comes from the Apocrypha, several books ...
Come, O Rescuer
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As Bonhoeffer stood up to preach on Advent Sunday 1933, people in churches throughout England were grieving a disaster. The News Chronicle had been reporting daily on a gas explosion and roof collapse at a mine in Derbyshire, on November 19: “Bands of rescuers in gas masks descended the pit immediately, some in their ‘Sunday’ clothes, and worked three hours with pick and shovel before the first body was ...
My Spirit Rejoices
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The verses just before the text for this Sunday in Advent describe the visit between Mary, with Jesus in her womb, and Elizabeth, her aged cousin, who also is pregnant with the one who is to be John the Baptist. Elizabeth tells Mary that on hearing her greeting, “The child in my womb leapt for joy” (Luke 1:44). Mary responds by bursting forth with a song of praise. These two women of strong faith, neither of whom was nor-...
Beginning with Christ
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This short meditation was published in the January 7, 1934, issue of the Newsletter for German-Speaking Congregations in Great Britain. Later, when writing his book Discipleship (first published in English as The Cost of Discipleship) during the Finkenwalde years, Bonhoeffer referred back to it and developed an interpretation of the text from Luke on which this meditation is based (DBWE 4:59–61, 115). So it is possible that it ...
Repent and Do Not Judge
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The first incident to which this passage in Luke refers was very much the news of the day, in the context of revolutionary activity in Palestine during Jesus’ ministry. Pilate particularly feared Galileans as the worst rebels and, on this occasion, had slaughtered a group of them who had come to worship in the temple in Jerusalem. Those who died at Siloam belonged to another rebel group, perhaps Zealots. Bonhoeffer preached this sermon ...
Come unto Me
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We can only guess when this undated sermon might have been given from its mention of Bonhoeffer’s visit to his friend Jean Lasserre. The two had met in 1930 while both were on scholarships at Union Semi-nary in New York and had shared deep theological discussions. Lasserre was pastor of a poor working-class congregation in Bruay-en-Artois, northern France, an area that had suffered greatly during and after World War I. He ...
. . . and Have Not Love
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In the autumn of 1934, Bonhoeffer preached a sermon series on 1 Corinthians 13. In this sermon, the first in the series, he gives three reasons for preaching on the apostle Paul’s famous “love chapter.” With the second reason, he was thinking of those in Germany who were struggling for a church that truly confessed Christ. He mentions the temptation for them to forget that they...
What Love Wants
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Traditionally the Lutheran Church has required men and women studying to be pastors to learn Hebrew and Greek, the original languages of the Old and New Testaments. At school, Bonhoeffer had been taught the classical Greek of Plato and Aristotle. As part of his theological training, he also learned Koine Greek, the language of the New Testament. Greek was the common language spoken...
Must I Be Perfect?
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In this sermon, the third in a series on 1 Corinthians 13, Bonhoeffer speaks of knowledge, of the search for understanding that he assumed was in some way a goal in every person’s life. Having an older brother, Karl Friedrich Bonhoeffer, who was a physical chemist, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was well aware of the achievements of physical science and of the recent shake-up in scientific understanding...
A Church That Believes, Hopes, and Loves
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Since the Reformation of Luther began in Germany, the observance of Reformation Sunday was and continues to be very important for the German church. German Protestants living in London who grew up in Germany might remember nostalgically the splendid worship services on dark November Reformation Sundays, with the music of brass choirs. For Bonhoeffer, the final verse from 1 Corinthians 13 provided the occasion, at ...
My Strength Is Made Perfect in Weakness
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In this sermon, Bonhoeffer reflects on questions that had occupied him since his stay at Bethel, a church center and care facility for persons with mental and physical disabilities near Bielefeld, Germany. He and other theologians had been there in August 1933 to work on a new confession for the German Protestant church, explaining the errors of the “German Christians,” which helped to prepare for drafting the Barmen Declara-...
Lord, Help My Unbelief
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This undated sermon may have been given in London or Berlin at an evening service. Bonhoeffer mentions having seen a play about St. Francis; such a play, in its third edition, by Otto Bruder is known to have been published at that time by Christian Kaiser Verlag in Germany. Mark 9:23–24: If you are able!—All things can be done for the one To a person who is in what appears, to human eyes, to be a hopeless situ-...
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Finkenwalde, the country estate where Bonhoeffer trained pastors for the Confessing Church from 1935 to 1937, had previously housed a school. In what had been the gym, the seminarians created a simple chapel, large enough to invite their neighbors to join them for Sunday morn-ing worship. Usually, the preacher on Sunday mornings was a seminar-ian, gaining experience, while Bonhoeffer himself preached for vespers on ...
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The fifth Sunday in Lent, often called Passion Sunday, is called Judica in churches where worship services were once held in Latin. The name comes from Psalm 43, which is read for evening prayer on that day. The psalm begins, “Judica me, Deus . . .” (“Vindicate [or judge] me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people.”) In his book Saved from Sacrifice, theologian S. Mark Heim points out that many psalms, the ...
Loving Our Enemies
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The northern edge of East Pomerania, formerly part of Germany but now in Poland, is a windswept plain along the Baltic coast where trees and wooden houses are bent by the wind and where winters are icy cold. In 1937, Bonhoeffer brought part of his pastoral training group to live in the parsonage in the little village of Gross-Schlönwitz. Here he hoped to provide them with a safe and quiet place for study and to teach them to ...
The Gift of Faith
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While directing the seminary at Finkenwalde, Bonhoeffer had become acquainted with Ruth von Kleist-Retzow and her family, members of the Pomeranian landed aristocracy, who attended the Sunday church services at the seminary. They became dear friends of Bonhoeffer’s and important supporters of the seminary’s work. Ruth von Kleist’s home was from then on a congenial retreat where Bonhoeffer did much of his later ...
Death Is Swallowed Up in Victory
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This sermon was a homily for the celebration of the Lord’s Supper on Remembrance Sunday, when congregations especially remembered those who had died. The service was held at Sigurdshof, a farm belong-ing to the von Kleist estate in Tychow, where Bonhoeffer and his students moved after they had to vacate the parsonage at Gross-Schlönwitz. The house at Sigurdshof had no electricity, and water was obtained from a ...
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Page Count: 240
Publication Year: 2012