Readings for the day (Sunday, October 29, 2017):
Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
This Tuesday will mark the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the doors of the castle church in Wittenberg, Germany. For Luther, he never intended on separating from the Catholic Church. He saw abuses within the church and he wanted to make sure that everyone was aware of these abuses, so that something would be done about it. Have you ever seen something that needed to be changed or done differently? Did you say something? Or did you just complain about it to yourself? By nailing his 95 theses (or issues/abuses) that he saw within the church, Luther was publicly saying something. He chose to do this specifically on October 31st, not because it is Halloween (something that we celebrate in this century), but because of November 1st; All-Saints day. As the priest, Luther knew that people would be coming for mass on November 1st to commemorate All-Saints day. So posting this publicly on the bulletin board the day before worship made sense.
What Luther did with a pen and some paper, along with a hammer and a nail, was he started a movement. A movement that is still happening today. Reformation is not something that just happened on one day and then everyone went home. Through his preaching and more so his writings, Luther reformed or changed the way the church preached, taught, read, and sang. He translated the New Testament into the language of the people. So that they could actually read the Word of God. He also created resources for parents to teach the faith to their children at home. That resource is called the Small Catechism. And he wrote numerous hymns.
Now Luther was a troubled man. He certainly did not have everything all put together. He struggled with finding God as one who is forgiving and merciful. All he felt was wrath and anger. He didn’t feel grace and peace. And it wasn’t until he started studying the Word of God that he was able to find God not as angry and wrathful, but rather full of grace.
The hymn that we opened with, A Mighty Fortress is Our God, is also known as the “Hymn of Comfort.” Luther wrote this hymn and the tune. And he based the text of this hymn on Psalm 46. For Luther, our God is great and powerful, like a mighty fortress who wins victoriously with a sword and shield. With all of this might and power, we can feel as though God is out to get us. The Psalmist says, “the mountains shake…the water roar and foam…the nations are in an uproar.” Utter chaos is what that means. The world is in chaos. Our lives are in chaos. Maybe for you, most days you seem to have a handle on things. While others long to take hold of something, even if it is but for a moment.
Unfortunately, most of the time we don’t see that second group of people (those who don’t have it all together). Because for some reason they believe that they have to have a really good handle of everything in their lives in order to walk through our doors. And to top it all off, those whose lives are in chaos believe, as Luther did, that God is a vengeful God. Someone who is out to get us. Someone who finds joy in making us suffer. Which leads people to believe that God is the cause of all this chaos. So people believe that cancer, shootings, disasters, injuries are all because God wanted that to happen. My friends, that God is a jerk! And certainly not who I believe and put my trust in.
Luther realized that as well; especially as he studied the Word of God. He realized things like verse 5 from Psalm 46, “God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; He will help it when the morning dawns.” Which influenced Luther to write things like verse 3 of A Mighty Fortress, “Though hordes of devils fill the land all threat’ning to devour us, we tremble not, unmoved we stand; they cannot overpow’r us.” “…for God himself fights by our side with weapons of the Spirit.” Our God is not a vengeful, angry, jerk who is out to get us and cause us harm. Rather, He is love, He is grace, He is peace and comfort.
The Psalmist ends with, “Be still, and know that I am God!” Be still. That’s actually really hard for us to do. Be still. Meaning to let go of those things that we really don’t have control over but still strive with all of our might to control them. Be still and be silent, so that you may witness God’s powerful ability to not only reform or change something, but to save. And specifically to save us from the world, the devil, and our sinful selves.
Luther was trying to tell the church that salvation, the way in which we are saved, is not by any doing of our own, but only through the cross of Christ. We cannot work for our salvation. We cannot pay for our salvation. We cannot earn our salvation. We can’t do anything to get into heaven because that gift has already been given to us through the waters of baptism. And our faith in this gift is sustained through the meal of bread and wine that Jesus provides for us.
So the Psalmist concludes with, “Be still, and know that I am God.” In Hebrew, the phrase “to know” doesn’t mean simply to acknowledge something. Such as, I know that God exists. Or I know that there is pizza in that box. Rather, “to know” means to internalize or to embody the truth fully. So to know that there is pizza in that box means to actually eat the pizza, not just look at it. “Be still, and know that I am God,” then means to be silent, witnessing God’s almighty power and to not only acknowledge God’s presence among us, but to actually live our lives like He actually is here. Therefore everything that we say, think, and do would reflect this reality that our God is real, He is alive, and He is active in the world. So God’s presence isn’t just some cute idea that is supposed to bring us comfort, but in fact I believe that God truly is present in our lives, working and moving through the chaos of our lives in order to bring us joy and peace, comfort and grace. And this is why Luther wrote this “Hymn of Comfort.” Because it embodies this knowledge that even in the midst of chaos, our God is here with us now. Be still, and know that He is God! Amen.
© 2017 Anthony Christoffels. All rights reserved.