My father told me the story. It happend in Pella near Wartburg. Long time before I went to school there. Pastor Karl Meister was a grumpy old man, just as short as his temper. Never really got to grips with the vernacular, nevermind the local people. Still, the old Superintendent trusted him, teaching Old Testament at the seminary in Salem. Probably was part of the family. They stick together.
Well, this missionary was based at Pella after our very own Zulu “walkout”. It occurred, when evangelist Thembu “pointed out” (Komba) the superintendent with his stabbing spear (Iklwa), while dancing (ghitta) around the fire at some theological conference. Obviously, this was not part of procedure. It happened after hours – and long after the missionaries had gone to bed. Sure enough, the senior cleric and chief pastor, who was thus bewitched with the “evil eye” fell seriously ill.
The native rebel was disciplined and left the young mission church with most of his member – three thousand members and some. That left the congregation deserterd and the church building pretty much empty. The “master” preacher was left to preach to empty benches. I wonder, whether he preached in German or in his broken Zulu. From this time, he bore the honorary title: maBenchees! (The man preaching to the benches). This incident stopped the mission´s plan to move ahead with independence of the local church. That was shelved indefinitely together with the idea to go on to Rhodesia, but that´s another story.
The holy Anthony suffered much the same fate. When finding his church in Padua empty, he went to preach to the fishes. His contemporary St. Francis had preached to the birds for much the same reason. So You might as well preach to those dwelling in rivers, lakes and seas or to benches too. Gustav Mahler used this story for the third part of his second symphony on “Des Knaben Wunderhorn“.
Antonius zur Predigt Die Kirche find’t ledig! Er geht zu den Flüssen und predigt den Fischen! Sie schlag’n mit den Schwänzen! Im Sonnenschein glänzen! Im Sonnenschein, Sonnenschein glänzen, sie glänzen, sie glänzen, glänzen!
Die Karpfen mit Rogen seynd all’ hierher zogen, hab’n d’Mäuler aufrissen, sich Zuhörn’s beflissen! Kein Predigt niemalen den Fischen so g’fallen!
Spitzgoschete Hechte, die immerzu fechten, sind eilend herschwommen, zu hören den Frommen!
Auch jene Phantasten, die immerzu fasten: die Stockfisch ich meine, zur Predigt erscheinen. Kein Predigt niemalen den Stockfisch so g’fallen.
Gut Aale und Hausen, die vornehme schmausen, die selbst sich bequemen, die Predigt vernehmen!
Auch Krebse, Schildkroten, sonst langsame Boten, steigen eilig vom Grund, zu hören diesen Mund! Kein Predigt niemalen den Krebsen so g’fallen!
Fisch große, Fisch’ kleine, vornehm’ und gemeine, erheben die Köpfe wie verständ’ge Geschöpfe! Auf Gottes Begehren die Predigt anhören!
Die Predigt geendet, ein Jeder sich wendet. Die Hechte bleiben Diebe, die Aale viel lieben; die Predigt hat g’fallen. sie bleiben wie allen!
Die Krebs’ geh’n zurücke, die Stockfisch’ bleib’n dicke, die Karpfen viel fressen, die Predigt vergessen, vergessen! Die Predigt hat g’fallen sie bleiben wie Allen, die Predigt hat g’fallen, hat g’fallen!
A lot can happen in a day. Sometimes that´s true for Wittenberg too. Luther´s wedding celebrations last weekend prove the point. Thousands filled our streets, eager to forget regulations of distancing and hungry for some serious party. Now, a few days later, the many stands, tents and platforms are gone, rubbish is removed and more birds than people fill our square. Still, due to fine weather, open doors and God´s favorable providence some find their way to the Old Latin School and setting us up for another string of meetings.
Take last Tuesday for instance. The regular group from Fredrikstad (Norway) were busy singing Luther hymns in our chapel. This attracted two vicars from Vienna (Austria). They were going from Berlin to Halle and spending a day in our Luther city. They were fascinated by our Luther stuff on the shelf. Especially the board game “Luther” (Kosmos). They were keen to try that with their children´s unit. Not long after they were gone, a colleague of theirs followed their lead. They had told him, that we sell serious books. He was into biblical theology. He had even studied in Tübingen. There in a student residence he had shared a room with a Lutheran for several semesters. This Lutheran was from the SELK. Not originally, but through conversion. Allegedly he was not big in size, but he left a big impression on his roommate, who remembered him as so devout and dedicated with a mission. He recounted his bowing before church altars, kneeling for prayers and going about studying with deep earnest. He professed, that he himself hungered for meaningful theology, but was often at a loss for suitable books. There is just so much to choose from and where to get started as life is so short? In the end he walked off with some of our best offerings from Schöne & Sasse. More did not fit into his rucksack. I hope, he stays in contact. Perhaps next time, I share my list of 10 best Lutheran books – or make it 50. That´s what the late dogmatics Professor Gottfried Hoffmann did for us when we were students.
The next guy to drop in, was a cyclist from Berlin on his way to Dessau. He was all sporty in racing gear, parking his bike inside our hallway. He didn´t feel like locking it up outside. Not long after browsing through our store, he owned up: I am an atheist, but I do know a pastor up in Brandenburg somewhere. Perhaps another SELK-connection? No, he could hardly recall the name of his clerical acquaintance, but assured me, that that one was a sincere individual. Someone whom he could point out as personal reference. I could take his word for it. Sounded like he felt in need of an advocate in this Lutheran stronghold or was it Cranach´s “Crucifix” (Weimar), that put him on the spot and demanded a clear confession? After friendly banter, he pointed out, that although he appreciated our discussion about God and the world, his highlight in Wittenberg was the waiter at “Zur Schloßmühle”. He had walked in there with his blue and white kit after visiting the “Schloßkirche”. On account of those colors the landlord tipped, that he was a fan of “Hertha BSC”. However, those colors were just accidental. He was a fan of “1.FC Union” instead. This outing prompted the innkeeper to hug him most dearly because that was his true love as well. That´s how “Union” ticks. They share a deep solidarity and emotional bond. My visitor made sure, I understood, where his true allegiance was hinged. That´s where he belongs. That´s his family. His creed.
A lanky guy walks in and checks out the display. He´s a pastor from the States: Rev. Michael H. Lives in Milwaukee of all places. Does he know my friend Don Hougard? Of course he does. And how is his congregation? 200+ worshipping 100 on Sundays. Nice. Been doing that for nearly 20 years – and just received a call to Kansas. Really? I don´t know much about Kansas, but I was in Topeka – at St.John´s LC. Met with my predecessor Kristin Lang´s father and with Dr. Jon Bruss. That was on my tour through the South-West of the States. Good memories. Now, it´s his turn to be surprised, because his call is to that very congregation. Small world! St. John´s has supported the Old Latin School substantially over the years – and so now their prospective pastor walks in at our front door. He´s part of the Bach week in Leipzig and using free time to check out Wittenberg and surroundings. Nice meeting just as the church bells of St. Mary´s invite to noon prayers in the chapel “Corpus Christi”.
The church bells of St.Mary had just struck one, when Monika F. entered in a flat spin. She´s one of my oldest neighbors. Over eighty years. She´s lived on our square for more than sixty years. Initially she fled the war with her mother and eventually found the love of her life in Luther city. He´s been dead for some thirty years. She knows, what it means to be lonely. Well, Tuesday she was distraught. She had lost her car key. She could just not remember, where she had put it: “Please, help me find it again!” That´s how it started. Later on after our successful search, she returned to my little bookstore. This time, she was her old confident self once more. She was pulling a bag on wheels. From that she pulled flask and pudding bowls filled with ice cream: “Always, when we reached a goal in my firm, we celebrated. Well, now we celebrate, that we found the key.” So, we drank coffee and enjoyed the contrasting sweetness in some bliss. It could have ended there, and it would have been a nearly perfect ending, but the story continues.
A complete stranger entered the bookstore and asked, whether one could learn Latin here. Depends, I answered. Depends on a whole lot of things. To start off, it depends on whether You have the aptitude to learn a new language etc. It did not take long, and our caller addressed his barbed questions at my old neighbor. She was quick to admit, that in contrast to him, she was not raised roman catholic, but protestant. However, she had dropped the Christian faith years ago. She trusted more in daily news, clever professors, and science in general. When cosmonaut Gagarin had returned to earth with the announcement, that he had not found God “up there”, she had given up on God too. That was her story. Our guest was running warm. He drew out his iPad and literally at the click of his finger, the right and true answers popped up. Here was the perfect missionary in action. Yet, my old friend held her faithless ground with aplomb. The stranger was not put off, but rather energized by this lack of positive response. So, he read one verse after the other, but always with some strange intent. My friend was not convinced. In the end, she left, closing: “We can believe, what we want and I don´t believe that!”
Amongst numerous references our intrusive missionary had shared a weblink, which gave him away. He was a Jehovah’s witness. So, with Monika gone, it was my turn to fire off my ammo for the day. I started with confessing the one triune God. We´re still in the week after the high holiday of the most Holy Trinity after all. Had we not just confessed the Athanasian Creed? I pointed the sectarian to Luther´s lifelong biblical studies and final testament: “Wir sind Bettler. Hoc est verum.”, but also to his warning, that if we read Holy Scriptures without Jesus Christ – and even against him as those false witnesses do (JWs) – then we´d be as hopelessly lost as the rabbi adhering to some cabalistic rules in his vain effort to decipher God´s Word numerically as the image on St.Mary´s depicts and which is media headlines these days.
Well, that was close to the end of another day in Wittenberg. This Sunday we will hear our Lord IX preach to his hearers by the voice of Father Abraham: “They have Moses and the prophets. Let them hear those! They will not believe even if one would return from the dead.” (cf. Luke 16,19-31) Yes, our good Lord knows all about missions and its many faces – good, bad, and ugly. After all, He lives and reigns now and always. Glory to Him in the highest. Amen.
There´s a lot of grumbling about this war inflicted on the Ukraine. Lots of touchiness who’s right or wrong.
Well, there´s no doubt in my mind that Putin is the aggressor and that far too many Russians are voluntarily goosestepping against their very kin, those who have emerged from the very same baptismal font even. It´s fratricide, nothing civil about this border crossing war. Nothing at all. Putin reckons, he can get away with war, mass murder, genocide as if he was Attila the Hun. Yeah, he´s in the league of Ivan the terrible. In the name of special ops and Russian peace, he claims divine right to wipe any opposition off the face of the world as You would clean dishes of food scraps. Down the drain the rubbish goes. As if Russia is the measure of everything and Putin the rule of law. In megalomania, Putin has concocted some fantastic narrative mixed with religious fanaticism blessed by some sectarian Moscow patriarch. Their demagogical story allows bloodthirsty maniacs to rape children, murder widows and old cripples in wheelchairs. With the Russian free pass to wreak havoc in country towns and mega cities they turn blooming landscapes into deserts. Whilst the world is watching aghast, these fiends ruin the global breadbasket. They plant devastation as they go and leave nothing but death in their wake. The Kremlin calls out marauding hordes from the expansive Russian hinterland, calls up bandits from its many war zones, summons outlawed terrorists and ghouls from the underworld to attack a peaceful country Ukraine, which tries to go about its daily business, prepares for Easter, crop sowing in spring and family summers. Well, the Russians sure match Ivan the Terrible in madness, terror, and shamelessness. They do them proud. No evil is beyond them – even as they parade as angels of light and world peace. Defiling churches. Razing seminaries, monasteries and chapels, fraternities, and religious centers. Targeting theaters, cinemas, and opera houses. Firing on fleeing civilians. Bombing cyclists with tanks and bazookas. Haphazardly shelling living quarters, maternity wards, emergency units from their pirate fleet in the Black Sea. Destroying shopping centers, playgrounds, parks just as crazily as milking sheds, tyre factories, bakeries, eateries, and wide-open spaces haphazardly. Cutting water mains, electricity, and lifelines. Poisoning water and air with weapons of mass destruction like they did in Syria, Chechnya, Mali, and Libya. Running mortuaries day and night to hide atrocities even as they leave their own dead to rot or be eaten by scavengers. These Russians are dogs of war, bloody robbers, fucking predators from the East, savages falling into the Ukraine worse than the sum of all ten pests plaguing Egypt of old and competing for devilish honors as apocalyptic horrors to beat.
You get the picture. There on the road between Jericho and Jerusalem, where East meets West, on the banks of the Black Sea, there in the beautiful pearl of Ukraine. It has fallen under the robbers just as that traveler in Jesus´ tale. It´s in a terrible state. No question. They´ve stood up against the aggressors for nearly two months. But it´s tough. Their strength is severely tested. The world watches. Sees the poor soul in duress. Some help comes. Some is promised. Some actually arrives. Thank God, there is always that good Samaritan. Shame on those bigoted churchmen going by and rambling off their legal excuses like bishops Maggot Rottencheese and Fritz, the cheap soul peddler, who sold his gran for a few dimes and feasts on a stolen vineyard like King Ahab even as those entrusted to his care, suffer distress, and lack the gospel. Oh, there are so many good reasons not to get one’s hands dirty, keep walking and looking the other way, which only appears right! Thank God for the foreigner, who does come up with positive action. He does the right thing. Helps the victim up and out, applies medicine, pours out the stuff and pays the fee until the poor chap is back on track again. Our good Lord uses him as encouraging example: You go and do likewise!
Of course, there are others, who warn, the Russian robbers are sure to spread their violence with a vengeance. They´re known to be brutal. This is their terrain. Their doing for ages. That´s what they have been born for. Spreading fear, terror, death. Don´t antagonize them further. That may make it worse. They might take it as an invitation to spread their brutish violence. Better lie low, mind Your own business. Just like with those dragons of old. Let sleeping dogs lie and ferocious demons too. Otherwise, You might wake them, land up in trouble, fighting a war You can´t win, they say. Stay out of it. That´s how they´ve been stuck in gulags for decades now. Fear is the very enemy of freedom! Just as the slaves in Egypt. Moses had his work cut out to draw them to the promised land. Israel always looked back with fear and trembling at Pharaoh and his troops.
Others are in cohorts with the Russian robbers. They pay extortion fees. Exorbitant sums for gas, oil and coal. Daily. Putin´s cash cow. Golden goose. Laying eggs – battery wise. Utterly dependable. Close connections over decades, brown-nosing and playing privileged upper class in the inner circle of the Kremlin monster web. Collaborators. Paying with honor and soul. Betraying motherland. Selling out fatherland. All for Putin, whom they can´t refuse. He, the old deceiver, knows. He´s caught a lot. Paid plenty bribes and cheap Germans are a bargain any day. Still the price for traitors is high. You land up on the wrong side. The dark and evil one. The one that is going to lose ultimately. You might try to forget. Try to sweep the dirt under the carpet. Escape before the whole story explodes. Yet, there is nowhere to hide. Shit happens and it’s hitting the fan. Just watch. It´s not just the Moskva sinking nor only Russian tanks stalling. Putin’s generals are dying as if they´ve found a shortcut to paradise. His soldiers are revolting as if it’s going out of fashion. He´s losing badly and so are his pals. They can´t win. That’s crystal clear. Just watch.
Dr. Martin Luther got involved in politics now and again. Not just in the peasant’s war. He used the law against both the peasants and against the nobility. None really listened to him. They were too busy with their agenda. He was often too late with his admonition. Often misunderstood and not just due to bad timing. Luther acknowledged many grievances of the peasants based on the renewed discovery of the gospel and encouraged the nobility to give ear and concede, where it was conducive to the spreading of the gospel and promoting good order in the land. However, taking the law into their own hands, forceful rebellion was out of the question for Luther. In his biblically sound view, it was always better to suffer, than to achieve owns own goals by force. David´s struggle with King Saul was a prime example in this argument. God would eventually provide. Just wait patiently for His help in His own good time. So, Luther´s advice to the peasants was to wait for the help of the Lord. Yet, the peasants impatiently revolted. Struck out on the war path. That was wrong. Luther went out of his way to encourage the nobility to crush this militant uprising by force. He was afraid, that the war would destroy the lands and wreak havoc amongst the people, causing political chaos and ending the free course of the gospel. The ensuing massacre was brutal, and Luther lost whatever standing he had amongst those crushed. For them, he had picked wrong sides and proved himself as a kowtowing servant of ruthless lords. Theoretically i.e. biblically and theologically he was right all along, but the results of this armed conflict were just too terrible for calm and collected argumentation, never mind heated and emotional sermons from Wittenberg. Many peasants turned their back on the gospel and the church – not just the old one, but also the reformed Lutheran one. The nobility got away with murder and continued to do their own thing – just because they could. Luther´s efforts to admonish both sides to stick to the gospel way, had lost a huge battle in the German reformation. Liberation, which had been high on the reformation agenda, was now seriously limited in its outreach to the common people. Luther was very much restricted to the inner church realm after this.
Another political episode in which armed conflict was seriously contemplated, was in the conflict of the Evangelicals (Lutherans) with emperor Charles V. The good Doctor from across the Elbe was initially quite compliant. Even when he already fought all out against the pope, he was not for armed resistance against the emperor. This changed, when his lawyers convinced him and his fellow Wittenberg theologians, that according to imperial law, there was a right to oppose the emperor if he failed to promote the gospel, the church, and the prosperity of his subjects. In Luther´s mind it became more and more obvious, that by siding with the pope the emperor had chosen the wrong side and was thus opposed to the very gospel, the true church, and his evangelical subjects. Thus, armed resistance and use of force were legitimized in this struggle. Especially if it was a defensive struggle against the assaulting imperial forces – intruding on peaceful lands just because they were following the true gospel. This argument for armed resistance became important for the German confessional church and their defiance against Hitler. Bonhoeffer uses this legal argumentation to promote armed struggle against the demonic rule of the Nazis, who had turned the German law into godless lawlessness – especially with their attempted genocide of the Jews, but also with the laws of total war.
A final aspect in this issue, is Luther´s discussion of our good Lord´s admonition in His Sermon of the Mount to turn the other cheek, when somebody strikes You. Well, that is true and You should do that, if You personally are faced with such a violent attack. Still, Luther points out, that You have a task and duty towards the attacker too. Just letting him get away with his vicious power would be detrimental to his own wellbeing – in this life and the one to come. The violent attacker should be stopped for his own good – and not just thinking of eternal judgment, but also his earthly travail. The aggressor should not be encouraged by passivity to go on with his lawless misdoing and evil. Rather he should be stopped – definitely in the name of God´s good law, which puts a break, stoppage and limit to our lawlessness and bars free-for-all unruliness. Obviously, there is police and other office-bearers of government, who should protect innocent and law-abiding citizens from unruly attackers. However, if they are not around, every Tom, Dick and Harry is called to carry out this office, ministry, service over and against the attacker in God´s name, for his own sake and also to protect innocent victims. I should thus use appropriate force to stop a criminal and get him to refrain from his wild attack. Rapists should not be encouraged to run free. Child molesters should be stopped. Murderers should be hindered by all means. Luther uses the example of two people crossing some lonely marshlands. If the one, hurts or harms the other, that should not just be accepted as good, right, and salutary. Rather, the harmed party should use self-defense to prevent the attacker to live out his violent and sinful desires. I should do that not so much for my own good, but for the transgressor´s good. That´s not selfish reasoning, but rather tough love. It would be bad for the transgressor to get away with evil and think that all is ok. He needs definite limits. He´s not free to do as he pleases if evil pleases him. That means also, if I see a robber stealing, looting, or causing harm I should prevent him from doing so. I should not let him get away with it. The same holds true for all sorts of crime and vice against God´s commandments. The fifth commandment: “Thou shallt not kill!” is prominent on the list and goes before those following. It has prominence. Thus, if somebody harms, destroys, rapes, burns, cuts, or even kills – he should definitely be stopped by appropriate force if necessary. That holds true not just in the private realm, but especially also in public and common realm. Even in international relations. We, who hold that people are plagued with original sin – and don´t just do good naturally all the time – and that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely – therefore also believe in the continued place of the law. It needs to stop evil and regulate society in such a way, that evil does not harm innocent life. Wherever it does, it needs to be prohibited, limited, and stopped. Government doesn´t bear the sword for nothing, but to punish evil doers and protect innocent lives. The apostle Paul knew that. That´s what he writes to the Romans. We know, it holds true even today. That´s why we don´t just say, Putin is crazy, sick or feeling off track, but that he is transgressing international Law and needs to be restricted – not just verbally, but by appropriate force in a true match for his threats and war efforts.
So, after this detour, we´re back with the Ukraine and the Russian aggressor. There is no question, that the Ukraine has the right to self-defense. There is no question, that the Ukraine did not provoke Russia – nor anybody else. NATO did not invite Russia to invade Ukraine. That´s a fact. Aggressive Russia did so, because Putin thinks, he can get away with breaking international law and common sense. Even after serious setbacks in their first offensive, the Russian invader did not come to their senses and retreat, but rather they regrouped and have again hit full-out against the victim Ukraine. Even in the first round Russia did not follow any rules. Rather, they did whatever evil damage they could inflict, crossing all red lines of international decorum and civilized law, perpetrating crimes against humanity and carrying out acts of genocide. That´s not in question. That´s fact. And all passersby are now no longer in a position to just pretend, they are watching a game of ping-pong. No, this is a matter of life and death. Does the long-gone superpower Russia get away with its old ways of bullying smaller nations like the free Ukrainian opposition into submission – even killing huge numbers of civilians, destroying the infrastructure of that independent nation, and causing stress, expense and immense damage to many more. Even threatening world order and disrupting longstanding peace with terror and sheer brutality. The EU and NATO have promised that this will not be so. Some diehard Putinists like the Kreml collaborators in the SPD together with naïve pacificists like Bishops Friedrich Kraemer and Margot Kässmann don´t want to swap sides but continue to cheer on the Russian aggressor with their refrain of “No force!” Ghandi and Mandela knew, when it was no longer conducive to talk, but time for armed resistance. Putin has gone beyond the permissible, excusable and exonerable. He doesn´t listen to outsiders, just his inner calling. Not even to his buddies Macron & Schroeder! He needs opposition – fierce, armed and determined. Lots of it to match his super ego and the proliferation of his nukes. Therefore, tanks for the Ukraine – and enough jets too. The West (and also the German Angela Merkel!) convinced them to give up their nukes. Now the West needs to live up to their commitment to keep them safe against military aggression and deceptive Russian warlords.
Long live the Ukraine – and all its people.
May the peace of our good Lord be with them always +
I will here briefly recount these articles of the Christian faith to which everyone is above all things to pay attention and hold fast.
The first is the law of God, which is to be preached so that one thereby reveals and teaches how to recognize sin (Rom. 3[:20] and 7[:7]), as we have often shown in our writings. However, these prophets do not understand this correctly, for this means a truly spiritual preaching of the law, as Paul says in Rom. 7[:14], and a right use of the law, as he says in 1 Tim. 1[:8].
Secondly, when now sin is recognized and the law is so preached that the conscience is alarmed and humbled before God’s wrath, we are then to preach the comforting word of the gospel and the forgiveness of sins, so that the conscience again may be comforted and established in the grace of God, etc. Christ himself teaches these two articles in such an order (Luke 24[:47]). One must preach repentance and the forgiveness of sins in his name. “And the Spirit (he says in John [16:8]) will convince the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment.” You do not find either of these two articles in this one or any other of the false prophets. They also do not understand them, and yet these are the most important and necessary articles.
Now the third is judgment, the work of putting to death the old man, as in Romans 5; 6, and 7. Here works are concerned, and also suffering and affliction, as we through our own discipline and fasting, watching, labor, etc., or through other persecution and disgrace put to death our flesh. This putting to death is also not handled correctly by these false prophets. For they do not accept what God gives them, but what they themselves choose. They wear gray garb, would be as peasants, and carry on with similar foolish nonsense.
In the fourth place, such works of love toward the neighbor should flow forth in meekness, patience, kindness, teaching, aid, and counsel, spiritually and bodily, free and for nothing, as Christ has dealt with us.
In the fifth and last place, we ought to proclaim the law and its works, not for the Christians, but for the crude and unbelieving. For among Christians we must use the law spiritually, as is said above, to reveal sin. But among the crude masses, on Mr. Everyman, we must use it bodily and roughly, so that they know what works of the law they are to do and what works ought to be left undone. Thus they are compelled by sword and law to be outwardly pious, much in the manner in which we control wild animals with chains and pens, so that external peace will exist among the people. To this end temporal authority is ordained, which God would have us honor and fear (Rom. 13[:1]; 1 Pet. 3) [1 Pet. 2:13, 17].
However, we must see to it that we retain Christian freedom and do not force such laws and works on the Christian conscience, as if one through them were upright or a sinner. Here question are in order concerning the place which images, foods, clothing, places, persons, and all such external things, etc., ought to have. Whoever does not teach according to this order certainly does not teach correctly. From which you now see that Dr. Karlstadt and his spirits replace the highest with the lowest, the best with the least, the first with the last. Yet he would be considered the greatest spirit of all, he who has devoured the Holy Spirit feathers and all.
Therefore I beg every Christian who observes how we bicker in this matter to remember that we are not dealing with important things, but with the most trivial ones. Bear in mind that the devil is eager to spruce up such minor matters, thereby drawing the attention of the people so that the truly important matters are neglected, as long as they gape in his direction. From this each one should recognize how false and evil the spirit of Dr. Karlstadt is, who, not content to ignore and be silent concerning the great and significant articles, so inflates the least significant ones as if the salvation of the world depended more on them than on Christ himself. Also, he compels us to turn from the great important articles to minor ones, so that we with him lose time and are in danger of forgetting the main articles. Let this be the first fruit by which one is able to know this tree [Matt. 7:16–20].
Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 40: Church and Ministry II, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 40 (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1999), 82–84.
News casts show Russians, who don´t know about the war in the Ukraine, nor the havoc wrecked by the Russian army as they target civilians, destroy cities, and even bomb nuclear plants. Seventy percent of all Russians are in favor of their “peace keeping mission” and “the spreading of law and order in brother´s land.” Makes me think. Reminds me of somebody, who doesn´t read the news because it is too distracting.
Solschenizyn suggested not go silently if state security comes to pick you up. Rather, make a noise so that your neighbors hear. Don´t let anyone doubt, that you are going against your will and that your captors are doing it by force. They should all know the truth about this. His warning was, because most victims of state tyranny believe that by being law-abiding and not creating a big scene, you might just win the goodwill of the powers that be. You might even pacify these false authorities coming for you in jack boots. Big mistake! Even if they come on rubber soles, they are the idiomatic snake in the grass and you will be shoved into their prison vans in a wink, whilst the brutal forces try to keep faces straight and appearances normal. The Ukraine is making a big noise. They are showing, what chaos the Russians are bringing to their lands – and that this is not their idea of peaceful coexistence.
Back in my confirmation days, my pastor told us, that living close to a concentration camp during the 2nd World War, he had seen the countless trains with loads of huddled people coming in, but never leaving. He told of the putrid smell from the smoking furnaces and the common explanation, that that was from making soap for the people. He added: “Little did we know!” Afterwards, when they were walked through the camp, many repeated: “How could we have known?” It all looked innocent enough. Rumors of the contrary were just put off as fake news. Just like those many, many Germans, who heard afterwards, what terror the Wehrmacht had wrecked beyond German borders in Poland, Ukraine, Russia to name but just three of the many, many horror stations in that world war. Goebbels never mentioned that, did he? Neither did their own husbands, fathers, sons in their cryptic letters from the war zone. It was war. But the enemy’s radio (Feindsender!) did. No small wonder, it was forbidden to listen in on the BBC. Remember, how the authorities in East Germany (GDR) forbade citizens to switch to West-TV? That was just Propaganda! Sound familiar? It´s going on even now. Russia switched off BBC etc today.
When Max du Preez exposed the torture horrors of Vlakplaas and the “Truth and Reconcilation Commission” ran revealing reports on SABC, I thought again and again: “I didn´t know that!” How could that have happened in our dearly beloved and honored home- and fatherland? That recalled the many times, when foreign criticism of Apartheid was just discounted with a “You don´t know. You can´t know. You are a foreigner!” That held true of our very own Director of Missions: Rev. Friedrich Wilhelm Hopf DD. Some discontinued reading his “Missionsblatt” – because it was far too political! Or local atrocities were relativized with other horrors far away: “See? You are not much better (or even worse!) and how can You judge us?” Local criticism was silenced with: “Don´t wash our own dirty linen in public!” Germans call them: “Nestbeschmutzer!” People who bring their own family into disrepute. Do you recognize how perpetrators stylize themselves as victims and victims, who speak out, become further brutalized, ostracized, and punished?
Well, in peace and quiet, there is room for civilized debate, pro et contra – much like Luther´s ninety five academic thesis. At first that was just a professorial plea to clarify legalistic and pastoral misunderstandings, get the gospel back on track and live happily ever after. However, when the Pope refused to listen and declared war against Luther, the cards were on the table. There was no room for debate, but high time for clarity, strong words and determined action. As long as Hitler was still in the realm of legality, opposition was difficult, but he exposed himself more and more as prime evil. Especially when he legalized evil – like the lawful extermination of Jews. Some like Sasse and Bonhoeffer saw this abomination earlier than others, but some never woke up, but revered this deceiver as their leader and savior even when there was no room left for excuses. This German tyrant had not just transgressed basic commandments of God. He legalized apostasy, homicide, total war. He put himself in God´s place and deceitfully clothed himself as an angel of peace and goodwill. The only question remaining is, how to stop this blatant perpetrator and get rid of the evil leader, democratically elected in a previously civilized country. War changes everything – and the willingness to start war on others, is a blatant rejection of all legality, civility, and humanity even. Tyrannenmord: Kill the tyrant!
Many have blamed today´s Germans, that they were so tolerant and bent over backwards giving Putin the room he craved. Just like the British in the heydays. Poland had to be attacked in those bleak September’s days, before they woke up and declared war. There was no other way to stop Hitler´s armies. Thank God they did. And thank God, the Americans joined in after Pearl Harbor. We can all lament the fact that they woke up so late, but thankfully they woke up eventually. It took Germany and NATO far too long to push back against Putin. At last the please of the Ukrainians are heard. Their valiant efforts at defending their fatherland are astonishing, but Russia is all out to kill. It´s hurting its very own motherland. It´s that simple. There is no validity in the claims, that Russia needs to appease own hurt feelings in such a barbaric way. That´s puerile nonsense like dueling or archaic “Ehrenmorde!” Grow up and get a life: It´s free.
We know, the Russians can unchain hell fire still and they´re hell bound to do it. I have my doubts, whether the Ukrainians can withstand their aggressive onslaught much longer. But there is no doubt in my mind, that Putin is a bloody tyrant. He and his grim generals have too much innocent blood on their hands already, they´ve brought crying shame on Mother Russia and endless grief on their own people, never mind the horrific war they have unchained and brought to the independent nation of Ukraine. I know, Russia can do far worse, but we can´t say that we didn´t know this. It is high time to wake up and take a stand against the evil war machine with all means at our disposal wherever we are. Otherwise, the free world, as we know it, might fall – even as we are sleeping. It could be barren emptiness functioning as dreaded Gulags. Ignorance doesn´t serve as an excuse in courts of law. It doesn´t in everyday life either. Sticking one’s head into the sand is no meaningful option. We have a responsibility to get informed and truthfully so even if it aggravates Putin, his devious generals, and terrible war machine.
My friend asks me, why I quote my granny: “Don´t trust the Russians!” Well, it´s complicated. Trust grows. So does mistrust. The easy reasons are bad experiences with Russians as neighbors and rulers – during wars and after. You know, after the war is before the war… Putin is worse than any fox (or snake!). He´s out to grow Russia even if others have to bleed. He bullies sovereign nations. Poisons his enemies not in the streets of London, but in Salisbury and in broad daylight Berlin. He locks them away in today´s Gulags with all legalities covered or at least bent to do so and moves against Ukraine whilst all watch wide eyed. Publicly declared Kiev and all of Ukraine to be his subjects, although they´ve been around longer than Moscow and historic Russia. It´s his powerplay, creating facts by force disregarding any semblance of finesse. War as final means of politics (Carl von Clausewitz). There´s nobody to stop him. He´s “walking over corpses” whilst our reporters are dumbfounded as they continue to seek some rationality in this brutal display of military force. It´s like a child complaining about the school bully, but nobody cares.
For Christmas I got this book: “Humankind. A hopeful history” by Rutger Bregman. It builds much on the same foundations as psychological courses for self-help and stress management: “You´re ok. I´m ok” (Thomas A. Harris). It strongly rejects the old narrative of “Lord of the Flies” (William Golding) and “radical evil” (Immanuel Kant). Rather, it advocates a positive outlook much along the lines of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Opposed to Kant, Golding and a long string of others, these starry-eyed proponents underestimate original sin and highly exaggerate our good inclinations. Mostly they are just self-seeking cover-ups. Ask Jacob, Moses, David and all the others… They had their dark sides. No question. And “Original Sin” remains the second article in the Augsburg Confession. The Formula of Concord confirms that.
The Russians understand about humans. Sinful humans. Erring, tarnished, envious and even hateful. Probably more than the Chinese do as there was a Conversion of the Russ – but the Chinese have no good God, only some sorry party idols and short lived communist effigies. Their own cultural revolution made sure of getting rid of all else. It was more effective than most exorcisms. At least, the Russians have Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Pasternak, Solschenizyn and so on. It´s their sensitive, good and suffering side. They know a lot about human hardship, punishment, innocent suffering too. Financial hardship doesn´t weigh too much in that context. Financial boycotts could work for materialistic capitalists, but I think, they´re feeble means against hardened Russians. They know poverty. Just read their stories of hungry, ill, imprisoned and downtrodden. They know what it means to be dirt poor. Nothing. Silch. Just plenty snow, dirt and wide open spaces. So, our talk of economic sanctions doesn´t frighten them so much as us but hardens their tough resolve. Perhaps they even hope for redemption through suffering. I don´t know, if they really know about justice, truth and reconciliation as possible outcomes of secular processes and democratic power sharing. Forgiveness in the political realm? Mitigating circumstances? Perhaps, but I´m not so sure. There´s just so much wildness, tyranny, brutal force, and harsh exploitation and that´s not only natural forces, evolution through many ages and eventual survival of the fittest, but rather in their best circles and prestigious families. Just think of “War and Peace” (Tolstoy). Napoleon couldn´t break their spirit by razing Moscow, nor could general Paulus by burning down Stalingrad. They left defeated. Russians lived to tell the story. It´s their very own never-ending story. It´s their long history. Remember Moscow founding Czar Ivan the Terrible, killing his only son in a rage. I mean, they know about playing God in a very serious fashion.
They know a whole lot about dialectics. Materialism too. They say this and do the other – just like that son, who tells his father, he´ll go work in the vineyard, but then doesn´t. They don´t just know a lot about the “Dialectics of Enlightenment” (Horkheimer/Adorno) and how something, that was meant to be so good, turns out to be so bad – it is the revolt of nature. They perfected the script. That´s not just with Joseph Stalin and his killing fields in the Ukraine, but even those organized mock trials, the Gulag system and ongoing tyranny proving over decades how the revolution eats its very own children. The good become the bad. Millions died for it. Yes, “Dichter & Denker” build Auschwitz, hold themselves as “master race”, whilst degrading others as “unworthy to live” – left to kill. Afrikaaners perfect apartheid – not many years after the Boer War. The Jews do it with their Palestinian compatriots – not long after the Holocaust. But in real existing socialism such political atrocities were perfected.
All good reasons for checks and balances, sharing and even division of power. Not losing sight of the distinct possibility that things go wrong in governments. Things get out of hand as power corrupts and absolute power goes all the way. There´s just so much going seriously wrong. Too much reason for revenge, bad blood, getting one´s own back. Nobody wins the blame game. There´s always reason for revenge and to hit back. You just need a memory for these things or some imagination. It´s always a good time for containment of brutal force, resistance against evil, some natural law justice – and to prevent the winner to take it all. We Lutherans believe in the Law holding true and setting boundaries not just for the criminals, but for the justified and righteous too as even they are prone to fall short of expectations and commit terrible sin. King David, but also St. Peter are long-standing examples. The Greek tragedies confirm these stories – and Shakespeare sings the same tune.
After the walls finally came down in the last century, many of us fell for the “End of history and the last man” (Francis Fukuyama). We were just so eager to believe in such a happy ending. Leaving politics for children (“Fridays for future”). Making room for previously discriminated genders – all seventy of them and counting! We have presidential actors like Zelensky. Utterly out of their depth confronted with serious military opposition. Parliament turns into a circus with clowns like Boris taking over and playing the fool with everyone. Democratic guardians fall asleep on the job and not just sleepy Joe. Serious professionals are scarce. In Germany far too many good people have been kicked into oblivion.
So now, whilst children block highways, harbors and key points, Putin´s generals roll into the Ukraine with thousands of tanks. Whilst local activist play hide-and-seek in lofty treetops, breaking up railways and painting horrid graffiti, Russians fire rockets into all directions, challenge Beijing´s closing function for most effective distraction from ongoing atrocities. Whilst European politicians fantasize of flowering landscapes under wind turbines, Russians are pressing down on our gas taps and spend as much dirty energy as they can to expand their bulging borders for just more dreary “Lebensraum”: “Just because they can!” Whilst we consider one nutty diet after the other, Russians are nursing a megalomanic appetite by swallowing up neighbors: Who is going to stop me now? (Queen) Somebody should tell them, that this kind of thirst for more is not stilled by giving in to it. Rather it needs tough love: “Stop it!” Just ask the AA about that. Their twelve steps would probably be way beyond modern diplomats, but they could get some serious hardliners on the job. This is a tough job after alle. Presently we have a pretty cool minister of foreign affairs. She´s a pretty little girl really. However, the old men in Putin´s war office don´t look as if they could take her seriously. They´ve got real business to attend to. They are at war – not having fun and playing games for bored voters. Their call is beyond child stuff. They´ve come up through the ranks and fill that post – by being ugly, dirty fighters. It´s been that way for decades. Just ask their opponents. At least those, who are still around. I fear most of them are dead and not due to natural causes. If they do that to their own people, what do You imagine will they do with foreign enemies and aliens?
So, where have all the men gone? We need men to fight the Taliban, the Iranian mullahs firing up their nuclear reactors, Islamic state terrorists. Obviously computer nerds can go a long way at disrupting the networks, but for some ops, you need fighters even behind enemy lines – marines or SAS if you can´t find a recce. I doubt if the GSG9 is up to it after the latest purges. Chinese communists pressing for national glory beyond their narrow confines. Cowing Hong Kong, hurting Taiwan and destabilizing the region – infecting the world with their mutations. Russians, who seek vindication for far too much hurt pride and deflated egos – dating back decades, even centuries. It´s one big asylum – never mind lost case. And now, they´re on the loose. Putin let his dogs out! And we? We have ended compulsory military service. Our guns don´t fire. Our tanks don´t drive. Helicopters, jets, and drones don´t fly. Ships and submarines aren´t seaworthy. Hallelujah – we have helmets and masks and lots of cake to give away. So, let them eat cake! We have bureaucrats in every office and plenty forms to prove it – instead of professional soldiers – probably fluent at singing Kumbaya and baking vegan Pizza, but who the heck is guarding the gates?
It´s no longer “waiting for the barbarians” (J.M. Coetzee). We´re past that stage. They are here. Knocking at the door. Forcing entry. Our best men are in hiding. Ostracized. Castrated. No balls left. So, let’s see, what the Russians are up. Anybody for some tea? They prefer Vodka straight. You want to sit down and talk? They´d rather shoot – straight too. They´ve come to clean shop. Clean all their way. Do the lists. One dead, one tick. Death row. It´s dirty, but they´re used to it. It´s for a good purpose. Creating space for their people. Room for egos to flourish. Who is going to stop them? It´s tickets for now.
The strong man in China might stand up to Russia someday yet. For now, they are sharing jokes on us. It´s just a poor joke. Ukrainians caught up in the middle. Again. Trampling fields. They had hoped for a turn for the better. No longer crazy bears foraging in their front yard. Seems as if that was wishful thinking. Isn´t there always? As long as we´re still breathing there´s hope. Hope – maybe, but not in logic, military reason or in some political party or princes. There is one, who holds all the world in His hands – even the high and mighty like Putin & Co plus the one from Beijing. The prophet Amos proclaims: “Is there one evil in the city, that the Lord doesn´t do?” To Him we continue to cry: Lord have mercy! Christ have mery! Lord have mercy!
Looking forward to this Sunday. It is “Sexagesimae” – the second Sunday before Lent):
Oh, that today You would listen as He speaks! Do not harden Your hearts.
This blessed Sunday we are focused on the triune God´s holy word. The Psalm 1,19 and 119 teach us in that regard. With the Introit all believers confess:
And the good Lord lets us hear His words through the holy prophet Isaiah, which we have in well preserved text scrolls dating back nearly 3 millenia…
The designated sermon text is from the letter to the Hebrews. There we get a strong and powerful picture of this very holy Word of God:
Our good Lord and Savior Jesus Christ elaborates the efficacy of His most holy Gospel:
Blessed translators through the ages!
We listen up and sing with this blessed churchman´s hymn:
Thy strong word did cleave the darkness; At thy speaking it was done. For created light we thank thee While thine ordered seasons run. Alleluia! Alleluia! Praise to thee who light dost send! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia without end!
Lo, on those who dwelt in darkness, Dark as night and deep as death, Broke the light of thy salvation, Breathed thine own life-giving breath. Alleluia! Alleluia! Praise to thee who light dost send! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia without end!
Thy strong Word bespeaks us righteous; Bright with thine own holiness, Glorious now, we press toward glory, And our lives our hope confess. Alleluia! Alleluia! Praise to thee who light dost send! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia without end!
From the cross thy wisdom shining Breaketh forth in conqu’ring might; From the cross forever beameth All thy bright redeeming light. Alleluia! Alleluia! Praise to thee who light dost send! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia without end!
Give us lips to sing thy glory, Tongues thy mercy to proclaim, Throats to shout the hope that fills us, Mouths to speak thy holy name. Alleluia! Alleluia! May the light which thou dost send Fill our songs with alleluias, Alleluias without end!
God the Father, light-creator, To thee laud and honor be. To thee, Light from Light begotten, Praise be sung eternally. Holy Spirit, light-revealer, Glory, glory be to thee. Mortals, angels, now and ever Praise the holy Trinity!
A week ago Bruno and Ingrid were in a head-on-collision. Subsequently other cars crashed into them from behind. Their two children Karl (6) and Maya (2) were critically injured, and both died in ICU – Karl on Sunday and Maya this morning. Both parents are still in serious physical condition besides suffering from this trauma and loss. Please pray for them, that they don´t lose faith, but continue to trust in the one, who we know as the one, who
will shelter you with his wings; you will find safety under his wings. His faithfulness is like a shield or a protective wall!
My parents-in-law lost their youngest son – Martin – when he was but 2 years old. He drowned in the parsonage´s fishpond on Christmas Eve. Their eldest was shot on a lovely autumn day by robbers, who came to steal his truck. They probably felt much like Adam and Eve after Abel was murdered by Cain, or Jacob, when he heard that a wild animal had killed Joseph. King David was quite distraught when his rebellious son Absalom was killed in battle, trying to oust his very father from the throne. He also went through quite some suffering, when his first-born with Batsheba dies. I reckon there´s not much worse to suffer in this world, than to bury your own child. That´s what those parents in Bethlehem went through after the killing of the holy innocents, but Joseph and Mary escaped with baby Jesus to Egypt.
That explains the joy the bereaved experience, when their dead ones are brought back to life: The widow of Sarepta; Jacob gets to see his long lost son Joseph again in Egypt; the widow of Nain; Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue. It´s what the Lord promised through the evangelist. St. John:
God will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death will not exist any more—or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the former things have ceased to exist.
The reformer – Dr. Martin Luther – struggled very much with the premature death of his daughter Magdalena. She was but thirteen years old. It was the 20th September 1542 – four years before he himself would die. He writes to his trusted friend Justus Jonas:
I believe the report has reached you that my dearest daughter Magdalena has been reborn into Christ’s eternal kingdom. I and my wife should joyfully give thanks for such a felicitous departure and blessed end by which Magdalena escaped the power of the flesh, the world, the Turk and the devil; yet the force of our natural love is so great that we are unable to do this without crying and grieving in our hearts, or even without experiencing death ourselves. The features, the words and the movements of the living and dying daughter remain deeply engraved in our hearts. Even the death of Christ… is unable to take this all away as it should. You, therefore, give thanks to God in our stead. For indeed God did a great work of grace when he glorified our flesh in this way. Magdalena had (as you know) a mild and lovely disposition and was loved by all… God grant me and all my loved ones and all my friends such a death – or rather such a life.
P. Paul Gerhardt married Anna Maria on the 11th of February 1655. The first daughter, Maria Elisabeth, was born on the 19th of May 1656, but died half a year later already on the 28th January 1657. She was buried in Mittenwalde. The Gerhardts had four more children. Three of these died in early age: Anna Catharina, Andreas Christian and Andreas). Son Paul Friedrich was the only one, who would outlive his parents. Paul Gerhard, was hard pressed in his office of the minstry too because he wanted to remain faithful to the Lutheran confession – and not follow the unionistic pressures of the calvinistic Prussian king. One of his most beloved hymns is “Geh aus mein Herz und suche Freud...”, by which he exhorts himself to leave his own sorrowful state (curvatus in se) and seek joy in God´s creation, salvation and final consumation is a very strong admonition for us to look up towards Jesus – the only source and final goal of our salvation – and come to Him with all our sorrows, troubles and needs. Catherine Winkworth translated and compressed Paul Gerhardt´s 15 verses into but six stanzas. Try read the original – if You can. It´s worth it.
1 Go forth, my heart, and seek delight, While summer reigns so fair and bright, View God’s abundance daily; The beauty of these gardens see, Behold how they for me and thee Have decked themselves so gaily.
2 The trees with spreading leaves are blessed, The earth her dusty rind has dressed In green so young and tender. Narcissus and the tulip fair Are clothed in raiment far more rare Than Solomon in splendor.
3 The lark soars upward to the skies, And from her cote the pigeon flies, Her way to woodlands winging. The silver-throated nightingale Fills mountain, meadow, hill and dale With her delightful singing.
4 Fast grows the wheat, like waving gold, And gives delight to young and old; All nature with thanksgiving Lauds Him whose mercy measureless Vouchsafed the soul of man to bless With goods that grace his living.
5 Thy splendor, Lord, doth brightly shine And fills my heart with joy divine While here on earth abiding; What, then, may be in store for me And all who heaven’s glory see, In golden halls residing?
6 O choose me for Thy paradise, Let soul and body till I rise Still flourish, tiring never. With Thee alone will I abide, Thine honor serve, and none beside, Both here and there forever.
Looking forward to the 4th Sunday before Lent. It comes with a very promising invitation: “Come and witness God’s exploits! His acts on behalf of people are awesome.” (Psalm 66,5)
The Introit from Psalm 107 lifts our eyes to look at those in peril on the high seas, who cry to the Lord and are saved by His gracious favor:
Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, and His loyal love endures. Let those delivered by the Lord speak out, those whom He delivered from the power of the enemy…
Some traveled on the sea in ships, and carried cargo over the vast waters. They witnessed the acts of the Lord, His amazing feats on the deep water. He gave the order for a windstorm, and it stirred up the waves of the sea. They reached up to the sky, then dropped into the depths. The sailors’ strength left them because the danger was so great. They swayed and staggered like drunks, and all their skill proved ineffective. They cried out to the Lord in their distress; He delivered them from their troubles. He calmed the storm, and the waves grew silent. The sailors rejoiced because the waves grew quiet, and He led them to the harbor they desired. Let them give thanks to the Lord for His loyal love, and for the amazing things He has done for people. Let them exalt Him in the assembly of the people. Let them praise Him in the place where the leaders preside.
The Old Testament lesson from the prophet Isaiah reminds us, that we should not forget the good Lord – creator and savior of all! – but rather, put all our hope and trust in Him, who has created all and everything – even us – and continues to preserve us out of fatherly goodness and mercy all days of our life. Therefore, we should not despair, but cry to Him in every need and expect life and salvation from Him, the giver and keeper of all good.
Wake up! Wake up! Clothe Yourself with strength, O arm of the Lord! Wake up as in former times, as in antiquity. Did You not smash the Proud One? Did You not wound the sea monster? Did You not dry up the sea, the waters of the great deep? Did You not make a path through the depths of the sea, so those delivered from bondage could cross over?
Those whom the Lord has ransomed will return; they will enter Zion with a happy shout. Unending joy will crown them, happiness and joy will overwhelm them; grief and suffering will disappear. “I, I am the one who consoles you. Why are you afraid of mortal men, of mere human beings who are as short-lived as grass? Why do you forget the Lord, who made you, who stretched out the sky and founded the earth? Why do you constantly tremble all day long at the anger of the oppressor, when he makes plans to destroy? Where is the anger of the oppressor? The one who suffers will soon be released; he will not die in prison, he will not go hungry. I am the Lord your God, who churns up the sea so that its waves surge. The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is His name!
“I commission you as my spokesman; I cover you with the palm of my hand, to establish the sky and to found the earth, to say to Zion, ‘You are my people.’”
This brings up the story of the prophet Jonah, which is not listed among Sunday´s lessons, but points us dramatically to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ too. We hear two accounts of our Lord calming the storms – one as recorded by the evangelist St. Matthew, which is allocated as sermon text and the other from St. Mark, as the regular Gospel. In the first, we hear of St. Peter going out to meet our Lord on the water and how the good Lord saves him from drowning, when he starts fearing the surrounding perils. Here is the text as recorded by St. Mark:
On that day, when evening came, Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s go across to the other side of the lake.” So, after leaving the crowd, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat, and other boats were with him. Now a great windstorm developed and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was nearly swamped. Buthe was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. They woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care that we are about to die?” So, he got up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Be quiet! Calm down!” Then the wind stopped, and it was dead calm. And he said to them, “Why are you cowardly? Do you still not have faith?” They were overwhelmed by fear and said to one another, “Who then is this? Even the wind and sea obey him!”
Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go ahead of him to the other side, while he dispersed the crowds. And after he sent the crowds away, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone. Meanwhile the boat, already far from land, was taking a beating from the waves because the wind was against it. As the night was ending, Jesus came to them walking on the sea. When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified and said, “It’s a ghost!” and cried out with fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them: “Have courage! It is I. Do not be afraid.” Peter said to him, “Lord, if it is you, order me to come to you on the water.” So he said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat, walked on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind, he became afraid. And starting to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they went up into the boat, the wind ceased. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
It is St. Paul, who relates this holy Gospel masterfully in his life and points out, how we too should not trust in ourselves, but in God, who raises the dead. He is the one, who delivers us from so great a risk of death, and He will deliver us – for sure. Amen. Amen. He writes:
For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, regarding the affliction that happened to us in the province of Asia, that we were burdened excessively, beyond our strength, so that we despaired even of living. Indeed we felt as if the sentence of death had been passed against us, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead. He delivered us from so great a risk of death, and he will deliver us. We have set our hope on him that he will deliver us yet again, as you also join in helping us by prayer, so that many people may give thanks to Godon our behalf for the gracious gift given to us through the help of many.
2. Corinthians 1,8-11
Isn´t that encouraging and so awesome to hear? Oh yes, it is. God´s acts on our behalf are just so awesome. Hallelujah!
That is why we join in singing the old Lutheran favorite:
1. Seek where ye may to find a way That leads to your salvation; My heart is stilled, On Christ I build, He is the one Foundation. His Word is sure, His works endure; He doth o’erthrow My every foe; Through Him I more than conquer.
2. Seek whom ye may To be your stay; None can redeem his brother. All helpers failed, This Man prevailed, The God-man, and none other. Our Servant-Lord Did help afford; We’re justified, For He hath died, The Guiltless for the guilty.
3. Seek Him alone, Who did atone, Who did your souls deliver; Yea, seek Him first, All ye who thirst For grace that faileth never. In every need Seek Him indeed; To every heart He will impart His blessings without measure.
4. My heart’s Delight, My Crown most bright, Thou, Jesus, art forever. Nor wealth nor pride Nor aught beside Our bond of love shall sever. Thou art my Lord; Thy precious Word Shall be my guide, Whate’er betide. Oh, teach me, Lord, to trust Thee!
5. Hide not from me, I ask of Thee, Thy gracious face and favor. Though floods of woe Should o’er me flow, My faith shall never waver. From pain and grief Grant sweet relief; For tears I weep, Lord, let me reap Thy heavenly joy and glory.
Georg Weissel 1590-1635 translated by Arthur P. Voss 1899-1955
Looking forward to the high feast and holiday of the Transfiguration this last Sunday after the Epiphany. We´re hearing a lot from the great prophet Moses, who points us to the one and only savior of the world, Jesus Christ. He it is, who was promised to Adam and Eve in the garden. He it is, who was promised to our father Abraham. It is He, who spoke by all the prophets in the same vein as He did to Moses. It is He, who says: “I am, who I am!”
The Old Testament lesson for tomorrow is from the second book of Moses (Exodus) chapter 3 and relates the story of the burning bush and calling of Moses:
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up.
So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up. ”When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
The Lord said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”
But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, youwill worship God on this mountain.” Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?” God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” God also said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you.’ “This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation.”
The sermon text for tomorrow´s high holiday is from the same book:
When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them. Afterward all the Israelites came near him, and he gave them all the commands the Lord had given him on Mount Sinai. When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord.”
We know many great promises of our good Lord and triune God, which were recorded by His faithful servant Moses. Another outstanding one is from the fifth and final book of Moses:
The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your fellow Israelites. You must listen to him.
And that too was wonderfully fulfilled – like all our good God´s promises – in His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord, the only Savior of the world. In Him the fulness of God´s grace and goodness appeared (Epiphany) in the fulness of time to His people Israel and for the benefit of all the world as the prophet Isaiah foretold:
The Lord rises upon you and His glory appears over you.
Tomorrow´s gospel as recorded by the holy evangelist St. Matthews relates this fulfilment and God´s confirmation of it during His glorious Transfiguration before those select holy apostles and the two outstanding prophets, whose graves were never found:
After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” While he was still speaking, a bright cloud covered them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” When the disciples heard this, they fell facedown to the ground, terrified. But Jesus came and touched them. “Get up,” he said. “Don’t be afraid.” When they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus instructed them, “Don’t tell anyone what you have seen, until the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.
The great missionary to the heathens and holy apostle St. Paul writes in his second letter to the Corinthians and brings the gospel to shine amongst the Christian congregation and church, which is often hard pressed, perplexed, persecuted, struck down:
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” (2.Corinthians 4,6-10)
It is in His name we gather as Christian church throughout the world – called to join in with the Introit:
The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad; let the distant shores rejoice. Clouds and thick darkness surround him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
Fire goes before him and consumes his foes on every side. His lightning lights up the world; the earth sees and trembles. The mountains melt like wax before the Lord, before the Lord of all the earth. The heavens proclaim his righteousness, and all peoples see his glory.
All who worship images are put to shame, those who boast in idols— worship him, all you gods!
Zion hears and rejoices and the villages of Judah are glad because of your judgments, Lord. For you, Lord, are the Most High over all the earth; you are exalted far above all gods. Let those who love the Lord hate evil, for he guards the lives of his faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked. Light shineson the righteous and joy on the upright in heart. Rejoice in the Lord, you who are righteous, and praise his holy name.
Thomas H. Troeger (1945) summarizes the glorious experience of the Holy Transfiguration in his hymn “Swiftly pass the clouds of glory…” and puts it into the context of the Christian church and congregation – much like St. Paul does in the designated Epistle for tomorrow. See above.
Swiftly pass the clouds of glory, Heaven’s voice, the dazzling light; Moses and Elijah vanish; Christ alone commands the height! Peter, James, and John fall silent, Turning from the summit’s rise Downward toward the shadowed valley Where their Lord has fixed His eyes.
Glimpsed and gone the revelation, They shall gain and keep its truth, Not by building on the mountain Any shrine or sacred booth, But by following the Savior Through the valley to the cross And by testing faith’s resilience Through betrayal, pain, and loss.
Lord, transfigure our perception With the purest light that shines, And recast our life’s intentions To the shape of Your designs, Till we seek no other glory Than what lies past Calv’ry’s hill And our living and our dying And our rising by Your will.