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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Post-Christmas courage

Kaj Munk is one of the 'great host of witnesses' that can inspire us

Well, we made it through the Christmas weekend. But after overstressing ourselves to take part in all the various services, events and activities, wonderful as they were, we're tired. We're tired physically, mentally and emotionally. I, for one, need to recharge my batteries. And what better way to do that than by letting one of "the great host of witnesses" inspire us?

Take Kaj (pronounced "Ky") Munk, for example.

When Kaj Munk heard heavy pounding on his door one night, he went to answer it. Seeing uniformed members of the Gestapo standing there, he knew they didn't want to talk about the weather. It was during World War II, and they'd been warning him.

They had ordered him to stop preaching against Adolf Hitler. And to stop writing plays — he was not only a Lutheran pastor but one of Denmark's top two playwrights. His plays railed against what Hitler was doing to the Jews, to other minorities, and to the people of many countries the Nazis had ruthlessly overrun — including Denmark.

The next morning passers-by found Munk's body alongside a road. He had been shot in the head.

Defying the Nazis' orders, more than 4,000 Danes attended Munk's funeral.

What had Munk said that so infuriated the Nazis? In a sermon on the good Samaritan, Munk said Jesus calls us to help those around us who have been "attacked and thrown into a ditch."

Munk said that to have a flesh-and-blood neighbor puts us in an either/or position. Either we can be a help to our neighbor or we can be a burden. We, our Lord's people, are either those who protect the sheep or we are like wolves.

As good shepherds and good Samaritans we must do all we can to protect the sheep from the wolves, Munk insisted. "Jesus' fight against the wolves continues through the church, which will allow itself to be torn to pieces rather than let robber or wolf gain entrance to the fold," he preached. "We thought we were Christians when we sat in church and sang Amen. But no, no! We are Christians only when we go out into the world and say 'no' to the devil, renounce all his works and all his ways, and say 'yes' to the Holy Spirit."

Next week, on Jan. 5, the anniversary of the day Munk's body was found in 1944, we remember the man who calls us, as followers of Jesus, to help those around us who've been assaulted and "ditched."

And where along that Danish road had the Gestapo thrown Munk?

Into the ditch. 


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