The public award ceremony will take place on 3 September after the service in the Mennonite Church Hamburg Altona, where the award-winning sermon will be heard.
The award is intended to encourage and honor sermons that bring the biblical witness into the light of the Anabaptist-Mennonite tradition. In the horizon of lived ecumenism, they promote peace church orientation and convince through credibility and offer spiritual strengthening. Furthermore, the sermons are intended to stimulate substantive discussion of current issues in public life – beyond one’s own denominational boundaries.
The award-winning sermon was preached on Good Friday 2022 in the protestant Markuskirche (Herzogenrath) as part of a Passion Sermon Series on “7 dreams from the Book of Books.”
Surprisingly, it starts from a nightmare of Claudia Procula (wife of Pontius Pilate), which Selma Lagerlöf created in her “Christ Legends.” In this dream, war victims of all times show up to reach out to “the great prophet of Nazareth” who “will abolish war and enmity and bring peace on earth.” They are disappointed, for “Pilate killed him.” The sermon directly connects the nightmare with the present experience of the war in Ukraine: “The bet is not on peace, it is on war. The dream of peace has been shattered,” the sermon states.
Below, Pastor Leberecht reflects on how literature relates to religion, the inspiration behind his public vigils for peace, and why he cares so much about ecumenism.
How do you go about finding the literary references you use in your award-winning sermon and your other sermons?
Pastor Leberecht: I love reading novels. Two years ago I read the novel “Jerusalem” (1901/1902) by the Swedish writer Selma Lagerlöf. When I prepared my Good Friday sermon on the dream of Pontius Pilate’s wife, I found the novel “Die Frau des Pilatus” (The Wife of Pilate) (1955) by the German writer Gertrud von le Fort. I enjoyed it very much because the writer describes the life of Claudia Procula, Pilate's wife. Then I searched for other sources on this dream and was happy to find the Christuslegenden (Christ Legends) (1904), also written by Selma Lagerlöf. I find al lot of religious issues in literature, and literature in the Bible. There is a relationship between religion and literature. Both religious texts and good literature can transcend the world, and good storytelling can always give hope.
Every Thursday, you hold a public vigil at the weekly market in Herzogenrath-Mitte with a poster that reads “Put down the weapons!” Can you share some details?
Pastor Leberecht: I try to go to the market every Thursday from 11am to noon with my my self-made poster. I’ve already had discussions with a lot of people how peace in Ukraine can be realised. Most people want peace in Ukraine, but opinions about the right way to find peace differ. Some older people have shared with me their personal experiences during and after World War II. Many of them are afraid of this war and how it already affects and could affect our lives in Germany.
Were you surprised to receive this award?
Pastor Leberecht: Yes, I was surprised because I'm not a Mennonite. I'm proud to get the award and to share my sermon with many people I don’t know.
Why do you care about ecumenism?
Pastor Leberecht: When I was a child, my Grandma, who believed in Jesus, told me a lot about Him. She was a person who prayed and lived with her heart. Her faith taught me to be open towards everyone who believes. When I grew older I recognised the big differences between Christian denominations. Sometimes I'm sad about the lack of unity, while at other times I think that we simply live in different Christian families. We have to respect each other, as well as the other religions and non-believers. We should listen to what our sisters and brothers are saying, and respect how they express their faith. I also see this as an opportunity to ask ourselves more critically how we believe, see the world, and treat others. For example, the Mennonites have a long tradition of following Jesus’ example of nonviolence. I find this a very important voice that should be heard more in the body of Christ.