Archive for October 31st, 2012

The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress

            You all know some Hebrew.  In fact, we speak Hebrew every Sunday and  I hope every day.  Hallelujah!  Hallel Praise/Jah, short for Yahweh, or the LORD, Praise the Lord.  I hope there is hallelujah in your life daily to our Lord Jesus Christ in the midst of shaking of the foundations.  Another word, Sabbath, as in remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.  We are keeping it holy because we need His Word of life for faith to be fed and the fruit of faith, love, to be engendered for the week ahead and every day.  Another word:  Amen!  So be it!  Truly! Yes! I hope you pray daily His Word and say the Amen. I should be certain that these petitions are acceptable to our Father in heaven and heard; for He Himself has commanded us so to pray, and has promised that He will hear us. Amen, Amen; that is, Yea, yea, it shall be so. (Luther) This is confident word of faith to the Lord from His Word that He will accomplish His word amongst us.  In Psalm 46 the refrain is The LORD of hosts is with us: the Hebrew word for “with us” is IMMANU.  And this is another Hebrew word you know in a different form:  Immanu-el, el, short for elohim, or God:  God with us.  This is a name for Jesus Christ as recorded in Matthew’s Holy Gospel:  Jesus Christ is God with us.  He alone has saved us from sin, death and the power of the devil that fallen man thinks by which  he can make himself good.

I chose the hymns today with the simple criterion:  written by Martin Luther.  But unintentionally I see this:

“From Heaven above to earth I come”:  Christmas, or Christ Mass. Christ Jesus is born!  Immanu-el, God is with us.

““O Lord, We Praise You”:  Luther adapted and expanded this medieval communion hymn singing of the One born of Mary who died and rose for all mankind and by that He gives us Body and Blood for the nourishment of our souls in true repentance and the love of and for the Lord.  Right in the middle of the Liturgy is His Cross and His risen Body and Blood:  Immanu-el, God is with us.

“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”:  My Dad once said to me you have  to choose a recessional hymn which we can go out humming.  “A mighty fortress” certainly fills my Dad’s advice!  This hymn, this sung prayer is our daily prayer in the midst of the kingdoms and nations raging and tottering and the earth quaking and seas roaring in daily life.  :  Immanu-el, God is with us.

The Scripture text that is the basis of  A Mighty Fortress is our God is Psalm 46. Israel saw the tumult of the earth and were afraid.  Worse:  the tumult of the nations raging and tottering and the LORD spake and the “earth melts”.  Now Luther did not write this hymn to express his own religious or spiritual feelings but to interpret and apply the 46th Psalm to the church of his own time and its struggles amidst the nations.  Luther wrote hymns not as a means for self-expression but to serve his fellow believers.  By the Lord’s mighty Word made flesh in Jesus Christ for us sinners, Luther is still so serving his fellow believers today in the Word of God Psalm 46 through his hymn.  Yes, the Lord was in His Temple in Jerusalem but fully the Psalmist, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is praying and singing that it is not trust in a place, Jerusalem, that saves but the Presence:  THE LORD is immanu, with us.  He is our mighty fortress. 

Earthquakes, the raging of the nations, the tottering of empires, the rage of the hurricane over the ocean…sounds like a Psalm and a hymn “ripped from the headlines”and fear planted into our hearts.  Then in the Psalm comes the Lord’s command:  “Be still and know that I am God.” which taken as counsel sounds contrary to all human wisdom.  It is.  Don’t we have to do something?  Form a task force, initiate a government program, build windmills, send the army, launch an attack, call the UN together, buy a self-help book, get my act together, keep my nose clean, reinvent myself…we have to save our planet, our nation, ourselves, after all, without us we can’t be saved.  No, be still and know that I am God. As if the Lord were telling us:

“See, you are not God, but I am. I created you, and I recreate you; I formed you, and I form you anew; I made you, and I remake you. If you had no power to make yourself, how do you propose to remake yourself?” (St. Augustine)

 When the people of Israel had been freed from Egypt, right after the first Passover, the armed might of the Egyptian Empire, Pharoah, considered to be a god, went in hot-pursuit of what he considered his chattel property.  The Israelites then were faced with Red Sea and the whole host of Pharoah behind them.  Israel cried out to Moses Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Moses responded:   Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today… 14 The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” It seems as if the Lord silenced one Martin Luther, dead in his tracks, trying to save himself by recreating himself spiritually in a monastery. He found out he could not. The Law of God silenced Martin.  Martin was full of fear that though an “impeccable monk” he could not fulfill God’s Law.   Be still, Martin, and know that I am God and God showed Luther the cross of His beloved Son Jesus Christ and the love which stretched out His hands to him, to us.  The just shall live by faith in Jesus Christ who gave up himself for me and thee. And around and through and because of the  Cross comes the Word of God:  Be still and know that I am God. And God, Jesus Christ was utterly silenced:  Into Your Hands I commend my spirit.  And He died.  You can not storm heaven or take by violence. He is risen to bring you to Himself, Immanu-el.  You can save a dime but not your time.  Jesus Christ is the friend of sinners and tax collectors and Martin and you and I. Not to accept them but forgive and transform them.  As much as we think we control good and evil, it is good and evil that controls us and nothing inside can change it. Without our help He did us make without our help He did us save.  Immanu-el.

We may all know enough of Medieval history that castles, fortresses, stone strong dotted all the landscape of Europe.  The peasants lived outside the castle farming.  When enemies threatened they fled for refuge to the strong castle of their Lord for protection, safety and peace in the attacks of the enemy in siege warfare.  There in the castle strong they were in a sense silenced. This is probably what’s behind Luther’s great hymn.  The people needed a safe place, a home, without fear.   A place of love and care where no one would fear. We flee for refuge in our bank account and with every up or down of Wall Street main street quakes.  We look for the brightest and the best and many of them do some of the dumbest and worse things possible and on TV.  But human fortresses are very much pregnable but this fortress has a stream which makes glad the city of God:  your baptism.  . The Lord fights by our side with weapons of the Spirit: 

the breastplate of righteousness

shoes for  the gospel of peace

the shield of faith

the helmet of salvation

the belt of truth

the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,

We shall wield these weapons, but they will not come from ourselves.  Immanu-El, God is with us.

 With a son of coal miner who studied law and  became monk, Luther or an academic bookworm fluent in ancient languages, Philip Melancthon, I can not think of a more unlikely cast of characters to start a reformation.  But they did not start it. Luther was sensible of it:  Immanu-el.  After the Diet of Wurms, when Luther was branded an outlaw any one in the Holy Roman Empire could have killed him, Luther’s ruler, Frederick the Wise, had Luther captured in the night leaving Worms. Luther thought he was a goner.  Instead Elector Frederick imprisoned him for his own safety in the caste of Wartburg.  In his confinement, Luther began translating the New Testament into German.  But he heard that back in his church in Wittenberg that the pastor, Karlstadt, was trying to change everything much to quickly and literally causing riots:  you can still see a broken statue of the Virgin Mary.  Luther went back and for 8 days in Lent preached some of the greatest sermons ever:  the Invocavit Sermons.  In one of the them, he speaks of the Word of God, the Lord Jesus Christ Himself reforming, uplifting and pacifying as only Luther could:

For the Word created heaven and earth and all things [Ps. 33:6]; the Word must do this thing, and not we poor sinners. In short, I will preach it, teach it, write it, but I will constrain no man by force, for faith must come freely without compulsion. Take myself as an example. I opposed indulgences and all the papists, but never with force. I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept [cf. Mark 4:26-29], or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philips and Amsdorf,6 the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything.

 In the crush of the daily burdens, when the news is bleak, when there are fightings and fears within and without, don’t go running hither and yon or when in doubt run in circles scream and shout, you won’t go far and going to the bar won’t help.  Be still.  The Lord of hosts is with us.  Call upon Him while He is near.  Repent, confess, pray, sing, a mighty fortress is our God.  Hallelujah. Amen.  Sabbath.  In the old Lutheran Hymnal there is a prayer of confession which as a kid I always loved and still do which evokes the mighty fortress in time of  stress, striving and sin.  Let us pray…

Almighty God, our Maker and Redeemer, we poor sinners confess untoThee that we are by nature sinful and unclean and that we have sinned against Thee by thought, word, and deed. Wherefore we flee for refuge to Thine infinite mercy, seeking and imploring Thy grace for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 The Lord has had mercy upon you.

























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