The limits of one’s own horizons and experience always become exposed when seen through the eyes of an outsider. Since being in Jena for the last two weeks, I have not only read a shed load of books, but also seen a couple of films and listened to some interesting (challenging?) perspectives on life, the world and British political culture.

Before this week I had never heard of Curt Goetz or his wife Valerie von Martens. Goetz was a playwright, novelist and actor who, along with his wife, made some comedy films in the 1940s and ‘50s. Exploring German humour in film and literature is a never-ending task – based in a profound mystery – but, commenting on this to the friend with whom I am staying (a university professor of practical theology), led to two evenings watching Goetz and von Martens. And they are funny.

Das Haus in Montevideo, in black and white and cleverly scripted, actually presents the moral dilemmas involved in finding your strict morals challenged by pecuniary potential. Napoleon ist an allem Schuld sounds like farce, but mocks historical pretentiousness at the same time as depicting human generosity of spirit. You have to see them to get the stories, but they offer a German slant on morality from someone who left Germany in 1939 to avoid working for Hitler, but returned after the war to recover at least some elements of German theatrical culture from the ashes of destruction.

The other gift of these two weeks has been an introduction to theologians with whom I was unfamiliar. My friend has many books of German sermons. I dipped into Wolfhart Pannenberg, Eberhard Jüngel, Martin Niemöller and the poetry of Goethe, Schiller, Ingeborg Bachmann and, in a bookshop, Bertolt Brecht. All of these I knew. But, I had not heard of Manfred Josuttis until I dipped into his Petrus, die Kirche und die verdammte Macht, followed by several books of sermons. Now dead, he was a theologian who clearly knew how to preach in a way that gripped the attention and tackled both the biblical text and contemporary issues with rhetorical clarity.

There are connective threads between a number of the books I have been reading. In Germany history presses in from every side. Jena was the site of a Napoleonic victory in 1806 – we visited the battlefields at Cospeda. Only a few miles from Weimar, where the first German democratic constitution was framed and signed – it lasted only fifteen years before the Nazis tore it up – Jena was bombed during the war and then found itself in the German Democratic Republic until 1989/90. People here have Russian as their second language and English as only the third. The Stadtkirche (in which I preached several years ago) was where the great Old Testament theologian Gerhard von Rad also preached when he was a professor in the Theologische Fakultät in the 1930s and ‘40s. Three of the sermons he preached – in a collection of sermons from the whole of his ministry – have to be read in the light of the context in which he spoke: two to congregations of the Confessing Church in 1943 when the future was still unclear – and one on Easter Day 1943 to a general congregation including, presumably, Nazis and members of the Movement of German Christians.

Manfred Josuttis, in a sermon on Psalm 25:1-10 in Wirklichkeiten der Kirche, says: “Kein kollektivesGedächtnis kann uns davor bewahren, daß sich die Barbarei wiederholt. Schreckliche Bilder lösen nicht nur Entsetzen aus, sondern regen auch zur Nachahmung an.“ (p.80) [“No collective memory can preserve us from the repetition of barbarity. Shocking pictures don’t just horrify us, they also excite imitation.”]

Compare this with Marilynne Robinson in her book of essays What Are We Doing Here?: “It is not always easy to tell a slumbering conscience from one that is weighing consequences,” (p.4) or: “A society is moving toward dangerous ground when loyalty to the truth is seen as disloyalty to some supposedly higher interest. How many times has history taught us this?” (p.20)

We don’t always learn from history.

These questions were not merely academic to preachers and theologians such as Josuttis and von Rad and they shouldn’t be to us now as we cast an eye over developments across the world. We never foresee the future, even when we see the clouds gathering. But, the experience of those who found themselves exposed to existential challenge in relation to truth, integrity and politico-theological consistency is worth revisiting at a time when global norms are under pressure and change is in the air.

This evening I am going to listen to a lecture at the Theologische Fakultät of the Friedrich-Schiller-Universität in Jena where I am staying for two weeks. The lecture will address the response to National Socialism by the university during the 1930s and ‘40s. Apparently, it isn’t a happy story; but, I will await the detail.

History is easy with hindsight, isn’t it? It all looks obvious – or destined. Well, yesterday I had lunch with a wonderful PhD student from the university who is starting her research into ‘collective guilt in the Old Testament’. In our conversation we roamed over 20thcentury German history and the rise and demise of the British Empire, asking at what point does responsibility – collective or personal – cease to apply. Intergenerational guilt has to be held in tension with the consequences of the choices and actions of our ancestors. History is not so easily reckoned with, after all.

So, this morning I sat in a bookshop and read a lecture by Amos Oz, given in Berlin a couple of years ago, but published in 2018 and seemingly only available in German. Judas und Jesus, with reference to his novel Judas, tries to understand the character and motivation of Judas and make sense of a story in the gospels that he says is unnecessary to the gospel narrative. It is a quick, but arresting read, recounting the thinking behind the novel. The text of the lecture is followed by a description of Jewish-Christian relations by a Jewish academic and rabbi.

The immediate pertinence of these three events – the lecture later this evening, the conversation with the student, and the Amos Oz book – is that all are run through by charges of treachery, traitors and betrayal. But, without the benefit of hindsight: who/what did the theologians of Jena think they were betraying if they supported (or didn’t support) Nazism; or who did the Empire-builders think were the traitors to the cause while they were busy exporting Anglicanism to the world and looting the colonies of their riches; or did Judas feel that it was Jesus who had betrayed him by failing to bring in the kingdom of God in the way he had expected or been led to believe?

I ask the question because, although delivered from the burden of emails for a while, I am following the news from a German perspective – not least Brexit. It isn’t a happy exercise. The language and discourse of Brexit is shocking, but also surprising to the Germans who are eager to speak about it (some are, frankly, too embarrassed). When Donald Tusk wondered yesterday which special place in hell has been reserved for those who led Brexit without any plan for how to do it, the emphasis was on the lack of a plan – the sheer recklessness of demagoguery without strategy or vision that knew what it wanted to be free from but no idea of what it wanted to be free for (‘free’ being the word they use for the final destination of Brexitannia). Contra the (utterly predictable) snowflakey screaming in the media, he did not condemn Brexiteers or those who voted for Brexit. He rightly put the responsibility on those who led and promised and then abdicated responsibility for the consequences.

It seems everyone is a traitor. Brexiteers have betrayed the best economic interests of the United Kingdom; Remainers have betrayed democracy and the ‘people’ (das Volk, as they say here); Parliament has betrayed its function; the media (particularly the BBC) have betrayed everyone unless they can be interpreted as saying what any particular group wants to hear them say.

It is an easy accusation to make of anyone whose opinion or judgement differs from mine. It usually bears little scrutiny. I guess history will tell who betrayed whom … and whether or not they knew what they were doing … and whether or not the language of betrayal was even remotely appropriate at the time. In the meantime, the dialogue of the deaf will no doubt continue, and we will perfect the art of self-exculpating blame-throwing. As Donald Trump might say: “SAD!”

(Now for Dostoyevsky for whom the theme and experience of betrayal were no stranger.)

Having returned on Thursday evening from Sudan I left agin in the early hours of Saturday for Jena in Germany. This forms the real beginning of my sabbatical leave and gives the opportunity to read, write, think, meet people and, most importantly, gain a fresh perspective on life, the universe and everything. Somehow, being outside the UK, looking through a different lens and listening through a different language and culture, helps to make space for (what I think I want to call) newly refracted lines of looking, seeing and reflecting.

I am staying with a friend who is a professor in the Theologische Fakultät at the Friedrich-Schiller-Universität in Jena. This is where Hegel taught, and where Schiller met Goethe. Martin Luther spent time here, too. And it is the place where I have already come across thinkers I hadn’t encountered before.

I have on the table before me six books by Manfred Josuttis. Six of them are books of sermons, but it is the title of the other one that grabbed me: ‘Petrus, die Kirche und die verdammte Macht’ (‘Peter, the Church and Damned Power’). I am about to start reading it – and, yes, I probably should have read it before writing about it – but it was the title that arrested my attention. Jesus promised to build his church on the rock that was Peter, but the rock turned out to be more limestone than granite. Power might be damnable, but it is unavoidable in the real world … and that means in the real church. The question is: how do we handle power and in whose interests is power exercised?

Although it is good to be away from the UK for a time, the UK does not disappear. Nor does Brexit. Nor does the complex interplay of truth, power, victimhood and exploitation. If Brexit is bringing out the worst in us Brits, Germany is facing challenges with the Alternative für Deutschland and similar abuse of truth, fact and reality. Wherever we see this phenomenon – it is tempting just to shorthand it with the word ‘Trumpian’ – danger lies in waiting.

I recognise that this is a tenuous link, but Jesus’s friend Peter had to undergo a dreadful, world-shattering loss of personal illusion and confidence. After his denial of even knowing Jesus (just prior to the crucifixion), Peter watched his illusions of  brave new world bleed real blood into the dirt of Calvary. He had to live through the emptiness of Saturday … only to find himself bewildered by the events of Easter Day. Subsequently, he was compelled to wrestle with the other friends of Jesus, with public authorities and political leaders, and with questions of how to lead and shape a church made up of people like and unlike himself. If he didn’t welcome power, he certainly had to face responsibility, costly choices, personality clashes and hard decisions that were bound to divide as well as unite.

So it is with politics. Power – to be exercised with responsibility and humility in the interests of the common good – is a hard business. Decisions will always disappoint someone. Leadership can be very lonely, even in the best of teams. But, it always exposes the truth about character. Our handling of power displays the reality of our character. If we merely resort to lies, game-playing and manipulation in the service of ideology, then the truth about our character, virtue and motivation will become evident quickly. And this, I suggest, is worrying. For, the evidence shows that I am usually the last person to see what everybody else sees quickly and clearly.

Looking at the news from a distance, and seeing it through the eyes of ‘outsiders’, it is evident that we in Britain cannot see how we are being perceived from outside. The news that Nissan will not be investing further in Sunderland is terrible; but, the executive who is reported to have said privately that no one is going to be investing in Britain because we are now toxic (or words to that effect) has put his/her finger on the true cost of Brexit for the UK. Regardless of whether I want or do not want Brexit, the process and the people who have been prominent in it have shown that we are a people who are limited in our insight, still maintain dreams of empire, cannot face reality, like to hear what we want to hear (regardless of facts), and cannot be trusted to be competence. If counterparts in EU countries initially couldn’t believe our decision to leave the EU, they have long past that and are now incredulous about our sheer incompetence as a parliamentary democracy.

I can understand the ideological commitment to leave the EU. Questions of sovereignty, EU values and the bureaucratic machine in Brussels and Strasbourg make some sense to those who want some semblance of independence as a nation state. But, this commitment has to be earthed in relationships, processes, agreements, and future-orientated realities. Wanting to “get out” without paying attention to how to do it (and at what cost) is both ridiculous and dangerous. So, we see rich and powerful people leading the charge, making promises to which they will not be held, and knowing that they will not suffer at all if it all goes wrong for the UK. Poor people in challenging communities will pay the price – as they have been doing during the so-called ‘austerity years’ – and the powerful will exercise their power by maximising and protecting their own benefits … all while blaming everyone else for the ills that follow. We can’t all take our businesses to Singapore or Ireland.

Brexit will bring disillusionment – probably on all sides. Brexit won’t lead to economic or social nirvana for Leavers, and Remainers will continue to resist its consequences. Just as Faragistes never accepted the decision to join (what became) the EU, so many will immediately start the campaign to rejoin the EU one day. Brexit has not, could not and will not resolve the issue on these islands. But, it has exposed our deeper divisions (many of which have nothing whatsoever to do with Brexit or the EU), the poverty of our political culture (how can Labour still be six points behind the Tories in today’s polling?), the weakness of our national character, and our willingness to tell, hear and believe lies.

To return to Peter, his process of disillusionment was bitter, but necessary. Only by going through this and facing the truth about his own self could he grow to be the limestone leader he later became. In this sense, he bids us to do the same collectively: to grow up, lose our need to big ourselves up, see ourselves as we are seen from the outside, and value truth above illusion. The power – however damned – for this lies with us, and we can’t blame anyone else (Tories, Jeremy Corbyn, the EU) if we decline to use it.

This is the basic text of my sermon in the Frauenkirche, Dresden, on Sunday 6 May 2018, based on Colossians 4:2-6:

Seid beharrlich im Gebet und wacht in ihm mit Danksagung! Betet zugleich auch für uns, auf dass Gott uns eine Tür für das Wort auftue und wir vom Geheimnis Christi reden können, um dessentwillen ich auch in Fesseln bin, auf dass ich es so offenbar mache, wie ich es soll. Verhaltet euch weise gegenüber denen, die draußen sind, und kauft die Zeit aus. Eure Rede sei allezeit wohlklingend und mit Salz gewürzt, dass ihr wisst, wie ihr einem jeden antworten sollt. (Kolosserbrief 4:2-6)

Herzliche Grüße aus England und aus meiner Diözese in Leeds. Ich habe 656 Gemeinden und die schönste Landschaft in England.

Danke für die Einladung, noch einmal hier in dieser wunderschönen Kirche in Dresden eine Predigt zu halten. Ich war am Kirchentag in 2011 zum ersten Mal hier, und habe damals in der Frauenkirche eine Bibelarbeit gemacht. Ich erinnere mich klar an das Gefühl, das ich an einem Ort hatte, den die Briten erst vor einer Generation zerstört hatten. Seitdem hat sich die Welt verändert. Deutschland hat sich verändert. Und Großbritannien hat sich auch verändert.

Zuerst möchte ich etwas wichtiges erklären: Brexit – es tut mir wirklich leid. In Großbritannien herrscht momentan ein sehr unangenehmes Klima. Wir verlassen die EU – das ist klar. Ich habe am Montag letzter Woche im House of Lords in einer guten Debatte über den Austritt aus der EU gesprochen – dann am Dienstag sind mehrere Redner auf den Titelseiten einer Zeitung erschienen, die als Verräter und Feinde des Volkes gebrandmarkt wurden. Das ist furchtbar.

Natürlich darf Frieden niemals als selbstverständlich vorausgesetzt werden. Gesellschaften können sich sehr schnell in etwas schreckliches verwandeln, in dem die Sprache über andere Menschen korrumpiert wird. Es ist immer gefährlich, wenn man andere Menschen als Kategorien (und nicht mehr als Menschen) bezeichnet. Und das Gespräch über Brexit in Großbritannien ist tatsächlich schlecht.

Natürlich ist das nicht neu. Als Jesus seinen Freunden das beibrachte, was wir das Vaterunser nennen, ging er durch eine bedrohte Gesellschaft und durch ein gefährliches Land. Die Römer besetzten das Land und erniedrigten das Volk. Die Juden sehnten sich nach und beteten für ihre Befreiung von dieser Unterdrückung durch das mächtige militärische heidnische Reich. Aber diese schwierige Situation dauerte schon seit einigen Jahrhunderten. Wann würde Gott ihre Gebete erhören? Warum war Gott, angesichts dieser Grausamkeit und Ungerechtigkeit, so still und schweigend?

Der Apostel Paulus lebte auch in einer Welt des Konflikts – immer noch vom römischen Reich dominiert. Als er seine Briefe schrieb – diejenigen, die wir im Neuen Testament haben – schrieb er bewusst an Menschen (Christen), die jeden Tag entdeckten, dass das alltägliche Leben oft durch Leiden, Unterdrückung und Angst geprägt ist … aber auch, dass Christen auch hier im Herz dieser komplizierten und oft schwierigen Welt die Gegenwart Gottes spüren dürfen. Auch hier in der Tiefe der realen Welt lernen wir zu beten. Das heißt, wir beten in der wirklichen Welt; wir beten nicht primär dafür, dass wir von dieser Welt befreit werden müssen.

Als die Freunde Jesu ihre eigenen Schriften lasen, entdeckten sie ein Vokabular der Hoffnung im Mund gewöhnlicher Menschen, die in der realen Welt darum kämpften, Gottes Ruf treu zu bleiben. Wie der Psalmist vor dreitausend Jahren sagte: “Wie können wir das Lied des Herrn in einem fremden Land singen?” Mit anderen Worten, wie können wir Lieder über Gott, den Schöpfer, Liebhaber und Erhalter aller Welt singen, wenn alles was wir sehen – alle Beweise unserer Augen – uns sagen, dass dieser Gott uns unserem Schicksal überlassen hat?

Diese Frage, durchzieht die ganze biblische Erzählung – die ganze biblische Geschichte. Genau diese Frage wird ständig aus dem Herzen der Christen und anderer gerissen, die sich nach Erlösung sehnen, nach Frieden schreien und um Heilung und Rettung beten. “Wie lange, o Herr, wie lange?”

Und hier kommen wir zum Kern dessen, worum es im Gebet geht. Es geht nicht darum, dass wir Gott um Dinge bitten, die all unsere Probleme im Hier und Jetzt lösen. Es geht auch nicht darum, Gott zu bitten, uns aus dem weltlichem Leben herauszuheben. Ja, wie die Psalmisten und Jesus selbst, sollten wir immer ehrlich mit Gott sein, und ihm sagen, was wir wirklich denken und wünschen. Es geht nicht darum, dass wir aus der Welt in ein beschütztes und reines Heiligtum flüchten möchten, in dem wir sicher und unbeschmutzt leben können. Das Vertrauen in diesen Gott bedeutet, dass wir dem Jesus nachfolgen, den wir in den Evangelien sehen. Inkarnation heißt: bewusst in die Welt einzutauchen, wie sie ist, und uns nicht davon zu befreien. Denkt an Weihnachten? Und an Ostern? Und an all das, was dazwischen weiterging?

Also, was ist Gebet für dich? Wie betest du? Was betest du? Und was erwartest du vom Gebet?

Lasst mich Ihnen eine kurze Geschichte erzählen.

Drei Männer wanderten in den Bergen. Sie kämpften sich ihren Weg durch die Bäume und versuchten, ihre Hütte vor dem Einbruch der Nacht zu erreichen. Plötzlich stießen sie auf einen reißenden Fluss. Das Wasser lief den Berg hinunter und die Männer hatten keine Ahnung, wie sie den Fluß überqueren sollten. Aber es gab keine Alternative – sie mussten unbedingt diesen Fluss überqueren, aber sie wussten nicht wie.

Der erste Mann betete: „Gott, gib mir bitte die Kraft, um diesen Fluss zu überqueren.“ Pouff! Plötzlich wurden seine Arme größer; seine Brust erweiterte sich und seine Beine wurden stärker. Dann warf er sich in den Fluss hinein und schwamm auf das gegenüberliegende Ufer. Er brauchte zwei Stunden. Ein paar Mal ist er untergegangen und wäre fast ertrunken. Aber, endlich, ist es ihm gelungen, das Ufer zu erreichen, und er schleppte sich total erschöpft an Land.

Der zweite Mann beobachtete den ersten Mann und er betete: „Gott, gib mir bitte die Kraft und die Mittel, um diesen Fluss zu überqueren.“ Pouff! Plötzlich wurden seine Arme größer; seine Brust erweiterte sich und seine Beine wurden stärker; und ein Kanu tauchte vor ihm auf. Er paddelte eine lange Stunde durch das Wasser und schließlich, total erschöpft und nachdem er zweimal gekentert war, schleppte er sich aus dem Wasser und auf das gegenüberliegende Ufer.

Der dritte Mann hatte die zwei Freunde beobachtet und er betete: „Gott, gib mir bitte die Kraft, die Mittel… und die Intelligenz, um diesen Fluss zu überqueren.“ Pouff! Plötzlich verwandelte ihn Gott in eine Frau! Er schaute in seine Handtasche, holte eine Karte heraus, ging hundert Meter das Ufer entlang, und überquerte die Brücke.

Sind wir bereit im Gebet von Gott überrascht zu werden? Neue Einsichten zu spüren? Im Gebet geht es grundlegend darum, dass wir uns selbst öffnen – Körper, Geist und Seele – zu dem Gott, der uns schafft, uns liebt, uns erlöst und uns gestaltet. Zu dem Gott, der uns nicht von allem befreit, was die Welt auf uns werfen kann. Aber zu dem Gott, der uns immer noch ruft, unser Leben für seine Welt und sein Volk niederzulegen. Im Gebet bringen wir uns und unsere Welt – zu dieser besonderen Zeit und an diesem besonderen Ort – zu Gott und finden uns verändert, wenn wir beginnen, durch seine Augen auf das zu schauen, was wir sehen und was wir erfahren.

In seinem Brief an Timotheus lesen wir, wie Paulus den jungen Gemeindevorsteher Timotheus anweist, ständig für die Mächtigen zu beten. Mit anderen Worten, nimm nicht nur an deinem eigenen kleinen Leben teil, sondern richte deine Augen auf die weitere Welt, die eigene Gesellschaft und andere Gesellschaften und diejenigen, die sie formen und führen. Du wirst irgendwo hineinpassen; aber widerstehe diesen kleinen heutigen Göttern des Narzissmus, der Selbstverwirklichung und der Selbstzufriedenheit.

In unserem heutigen Evangelium (Joh 16, 23ff) hörten wir die Worte von Jesus – gerade bevor er zu seinem eigenen frühen und ungerechten Tod ging. Er versprach seinen Freunden, dass ihre Gebeten in seinem Namen erhört werden. Aber was bedeutet es, in seinem Namen zu beten? Nun, sein Name ist sein Charakter – wer er ist und wie er ist. Also, in seinem Namen zu beten heißt, auf eine Weise zu beten, die dem Charakter von Jesus selbst entspricht. Und er betete, dass er sich dem Willen Gottes anpassen könnte, selbst wenn das bedeutet, dass er den Weg an das Kreuz gehen muss und nicht dem Schmerz entgehen kann, den das Leben ihm auferlegt. Es bedeutet, wenn wir in seinem Namen beten, fangen wir an, so verwandelt zu werden, dass wir wie er aussehen und wie er klingen.

Dieses Thema ist ein konsequentes Thema in der Bibel. Die Menschen Israels wurden gewarnt, niemals Gott für selbstverständlich zu halten, sondern allmählich zu lernen, was es bedeutet, ihre Lebensweise, ihre theologische Weltanschauung und ihre Lebensgewohnheiten der Natur, den Prioritäten und dem Ruf Gottes näher anzupassen. Falls sie versagen, falls sie ihre grundsätzliche Berufung vergessen, werden sie dann alles verlieren, was zu ihnen von ihrer Identität spricht. Sie werden die Warnungen und die Ermahnungen der Propheten nicht mehr hören können oder wollen. Diese Menschen werden glauben, dass die Welt ihnen gehört, und werden dann ihre Fähigkeit verlieren, durch Gottes Augen hinaus zu schauen und sich um die Armen, Ausgegrenzten und Schwachen zu kümmern. Erinnern Sie sich an 5. Mose 26? Lassen Sie zehn Prozent Ihrer Ernten am Rand Ihrer Felder liegen, damit Reisende, Migranten und Enteignete etwas zu essen finden können. Bringen Sie die ersten zehn Prozent der Ernte zum Priester, und denken Sie daran, als du vor ihm ein Glaubensbekenntnis rezitierst und wieder erlebst, dass du auch einst ein Sklave warst, dass du einmal überhaupt nichts hattest, dass du einmal gerettet werden musste – dass du ein neues Leben haben musstest, aber das nicht aus eigener Macht gewinnen konntest.

Die Geschichte ist in der ganzen Bibel konsistent.

Paulus schreibt in seinem Brief an die Kirche in Rom so: “Ich ermahne euch nun, Brüder und Schwestern, durch die Barmherzigkeit Gottes, dass ihr euren Leib hingebt als ein Opfer, das lebendig, heilig und Gott wohlgefällig sei. Das sei euer vernünftiger Gottesdienst. Und stellt euch nicht dieser Welt gleich, sondern ändert euch durch Erneuerung eures Sinnes, auf dass ihr prüfen könnt, was Gottes Wille ist, nämlich das Gute und Wohlgefällige und Vollkommene.”

Wir sehen also, dass das Gebet zuerst dazu dient, uns zu verändern, nicht primär unsere Umstände zu ändern und unsere Wünsche zu erfüllen. Aus diesem Grund werden Christen nicht von Angst getrieben, sondern von Hoffnung angezogen – gezogen von dem Gott, der Christus von den Toten auferweckt und einer verwirrten Welt zugesagt hat, dass Tod, Gewalt und Zerstörung tatsächlich nicht das letzte Wort in dieser Welt haben.

Und das bringt uns zu dem Gebet, das Jesus uns gelehrt hat – das Gebet, das wir jeden Tag beten, und das Gebet, mit dem wir so vertraut sind, dass wir seinen radikalen Kern so schnell übersehen.

Vor Ostern habe ich an meinen Pfarrern – 700 von ihnen – einen Brief geschrieben und sie aufgefordert, ihre Gemeinden zu lehren, dieses Gebet anders zu beten. Ich höre oft, wie die Gemeinden dieses Gebet aussprechen, als würden die Worte bedeutungslos sein. Ich höre zum Beispiel: “Dein Reich komme, dein Wille geschehe …” statt: “DEIN Reich komme, DEIN Wille geschehe, auf Erden, wie im Himmel”. Mit diesen Worten bestätigen wir, das Caesar (der Kaiser) nicht der Herr der Welt ist. Wenn wir beten, dann passen wir unsere Gedanken, unsere Weltanschauungen, unsere Motivationen näher an Gottes Willen an. Das heißt Bekehrung, Konversion, Verwandlung. Es ist ein Prozess, kein Ereignis – deshalb müssen wir dieses Gebet jeden Tag beten. Wir müssen es beten, damit es am Ende anfängt, uns zu beten.

Eine Einladung zum Beten – sei es von Moses, dem Psalmisten, Jesaja, Jesus oder Paulus – bietet immer eine Chance an, überrascht und verändert zu werden – durch die Augen Jesu hinauszuschauen, mit seinen Ohren zu hören, und mit seinen Händen zu berühren. Der Vaterunser ist ein Aufruf zur radikalen Jüngerschaft. Es ist ein Ruf zu einem neuen Leben. Es ist eine Ermutigung, sich auf ein Abenteuer einzulassen. Und es ist eine Herausforderung, “durch die Erneuerung unseres Geistes transformiert zu werden”.

Seid beharrlich im Gebet und wacht in ihm mit Danksagung! Betet zugleich auch für uns…

This is the script of this morning’s Thought for the Day on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme (broadcast from Berlin and focusing on the impact on Germany of Brexit):

I was in Vienna recently and saw something that sums up the challenge of Germany in the last century. At one end of the Judenplatz is the haunting Holocaust Memorial by Rachel Whiteread; facing it, twenty metres away, is a statue of the philosopher, poet and Enlightenment hero Johann Gottfried Herder who re-shaped German education and culture. The question that cries out is this: how did Germany go from Herder to Hitler in a mere century?

This is the question that Germany has been unable to escape in the last seventy years or so. Walk around any German city and you will find yourself stepping on small brass plaques in the pavement bearing the name and dates of Jews deported to their deaths from the houses before which you now stand. They are everywhere – and they are called Stolpersteine: stumbling blocks that get in your way and compel you to face responsibility for what happened to your neighbours only a generation or two ago.

Because of its history Germany has had no option but to confront its past and choose its future. Yet, as time moves on and memory becomes history, revisionism becomes easier for some people. Recent changes in the political landscape come on the back of concerns about immigration in general and Islam in particular. Yet this phenomenon was almost inconceivable only a decade ago.

What it demonstrates is that human beings all too easily re-shape their worldview according to the world they now live in. We can accommodate all sorts of challenges to our ethics … until we find their foundation has been undercut and we have given away too much. Perhaps history teaches us that it is not a big step from ‘every human being matters’ to ‘some matter more than others’ to ‘these are not really people of value’.

If you go into Berlin Cathedral and look up at the dome, you will see in gold lettering words from the Lord’s Prayer: “Dein ist das Reich” – “Thine is the Kingdom”. I have sat there and thought of the generations of people – from the Second Reich through Weimar and the Nazis, through the GDR and the now-reunited Germany – and wondered what Christian worshippers thought that meant. And how could they so easily confuse the Kingdom of Caesar with the Kingdom of the Jesus we read about in the gospels? Whose Reich/Kingdom do we really serve?

The question goes to the heart of how human beings make sense of themselves and the world – and whether, when the heat is on, the foundation of our ethical frameworks is as sound as we like to think it is. Humility, generosity, loving your neighbour, protecting the weak – or self-preservation at all costs?

Every generation faces the same question. So does every nation.

 

* I originally wrote two scripts for this. The first I set in Weimar where you can stand by the statue of Herder and look to the hills beyond … and Buchenwald concentration camp. I decided this was not the right introduction, so went to Vienna instead. However, I didn’t change the statue from Herder to Lessing. Only one person pointed this out. It doesn’t change the point, but the error should be noted.

Last night we went out with friends to the West Yorkshire Playhouse to see the Kneehigh Theatre Company’s production of Günter Grass’s epic The Tin Drum. It was surprising. It was certainly a powerful experience and an imaginative adaptation of the story. It was a bit like Marlene Dietrich meets Kraftwerk meets Gary Numan – in a good sense.

This was timely as I had just got back from holiday a couple of hours before and had just finished Stephen Green’s excellent book Reluctant Meister: How Germany’s Past is Shaping its European Future. In it he traces not only the formative history of Europe’s most complex and powerful nation, but also explores the themes key to understanding Germany today, its tensions and corporate psyche. I have read a lot on this stuff, but this is by far the best and most accessible account of this remarkable country.

The three voices worth paying some attention to as Europe addresses challenge and change in the years ahead are: Stephen Green in this book and a couple of other small books he has written on Europe; Timothy Garton-Ash – anything he has written; Jeremy Cliffe who is now based in Berlin for the Economist and is the must-read on Twitter on all things German and Brexit. Not surprisingly, all three speak German.

I listened to the morning worship on BBC Radio 4 this morning through the filter of the theatre, the book and my thinking about Martin Luther. I presented the programme, produced by Rosie Dawson and recorded in Wittenberg a couple of weeks ago. Both Grass and Green wrestle with Luther’s legacy for German culture and political development.

Luther made a massive impact on the culture and political development of Europe. The story has not ended yet.

This is the text of my Presidential Address to the Leeds Diocesan Synod this morning. (Disclaimer: I wrote it last night at Berlin Tegel and Amsterdam Schipol airports on my way home from an academic conference in Wittenberg, Germany.)

I returned late last night from Wittenberg in Germany. I was there to present a paper at a conference on Faith, Theology and the Church (from Tuesday to Thursday) and then record a programme for BBC Radio 4 on Martin Luther and the Reformation. Having launched the Reformation jubilee last October, preaching in the Augustinerklosterkirche in Erfurt where Luther was a monk, it was a privilege to end the year in Wittenberg where it all kicked off. As everyone knows, 31 October 2017 is the 500th anniversary of the day when Luther is alleged to have nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the Schloßkirche, thus challenging the Pope and the Church to address some serious concerns about both theology and the practices of the church.

Many of the stories of Luther’s words and deeds are now of dubious provenance. There is no record of him having told the Emperor at the Diet of Worms: “here I stand; I can do no other”. (Which hasn’t deterred sock manufacturers from producing huge numbers of their products with the phrase added. I might bear the weight of one’s foot, but it doesn’t seem to bear the weight of history. In fact, there is no evidence that he did actually nail his 95 Theses to the church door – something impossible now because the doors are made of bronze.

Martin Luther’s tomb

But, why let facts get in the way of a good story. Whatever the details of who did what and when, we do know for certain that Luther took his life in his hands when he dared to suggest that the grace of God is there for everyone and cannot be bought – even in the good cause of building St Peter’s in Rome. Fear of the consequences of death were trounced by the mercy of God.

Sitting in the Schloßkirche yesterday morning, looking at Luther’s tomb, I was very conscious that we can’t always control the consequences of the decisions we make. The monk of Erfurt changed the world in ways he could never have imagined when he found Paul’s letter to the Romans opening his heart and mind to the riches of God’s unmerited love. Not only a revolution in the church, but political ructions, too, that too often led to bloodshed on a huge scale. I wonder what he would have made of it today, if he had known what he was about to unleash.

This is not insignificant for us here in the Diocese of Leeds. After giving my paper at the conference on Thursday, I took part in a panel discussion with the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Berlin and the head of the Protestant Church in Germany (the EKD),where both the divisions and affinities of ecumenical relationships were visible. As the church faces big challenges in British and wider European cultures, the need for Christians to prioritise their common baptismal discipleship over their denominational commitments becomes more urgent.

On of the watchwords of the Reformation traditions is ‘ecclesia semper reformanda’ – the Church needing constantly to be being renewed and reformed. Nothing stands still in this world. And the church can be no exception. Change is here to stay.

It would be ludicrously absurd to compare the changes our diocese has gone through in the last three and a half years with the enormity of the Reformation, but we need no telling that change brings pain as well as opening up new opportunities for those who are unafraid to explore them. And not every outcome can be predicted. As Luther found out – and it caused him a whole new set of griefs and concerns – there is the small matter of the Law of Unintended Consequences.

Our diocese continues to change as we move on from the initial phase of our creation from 2014 to 2016. We are now functioning as a single diocese with a single administration, and we are now clear about where we are in terms of shaping support for clergy and parishes as they ‘do’ our mission and ministry locally. But, this has all taken place at a time when the church across the country is facing a hefty drop in the number of stipendiary ordained people during the next fifteen years. This inevitably means that we will need to re-shape not only where we deploy our clergy, but the nature of the role, too. A priest cannot do in six parishes what he or she did in one. And we cannot put clergy into jobs that are not do-able.

In other words, we have a lot of work to do in the next few years. We do so in the face of financial challenges, too, but our primary focus has to be on what sort of ministry and mission we can provide within the constraints over which we do not have complete (or any) control. Now, is this a cause for fear or concern? Well, yes and no. We need to be concerned enough to tackle the challenges head on and pay attention to the detail – understanding the cost of growth as well as the benefits. But, we need not fear. We are engaged in God’s mission, and must never lose track of the bigger picture of God’s transforming grace, his call to keep moving – with him – and to be faithful to him and each other.

Clearly, if our models of ministry are to change, then they will involve re-focusing the attention of clergy and reimagining the role of lay people. Now, let’s get away from some of the moany stuff we keep hearing. Clergy exist for the sake of the laity, not the other way around. That will not change, but, the way we do ministry and mission will look different in the future. This is not about power or rights or means of self-fulfilment; rather, it is about identifying the gifts and vocation of all baptised people, developing and deploying those gifts for the sake of the church … which exists for the sake of the world.

But, the primary calling of lay people is not to do stuff in and for the church, but to be disciples of Jesus Christ out there in the world. One of the recognised challenges of the church in more recent years has been that lay vocation has too often focused on lay ministries in the church – largely liturgical or pastoral. This is something we need to tackle as we move into the future. Discipleship first.

To this end we are holding a Lay Conference in Harrogate on Saturday 9 June 2018. More details will be forthcoming soon, but planning is well underway under the guidance of Andrew Norman and Hayley Matthews. This is intended to help us re-frame our strategy for lay discipleship and ministry into the future – although this will be a matter of process rather than event.

Nothing of what we do can be done in isolation. On today’s agenda this Synod will address several matters that, together, help us discipline our development and mission. Asking the General Synod to change the name of the See of Richmond to Kirkstall is not a whim or a bit of ecclesiastical fancy; no, it is to enable those outside the church in the Leeds Episcopal Area (particularly) to identify with the area bishop and our church structure. People assume Richmond is up north and can’t see why the Bishop of Richmond is bothered with the city of Leeds. For the sake of our ongoing mission we need to change this. More later, but I want at this point simply to locate this agenda item in our wider missional context.

A communications strategy for the diocese is not incidental. If we can’t communicate effectively in the world in which we now live, then we might as well just tend a long decline. We cannot address the lack of children and young people in our churches without engaging with social media and a way of relating/communicating that is a million miles away from what I grew up with. Do we have the courage to grasp this nettle and learn a new language of evangelism and pastoral care? That is the question – along with: are we willing to put resources into making effective communications and changing the rumour about God and the church?

Rules about synod elections and sizes of synods might not be the stuff of romance, but they matter. It is vital that our synods – at every level – should drive and enhance our mission … and for that we need people – in the right numbers and variety – who are caught up by a vision of the kingdom of God that grabs popular attention, awakens curiosity, draws people in from being met outside on their territory and in their terms. Are we up for this? It isn’t easy, and it will mean sacrifice; but, we need younger energy and vision to challenge us and drag us into new ways of being a renewed and reformed church in this part of Yorkshire.

Again, this is not for the sake of the church’s organisation or own well-being. Yorkshire faces massive challenges in the wake of Brexit (however that might ultimately look…), but also in terms of its own political organisation. Westminster seems to have a view of how Yorkshire might be governed in the future (under its devolution proposals), but how do we want to help drive this for the sake of the common good of the people of Yorkshire? Do we want to be stuck in the past, with old enmities and thinking within old white lines, or can we be bold about developing a vision of and strategy for a Yorkshire that makes the most of the Northern Powerhouse – whatever that means?

What I am driving at here is that we should not be a church that merely responds to the initiatives of others, but be creative ourselves at fostering debate and proposition that, rooted in our traditions, offers a refreshed view of future potential.

Of course, this is all stuff and nonsense if we would prefer to just keep turning the handle. In the diocese we have proved that, even where we might have differing degrees of affection for the diocese we have shaped, we can commit ourselves to it as mature adults who follow Jesus Christ.

At this point I want to pay special thanks to the Dean of Wakefield, Jonathan Greener, who will leave the diocese in November and be installed as Dean of Exeter. Jonathan vigorously opposed the creation of the new diocese, but, since its creation, has been an excellent friend and colleague, a creative and imaginative shaper of new things (three cathedrals and three deans in a single diocese), and a brave contributor to all we have done. We owe him a huge debt. Personally, I will miss him, his wisdom and advice, even his humour. But, we wish him God’s richest blessing and the fullness of the Spirit’s gifts as he and Pamela move into a not-unchallenging situation in Exeter. They go with our love, gratitude and prayers.

So, let me conclude where we began – with Martin Luther. While sitting with three young Germans in the very room in Luther’s house in Wittenberg, around the table where he and his friends argued about theology, politics, beer and bodily functions (I kid you not), having our own feisty debate about the meaning of Luther’s theology now, we felt close to the heart of passion: the passion that is courageous, contagious, irritating, maybe even hopeful – maybe even the passion for Jesus Christ, his grace and mercy, his call to us and his friends to love one another as he loves us.