Be Like Martin Luther

“Be Like Martin Luther” – October 25, 2020

Psalm 46:1-3 – Reformation Sunday

Here we are at Reformation Sunday, the week of the year when we remember Martin Luther posting his list of grievances against the church establishment of the Catholic Church, more than 500 years ago in 1517. These 95 grievances against the Church sparked a movement of protest that was felt around the world. And thus, the Protestant Church was born.

Father Martin Luther – for he was a Catholic priest – was a sincere, devout follower of Jesus Christ. He thought long and hard about sin and confession, faith and grace. He also thought a lot about God’s Word, and eventually translated the whole Bible – both Old and New Testaments – into German, the common tongue of his day and area of Germany.

The Catholic Church establishment certainly had it in for Martin Luther! After defending himself against strident criticism from scholars and theologians, and legal challenges for years, the official verdict was not in Luther’s favor. Because he would not recant his views on God, salvation by faith, and the Bible, Luther was officially on the run from the establishment.

Which brings us to our Scripture reading for today. Psalm 46. Martin had a very difficult time of it for a number of years, running in fear for his life. Is it any wonder that this marvelous psalm recounting God’s strength and refuge was Luther’s favorite psalm?

This is Reformation Sunday, after all. What could be more appropriate than to read Luther’s favorite psalm? Except – this was not only a favorite Scripture reading of Martin Luther. He also was a composer and poet. /Luther wrote the words and music for our opening hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” He used this psalm of comfort and refuge as a basis for this marvelous hymn.

In German, this hymn is called “Ein Feste Burg,” “a fortification that holds fast against any assault, a castle that can withstand every onslaught, a citadel that keeps those on the inside safe and secure from all attacks.” [1] Is anyone surprised that Martin Luther considered this comforting psalm his favorite? Even though everything is falling apart on all sides, he can stand safe and secure in his Lord.

I know Luther regularly prayed to God for protection and care, both internally as well as externally. Is that similar to us, today? In this year of the pandemic, with all the extreme weather events, the political disruption, and the wildfires of the past several months – the present situation resembles Psalm 46. “though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”

Sure, with everything going on in the world today, we have reason to be scared half to death! Yet, we have “a God who has been time-tested and, over and over again, can be trusted upon to keep you secure in your time of trouble. Either way – and in all times and circumstances – you have a God who has got you covered. That is what Psalm 46 declares. And that is what Luther wanted to proclaim in “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.”” [2]

This precious hymn written by Luther was not only a refuge from earthly disasters, but is also personal in nature. Rev. Janet Hunt, a Lutheran minister, mentions that she hears it “as much more personal now, knowing as we do that ‘the old satanic foe’ threatened him with the sorts of ‘woes’ one could only begin to understand if one has been there. The heart-wrenching, life altering death of a child, to name but one. The days and nights of struggling to hold on to faith when the Church which had borne the faith to him no longer lived up to its promises. The fear which must have possessed Luther as his very life was threatened.” [3]

Thinking back to last week’s sermon, where Moses and the Lord were hanging out on top of the mountain, Moses wanted to see the Lord. God told Moses straight out that Moses would die if he beheld the Lord face to face. Isn’t that the God we have right here, in Psalm 46? Even though the all-powerful God could make the earth melt, and destroy us if we simply look at Him.

That is one mighty, all-powerful God! And to think, that is also the God who has chosen us, called us by name, and named us God’s beloved children. The Lord is a God who is Lord Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. Plus, the Lord is also a safe refuge, a comfort, one we can run to in times of great need. Praise God, I do not need to control everything.

Can we – you and I – loosen our tight grip on all we are clutching to our chests, knowing that God indeed holds everything? Including us?

This Reformation Sunday, I am not focused on God as our Mighty Fortress. Instead, Psalm 46 talks of a refuge, and a help in our great need.

Yes, God is indeed our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. That’s something to truly celebrate. Alleluia, amen.


[1] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=754

Commentary, Psalm 46, Hans Weirsma, Reformation Day, Preaching This Week, WorkingPreacher.org, 2010.

[2] “A Mighty Fortress is our God” is not the only English translation of Luther’s “Ein Feste Burg.” Thomas Carlyle, the nineteenth century Scottish commentator, offered this version: “A safe stronghold our God is still, a trusty shield and weapon.” Carlyle’s contemporary, George MacDonald, rendered stanza one, verse one, in this way: “Our God he is a castle strong, a good mailcoat and weapon.”

[3] https://dancingwiththeword.com/being-still-letting-go/

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2020: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!

Not Grow Tired or Weary

“Not Grow Tired or Weary”

Isa 40-28 the Lord, mountain

Isaiah 40:21-31 (40:28) – February 4, 2018

Today, February 4, 2018, marks a great extravaganza of sport, of enjoyment, of food and drink and parties and advertising and lots of other things that encompass entertainment. Today is the evening of the Super Bowl, that year-end blow-out, where American football celebrates the best it has to offer. And then some.  This game has become a worldwide phenomenon, and millions of people will tune in and watch the festivities, worldwide.

The elite athletes who play in this game are among the small percentage of people in the United States who are in really peak physical condition. It does not matter about when or where such professional athletes are playing professional sports, vast audiences worldwide watch in admiration as these strong athletes compete. Huge crowds watch to see who will be victorious, which team will be the most mighty and powerful.

This was a similar occurrence in the days of the first century, too. The Apostle Paul talks about elite athletes involved in professional sports in his time–except, more blood-thirsty, where people received public accolades and their equivalent of Super Bowl and other championship rings.

This was definitely not the situation in the time of our Scripture passage from Isaiah 40, I am sorry to say. The nation of Israel is in exile. The last thing they are thinking of is competing in sports. In fact, the conquering nation of Babylon has demonstrated its might and its power over the defeated nation of Israel, since they transported a large portion of the people of Israel into exile, into towns of Babylon and into labor camps, too.

If we were to look at this war between Israel and Babylon as one huge competition, Team Israel would be really smacked down. Sure, it was a bloody competition, but the Babylon team ended up on top. They were the winners, and they took lots and lots of treasure and precious things from Israel for their “championship” prizes. Along with lots and lots of the best and brightest people in Israel as their captives.

The direct analogy breaks down at this point, but let’s take a closer look at the predicament of Team Israel. In exile. Discouraged, dismayed, away from “home” for decades. Away so long that the next generation of Israelites have grown up in Babylon and only have long-distance memories to fall back on. In the cosmic order of things, defeated Team Israel must really feel like grasshoppers, like verse 22 tells us.

Today, with this fierce American culture of competition, one-up-man-ship, dog-eat-dog and better-than, many people feel like grasshoppers, too. Few of us can claim to be professional athletes or elite soldiers, either. So many are made to feel less-than or inferior. Not good enough, not fast enough, not skilled enough, not popular enough.

As one of the commentators, Doug Bratt, says of our modern-day predicament, “Maybe it’s the other students at school who mock them.  Or perhaps loneliness or even advancing age makes people feel like grasshoppers.  We may feel like grasshoppers when we trudge into our workplace or try to raise a difficult child.  Or perhaps reports from their investment or pension funds make people feel like grasshoppers.” [1]

 We can feel defeated even before we begin to try, before we make the attempt to put ourselves forward and compete. Lord, what gives? How come? Why me? What’s the use? I may as well pull the covers over my head and stay in bed.

However, most everyone would agree with the statements from Isaiah chapter 40 about the Lord, the everlasting God, the creator of the heavens and the earth. The Lord is greater than all of us, here on the earth. The Lord is even greater than the kingdom of Babylon or the Roman Empire. The Lord is greater and more powerful than all the armies of all the empires of all time, put together.

Just as a comparison, a few verses earlier in this chapter, in verse 12, the prophet says “Who has measured the waters in the hollow of God’s hand, or with the breadth of God’s hand marked off the heavens? Who has held the dust of the earth in a basket, or weighed the mountains on the scales and the hills in a balance?” Just to let you all know, according to Isaiah 40, the universe can be measured in the span of God’s hand.

It’s figurative and poetic language, but this language gives us some idea of how huge and mighty and powerful our God really is.

Even the most elite Olympic athlete and the most powerful professional soldier has their down times. Even the best of the best grows weary and gets tired. It happens to the best of us, as well as to the rest of us.

Eric Liddell, the 1924 Olympic medal winning runner who was made famous again by the movie Chariots of Fire, was one of these elite Olympic athletes. Yes, athletes from all over the world, through the ages, have been at the top of their game and the best of the best.

I suspect Eric Liddell and the other men on the British running team grew tired and weary, from time to time. And, those who hear and proclaim Isaiah 40 today also know what it means to be weak.  Even children and young adults, as the prophet reminds us, sometimes “grow tired and weary.”  Even Olympic athletes and elite soldiers pccasionally stumble and fall.  So, at no matter what point of life in which we find ourselves, whether or not we always realize it, all of us very much need God’s help. [2] No matter what, no matter who, we all need God’s helping hand. Maybe more often than sometimes.

In Isaiah 40, we find that Israel is told that they can exchange their weakness for God’s strength. Commentator Ralph West tells us in Hebrew, it actually says they can “exchange their strength.”  “God can give strength without His strength being diminished at all. God can give power without His power being lessened, if you wait on God.  If you wait on the Lord, God will give replace your weakness with God’s strength, your emptiness with His wholeness, your burnout with His new beginning, all because of God’s mercy.” [3]

Do you hear? Do you understand? God’s provision is not just for the best and the brightest. God’s power and strength is not just for the one percent at the top of the heap. God’s mercy is for everyone, young and old. We all can exchange our weakness and weariness for God’s strength, for God’s mighty power.

“God doesn’t always take away our problems.  Yet God gives us the strength to deal with them.  God helps vulnerable people like us so that we can run and not tire out.” [4] Having a mighty, powerful God like this on our side is worth a whole lot more than any Super Bowl ring, any day of the week. Amen, and amen!

 

[1] http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/epiphany-5b-2/?type=old_testament_lectionary

Commentary and illustration idea, Isaiah 40:21-31, Doug Bratt, Center for Excellence in Preaching, 2015.

[2] http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/epiphany-5b-2/?type=old_testament_lectionary

Commentary and illustration idea, Isaiah 40:21-31, Doug Bratt, Center for Excellence in Preaching, 2015.

[3] http://www.theafricanamericanlectionary.org/PopupLectionaryReading.asp?LRID=100

Commentary, Isaiah 40:27-31, Ralph D. West, The African American Lectionary, 2009.

[4] http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/epiphany-5b-2/?type=old_testament_lectionary

Commentary and illustration idea, Isaiah 40:21-31, Doug Bratt, Center for Excellence in Preaching, 2015

@chaplaineliza

(Suggestion: visit me at my regular blog for 2018: matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. #PursuePEACE – and my other blog,  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks!)