A lot can happen in a day. Sometimes that´s true for Wittenberg too. Luther´s wedding celebrations last weekend prove the point. Thousands filled our streets, eager to forget regulations of distancing and hungry for some serious party. Now, a few days later, the many stands, tents and platforms are gone, rubbish is removed and more birds than people fill our square. Still, due to fine weather, open doors and God´s favorable providence some find their way to the Old Latin School and setting us up for another string of meetings.
Take last Tuesday for instance. The regular group from Fredrikstad (Norway) were busy singing Luther hymns in our chapel. This attracted two vicars from Vienna (Austria). They were going from Berlin to Halle and spending a day in our Luther city. They were fascinated by our Luther stuff on the shelf. Especially the board game “Luther” (Kosmos). They were keen to try that with their children´s unit. Not long after they were gone, a colleague of theirs followed their lead. They had told him, that we sell serious books. He was into biblical theology. He had even studied in Tübingen. There in a student residence he had shared a room with a Lutheran for several semesters. This Lutheran was from the SELK. Not originally, but through conversion. Allegedly he was not big in size, but he left a big impression on his roommate, who remembered him as so devout and dedicated with a mission. He recounted his bowing before church altars, kneeling for prayers and going about studying with deep earnest. He professed, that he himself hungered for meaningful theology, but was often at a loss for suitable books. There is just so much to choose from and where to get started as life is so short? In the end he walked off with some of our best offerings from Schöne & Sasse. More did not fit into his rucksack. I hope, he stays in contact. Perhaps next time, I share my list of 10 best Lutheran books – or make it 50. That´s what the late dogmatics Professor Gottfried Hoffmann did for us when we were students.
The next guy to drop in, was a cyclist from Berlin on his way to Dessau. He was all sporty in racing gear, parking his bike inside our hallway. He didn´t feel like locking it up outside. Not long after browsing through our store, he owned up: I am an atheist, but I do know a pastor up in Brandenburg somewhere. Perhaps another SELK-connection? No, he could hardly recall the name of his clerical acquaintance, but assured me, that that one was a sincere individual. Someone whom he could point out as personal reference. I could take his word for it. Sounded like he felt in need of an advocate in this Lutheran stronghold or was it Cranach´s “Crucifix” (Weimar), that put him on the spot and demanded a clear confession? After friendly banter, he pointed out, that although he appreciated our discussion about God and the world, his highlight in Wittenberg was the waiter at “Zur Schloßmühle”. He had walked in there with his blue and white kit after visiting the “Schloßkirche”. On account of those colors the landlord tipped, that he was a fan of “Hertha BSC”. However, those colors were just accidental. He was a fan of “1.FC Union” instead. This outing prompted the innkeeper to hug him most dearly because that was his true love as well. That´s how “Union” ticks. They share a deep solidarity and emotional bond. My visitor made sure, I understood, where his true allegiance was hinged. That´s where he belongs. That´s his family. His creed.
A lanky guy walks in and checks out the display. He´s a pastor from the States: Rev. Michael H. Lives in Milwaukee of all places. Does he know my friend Don Hougard? Of course he does. And how is his congregation? 200+ worshipping 100 on Sundays. Nice. Been doing that for nearly 20 years – and just received a call to Kansas. Really? I don´t know much about Kansas, but I was in Topeka – at St.John´s LC. Met with my predecessor Kristin Lang´s father and with Dr. Jon Bruss. That was on my tour through the South-West of the States. Good memories. Now, it´s his turn to be surprised, because his call is to that very congregation. Small world! St. John´s has supported the Old Latin School substantially over the years – and so now their prospective pastor walks in at our front door. He´s part of the Bach week in Leipzig and using free time to check out Wittenberg and surroundings. Nice meeting just as the church bells of St. Mary´s invite to noon prayers in the chapel “Corpus Christi”.
The church bells of St.Mary had just struck one, when Monika F. entered in a flat spin. She´s one of my oldest neighbors. Over eighty years. She´s lived on our square for more than sixty years. Initially she fled the war with her mother and eventually found the love of her life in Luther city. He´s been dead for some thirty years. She knows, what it means to be lonely. Well, Tuesday she was distraught. She had lost her car key. She could just not remember, where she had put it: “Please, help me find it again!” That´s how it started. Later on after our successful search, she returned to my little bookstore. This time, she was her old confident self once more. She was pulling a bag on wheels. From that she pulled flask and pudding bowls filled with ice cream: “Always, when we reached a goal in my firm, we celebrated. Well, now we celebrate, that we found the key.” So, we drank coffee and enjoyed the contrasting sweetness in some bliss. It could have ended there, and it would have been a nearly perfect ending, but the story continues.
A complete stranger entered the bookstore and asked, whether one could learn Latin here. Depends, I answered. Depends on a whole lot of things. To start off, it depends on whether You have the aptitude to learn a new language etc. It did not take long, and our caller addressed his barbed questions at my old neighbor. She was quick to admit, that in contrast to him, she was not raised roman catholic, but protestant. However, she had dropped the Christian faith years ago. She trusted more in daily news, clever professors, and science in general. When cosmonaut Gagarin had returned to earth with the announcement, that he had not found God “up there”, she had given up on God too. That was her story. Our guest was running warm. He drew out his iPad and literally at the click of his finger, the right and true answers popped up. Here was the perfect missionary in action. Yet, my old friend held her faithless ground with aplomb. The stranger was not put off, but rather energized by this lack of positive response. So, he read one verse after the other, but always with some strange intent. My friend was not convinced. In the end, she left, closing: “We can believe, what we want and I don´t believe that!”
Amongst numerous references our intrusive missionary had shared a weblink, which gave him away. He was a Jehovah’s witness. So, with Monika gone, it was my turn to fire off my ammo for the day. I started with confessing the one triune God. We´re still in the week after the high holiday of the most Holy Trinity after all. Had we not just confessed the Athanasian Creed? I pointed the sectarian to Luther´s lifelong biblical studies and final testament: “Wir sind Bettler. Hoc est verum.”, but also to his warning, that if we read Holy Scriptures without Jesus Christ – and even against him as those false witnesses do (JWs) – then we´d be as hopelessly lost as the rabbi adhering to some cabalistic rules in his vain effort to decipher God´s Word numerically as the image on St.Mary´s depicts and which is media headlines these days.
Well, that was close to the end of another day in Wittenberg. This Sunday we will hear our Lord IX preach to his hearers by the voice of Father Abraham: “They have Moses and the prophets. Let them hear those! They will not believe even if one would return from the dead.” (cf. Luke 16,19-31) Yes, our good Lord knows all about missions and its many faces – good, bad, and ugly. After all, He lives and reigns now and always. Glory to Him in the highest. Amen.