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Marvin Repinski: Place your hand on the Bible

By Marvin Repinski
United Methodist Pastor (retired)

In the past week, people who were part of the impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump were asked to give oaths of impartiality and honesty.

The presiding official of the Supreme Court of the United States was requested to: “Place your right hand on the Bible.” Chief Justice John Roberts did so, and repeated a solemn pledge. I assume that he will give legal oversight that the deliberations and process be just, fair, and balanced. More than a symbolic ritual, I believe, is a long held tradition that affirms our nation has Jewish-Christian commitments that are enhanced by the teachings of the Bible; that values attributed to the Bible be one of the basics of the impeachment participation.

The Jan. 24 issue of the Austin Daily Herald placed a historical note. In this column “Today in History,” we read: “In 1848, James W. Marshall discovered a gold nugget at Sutter’s Mill in northern California; a discovery that led to the Gold Rush of ‘49.” Are there “golden nuggets” in the Bible?

There are millions of seekers worldwide in search of a religious life, and they often find strength and at least a partial philosophy to maintain their loyalties. There too are those persons — you’ve met them — who say, “I don’t want to disappoint my mother,” in church on Christmas Eve. You have heard: “I do go to weddings in the Synagogue.”

We face the fact that times change, needs change, other commitments are forged. Our relationships shift one’s outlook, but the Bible remains as a guide to inspiration, values, and a reminder of historic loyalties.

Ask me: “Marvin, as a believer in the Messiah, the salvation through Jesus Christ, are you welcomed in any church to participate in Holy Communion?” Now we have an array of gender questions. Some are told, “You have a different gene, a basic human function or manner of sexual orientation, so membership in my church is not for you.”

A member of the Supreme Court is asked to place his hand on a Bible, which means to me its writings, both Old and New Testaments as the division is made, are offered to a nation. They are out of a foundation to have open covers to divergent applications.

Peter Gomes, in his book, “Biblical Wisdom For Daily Living,” writes: “The only thing that stands between rank and utter chaos, insanity, and an attempt to stand whole and full and complete in the middle of ambiguity and beyond tragedy — God’s love is the only thing.”

Central to the Bible’s message is, for many of us, the love of God. Why keep people away from that love? The Bible first and foremost is a message of GRACE. Can we believe that?

In the devotional booklet “The Upper Room,” writing for the January page, a believer, James Townsend, is listed from Mississippi. (Hello Mississippi!) I find agreement with the following and pass it on to you, the reader. “On my first trip to New York City, I was greatly impressed by the tall skyscrapers that form the Manhattan skyline. However, the exteriors of these structures conceal much more than they reveal. The buildings can reach so high only because of what is inside them. They are fortified inside with steel, concrete, and wire mesh. This reinforcement allows the building to rise upward and remain stable and strong, even when storms come and winds blow. Each structure is a marvel of engineering and construction — on both the outside and the inside.”

“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” What is it that motivates a person to write such sentences? That person is Dietrich Bonhoeffer (born Feb. 4, 1906 — died April 9, 1945). To get the larger essence of the manner that this man lived, read from one of several books and commentaries of this pastor. My present writing is to relate his passion, his risks, to the deepest messages of the Bible. Among my resources are “Letters from Prison” and a biography: “Bonhoeffer, Pastor, Martyr, Prophet.” A background of Bonhoeffer’s situation may be necessary to grasp the importance of his life and how the Bible resonated with his work. Adolf Hitler and the Nazis seduced a nation, bullied a continent, and name-called and slandered all who opposed them. There was a fierce kind of self-interest in policies, politics and lies.

The realities that came forth may be captured in three words: Auschwitz, Holocaust, and death camps. Bonhoeffer, as a Lutheran scholar and pastor in Germany for some years, used his teaching, his associations, and his public protests to defeat, if possible, a virus of Jewish hatred. He spent some time in the United States relating to the Union Theological Seminary in New York City and the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem. He then returned to Europe.

During the final months of his life, Bonhoeffer was arrested on account of his opposition to the Nazi menace and spent time in several prisons. He was taken to Flossenberg as a prisoner. While there, a record of one of his writings pleading for humane politics is preserved: “Death is hell and night is cold, if it is not transformed by our faith. But that is just what is so marvelous — that we can transform death.”

Bonhoeffer joined the millions (note the number!) of other victims of the vicious Third Reich. Many of us regard him with a sacred term: martyr. The Gestapo called him out of his prison confinement on April 9, 1945 ,and he was executed. He, with many others that day, climbed the steps to the gallows. It is stated that the crematorium was not working, so the bodies of the men hanged that morning were burned in piles. Some of his writings and materials were also burned.

Bonhoeffer’s journey was marked by and with a Bible as a primary focus of learning. In a class in his early years, while teaching young men, he kept a record of this time, and it says, “No one can ever obstruct the way to God. The church still has the Bible, and as long as she has it, we can still believe in the holy Christian Church.” This, a conviction, though he being Lutheran, was that the Roman Catholic Church must also be regarded as an authentic voice of faith. It’s a look into the ecumenical (no labels) view of Christianity.

In a study of Bonhoeffer’s preserved writings, and of those who knew him, the Bible was foundational and all important to his life. The scriptures were the van-guard to his passionate commitments.

The sentence that forms, stands out, in the above quotation from the “Upper Room,” is that we too are a marvel of engineering. I assume that the engineers have a few guidebooks in their backpacks. I have a backpack — many resources, memories, friends, advice, examples, art forms, and the focus of some churches. If I lose the backpack, please retrieve a Bible. I place my hand upon the hand of a chief justice, and a claim ripples through me. There are words to help guide a nation, and I am part of that nation.