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Preaching Prepared a Man to Die

During the last days of the Third Reich, as Allied bombs rained down on Stuttgart and the Nazi terror writhed in its final death throes, Helmut Thielicke preached a remarkable series of sermons based on the Lord's Prayer. These were days of uncertainty and death. On more than one occasion, the shriek of air raid sirens interrupted his sermon. Thielicke writes that during this period there were times when he felt utterly stricken: "My work in Stuttgart seemed to have gone to pieces; and my listeners were scattered to the four winds; the churches lay in rubble and ashes."

In one of his messages, based upon the petition "Thy kingdom come," Thielicke describes an encounter with a woman from his congregation. He was standing in the street looking down into the pit of a cellar—all that remained from a building that an Allied bomb had shattered. The woman approached him and declared, "My husband died down there. His place was right under the hole. The clean-up squad was unable to find a trace of him; all that was left was his cap."

What does a pastor say in a moment like this? "I'm sorry" hardly seems adequate. But the woman had not come to Thielicke for sympathy. She wanted to express her gratitude. "We were there the last time you preached in the cathedral church," she continued. "And here before this pit I want to thank you for preparing him for eternity."

Possible Preaching Angles: Preaching Professor Dr. John Koessler adds, "This is as good a definition of preaching as I have heard. To preach is to take your stand before the pit and bear witness to the rubble of this ash-heap world that the kingdom of God is at hand. This woman's description of the aim of preaching is a sharp reminder that preaching is an eschatological act."

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