Friday, March 06, 2009

Not ashamed

This coming Sunday's Gospel says:
(Jesus) called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."
Nick Baines and Alan Wilson remind us:
25 years ago today (6 March 1984) Martin Niemoeller died in Wiesbaden, Germany. He was Pastor of a wealthy church in Berlin-Dahlem when Hitler came to power and advocated voting for Hitler in 1933 on the grounds that he would clean Germany up. When his eyes were opened to the realities of what was going on (the appointment of Ludwig Mueller as Reichsbischof and the passing of the Aryan Law), he helped found the Confessing Church and joined the resistance. He spent eight years in Moabit Prison, Sachsenhausen and Dachau concentration camps and was eventually released in 1945 from Austria.
He is best known for the ‘confession’ he wrote after his release:

Als die Nazis die Kommunisten holten,
habe ich geschwiegen;
ich war ja kein Kommunist.

Als sie die Sozialdemokraten einsperrten,
habe ich geschwiegen;
ich war ja kein Sozialdemokrat.

Als sie die Gewerkschafter holten,
habe ich nicht protestiert;
ich war ja kein Gewerkschafter.

Als sie die Juden holten,
habe ich geschwiegen;
ich war ja kein Jude.

Als sie mich holten,
gab es keinen mehr, der protestieren konnte.

In English:

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I remained silent;
I was not a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

Niemoeller was not a perfect man. The stands for which he is most famous did not come easily to him. He came to his resistance to Nazi-ism slowly. As noted above, he initially voted for Hitler's NSDAP and was opposed to democracy in post-First World War Germany.

It took him time (and perhaps incarceration in concentration camps) to repent of the anti-Semitism that he was raised in and taught all through his schooling.

It took time for him to come to his pacifism.

His painful and obviously hard won repentences and his courage to stand up even when it challenged his own deeply held assumptions makes his journey an even more heroic one. His journey is that of a man who allowed Christ to call him, challenge him and change him. He moved from reflecting the values of his time to repenting of them to leading people to see the implications of following Christ even in difficult times.

To live as one unashamed of the Gospel is not always simple nor it is always easy, but it will always challenge us to our core.

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