It´s about the 1st commandment…

It´s the holiday of St. Sophia of Rome, who was martyred under Diocletian – or St. Sophia of Milan, who mourned the martyrdom of her three daughters Faith, Hope and Charity  – not to be confused with the Hagia Sophia (Holy Wisdom), nor with the old Miss Sophie venerated in modern Germany on Old Year´s eve or beautiful Sophia Loren, who is revered worldwide just years ago.  

That´s now the final holiday of the “Ice Saints” – and according to those old farmer´s rules (“Bauernregel”) you´re free to plant now, because no more frost is to be expected this season: “Before Boniface no summer, after Sophie no frost” or “Frost can come to pass until Sophies past”. Yes, “old cold Sophie kills all things off!” Even today the vineyards around Salle-Ustrut complain bitterly, because the late frost of this past week has destroyed up to 80% of their prospective crop. No small wonder, there´s not much love lost on this “Ice Queen“, whom the Solvenians call: „Pissing Sophie“ (Slovenia)

When leaves have fallen And skies turned into grey. The night keeps on closing in on the day A nightingale sings his song of farewell You better hide for her freezing hell

Within Temptation – Ice Queen

Obviously, some will not blame the Saints for the lost crop, illness or other calamity, but rather the Government, the Chinese, Bill Gates or even some deep fried bat on an exotic menu. Conspiracy theories are running wild. Not just in the internet, but also in the regular media: Von bösen Mächten wundbar geborgen… Obviously, we want to know, who is at fault, because things were running so smoothly before. Remember, things were always better in the good old past? Oh, yes – our wonderful youth – and then consider that of our grandparents: Practically paradise! But even in their days, people were trying to figure out, why bad things happen to good people. There must be someone to blame, surely. Those questions and accusations go back a long way – way beyond figuring out, who was responsible for the “Spanish flu” (1918) or the “Black Death” during the Middle Ages. Igmar Bergman gives us a good go: “The Seventh Seal

Just look at the Psalms 37 and 73 for example. These really are ancient issues. The German philosopher Leibnitz coined the term “theodicy” – trying to justify God´s benevolence in light of apparent global imperfections – and that was before the “Earthquake of Lissabon” (1755), which shattered more than just Portuguese confidences on “All Saints”. Here a European capital – master of the seas! – centre of Catholic missions and faith – destroyed on that great holiday. The christian world – occident – that was gaining rapid confidence by so-called Enlightenment after perceived Dark and Middle Ages also because of engineering prowess and aparent conquering of the world. Yes, they wanted to build heaven on earth – never mind just a tower of Babel – “We can!” As long as we just work out the proper relationships between cause and effect, follow the rules and keep focussed. One things leads to another – and everyone gets what he deserves. But even the biblical narratives of Cain & Abel, Joseph and his brothers, king Saul and David are not so simple on 2nd reading. Neither are our European foundational epics Illiad and Odyssey, which were to quickly forgotten by the new narrative of prospective world dominiation by modern man. These stories go a long way to show how weakly united even closed battle ranks with a common enemy are, and how fallible and weak even the best friendships prove. Not much support for a united front to dominate the world there! I dare say, that has not changed much.

In the past a long-time favorite was to blame the Jews.  Just read the book “Esther” and how Haman tries to not just get rid of his nemesis Mordechai, but all Jews – blaming them for this and that going wrong in the kingdom.  It´s like a recurring plot and not just in violent pogroms of the East hinted at in Fiddler on the roof or bestselling Lion Seeker . Even Martin Luther goes and blames his stiff, cold neck on the bad breeze from the Jewish ghetto on his final mission. That´s just plain crazy, but some people take this kind of grumpy blame game serious. It´s nuts! The trouble is, that people get burnt for this kind of “smelling out” and people die because of some kangaroo court – just think of the “Visit!”, “Count of Mt. Christo”, “Lord of the flies” or if you prefer – Martin Luther banned for life without due process or conviction, just by the logics of any witch-hunt or blame game gone wrong.  

Well, ok, sometimes and at first glance, you can make out the perpetrator pretty easily. The issues seem pretty much straight forward. Very much like the start of any “Tatort” or reading another of Agatha Christie´s many novels. However, as You get into the matter, things become complicated. Terrible, unexpected, hidden alliances become apparent, compliances, coincidences and complexities muddle things, accidents happen, surprise surprise. It´s harder to fix blame and quite often you just get: “A series of very unfortunate events!

In times like this it is appropriate to acknowledge our limitations. We´re not in control. Nor is anybody else of this world. Even the really big guys with lots of clout have far too many dissidents and sceptics in their closest ranks – never mind the very real enemies snapping at their heals, yapping at the gates and constantly breeching borders. There´s no unity to speak of in any of these worldly houses of power – never mind any central control room. That´s the unique reserve of the heavenly court, where our Lord IX sits firmly enthroned at the right hand of the Father – ruling and reigning for our benefit.  He´s in control. That´s the 1st basic rule of faith. That questions every conspiracy theory – or at least the notion, that somebody or something else – besides God – could be in control. These authorities and dominions – call them what you want – they have all been brought to boot and under control of our Lord – the one and only living God – King of kings, Lord of lords – the Lord of hosts – he alone – the triune God: Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Therefore,

Do not trust in princes, or in human beings, who cannot deliver. Their life’s breath departs, they return to the ground. On that day their plans die.

How blessed is the one whose helper is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God, the one who made heaven and earth the sea, and all that is in them, who remains forever faithful, vindicates the oppressed, and gives food to the hungry. The Lord releases the imprisoned.

Psalm 146:3-7

The 1st commandment holds us firm and steady in these tossing times:

You shall have no other gods. What does this mean?  We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.  

Martin Luther, Small Catechism

Thus, for example, the heathen who put their trust in power and dominion elevated Jupiter as the supreme god; the others, who were bent upon riches, happiness, or pleasure, and a life of ease, Hercules, Mercury, Venus or others; women with child, Diana or Lucina, and so on; thus every one made that his god to which his heart was inclined, so that even in the mind of the heathen to have a god means to trust and believe. But their error is this that their trust is false and wrong for it is not placed in the only God, besides whom there is truly no God in heaven or upon earth. Therefore the heathen really make their self-invented notions and dreams of God an idol, and put their trust in that which is altogether nothing. Thus it is with all idolatry; for it consists not merely in erecting an image and worshiping it, but rather in the heart, which stands gaping at something else, and seeks help and consolation from creatures, saints, or devils, and neither cares for God, nor looks to Him for so much good as to believe that He is willing to help, neither believes that whatever good it experiences comes from God.

Martin Luther, Large Catechism, The First Commandment

So, don´t be afraid. There is no need to fear this or that. All these worldly powers and authorities are conquered by the risen Christ. He is Lord of all. He has shown you his love by giving himself for you into death – and he has risen again from the dead, so that you too might live in a new life – in righteousness and holiness as is pleasing to God – trusting Him in all His goodness. He does all things well. You can rely on that, because He is trustworthy and faithful – now and always. That makes us sing confidently and joyfully with Hans Adolf Brorson (1694-1764) in the translation by Ditlef G. Ristad (1863-1938) and taught by our friend, brother and pastor Daniel Preus in days gone by:

I walk in danger all the way.
The thought shall never leave me
That Satan, who has marked his prey,
Is plotting to deceive me.
This foe with hidden snares
May seize me unawares
If I should fail to watch and pray.
I walk in danger all the way.

I pass through trials all the way,
With sin and ills contending;
In patience I must bear each day
The cross of God’s own sending.
When in adversity
I know not where to flee,
When storms of woe my soul dismay,
I pass through trials all the way.

And death pursues me all the way,
Nowhere I rest securely;
He comes by night, he comes by day,
He takes his prey most surely.
A failing breath, and I
In death’s strong grasp may lie
To face eternity today
As death pursues me all the way.

I walk with angels all the way,
They shield me and befriend me.
All Satan’s power is held at bay
When heavenly hosts attend me;
They are my sure defense,
All fear and sorrow, hence!
Unharmed by foes, do what they may,
I walk with angels all the way.

I walk with Jesus all the way,
His guidance never fails me.
Within his wounds I find a stay
When Satan’s power assails me;
And by his footsteps led,
My path I safely tread.
No evil leads my soul astray;
I walk with Jesus all the way.

My walk is heavenward all the way;
Await, my soul, the morrow,
When God’s good healing shall allay
All suffering, sin, and sorrow.
Then, worldly pomp, be gone!
To heaven I now press on.
For all the world I would not stay;
My walk is heavenward all the way.

About Wilhelm Weber

Pastor at the Old Latin School in the Lutherstadt Wittenberg
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