Video for June 15th, 2023
Hello everyone, and welcome to this week’s video.
We’ve had a great week at the Kirchentag, apart from my motorcycle, which developed a serious illness just before we arrived here on Wednesday. Insurance is a wonderful thing, and its coming home in an ambulance next week.
As a final visit before our joint service this evening, I’m here at the huge stadium where the Nuremberg rallies were held before the second world war. It’s a sobering place, both in scale and in the memory of what went on here. One of the pioneer nations of European culture and civilization descended from here into a madness that destroyed millions of lives and unleashed unspeakable wickedness. The motivation behind the Kirchentag as it was originally established, was to allow these issues to be discussed and repented of in ways that minimised the possibility of re-occurrence.
We are two or three generations from those who actively participated in these rallies. These events can now be discussed from a more objective, historical perspective by those whose ancestors were involved. The uncle of one of our hosts helped to start the Gestapo for example.
This biennial Kirchentag conference has brought together nearly 70,000 people from all walks of German life. Think of it as a sort of mash up between New Wine, Glastonbury and the Hay Festival. It is inconceivable that such a conference could happen in the UK. The German President, Regional President and local Mayor have all led Bible studies. The whole of the city has been taken over by the various events. There is a refreshing lack of self-consciousness in talking about matters of faith and how it speaks into contemporary issues. And yet our church friends here experience the same challenges we do. Their congregations are aging, shrinking and finances are a challenge. Despite the presence of many young people here, there is a similar struggle to pass on faith to the next generation.
The events of 80-90 years ago and this conference remind us of the constant tension of being a Christian in a society and culture that isn’t. We are always on the look out for connections, that could become bridges over which the good news of Jesus could travel. We may find common cause with our culture over issues like the environment, human rights and justice, but often with a very different motivation and rationale. A church that is in some sense established, as the Evangelical and Lutheran Churches were and still are here in Germany, can find it very difficult to be a prophetic voice rather than an assimilated one. It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, almost as a lone voice, who spoke up against Hitler, when many of the churches here embraced the perverted Nazi version of the gospel. As an established church we too find it hard to be on the edge of things. It was remarkable in this conference to feel part of the sort of Christendom that disappeared from the UK 50 years ago.
But as the great GK Chesterton said, “It is the paradox of history that each generation is converted by the saint who contradicts it most.” Jesus said, “don’t be surprised if the world hates you, because it hated me too.” Our current times call for a renewed Holy Spirit trusting engagement (note - not an aggressive self-confidence) in the troubles of the world, but from a theologically and biblically informed perspective. There will be times when we will be challenged by cultural trends that draw our attention to biblical themes we have missed. However, more often we will want to say that our calling to die to ourselves is the route to a selflessness than is truly transformative. We will want to affirm the value or every individual, but we will also want to say that all of us are broken, alienated from God, and that our primary need is forgiveness. We want to see the kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven but that is not just about creating a just, environmentally light- fingered society it is also about submitting to the leadership and direction of the Christ who said the Kingdom is near but won’t be fully realised until he returns.
Current events in Ukraine remind us that we need to keep remembering the history of a place like this and reflecting on what happened here. Even in a wealthy ‘developed’ society the seeds of this sort of madness are not far from the surface. We may be fewer in number now, but we must avoid the temptation to go quietly to accommodating assimilation. As Traci Blackmon, one of the preachers at a Eucharist a few days ago said, “its time for the lion to roar.”