Most joyful Holiday of the Lutheran Reformation

That was my best Reformation festival in Wittenberg so far. It´s just getting better all along. What a rich heritage we have and great that the Saxony-Anhalt people celebrate it with a special holiday too. From early in the morning, when our house visitors started off the commemoration at the Castle church door – reading Luther´s 95 Thesis – and thanking the triune God for the blessings of the Lutheran Reformation, which brought the gospel back to light and put on a high pedestal in the heart of Europe so that it would shine across the globe – right until late in the evening, when the market had quieted down, visitors returned home and we closed off the evening with good Lutheran friends in the local “Brauhaus”.

Orders of service early in the morning at the Castle Church.

It still seems strange to me, that at prime-time P. Martin Schmidt (Kirchenratspräsident der Evang.-ref. Kirche des Kantons St. Gallen, Switzerland) would preach in St. Marys and elaborate the various reformations in Switzerland and how St. Gallen was somewhat closer to Luther´s Wittenberg than Zwingli´s Geneva. However, if you recall, that at the big celebrations in 2017 it was a Methodist Bishop from Zimbabwe, who got that spot. It´s not so surprising, if you recall, that since 1817 this really is a union church – combining both Lutheran and Reformed confessions in one institution. Well, he was preaching to a full house. I thought, that only happens Christmas. So, I was rather surprised to land up somewhere in the side isles as the center isles were all occupied when we arrived in good time. Still, I had a good view of the pulpit and of the many people in church singing strong Lutheran Hymns accompanied by our friend Reichenberger on the organ.

We sang Psalm 46, which is the basis for Luther´s “A mighty fortress is our God…”, as Introit responsively and then Luther´s version after the sermon alternately with the choir. To confess our creed, we used Luther´s “Glaubenslied”: “We all believe in one true God…” and during the offering the remarkable conversion story of our Reformer juxtaposed with the doctrine of Justification: “Nun freut euch lieben Christen g´mein”. We actually sang all ten stanzas – and that was special too. After this service, we strolled through Wittenberg, which was bustling with the Reformation fair on the market square. Lots to see, eat and drink. Plenty people and most lovely atmosphere.

In the afternoon, we joined about 100+ people in the Bugenhagenhaus for a basic refresher on Luther´s life and work: “Luther für Einsteiger.” Dr. Johannes Block introduced 38 stations of Luther´s life depicted by Gustav König in 1851, whilst Professor Michael Stolle interspersed little jewels on a grand piano and accompanied us singing some Lutheran treasures like “Die beste Zeit im Jahr ist mein…” and a lector played “Luther´s voice” – reading a running commentary by the Reformer. All in all it reminded me very much of my father-in-law´s “Christenlehre” on two consecutive Sundays commemorating the Reformation and going through P.Johannes Schnackenberg´s reader on this pivotal period, person and place. There was enough food for thought to keep us well through the festive concert in the evening before we finally go to the celebrants in the Brauhaus. All in all – a perfect Reformation Festival for sure.

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„Tief ist der Brunnen der Vergangenheit…“ (Thomas Mann)

Lukas Cranach d.J.: “Arbeiter im Weinberg”. Epitaph für Paul Eber (+1569) Familie (1573-1574)

Die „Alte Lateinschule“ (Siehe https://oldlatinschool.org/)  ist nun schon fast 5 Jahre „so schön wie nie!“  Am 3.Mai 2020 feiert sie bereits zum fünften Mal: „Reformationsfest“, die doch schon 1564 erbaut wurde und heuer zum 455x „Hausweih“ feiern kann. Vielleicht ist es an der Zeit in die Zukunft und deswegen an eine „Neue Englischschule“ zu denken oder zu mindestens an „St. Michael und alle Engel“. Das würde sicher ganz gut in die Nachbarschaft von St. Marien und Fronleichnamskapelle passen. Bei uns sind die willigen Boten von Gottes Wort und Luthers Lehr wachsam über Eingangsportal, posaunenblasend um den Kapellenaltar und jubilierend an der Krippe im Treppenhaus platziert. Jahrtausende schon sind sie in göttlicher Mission unterwegs – und noch heute tönt es froh in alle Welt hinaus: „Allein Gott in der Höh´ sei Ehr und Dank für seine Gnade!“  

Die „Alte Lateinschule“ ist in guter Gesellschaft. Täglich sammeln sich in dieser Stadt Menschen um Gottes Wort und Luthers Lehr, die hier in mancherlei Gestalt gepredigt, gelehrt, gesungen, gebetet, gespielt, gemalt und getrieben wird. Das geschieht natürlich wöchentlich am Tage der siegreichen Auferstehung unseres Herrn, wenn im Gottesdienst sein Wort laut gelesen, gepredigt, ausgelegt, verkündigt, gehört und geglaubt wird. Im heiligen Abendmahl wird unseres Herrn und Heilandes Jesu Christi heiliger Leib und sein kostbares Blut für uns gegeben und vergossen unter dankbarem Singen und andachtsvollem Beten gegessen und getrunken – zur Vergebung der Sünden und zur Besserung unseres sündlichen Lebens. Es wird mit der ganzen Christenheit auf Erden der wahre Glaube gehalten, geglaubt und bekannt mit Worten des Nizänischem und Apostolischem Glaubensbekenntnis, manchmal sogar mit dem Athanasianischem.

Es wird auch unter der Woche täglich mehrmals gesungen und gebetet, georgelt und geblasen. Sogar afro-amerikanischer Gospel erklingt hier im Zentrum des alten Europas und seit kurzem auch quicklebendiger Jazz. So hörte ich zum ersten Mal in meinem Leben die alte Weise „O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden“ bei „Blues Night“ auf Saxophon, Schlagzeug und Klavier. Eine tief bewegende Geschichte – Freitagabend um kurz vor Mitternacht – mitten in der Lutherstadt Wittenberg. Tagein- tagaus gibt es Tagzeitengebete. In Deutsch und English, vielleicht manchmal auch in Spanisch und Russisch. Die Glocken bei Katholiken und Evangelischen begleiten das Flehen im Geist und in der Wahrheit mit Geläut und Gebimmel – je nach Umfang und Größe der betroffenen Schallkörper. Bei uns passiert das meist leise und unscheinbar. Doch unser himmlischer Vater, der ins Herz und Verborgene sieht, hört auch das Gebet im kl. Kämmerlein nach der gnädigen Verheißung seines eingeborenen Sohnes, unseres wahren Bruders, dem lieben Sünderheiland IX.   

Die Kirchen sind allesamt feierlich geschmückt und täglich geöffnet. Da strömen, laut statistischem Befund des Tourismusbüros, 500 Übernachtungsgäste täglich zur Lutherstadt Wittenberg herein. Da sind die Fahrradfahrer auf dem Elberadweg noch nicht mal mitgezählt. Meistens bleiben diese Wandervögel nur eine Nacht. Die meisten bewundern Cranachs Altar von 1546 in der Stadtkirche. Viele lassen sich vor der Thesentür fotografieren. Alle, glaube ich, freuen sich über die gelungene Renovierung von Stadt und Kirchen. Einige finden den Weg zu uns in den Buchladen und die kl. Kapelle neben dem Bugenhagenhaus. Die meisten davon sind voll des Lobes und der Dankbarkeit über dieses Kleinod mitten in der Altstadt.  

“Einen anderen Grund kann niemand legen als der gelegt ist in Jesus Christus – unserem Herrn”
1.Kor.3,11

Bei dem weltweit einmaligen Phänomen vier Weltkulturerben in nur einer Straße bewundern zu können, gibt es ziemlich viel zu verdauen. Empfehlenswert ist ein entspannter Aufenthalt. In einer Woche könnte man das Sehenswerteste ansatzweise mitkriegen, um es zu bedenken, bereden und als positive Erinnerung und Erfahrung zu behalten und mitzunehmen. In der Stadt gibt es über 1, 500 Gästebetten. Davon stehen 25+ in der Alten Lateinschule. Einzelbuchungen und Kleingruppen nehmen wir gerne an – telefonisch unter  03491-420 290 oder per Email admin@oldlatinschool.org oder auf dem Postweg: Jüdenstraße 38, D-06886 Lutherstadt Wittenberg.

Unsere Stadt hat knapp 50 Tausend Einwohner. Davon gehören knapp 20% zur Kirche. Die meisten sind Evangelisch, aber ein paar tausend sind noch Katholisch, so wie unser ehrenwerter Herr Ministerpräsident Haselhoff, dessen Familie bereits vor der Reformation hier ansässig war. Die christliche Minderheit spielt eine positive Rolle in Kirche und Gesellschaft und zwar weit mehr als ihre statistische Zahl vermuten ließ. Das hat mich zuerst überrascht. Doch entspricht es wohl dem verheißungs- und wirkungsvollen Zuspruch unseres Herrn Christi: „Ihr seid das Licht der Welt. Ihr seid das Salz der Erde!“ bzw: „Ohne mich könnt ihr nichts tun, aber wer in mir bleibt, der bringt viel Frucht!

Unser Haus – die Alte Lateinschule – steht mitten drin in der Altstadt. Gleich neben der Stadtkirche und dem Marktplatz. Zentraler geht kaum. Noch sind wir neu hier. Die SELK hat zwar lange einen Predigtplatz hier in der Stadt gepflegt, aber es waren meist nicht mehr als 2 oder 3 versammelt in seinem Namen. So ist es geblieben. Dennoch werden wir freundlich aufgenommen, zu vielen Veranstaltungen in Stadt, Gesellschaft und Kirche eingeladen. Da wollen wir uns als verantwortungsvolle Bürger erweisen und nicht das uns anvertraute Pfündlein aus schmählichem Kleinmut und Unglauben vergraben. Vielmehr es gerne einsetzen und -bringen.  Hüten müssen wir uns vor der Hybris der Selbstüberschätzung. Was in diesen Landen über Jahrhunderte verloren gegangen ist oder vielleicht niemals angekommen war (Siehe Luthers Klagen seinerzeit!), wird nicht Übernacht programmier- und machbar sein. Vielmehr wollen wir dem Herrn in den Ohren liegen und bei ihm Hilfe und Rettung suchen: „Herr, erbarme Dich uns und alle Welt!“ Er kann schaffen, was er will – und ins Leben rufen, was nicht ist, dass es sei!

Meine Vorgänger haben die folgenden Punkte als vorläufige und ausbaubare Zielvorstellungen des Hauses formuliert, denen es nachzustreben gilt:

  1. Aus- und Fortbildung: Studentenaustausch, Seminarbetrieb und Forschungszentrum
  2. Mission und Evangelisation: Gottesdienst, Katechese, Seelsorge und Bibelarbeit. 
  3. Zentrum für das konfessionell an das Konkordienbuch gebundenes Luthertum (ILC)
  4. Internationales Gäste- und Besucherzentrum: Gastfreundschaft und Willkommenskultur

Die Missouri Synode unter Präsident Matthew Harrison hat hier in Zusammenarbeit mit der Selbständigen Evangelisch-Lutherischen Kirche und Bischof Hans-Jörg Voigt erfolgreich ein kl. Prachtstück saniert, das sich in der kirchlichen Landschaft Mitteldeutschlands sehen lassen kann.

Ich bin dankbar für das Vorrecht in dieser Alten Lateinschule eingesetzt zu sein und ermuntere Sie gerne, diese Glaubenseinrichtung und kirchliche Institution im Gebet und Fürbitte mitzutragen. Wenn Sie wollen, freuen wir uns auch über Ihre finanzielle Unterstützung unter International Lutheran Society of Wittenberg IBAN DE05 8607 0024 0822 2135 00 BIC (SWIFT) DEUTDEDBLEG.

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Morning has broken …

Vom Aufgang der Sonne bis zu ihrem Niedergang sei gelobet der Name des Herrn“ Roughly translated to fit the music it could go like this “From sunrise to sunset, we laud the good Lord and God.” So, why not join and sing that too in accordance with Luther´s advice “Then go joyfully to your work singing a hymn, like that of the 10 commandments, or whatever your devotion may suggest.” (LSB 327)  That must be one of the first circular canons I learnt at Uelzen Primary. Well, thank God for he gives us ample reason to praise him and thank him for all his goodness and mercy, which is new every morning.

Much like that grumpy old farmer learnt, when he finally went to some councilor and/or therapist “as all was getting just too bad and far too gloomy”. Well, the advice he got, was to put some stones into one pocket and whenever he came upon something positive, he should move one of those pebbles into another pocket in his overall. It didn´t take too long and he was back at the good doctor: “I am a happy and grateful man! Initially it took some time, but as my eyes were opened for the good things around me and my ears attuned to the good stories in life, I could hardly move the stones fast enough!”

Well, it´s very much like my time here. In the beginning I wanted to limit myself to one good story a day, however, on some days that´s just not enough. Take yesterday for instance. It just overflows with good things. In my case that means mainly good encounters and meetings. Admittedly I am in a rather fortunate position at the Old Latin School: Open doors, people walk in and are looking for someone … and look and behold – there I am. Some like my cap, some prefer the books, most talk about Luther and so we´re right in my ballpark.

Yesterday’s round was kicked off by a couple from Baden. They were looking for something to take home to their father. Something like the Luther statue on the shelf – just a bit smaller. Not a keyring either – even that was too big. In the end, we discussed one of the books on my desk – and I could share, what I´ve read and listen to their critical take on it. Discussions like that lead from this to that and so we ended up studying the “Luther rose”, which we offer for sale in various forms, but also give away as a memento to our visitors. They knew the inscription on St.Mary´s north entrance by heart: Des Christen Herz auf Rosen geht und wenns mitten unterm Kreuze steht  – and that was a good place to end up by most counts. I wonder, if they took that to their father?

Just before noon a pilgrim came in – rucksack and all. He was a catholic from Paderborn and doing the Luther trail from Wittenberg to Brehna. He had lost his wife 12 years ago and since then he did these pilgrimages without her. This day he was to leave Wittenberg and go to Kemberg, which is only about 10km from here. He got right to the matter – asking about the purpose of this house and what Lutheran churches the SELK and the LCMS are. We really got talking on the topic of pope Francis (the Jesuit revolutionary) and the meaning of Vatican II´s depiction of the church as God´s people on the go: “The Church, while on earth it journeys in a foreign land away from the Lord, is like in exile. It seeks and experiences those things which are above, where Christ is seated at the right-hand of God, where the life of the Church is hidden with Christ in God until it appears in glory with its Spouse.” (Lumen gentium 49) He gave me some references to ponder. Like the Priest Willi Kraning (Magdeburg: “Jakobsweg in Sachsenanhalt”) and the catholic paper: Christ in der Gegenwart with the remarkable essay by Professor Wolfgang Beinert about the church constituting aspects of the Eucharist. I don´t agree with WB ideas on the holy priesthood and women´s ordination, but appreciate the emphasis on the effective sacraments as “wirkmächtige Tatsächlichkeiten”. He also shared the overview of his pilgrimage and left me a little postcard with some encouraging thought and the bible verse from Isaiah 40:31. In exchange I handed him some pamphlets of “Amt für Gemeindedienst” (Office for congregational services) – especially the reader “Kirche auf festem Glaubensgrund” (Church on firm confessional foundation) – and recommended the little cafe “Klatschmohn” after the noon prayers in the city church.

It goes without saying, that some people don´t come into the Old Latin School. Some look at our signage and move on. Others photograph the Latin inscriptions or look at the various information stands; others just want to use the bathroom, whilst some actually enter the bookstore and with these we try to make a connection. A single morning goes by quickly, especially if the cleaners ask for new orders just after you thought you´re done. The postman can´t make out the address “Luther´s Sterbehaus” (Luther´s Deathhouse) and inquires, whether that´s your place just as you try to comprehend Weinrich´s commentary on the first chapters of St.John´s gospel. It´s all part of the mornings at the Old Latin School.

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My pastor likes Chinese…

My pastor likes Lutherstadt Wittenberg. He´s here frequently – doing divine services at the Old Latin School and/or taking a break from pastoral chores back home at St.Luke´s in Leipzig. So he knows his way around and good spots to eat well. He prefers the Chinese restaurant “Fuh Lam Mun” down the road – about 150 steps. So you stroll leisurely over cobble stones past the oldest evangelical parsonage in town – the Bugenhagen-House – and past the newest offices of the Lutheran World Federation just opened this year. Actually, the Chinese restaurant it´s run by a Vitnamese couple for a good number of years. He´s in the kitchen cooking up a storm and she serves the guests with aplomb. They´re do a good job and are successful by the looks of it. When they are off work, he chauffeurs her in a big black shiny Mercedes 450 GLE. Good for her!

Reminds me a bit of when Obelix asks his British host: “Was that tweed jacket expensive?” and the response is: “My tailor is rich!” However, the food at the Chinese is not pricey and if you compare it with other Wittenberg cuisine it´s very competetive. Perhaps the appropriate comparison, would be my father´s story about the 2 butchers in Ventersdorp (West-Transvaal) decades ago. The first would serve prime cuts: Whites only! The other was open to serve whatever, chicken feet/heads, innards, cheap cuts and that to anybody – even for a few cents. After some time, the first butcher was bankrupt, the other was doing just fine. Business is business. Our Chinese restaurant in the Jüdenstraße – one of several in Wittenberg – is doing just fine – and perhaps you even get chicken small if you really ask for it.

There´s always seems to be room for more guests – even on Sundays, but that´s no indication, that the service is bad or the food not good. On the contrary, there are normally big family gatherings going on. People doing birthdays or some other celebration. Still, the lady of the house manages all and always finds a place for you to settle down too – just as if she was a sergeant major in her previous life used to solving issues and doing things right. The chairs are comfortable with thick cushions and the general atmosphere is heavy Eastern – lots of thick carpets, colourful lanterns, golden Buddhas and outlandish tapestries. It muffels the sound levels. It´s muted, soft-spoken and relaxed. The music is oriental, exotic – never too loud nor too exiting.

The food is traditional chinese cuisine with the normal offers of beef, pork, chicken, duck and/or sea-food, good helpings of rice, dumplings and/or noodles with all sorts of vegetables and served in variations of sweet/sour, hot, medium and just plain bland. There´s the normal range of soups, but also teas like Jasmine, Green etc, all sorts of cool drinks, sodas, beers and a short wine list – including rice wine. The cooked food portions are huge, tasty and fresh – even if you are acquainted with American servings. You really do get your money´s worth. Even in Wittenberg, which is lots cheaper than Leipzig or Berlin, it still compares favourably. You can see the cook standing at the stove, but theres good ventilation and no stale smells of yesteryear. A nice place to go eat – especially in winter, because there is no place to sit outside in a summer garden or the like as we like doing if there is a chance.

The waitress doesn´t do chit-chat. But ask her about her daughter in Leipzig and you´ve hit the sweet spot. That´s her pride, hope and joy. Since then, we´ve also become friends even though we´re not on first name basis yet.

No small wonder P. Fisher likes this place. We do too. It´s private. The food is good and plentiful. The service impeccable. And you don´t have far to return to the Old Latin School. So, if you´re in town for a time – and you´ve had your fill of German fare – try Fuh Lam Mun. I recommend it and give it a good 4 out of 5.

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Job 23: Looking for justification…

Oswald Bayer makes a point of illustrating man´s common pursuit for justification in our time. He goes a long way to prove, that that is a general and practically universal human endeavor, despite others pushing the agenda, that this sort of justification is no longer of concern to modern man and Dr. Martin Luther´s search for a gracious God has become outdated and highly irrelevant to people in our day and age. Rather, they would have us believe, that the real issue today is about meaning – and what Schleiermacher touts as “what ultimately concerns me!” Sunday´s sermon on Job 23 underlines Bayer´s point and reading P. Michael Voigt´s sermon shared from Guben in the local sermon-chatgroup (SELK Predigtwerkstatt), I would argue, that it´s very much today´s story and issue still. “Just words” by Jack Preus illustrates this point quite convincingly too.

Just Job explains to his friends, how he tries by all means to justify himself before God. He is convinced, that if he could find him, he would be able to prove his innocence before the supreme judge. Because God is just, he would justify just Job too. That´s Job´s point – and we know from the introduction to this biblical book of the Old Testament, that it is a valid one and no exaggeration. Even God acknowledges Job´s righteousness in the heavenly courtroom. But, and this is part of the problem, God is not easily located by Job or any human for that matter. In fact, he´s not to be pinpointed by us at all – if God doesn´t in his magnanimity let us find him. So, Job just doesn´t come face to face with God. That´s part of Job´s predicament – and not the smallest one. He does not find God, although he looks in every direction – north, south, east and west. God´s just not to be found by our endevours – even if we go to great lengths to get our hands on him. Just look at all the monuments and structures, localities and sanctuaries, where people try to tie God down. He remains invisible, incomprehensible and out of touch. Yet, God is there, but not for him. God is everywhere, but is found only, when he reveals himself out of his hideness. His remoteness and hideness remains a serious afflication to the faithful throughout the ages. That ´s why Elijah pleads with God: “Let me see Your face!”

God on the other hand, knows Job – and each one of us – very well. He´s familiar with all of Job´s ways. And, who are we, to blow against the wind. We´ve got not one thing to hold against God. For, God is God and Job is Job. God has his way with Job, but not the other way round. As sinners, there are always too many rightous and lawful fingers pointing at us: “You are the man!” as we hear in the OT lesson describing the prophet Nathan´s righteous accusation of the adulterous and murderous king David (cf. 2.Samuel 12:1-10) In the end, that´s why Job fears God. It´s not just about this or that, not just darkness, but God himself in his absolute holiness, who frightens Job and makes his heart scared and even loose hope. Who are we to blow against the wind?

It´s even worse in the big conundrum of innocent suffering. Innocent people suffer bad things. It is, the way of this fallen world. Things are just not perfect anymore. Rather, suffering of the innocent has become part of our world – and that is why the faithful cry out to their God in their pain and hurt and wrong suffering. This is essentially summed up in the lament of our Lord on the cross: “My God, my God, why hast though forsaken me?” The prophet Isaiah elaborates and puts it into these profound words for us in the passion passage chapters 52-53 describing the ultimate suffering servant and innocent lamb of God:  Jesus Christ +

He was despised and rejected by men,
    a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
    he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he has borne our griefs
    and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
    and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
    we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him    the iniquity of us all.

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
    yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
    and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
    so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
    and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
    stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked
    and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,    and there was no deceit in his mouth.

10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
    he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
    he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11 Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see  and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
    make many to be accounted righteous,
    and he shall bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
    and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death    and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
    and makes intercession for the transgressors.

The apostle St. Peter preaches the wonder of this vicarious satisfaction and justification to the crowd in Jerusalem in the clear accusation and miraculous proclamation of God´s gracious forgiveness and that we sinners are no longer being held accountable by God. We read this in the records of the evangelist St. Luke Acts 2:

 “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know— this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it. … Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”

The apostle St. Paul summarizes it perfectly for us in his letter to the Ephesians – and we hear it in the prescribed epistle for this Sunday:

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Eph.2,4-10)

It is this wonder and miracle of God´s salvation, that he justifies sinners and that his only begotten son Jesus Christ came to seek and save, what was lost – to die for those, who were God´s enemies and had schemed to get rid of him. Still, God triumphs over all evil – Satan and his ilk – he justifies the guilty, so that he would have mercy on all – pharisees, tax collectors and even the likes of Job. The wonderful news is really, that we now even know, where to find the true God – in Jesus Christ, who alone is the truth, the way and the light. Not on this or that mountain, but in the Holy Spirit and Truth. So, whoever sees the Son IX, sees our Father in heaven. And whoever hears the Son hears the Father. And whatever is loosend in His name on earth, is also loosend for sure in heaven. Therefore, go and tell them, everything He has taught us – and that is doctrine entails, that he now can surely be found in His holy Word and Sacrament. As the hymn teaches us to sing: “Wo er sich finden lässet in Nachtmahl, Tauf und Wort!” (He is to be found in His holy Supper, Baptism & Word). Those are His sure means of grace for this fallen world. We are grateful for this his gracious salvation and praise his holy name – now and always.

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Preaching on Job

‘Job in penury being jeered at by his wife’ . Woodcut, coloured. From H. von Gersdorf,

Well, today´s sermon-writing-day: Job 23. I really like Job. His story is like the Old Testament illustration of Isaiah 52,13-53,13 and the passion of our Lord. There´s a lot of prejudice coming along with me as I start off with a sermon like this. So, it´s always a call back to basics and that´s back to the text.

My great-grandfather Carl Eisenberg (Dreihausen near Marburg) would translate the sermon text for the coming Sunday as soon as he had finished the morning service and even before having lunch with his family. Perhaps I should point out, that he was good in Hebrew as he taught theology students Hebrew grammar and translation at the University of Marburg – and translating Greek was a given for that generation of pastors anyway. So, he didn´t take hours to translate 5-10 verses 🙂

But, first things first, start off with translating the text – and then you go “pregnant” with this text for the next few days. “Gutes Ding will Weile haben!” (Good things need time) and if your mind is like mine, it needs to sleep over this before it comes up with something worthwhile and is able to consider and evaluate various options. So, get started early enough. Leave enough time. Sleep on it, before you jump to conclusions and don´t try to finish it off prematurely. Creativity needs hard work – and you have to apply your mind to it. I think, that is the greatest temptation in the pastoral office, that you put things on the table faster than you can prepare them and in the end it is just half-cooked 😦

On the other hand, when is something really ready? Perfection eludes us constantly. Just ask Max Reger, Jochen Klepper or Kurt Cobain. Some like it well-done, others are happy with rare and just seared. Mostly, I´ve had time and space to prepare and not too much on my plate. Sometimes, I took the advice of my late professor Rothfuchs: “Read other sermons. Learn from the best. Don´t think, you´re alone in this!” That was especially in preparation for the daunting task of preaching about 3 sermons every Sunday. I´ll get to that one later on again. Just for now: Luther preached every day – and sometimes more than one sermon even. We´re not Luther, but still, it puts our relatively little task into context.

From Psalm 1 & 119 and Luther´s comments on that, we know, reading God´s Word is like the cow chewing the cud. So, whilst you´re going about your chores in the week – keep that text on the front- and backburners.

On the front burner: Do not forget it – learn it off by heart – familiarize yourself with each word, connotation, phrase and sentence in the context. Read it more than once daily! Use your dictionary. Use Logos or Bible Works. Use the best grammar you´ve got. Ask your brother pastor, who is better than you in Greek/Hebrew, about this and that crux and difficulty. And think on it in your mother-tongue (This goes especially to my multilingual brothers in Africa!) whilst you do your prayers, meditations and thinking. Read the fathers, dogmaticians and teachers of the church, which you have on your shelves or files, but also the newspaper, contemporary writers and if you´ve got the stomach for it philosophers and thinkers of our time concerning topics, themes and burning issues raised by God´s Word in the biblical text.

On the back burner: For example, doing breakfast you think about what you´ve just read and when you visit old granny Elly, you can share this and that with her – trying different aspects and angels. Discuss relevant topics with those in the know – Luther spoke with the relevant artisans, experts and professionals concerning technicalities and things, they don´t teach you at Seminary. Normally, we´ve got good advice just around the corner. You just have to ask! Your dentist, policeman, nurse, vet etc. And it does provide you with the excellent opportunity to prove, that you don´t think, you know it all. And ask your people in the congregation and community, what they think about this and that. I remember a pastor, who would regularly tell us, what we as congregation think – and most of the time, that really was way beyond, I had ever heard: Really! Don´t construct a bogey man (Strohmann – “Der Sandmann” von E.T.A. Hoffmann), but address the real issues. Fake news abounds – sermons don´t need to exacerbate that malady.

6 days is a long time. A lot can be done in that week. And you only need to put down about a thousand words on approximately 2 pages and preach 15-20 minutes – without inserts and injections. One of my supervisors during vicarage did 6 pages in tight type for the same. I couldn´t follow his speedy speech, but his written papers were great 🙂 I speak hesitantly – slowly even – and it´s getting worse. It helps those, who need a bit of time, but it is a strain for witty movers and shakers, who get the drift even as you just start the sentence… To preach 12-16 minutes – rather less than more – needs focus and preparation. And you´ve mostly got the hope of preaching against next Sunday. So, you don´t have to say all and everything – even if you should remember, that your hearer needs God´s law and gospel – and the full thrust of salvivic wholesomeness: The peace that passes all understanding. Remember, you´re busy with divine given facts from heaven – and not just with rhetorics. (Vilmar) So, hand it out – and don´t hold back!

I like the short guideline “Goal, malady, means” (Aho). It fits nicely with the detailed workshop by Manfred Seitz on homiletic in Erlangen and also the fundamental framework and magisterial classic by C.F.W. Walther “Law and Gospel”. Seitz taught us to put a topic (spear point) and then elaborate in some steps (spear shaft) to attain what God intended with this his holy Word amongst his people sitting here under the pulpit.

Now, I better get to the real thing of writing that sermon on Job. In my view, it’s good to keep this exercise for the end of the week – so that you´ve got enough thought (i.e. reading, temptation and prayer) put into it and the broth is not just too thin. Then, it’s good to write it down in one piece and not piecemeal, otherwise I at least tend to run into the danger of losing my thread, going off on a tangent and loosing the feel of the piece at hand.

Obviously as pastor, you need to watch out, that you don´t run into some funeral, wedding or birthday party on Saturday – and run out of time to write your sermon. During my studies, we had a pastor, who would write the sermon after the Soccer-Show (Sportschau) late on Saturday evening. Well, not only the preacher nearly fell asleep during those boring sessions. It´s practical stuff like Spurgeon´s advice: “Keep the windows open for fresh air!” So also, don´t fall asleep on the pulpit and expect your hearers to stay awake. Preaching the sermon on the pulpit is the final thing – not your paper on the desk. So, you should have time to learn the outline and key phrases, but also remain alert and open for situational opportunities. This is the battle-front in your ministry – or as Melville (Moby Dick) says: The ship´s bridge! So, expect God to do great things, miracles and wonders through His creative word being preached – by you. Yes, that is indeed some reason to laud and magnify His glorious name for!

I remember old Willy (Wilhelm) Reusch in Uelzen near Glencoe, KZN. Like most pastors then, he would have 3 sermons every Sunday. (This is where I catch up on the hint up front!) One for the confessional service, one for the divine service and finally one for the catechetical service. That´s not counting the sermons he did on the outstations like Paardekop, Enhlanhleni, Sutherland etc.  Well, he would have them all written down and then pace up and down under the cypress at the parsonage – learning these sermons by heart. No wonder, the Uelzen people even today know, what it means to be joyfully Lutheran. They learnt it well from their pastor, who still unanimously believed, taught and confessed: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2. Tim.3,16-17). That´s very different to being under the impression of having to preach some mythology or loose fable to entertain more or less bored guests. It is as the apostle St. Peter writes: “For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty…. And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2. Pt.1,16-21)

Therefore, let us rejoice and sing with a teacher of our church:

1.  Preach you the Word and plant it home To men who like or like it not,  The Word that shall endure and stand When flow’rs and men shall be forgot.
2.  We know how hard, O Lord, the task Your servant bade us undertake: To preach Your Word and never ask What prideful profit it may make.
3.  The sower sows his reckless love Scatters abroad the goodly seed, Intent alone that all may have The wholesome loaves that all men need.
4.  Though some be snatched and some be scorched And some be choked and matted flat, The sower sows; his heart cries out, “Oh, what of that, and what of that?”
5.  Of all his scattered plenteousness One-fourth waves ripe on hill and flat, And bears a harvest hundredfold:  “Ah, what of that, Lord, what of that!”
6.  Preach you the Word and plant it home And never faint; the Harvest Lord     Who gave the sower seed to sow Will watch and tend His planted Word. (Martin H. Franzmann 1907-1976)

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Dr. Martin Luther: A Sermon on Preparing to Die (1519)

Translated by Martin H. Bertram

Introduction

Early in May, 1519, Luther’s friend George Spalatin forwarded to him the request of a certain Mark Schart that the Reformer give him some help in dealing with distressing thoughts about death. At the time, however, Luther was busy preparing for the debate with John Eck to take place at Leipzig in July.2 He suggested through Spalatin that Schart read a little book by John Staupitz entitled The Imitation of the Willing Death of Christ. On May 18 Luther wrote to Spalatin and again said that he “would be agreeable to Schart’s request.” On May 24 he wrote again and asked that Schart “be patient,” explaining that the controversies with Eck and Emser6 were delaying his work on the requested treatise. Four months later in a letter to Spalatin he promised he would write the book “as soon as I can get my breath back again.” Finally, on November 1, Luther was able to send printed copies to Spalatin. In an accompanying letter he asked Spalatin to thank Schart for “the ten gulden” and “to send him as many of these little books as you see fit.”

This treatise is another example of Luther’s remarkable ability to withdraw from the heat of controversy into the pastoral atmosphere of serene devotion. The entire writing echoes his experience as a pastor and confessor constantly in contact with men and women who were terrified by the maze of popular customs and practices observed by the church in connection with death. To Schart and others like him Luther speaks with intimate and comforting understanding. It was the closeness of death which compelled him into the monastic life. Thus Luther knew what it was to face the mystery and terror of death as a child of his time.10

The treatise describes the several stages of preparation for death and strengthens the sufferer’s conscience against the temptation to despair because of his sin in the hour of death. Although he still has confidence in the church’s sacrament of extreme unction and in prayers addressed to Mary and the saints, the theology of personal faith in Christ emerges clearly.

Within three years this treatise had appeared in twenty-two editions, followed by one in 1523 and another in 1525. The translation presented here is based on the German text, Ein Sermon von der Bereitung zum Sterben, in WA 2, (680) 685–697. The authenticity of this text is attested by the fact that a copy of this version in the Ducal Library at Wolfenbüttel bears the inscription in Luther’s handwriting: “To Mark Schart, my dear friend.”12

A Sermon on Preparing to Die (Martin Luther, Augustinian monk)

First, since death marks a farewell from this world and all its activities, it is necessary that a man regulate his temporal goods properly or as he wishes to have them ordered, lest after his death there be occasion for squabbles, quarrels, or other misunderstanding among his surviving friends. This pertains to the physical or external departure from this world and to the surrender of our possessions.

Second, we must also take leave spiritually. That is, we must cheerfully and sincerely forgive, for God’s sake, all men who have offended us. At the same time we must also, for God’s sake, earnestly seek the forgiveness of all the people whom we undoubtedly have greatly offended by setting them a bad example or by bestowing too few of the kindnesses demanded by the law of Christian brotherly love. This is necessary lest the soul remain burdened by its actions here on earth.

Third, since everyone must depart, we must turn our eyes to God, to whom the path of death leads and directs us. Here we find the beginning of the narrow gate and of the straight path to life [Matt. 7:14]. All must joyfully venture forth on this path, for though the gate is quite narrow, the path is not long. Just as an infant is born with peril and pain from the small abode of its mother’s womb into this immense heaven and earth, that is, into this world, so man departs this life through the narrow gate of death. And although the heavens and the earth in which we dwell at present seem large and wide to us, they are nevertheless much narrower and smaller than the mother’s womb in comparison with the future heaven. Therefore, the death of the dear saints is called a new birth, and their feast day is known in Latin as natale, that is, the day of their birth. However, the narrow passage of death makes us think of this life as expansive and the life beyond as confined. Therefore, we must believe this and learn a lesson from the physical birth of a child, as Christ declares, “When a woman is in travail she has sorrow; but when she has recovered, she no longer remembers the anguish, since a child is born by her into the world” [John 16:21]. So it is that in dying we must bear this anguish and know that a large mansion and joy will follow [John 14:2].

Fourth, such preparation and readiness for this journey are accomplished first of all by providing ourselves with a sincere confession (of at least the greatest sins and those which by diligent search can be recalled by our memory), with the holy Christian sacrament of the holy and true body of Christ, and with the unction. If these can be had, one should devoutly desire them and receive them with great confidence. If they cannot be had, our longing and yearning for them should nevertheless be a comfort and we should not be too dismayed by this circumstance.3 Christ says, “All things are possible to him who believes” [Mark 9:23]. The sacraments are nothing else than signs which help and incite us to faith, as we shall see. Without this faith they serve no purpose.

Fifth, we must earnestly, diligently, and highly esteem the holy sacraments, hold them in honor, freely and cheerfully rely on them, and so balance them against sin, death, and hell that they will outweigh these by far. We must occupy ourselves much more with the sacraments and their virtues than with our sins. However, we must know how to give them due honor and we must know what their virtues are. I show them due honor when I believe that I truly receive what the sacraments signify and all that God declares and indicates in them, so that I can say with Mary in firm faith, “Let it be to me according to your words and signs” [Luke 1:38]. Since God himself here speaks and acts through the priest, we would do him in his Word and work no greater dishonor than to doubt whether it is true. And we can do him no greater honor than to believe that his Word and work are true and to firmly rely on them.

Sixth, to recognize the virtues of the sacraments, we must know the evils which they contend with and which we face. There are three such evils: first, the terrifying image of death; second, the awesomely manifold image of sin; third, the unbearable and unavoidable image of hell and eternal damnation.5 Every other evil issues from these three and grows large and strong as a result of such mingling.

Death looms so large and is terrifying because our foolish and fainthearted nature has etched its image too vividly within itself and constantly fixes its gaze on it. Moreover, the devil presses man to look closely at the gruesome mien and image of death to add to his worry, timidity, and despair. Indeed, he conjures up before man’s eyes all the kinds of sudden and terrible death ever seen, heard, or read by man. And then he also slyly suggests the wrath of God with which he [the devil] in days past now and then tormented and destroyed sinners. In that way he fills our foolish human nature with the dread of death while cultivating a love and concern for life, so that burdened with such thoughts man forgets God, flees and abhors death, and thus, in the end, is and remains disobedient to God.

We should familiarize ourselves with death during our lifetime, inviting death into our presence when it is still at a distance and not on the move. At the time of dying, however, this is hazardous and useless, for then death looms large of its own accord. In that hour we must put the thought of death out of mind and refuse to see it, as we shall hear. The power and might of death are rooted in the fearfulness of our nature and in our untimely and undue viewing and contemplating of it.

Seventh, sin also grows large and important when we dwell on it and brood over it too much. This is increased by the fearfulness of our conscience, which is ashamed before God and accuses itself terribly. That is the water that the devil has been seeking for his mill. He makes our sins seem large and numerous. He reminds us of all who have sinned and of the many who were damned for lesser sins than ours so as to make us despair or die reluctantly, thus forgetting God and being found disobedient in the hour of death. This is true especially since man feels that he should think of his sins at that time and that it is right and useful for him to engage in such contemplation. But he finds himself so unprepared and unfit that now even all his good works are turned into sins. As a result, this must lead to an unwillingness to die, disobedience to the will of God, and eternal damnation. That is not the fitting time to meditate on sin. That must be done during one’s lifetime. Thus the evil spirit turns everything upside down for us. During our lifetime, when we should constantly have our eyes fixed on the image of death, sin, and hell—as we read in Psalm 51 [:3], “My sin is ever before me”—the devil closes our eyes and hides these images. But in the hour of death when our eyes should see only life, grace, and salvation, he at once opens our eyes and frightens us with these untimely images so that we shall not see the true ones.

Eighth, hell also looms large because of undue scrutiny and stern thought devoted to it out of season. This is increased immeasurably by our ignorance of God’s counsel. The evil spirit prods the soul so that it burdens itself with all kinds of useless presumptions, especially with the most dangerous undertaking of delving into the mystery of God’s will to ascertain whether one is “chosen” or not.

Here the devil practices his ultimate, greatest, and most cunning art and power. By this he sets man above God, insofar as man seeks signs of God’s will and becomes impatient because he is not supposed to know whether he is among the elect. Man looks with suspicion upon God, so that he soon desires a different God. In brief, the devil is determined to blast God’s love from a man’s mind and to arouse thoughts of God’s wrath. The more docilely man follows the devil and accepts these thoughts, the more imperiled his position is. In the end he cannot save himself, and he falls prey to hatred and blasphemy of God. What is my desire to know whether I am chosen other than a presumption to know all that God knows and to be equal with him so that he will know no more than I do? Thus God is no longer God with a knowledge surpassing mine. Then the devil reminds us of the many heathen, Jews, and Christians who are lost, agitating such dangerous and pernicious thoughts so violently that man, who would otherwise gladly die, now becomes loath to depart this life. When man is assailed by thoughts regarding his election, he is being assailed by hell, as the psalms lament so much. He who surmounts this temptation has vanquished sin, hell, and death all in one.

Ninth, in this affair we must exercise all diligence not to open our homes to any of these images and not to paint the devil over the door. These foes will of themselves boldly rush in and seek to occupy the heart completely with their image, their arguments, and their signs. And when that happens man is doomed and God is entirely forgotten. The only thing to do with these pictures at that time is to combat and expel them. Indeed, where they are found alone and not in conjunction with other pictures, they belong nowhere else than in hell among the devils.

But he who wants to fight against them and drive them out will find that it is not enough just to wrestle and tussle and scuffle with them. They will prove too strong for him, and matters will go from bad to worse. The one and only approach is to drop them entirely and have nothing to do with them. But how is that done? It is done in this way: You must look at death while you are alive and see sin in the light of grace and hell in the light of heaven, permitting nothing to divert you from that view. Adhere to that even if all angels, all creatures, yes, even your own thoughts, depict God in a different light—something these will not do. It is only the evil spirit who lends that impression. What shall we do about that?

Tenth, you must not view or ponder death as such, not in yourself or in your nature, nor in those who were killed by God’s wrath and were overcome by death. If you do that you will be lost and defeated with them. But you must resolutely turn your gaze, the thoughts of your heart, and all your senses away from this picture and look at death closely and untiringly only as seen in those who died in God’s grace and who have overcome death, particularly in Christ and then also in all his saints.

In such pictures death will not appear terrible and gruesome. No, it will seem contemptible and dead, slain and overcome in life. For Christ is nothing other than sheer life, as his saints are likewise. The more profoundly you impress that image upon your heart and gaze upon it, the more the image of death will pale and vanish of itself without struggle or battle. Thus your heart will be at peace and you will be able to die calmly in Christ and with Christ, as we read in Revelation [14:13], “Blessed are they who die in the Lord Christ.” This was foreshown in Exodus 21 [Num. 21:6–9], where we hear that when the children of Israel were bitten by fiery serpents they did not struggle with these serpents, but merely had to raise their eyes to the dead bronze serpent and the living ones dropped from them by themselves and perished. Thus you must concern yourself solely with the death of Christ and then you will find life. But if you look at death in any other way, it will kill you with great anxiety and anguish. This is why Christ says, “In the world—that is, in yourselves—you have unrest, but in me you will find peace” [John 16:33].

Eleventh, you must not look at sin in sinners, or in your conscience, or in those who abide in sin to the end and are damned. If you do, you will surely follow them and also be overcome. You must turn your thoughts away from that and look at sin only within the picture of grace. Engrave that picture in yourself with all your power and keep it before your eyes. The picture of grace is nothing else but that of Christ on the cross and of all his dear saints.

How is that to be understood? Grace and mercy are there where Christ on the cross takes your sin from you, bears it for you, and destroys it. To believe this firmly, to keep it before your eyes and not to doubt it, means to view the picture of Christ and to engrave it in yourself. Likewise, all the saints who suffer and die in Christ also bear your sins and suffer and labor for you, as we find it written, “Bear one another’s burdens and thus fulfil the command of Christ” [Gal. 6:2]. Christ himself exclaims in Matthew 11 [:28], “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will help you.” In this way you may view your sins in safety without tormenting your conscience. Here sins are never sins, for here they are overcome and swallowed up in Christ. He takes your death upon himself and strangles it so that it may not harm you, if you believe that he does it for you and see your death in him and not in yourself. Likewise, he also takes your sins upon himself and overcomes them with his righteousness out of sheer mercy, and if you believe that, your sins will never work you harm. In that way Christ, the picture of life and of grace over against the picture of death and sin, is our consolation. Paul states that in 1 Corinthians 15 [:57], “Thanks and praise be to God, who through Christ gives us the victory over sin and death.”

Twelfth, you must not regard hell and eternal pain in relation to predestination, not in yourself, or in itself, or in those who are damned, nor must you be worried by the many people in the world who are not chosen. If you are not careful, that picture will quickly upset you and be your downfall. You must force yourself to keep your eyes closed tightly to such a view, for it can never help you, even though you were to occupy yourself with it for a thousand years and fret yourself to death. After all, you will have to let God be God and grant that he knows more about you than you do yourself.

So then, gaze at the heavenly picture of Christ, who descended into hell [1 Pet. 3:19] for your sake and was forsaken by God as one eternally damned when he spoke the words on the cross, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani!”—“My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” [Matt. 27:46]. In that picture your hell is defeated and your uncertain election is made sure. If you concern yourself solely with that and believe that it was done for you, you will surely be preserved in this same faith. Never, therefore, let this be erased from your vision. Seek yourself only in Christ and not in yourself and you will find yourself in him eternally.

Thus when you look at Christ and all his saints and delight in the grace of God, who elected them, and continue steadfastly in this joy, then you too are already elected. He says in Genesis 12 [:3], “All who bless you shall be blessed.” However, if you do not adhere solely to this but have recourse to yourself, you will become adverse to God and all saints, and thus you will find nothing good in yourself. Beware of this, for the evil spirit will strive with much cunning to bring you to such a pass.

Thirteenth, these three pictures or conflicts are foreshadowed in Judges 7 [:16–22], where we read that Gideon attacked the Midianites at night with three hundred men in three different places, but did no more than have trumpets blown and glass fragments smashed. The foe fled and destroyed himself. Similarly, death, sin, and hell will flee with all their might if in the night we but keep our eyes on the glowing picture of Christ and his saints and abide in the faith, which does not see and does not want to see the false pictures. Furthermore, we must encourage and strengthen ourselves with the Word of God as with the sound of trumpets.

Isaiah [9:4] introduces this same figure very aptly against these three images, saying of Christ, “For the yoke of his burden, and the staff for his shoulder, the rod of his oppressor, thou hast broken as in the days of the Midianites,” who were overcome by Gideon. He says as it were: The sins of your people (which are a heavy “yoke of his burden” for his conscience), and death (which is a “staff” or punishment laid upon his shoulder), and hell (which is a powerful “rod of the oppressor” with which eternal punishment for sin is exacted)—all these you have broken and defeated. This came to pass in the days of Gideon, that is, when Gideon, by faith and without wielding his sword, put his enemies to flight.

And when did Christ do this? On the cross! There he prepared himself as a threefold picture for us, to be held before the eyes of our faith against the three evil pictures with which the evil spirit and our nature would assail us to rob us of this faith. He is the living and immortal image against death, which he suffered, yet by his resurrection from the dead he vanquished death in his life. He is the image of the grace of God against sin, which he assumed, and yet overcame by his perfect obedience. He is the heavenly image, the one who was forsaken by God as damned, yet he conquered hell through his omnipotent love, thereby proving that he is the dearest Son, who gives this to us all if we but believe.

Fourteenth, beyond all this he not only defeated sin, death, and hell in himself and offered his victory to our faith, but for our further comfort he himself suffered and overcame the temptation which these pictures entail for us. He was assailed by the images of death, sin, and hell just as we are. The Jews confronted Christ with death’s image when they said, “Let him come down from the cross; he has healed others, let him now help himself” [Matt. 27: 40–42]. They said as it were, “Here you are facing death; now you must die; nothing can save you from that.” Likewise, the devil holds the image of death before the eyes of a dying person and frightens his fearful nature with this horrible picture.

The Jews held the image of sin before Christ’s eyes when they said to him, “He healed others. If he is the Son of God, let him come down from the cross, etc.”—as though they were to say, “His works were all fraud and deception. He is not the Son of God but the son of the devil, whose own he is with body and soul. He never worked any good, only iniquity.” And just as the Jews cast these three pictures at Christ in wild confusion, so man too is assailed by all three at the same time in disarray to bewilder him and ultimately to drive him to despair. The Lord describes the destruction of Jerusalem in Luke 19 [:43–44], saying that the city’s enemies will surround it with such devastation as to cut off escape—that is death. Furthermore, he says that its enemies will terrify the inhabitants and drive them hither and yon so that they will not know where to turn—that is sin. In the third place, he says that the foe will dash them to the ground and not leave one stone upon another—that is hell and despair.

The Jews pressed the picture of hell before Christ’s eyes when they said, “He trusts in God; let us see whether God will deliver him now, for he said he is the Son of God” [Matt. 27:43]—as though they were to say, “His place is in hell; God did not elect him; he is rejected forever. All his confidence and hope will not help him. All is in vain.”

And now we mark that Christ remained silent in the face of all these words and horrible pictures. He does not argue with his foes; he acts as though he does not hear or see them and makes no reply. Even if he had replied, he would only have given them cause to rave and rant even more horribly. He is so completely devoted to the dearest will of his Father that he forgets about his own death, his sin, and his hell imposed on him, and he intercedes for his enemies, for their sin, death, and hell [Luke 23:34]. We must, similarly, let these images slip away from us to wherever they wish or care to go, and remember only that we cling to God’s will, which is that we hold to Christ and firmly believe our sin, death, and hell are overcome in him and no longer able to harm us. Only Christ’s image must abide in us. With him alone we must confer and deal.

Fifteenth, we now turn to the holy sacraments and their blessings to learn to know their benefits and how to use them. Anyone who is granted the time and the grace to confess, to be absolved, and to receive the sacrament and Extreme Unction before his death has great cause indeed to love, praise, and thank God and to die cheerfully, if he relies firmly on and believes in the sacraments, as we said earlier. In the sacraments your God, Christ himself, deals, speaks, and works with you through the priest. His are not the works and words of man. In the sacraments God himself grants you all the blessings we just mentioned in connection with Christ. God wants the sacraments to be a sign and testimony that Christ’s life has taken your death, his obedience your sin, his love your hell, upon themselves and overcome them. Moreover, through the same sacraments you are included and made one with all the saints. You thereby enter into the true communion of saints so that they die with you in Christ, bear sin, and vanquish hell.

It follows from this that the sacraments, that is, the external words of God as spoken by a priest, are a truly great comfort and at the same time a visible sign of divine intent. We must cling to them with a staunch faith as to the good staff which the patriarch Jacob used when crossing the Jordan [Gen. 32:10], or as to a lantern by which we must be guided, and carefully walk with open eyes the dark path of death, sin, and hell, as the prophet says, “Thy word is a light to my feet” [Ps. 119:105]. St. Peter also declares, “And we have a sure word from God. You will do well to pay attention to it” [2 Pet. 1:19]. There is no other help in death’s agonies, for everyone who is saved is saved only by that sign. It points to Christ and his image, enabling you to say when faced by the image of death, sin, and hell, “God promised and in his sacraments he gave me a sure sign of his grace that Christ’s life overcame my death in his death, that his obedience blotted out my sin in his suffering, that his love destroyed my hell in his forsakenness. This sign and promise of my salvation will not lie to me or deceive me. It is God who has promised it, and he cannot lie either in words or in deeds.” He who thus insists and relies on the sacraments will find that his election and predestination will turn out well without his worry and effort.

Sixteenth, it is of utmost importance that we highly esteem, honor, and rely upon the holy sacraments, which contain nothing but God’s words, promises, and signs. This means that we have no doubts about the sacraments or the things of which they are certain signs, for if we doubt these we lose everything. Christ says that it will happen to us as we believe. What will it profit you to assume and to believe that sin, death, and hell are overcome in Christ for others, but not to believe that your sin, your death, and your hell are also vanquished and wiped out and that you are thus redeemed? Under those circumstances the sacraments will be completely fruitless, since you do not believe the things which are indicated, given, and promised there to you. That is the vilest sin that can be committed, for God himself is looked upon as a liar in his Word, signs, and works, as one who speaks, shows, and promises something which he neither means nor intends to keep. Therefore we dare not trifle with the sacraments. Faith must be present for a firm reliance and cheerful venturing on such signs and promises of God. What sort of a God or Savior would he be who could not or would not save us from sin, death, and hell? Whatever the true God promises and effects must be something big.

But then the devil comes along and whispers into your ear, “But suppose you received the sacraments unworthily and through your unworthiness robbed yourself of such grace?” In that event cross yourself12 and do not let the question of your worthiness or unworthiness assail you. Just see to it that you believe that these are sure signs, true words of God, and then you will indeed be and remain worthy. Belief makes you worthy; unbelief makes you unworthy. The evil spirit brings up the question of worthiness and unworthiness to stir up doubts within you, thus nullifying the sacraments with their benefits and making God a liar in what he says.

God gives you nothing because of your worthiness, nor does he build his Word and sacraments on your worthiness, but out of sheer grace he establishes you, unworthy one, on the foundation of his Word and signs. Hold fast to that and say, “He who gives and has given me his signs and his Word, which assure me that Christ’s life, grace, and heaven have kept my sin, death, and hell from harming me, is truly God, who will surely preserve these things for me. When the priest absolves me, I trust in this as in God’s Word itself. Since it is God’s Word, it must come true. That is my stand, and on that stand I will die.” You must trust in the priest’s absolution as firmly as though God had sent a special angel or apostle to you, yes, as though Christ himself were absolving you.

Seventeenth, we must note that he who receives the sacraments has a great advantage, for he has received a sign and a promise from God with which he can exercise and strengthen his belief that he has been called into Christ’s image and to his benefits. The others who must do without these signs labor solely in faith and must obtain these benefits with the desires of their hearts. They will, of course, also receive these benefits if they persevere in that same faith. Thus you must also say with regard to the Sacrament of the Altar, “If the priest gave me the holy body of Christ, which is a sign and promise of the communion of all angels and saints that they love me, provide and pray for me, suffer and die with me, bear my sin and overcome hell, it will and must therefore be true that the divine sign does not deceive me. I will not let anyone rob me of it. I would rather deny all the world and myself than doubt my God’s trustworthiness and truthfulness in his signs and promises. Whether worthy or unworthy of him, I am, according to the text and the declaration of this sacrament, a member of Christendom. It is better that I be unworthy than that God’s truthfulness be questioned. Devil, away with you if you advise me differently.”

Just see how many people there are who would like to be certain or to have a sign from heaven to tell them how they stand with God and whether they are elected. But what help would it be to them to receive such a sign if they would still not believe? What good are all the signs without faith? How did Christ’s signs and the apostles’ signs help the Jews? What help are the venerable signs of the sacraments and the words of God even today? Why do people not hold to the sacraments, which are sure and appointed signs, tested and tried by all saints and found reliable by all who believed and who received all that they indicate?

We should, then, learn what the sacraments are, what purpose they serve, and how they are to be used. We will find that there is no better way on earth to comfort downcast hearts and bad consciences. In the sacraments we find God’s Word—which reveals and promises Christ to us with all his blessing and which he himself is—against sin, death, and hell. Nothing is more pleasing and desirable to the ear than to hear that sin, death, and hell are wiped out. That very thing is effected in us through Christ if we see the sacraments properly.

The right use of the sacraments involves nothing more than believing that all will be as the sacraments promise and pledge through God’s Word. Therefore, it is necessary not only to look at the three pictures in Christ and with these to drive out the counter-pictures, but also to have a definite sign which assures us that this has surely been given to us. That is the function of the sacraments.

Eighteenth, in the hour of his death no Christian should doubt that he is not alone. He can be certain, as the sacraments point out, that a great many eyes are upon him: first, the eyes of God and of Christ himself, for the Christian believes his words and clings to his sacraments; then also, the eyes of the dear angels, of the saints, and of all Christians. There is no doubt, as the Sacrament of the Altar indicates, that all of these in a body run to him as one of their own, help him overcome sin, death, and hell, and bear all things with him. In that hour the work of love and the communion of saints are seriously and mightily active. A Christian must see this for himself and have no doubt regarding it, for then he will be bold in death. He who doubts this does not believe in the most venerable Sacrament of the Body of Christ, in which are pointed out, promised, and pledged the communion, help, love, comfort, and support of all the saints in all times of need. If you believe in the signs and words of God, his eyes rest upon you, as he says in Psalm 32 [:8], “Firmabo, etc., my eyes will constantly be upon you lest you perish.” If God looks upon you, all the angels, saints, and all creatures will fix their eyes upon you. And if you remain in that faith, all of them will uphold you with their hands. And when your soul leaves your body, they will be on hand to receive it, and you cannot perish.

This is borne out in the person of Elisha, who according to 2 Kings 6 [:16–17] said to his servant, “Fear not, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” This he said although enemies had surrounded them and they could see nothing but these. The Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and they were surrounded by a huge mass of horses and chariots of fire.

The same is true of everyone who trusts God. Then the words found in Psalm 34 [:7] apply, “The angel of the Lord will encamp around those who fear him, and deliver them.” And in Psalm 125 [:1–2], “Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but abides forever. As the mountains (that is, the angels) are round about Jerusalem, so the Lord is round about his people, from this time forth and forevermore.” And in Psalm 91 [:11–16], “For he has charged his angels to bear you on their hands and to guard you wherever you go lest you dash your foot against a stone. You will tread on the lion and the adder, the young lion and the serpent you will trample under foot (this means that all the power and the cunning of the devil will be unable to harm you), because he has trusted in me and I will deliver him; I will protect him because he knows my name. When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in all his trials, I will rescue him and honor him. With eternal life will I satisfy him, and show him my eternal grace.”

Thus the Apostle also declares that the angels, whose number is legion, are all ministering spirits and are sent out for the sake of those who are to be saved [Heb. 1:14]. These are all such great matters that who can believe them? Therefore, we must know that even though the works of God surpass human understanding, God yet effects all of this through such insignificant signs as the sacraments to teach us what a great thing a true faith in God really is.

Nineteenth, let no one presume to perform such things by his own power, but humbly ask God to create and preserve such faith in and such understanding of his holy sacraments in him. He must practice awe and humility in all this, lest he ascribe these works to himself instead of allowing God the glory. To this end he must call upon the holy angels, particularly his own angel, the Mother of God, and all the apostles and saints,14 especially since God has granted him exceptional zeal for this. However, he dare not doubt, but must believe that his prayer will be heard. He has two reasons for this. The first one is that he has just heard from the Scriptures how God commanded the angels to give love and help to all who believe and how the sacrament conveys this. We must hold this before them and remind them of it, not that the angels do not know this, or would otherwise not do it, but to make our faith and trust in them, and through them in God, stronger and bolder as we face death. The other reason is that God has enjoined us firmly to believe in the fulfilment of our prayer [Mark 11:24] and that it is truly an Amen. We must also bring this command of God to his attention and say, “My God, you have commanded me to pray and to believe that my prayer will be heard. For this reason I come to you in prayer and am assured that you will not forsake me but will grant me a genuine faith.”

Moreover, we should implore God and his dear saints our whole life long for true faith in the last hour, as we sing so very fittingly on the day of Pentecost, “Now let us pray to the Holy Spirit for the true faith of all things the most, that in our last moments he may befriend us, and as home we go, he may tend us.” When the hour of death is at hand we must offer this prayer to God and, in addition, remind him of his command and of his promise and not doubt that our prayer will be fulfilled. After all, if God commanded us to pray and to trust in prayer, and, furthermore, has granted us the grace to pray, why should we doubt that his purpose in this was also to hear and to fulfil it?

Twentieth, what more should God do to persuade you to accept death willingly and not to dread but to overcome it? In Christ he offers you the image of life, of grace, and of salvation so that you may not be horrified by the images of sin, death, and hell. Furthermore, he lays your sin, your death, and your hell on his dearest Son, vanquishes them, and renders them harmless for you. In addition, he lets the trials of sin, death, and hell that come to you also assail his Son and teaches you how to preserve yourself in the midst of these and how to make them harmless and bearable. And to relieve you of all doubt, he grants you a sure sign, namely, the holy sacraments. He commands his angels, all saints, all creatures to join him in watching over you, to be concerned about your soul, and to receive it. He commands you to ask him for this and to be assured of fulfilment. What more can or should he do?

From this you can see that he is a true God and that he performs great, right, and divine works for you. Why, then, should he not impose something big upon you (such as dying), as long as he adds to it great benefits, help, and strength, and thereby wants to test the power of his grace. Thus we read in Psalm 111 [:2], “Great are the works of the Lord, selected according to his pleasure.” Therefore, we ought to thank him with a joyful heart for showing us such wonderful, rich, and immeasurable grace and mercy against death, hell, and sin, and to laud and love his grace rather than fearing death so greatly. Love and praise make dying very much easier, as God tells us through Isaiah, “For the sake of my praise I restrain it [wrath] for you, that I may not cut you off.” To that end may God help us. Amen.

 Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 42: Devotional Writings I. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 42, pp. 95–115). Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

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Chasing boar and taking care of the Lord´s vineyard

Lucas Cranach the Elder: Hunt at Hartenfels castle

Some 500 years ago – Pope Leo X – was chasing wild boars. In the spectacular Luther film (2003) we see the roman bishop chasing wildly through the Italian forests – trying to catch up with his hounds and to strike the final blow. The imagery gives some vivid background to the papal bull “Exsurge Domine” (1520). This bull exhorts our Lord to arise against the wild beasts – foxes and boars – that have invested the vineyard: “Catch the foxes for us, The little foxes that are ruining the vineyards, While our vineyards are in blossom…” (Song 2:15 NASB) and “boar from the forest eats it away And whatever moves in the field feeds on it. O God of hosts, turn again now, we beseech You; Look down from heaven and see, and take care of this vine…” (Ps 80:13-14 NASB)

Hunting was not strange to Luther himself, although he was more familar with gardening and tending the vineyard himself. In his Wittenberg home it was he, who took care of the vegetable garden – and not Käthe – according to a note in a recent exhibition here. As exile and fugitive “Junker Jörg” on the Wartburg, he not only complains drastically about the negative effects on his inner well being due to the overdose of venison and the stationary lifestyle of a scribe, but undermines the hunting efforts of his party, when he hides a little rabbit in his cowl so that the rabid dogs can´t get too it. He was traumatized by the ferocity of the hunting dogs tearing apart the lesser game. Lutherans don´t believe, that Doctor Martin Luther was causing havoc in the Lord´s vineyard. On the contrary, they hold with Cranach, that he – together with the team of Wittenberg pastors, theologians and teachers – did a lot to get that vineyard sorted out and in good working order.

1. 0 little flock, fear not the Foe
Who madly seeks your overthrow;
Dread not his rage and power.
What though your courage sometimes faints,
His seeming triumph o’er God’s saints
Lasts but a little hour.

2. Be of good cheer; your cause belongs
To Him who can avenge your wrongs;
Leave it to Him, our Lord.
Though hidden yet from mortal eyes,
His Gideon shall for you arise,
Uphold you and His Word.

3. As true as God’s own Word is true.
Not earth nor hell with all their crew
Against us shall prevail.
A jest and byword are they grown;
God is with us, we are His own;
Our victory cannot fail.

4. Amen, Lord Jesus, grant our prayer;
Great Captain, now Thine arm make bare,
Fight for us once again!
So shall Thy saints and martyrs raise
A mighty chorus to Thy praise,
World without end. Amen.

Johann M. Altenburg, 1584-1640 translated by Catherine Winkworth, 1829-1878

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Visiting St.Nikolai in Leipzig…

Yesterday the Leipziger Thomaner (Choristers of St. Thomas in Leipzig) started their new season with a divine service in St.Nikolai. Angelika had this on our bucket-list for some time. We left Wittenberg in good time to queue in front of the closed doors.

There was great interest and when the doors eventually opened just before 17h30, the church quickly filled up – even on the 2 storied balconies. Everybody wanted to see the boys, except the lady sitting next to me (not Angelika). She was perfectly content behind one of the great pillars. She knew, when to stand up and when to start singing too. I bet, she´s a frequent visitor.  Angelika was surprised at how young some of the singers were: “They can only be in junior school – and in the first classes at that!” However, when they started singing, there was nothing of unprepared under-age or unfit. Instead, it sounded close to perfect – as far as I can tell at least. Perhaps, if I knew better and had some inside knowledge, I´d call it heavenly or angelic, but that only time will tell. I thought, Gotthold Schwarz was much younger as the website CV suggests, but being older than those pictures didn´t affect his intonation and conducting. He was very much in his element – as were the boys in theirs – and the singing was magnificent and glorious. Sister Maria Wolfsberger at the organ was extra-ordinary as you´d expect in this prime spot for classical choir music.

There´s been a lot of talk in Leipzig recently about a mother, who wanted to introduce her daughter to this elite choir. Read more here and here. A court verdict has stopped that for now – with good reason. Excellence, venerable tradition and musical speciality still trump the quest for equality. For now it´s still a boy´s choir.

There was quite a lot of coughing and sneezing in our area, although it really still is the middle of summer. Possibly that was to us grounded and impress on us, that we ain´t in heaven yet.

That goes for the introduction by Superintendent Martin Henker as well. He did a long introduction of close to 10 minutes – “Präludium” – to his sermon with political advice for the up-coming elections in Saxony. I prefer his superiors bulletin.

It was very nice, that the church order for this divine service gave us an opportunity to join in with singing and praying too. The Thomaner sang the “Magnifikat”: God quickly raises up the down-trodden und kicks the mighty from their throne. He does so in the political realm too. I favored the final by Max Reger, who put a verse from Matthias Claudius (1783) to brilliant music: “Der Mensch lebt und besteht nur eine kl. Zeit, und alle Welt vergehet mit ihrer Herrlichkeit. Es ist nur Einer ewig und an allen Enden und wir in seinen Händen.

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“Haus des Handwerks”: English Stammtisch

“Haus des Handwerks” on the foundations of the old gate “Schwarze Elster” facing East.

Kristin Straeuli ne Lange introduced me here to the “English Stammtisch” – where local tourguides like Thomas Glaubig, Margot Rentsch, Thomas Schmid and others meet tourists from around the globe to socialise every Thursday evening from around 19h00 into the night.

Haus des Handwerks” is literally translated “home of trade” – and was constructed after the 2nd World War, when the head forester (Oberförster) Dr. Heckert failed to defend his villa “Diana” against the invading Russians. These were not impressed and flattened his home. The local trade unions cooperated and opened up their new location as a house of culture “Hans Sachs.”

The location is optimal for any inn as people coming in by train via the main station as they move past the Luther oak – and get onto “College Street” and into the old town. It is there on the right hand side – just before you get to Luther House on the left. By the way – Kollegienstraße is the only road in the world with four (4) World Heritage Sites: Luther & Melanchthon House plus the city (St.Mary) and castle churches.

Luther House – just on the opposite side of the college road

Now in summer we meet outside in the garden. In winter, there´s plenty room inside too. On the walls you have oil paitings by the above mentioned Thomas Schmid, but also old maps and memorabilia from Prussia and Germany´s lost East. The waiter – old Tobias – is professional, helpful and friendly. The menu typical for around here – traditional fare – fresh, tasty and plentyful: Beef and pork, dumplings, mushrooms and other vegetables in season. For tourists its a welcome opportunity to go local. The natives stick to beverages – hot or cold – depending on the season. They even serve tea, borscht or local wine, which Luther preferred to beer.

Next time you´re in Wittenberg – and it´s Thursday – remember to look in at the “Haus des Handwerks”. You might just catch somebody talking English – a good chance to make new friends. Some of them might even be Lutheran!

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