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Archive for October 7th, 2013

Pastor Muhlenberg was born in Einbeck, Germany in 1711, the seventh of nine children.  He graduated from Gottingen University and studied also at Halle, serving as schoolmaster.  Halle was the center for Pietism under August Hermann Francke who sent Muhlenberg to the new world. First he went to London for study and there had a gown made which became the pattern for English Lutheran clergy in America.

Pastor Muhlenberg came to the colonies  in 1742.  A tireless traveler, Muhlenberg helped to found many Lutheran congregations and was the guiding force behind the first American Lutheran synod, the Ministerium of Pennsylvania, founded Sunday, August 14, 1748 in Philadelphia.  At this synod Muhlenberg submitted a liturgy which was ratified and remained the only authorized American Lutheran liturgy for 40 years(1). He valued the role of music in Lutheran worship (often serving as his own organist)  The transition from the state church of Germany to the free churches of America brought challenges and Pastor Muhlenberg wrote a model congregational constitution in 1762 which became the basis for local church government.  He preached in German, Dutch and English and it was reported with a powerful voice.  And during his pastoral ministry, Muhlenberg kept a journal of his travels and service, remembering that Pennsylvania was practically the frontier in those days.  From his journal:

1748. November 5.I am worn out from much reading; I am incapacitated for study; I cannot even manage my own household because I must be away most of the time. The Reverend Fathers called me for only three years on trial, but the dear God has doubled the three years and upheld me all this time with forbearance. I write this not out of any discontent of slothfulness, but out of the feeling of spiritual and physical incapacity and a yearning desire to achieve a little more quietude where I could gather my thoughts better, spend more time with my wife and children, and bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Muhlenberg and his sons were also leaders in American public life. His son John Peter Gabriel left his pastorate in Woodstock, Virginia and became a general under Washington and later in life served as congressman and senator from Pennsylvania.  He announced his intention to serve in the Continental Army and the cause of political freedom from the pulpit when he took off his preaching robe to reveal his uniform saying there is a time to pray and a time to fight.  One of Pennsylvania’s statues in Statuary Hall in the U. S. Capitol depicts this moment .  It might be legend but it illustrates that we are called to serve as citizens in the two kingdoms, the temporal, that is, our nation and the eternal, the reign of God in Jesus Christ. John’s brother, Frederick Augustus Conrad,  also a Lutheran pastor became a member of the Continental Congress and became the first speaker of the House of Representatives in the new nation under the new Constitution.

Muhlenberg established the shape of Lutheran parishes for America during a 45-year ministry in Pennsylvania. Muhlenberg is remembered as a church leader, a journalist, a liturgist, and—above all—a pastor to the congregation in his charge.  He and has family also reflect the beginnings of our nation and service to the Constitution.  If your high school son or daughter needs to do a paper on the beginnings of our nation, the Muhlenbergs would make fine subject matter!   Pastor Muhlenberg died in 1787, in Trappe, Pennsylvania, leaving behind a large extended family and a lasting heritage: American Lutheranism. (Sources:  Festivals and Commemorations by Rev. Philip Pfatteicher and The Treasury of Daily Prayer)

Reflection:  October is pastor appreciation month.  Pr. Muhlenberg had a hard go of it in the new world.  In a reflection today by Pr. Scott Murray (Memorial Lutheran Church, Houston, TX), he writes about despair.  His reflection is not about pastors per se but the despair we can all feel as did the pastor we commemorate today.  Pr. Murray then quotes Martin Luther, followed by a prayer:

God tests us not to determine if we will be faithful to Him, because He knows the answer to that question. He tests us so that we learn faith and confidence in Him. He is the hidden God who rescues under signs of weakness and humility. He Himself has worked that way in Christ, who though God of God also died a humiliating death with no sign of God’s promise apart from the Word of God to Him, “You are my Son, today have I begotten You” (Ps 2:7). There is nothing about His earthly life and death that would prove this promise either to Christ or to us. He had nothing upon which to depend but the promise of God. Should we expect more for we who are sons by adoption? What would be more than what God worked for His Son? Just when we are brought down into the Sheol of despair are we truly able to trust the promise of God. Our trust is in nothing but the promise itself.

Martin Luther, Lectures on Genesis, 22.1-2

“Nearly all people are tempted by despair, and the godlier they are, the more frequently they are attacked with this weapon of Satan. What else should you do in this situation than say: ‘I know that I am baptized and that God, for the sake of His Son, has promised me grace. This promise will not lie, even if I should be cast into utter darkness. Therefore what Satan suggests to me is not God’s will; but God is testing me in this manner, that it may become manifest what is hidden in my heart. It is not that God does not know this, but that I do not know it. He Himself wants to make use of this occasion to crush the head of the serpent in me (Gn 3:15). For the heart of man is unsearchable; and the mind of the flesh, is enmity against God’ (Rm 8:7). Nor does man perceive this except through the word of the law, through which the head of the serpent is killed, in order that we may be made alive, as Scripture says (1Sa 2:6): ‘The Lord brings down to Sheol and raises up.'”

Lord God, heavenly Father, You have revealed Yourself in the promises of Your divine Word. As you send me trouble, send also your life-giving Spirit to me that I might trust Your promises and in the midst of my darkness see Your light. Amen.

 For all pastors, who are suffering in the darkness, that they might have confidence in the divine promise

(1) One of the great hopes and goals for American Lutheranism has been a unified liturgy and this was almost realized in the 1970s with the publication of the Lutheran Book of Worship, a project initiated by The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.  But major doctrinal differences caused the then 3 Lutheran Church bodies to part ways and the LCMS did not authorize the LBW. Now in the Lutheran Church there can be a different ‘liturgy’ in each congregation and the doctrinal differences have widened.  

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