It was a beautiful April morning. I stepped out the door on the way to work, feeling the cool spring air that was sweet with the aroma of John’s peonies. I think this is the prettiest season I’ve ever seen in these short-lived flowers. I smiled remembering we had a bouquet of them in The Death of Kevin Frye when Jazz told Victor to leave. It is a great memory.
I started down 13th, my usual path to work, but paused at a tan colored house with an orange door; number 113. I’ve been toying with the title of a possible story here, inspired by the street house number, “It Happened on 113 13th Street”; but what would the story be about? I don’t write horror. It’s a thought that crosses my mind every time I walk by.
Then, as I stood in the street, the door opened and a slightly heavy man in his late thirties stepped out of the house. His blonde hair was thin and receding, he had thoughtful blue eyes, assisted by round metal glasses and his face was round. He was only a little taller than me.
“Good morning” he said in a heavy German accent, “May I walk with you?”
“Certainly,” I said as he stepped beside me. We began our walk in silence for a moment.
“What do you think of my book?” he asked after a few minutes.
“Beyond needing a dictionary for some of the words you’ve used, I’m struggling with it. I knew I would when I picked it up. I’m reading about your life too.” I didn’t need to ask who he was, or to what book he referred. I knew, but it didn’t seem amazing to me or frightening. We walked and talked like old friends.
“What do you find difficult?”
“Pastor, I know enough about your life that I know you lived what you are preaching in your book. I don’t feel I can ever measure up to your call; and yet I want to more than anything else I know.”
“Remember who is doing the calling.”
“Yes, you’re right. The Holy Spirit is speaking through you still, even after all these years.”
“And because it is the Holy Spirit, he will help you attain that goal you desire. Remember, the more you commit to him, the more easily obedience to him comes. Then as you believe you obey, but until you obey you will never really believe.
“Something more is troubling you; is it not?”
“Yes, it’s been troubling me for awhile. You know about the current events here?”
I stopped and put my hand on his arm, “I have been concerned for our church for some time now. These aren’t just random, isolated incidences but symptoms of a bigger problem. Are we like the church was then? I am afraid for us. How can we claim to know Jesus when we live the way we do?” we began to walk again.
“You are right to be concerned. There are many similarities to the church in my time, but remember, all throughout history it has been so. The church is Christ’s bride, and each part is vital to the whole, but the enemy works from within as well. Salvation doesn’t come through the church, salvation comes through Jesus. The church is filled with people who are imperfect. Each individual must decide as an individual if they will believe; then they will obey. Only those who obey truly believe.
“So, even in the church there are those who say they believe, but who are not in obedience. They are the more deceived.”
“Yes, I know this, but I am in need of comfort; and I know many others are as well.”
“Look around you. Tell me, what do you see?”
I took a moment to notice our surroundings. Flowers were blooming, birds were singing, new fresh leaves were on the trees and an aroma of honeysuckle was on the cool air. I was struck by the beauty of God’s creation.
“I see a beautiful world.”
“Did you know my execution was today?”
“No, I was not aware of that.”
“Just before I was hanged, I looked around me. It was a day much like today. I was so thankful to hear the birds and smell the flowers on the air, one last time. It gave me courage. Then I knew that in spite of the turmoil and ugliness in the world at that time, God’s beautiful world was still beautiful. There would always be a spring, a summer, fall and winter. The Nazis could not conquer, and would come to an end, but God’s love endures forever.
“Yes, it looks bleak for your world now, but remember, evil only lasts a season and soon the Lord will return. What you need to do is to continue to seek perfect obedience, spending time in prayer and reading his Word. I know you grow concerned that you will also fall, but as you continue to give all to the Lord, you might stumble, but you will never fall because the Lord holds you by the hand.”
“’The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.’ Psalm 37:23, 24”
He smiled, “Yes.”
I stopped walking and turned toward my office, “Thank you Pastor Bonhoeffer,” I said, but turning back toward him, he was gone, “Thank you Father, I said, it was a great comfort.”