Entries tagged with “Reformation”.


By Valerie E. Hess

We sang it loud! We sang it proud:

A mighty fortress is OUR God!

Death should hold no fear for us

(but it did. Oh, how it did!)

We knew who God was and how God worked:

Faith alone!

(But there was a point system.)

Grace alone!

(Plus our behavior

And remember,

God is always on authority’s side.)

Marching righteously

(oh, so self-righteously,

Works righteously–

Too heretical to say  out loud:



Through the night of sin and evil,

We were saved.

We alone were saved.

Faith alone

(and good behavior)

Would win the day.

Faith alone, we alone!

Martin Luther was our homeboy.

I knew exactly who I was not.

Then my own Augustinian moment,

A profound shaking of all that I knew to be true.

A personal re-formation.

(What does this mean?)

Baptismal waters became bitter, bloody,

Splinters splintered.

Christ’s Body divided instead of his garments.

Martin Luther despised the Jews.

I really disliked Luther.

But reformations mellow,



As pendulums do.

Luther asked anguished questions.

(So do I.)

My souvenir socks announce “Here I stand”

In Advent blue, in German.

In them, I stand here less secure

On ground that moves quite often,

Shaken by a restless Spirit that will not be tamed

Or domesticated

Or enmeshed in tribal warfare.

      “A mighty fortress is our God, A bulwark never failing.

      Did we in our own strength confide, Our striving would be losing.”

Grace, mercy, love

Resting in all I don’t know,

Embracing wider horizons of Truth:

Reformed and still reforming.

      “God’s truth abideth still, His Kingdom is forever.”

Here I stand;

Soli Deo Gloria!

It has been quite a week: Britain has voted to leave the European Union. All branches of the Eastern Orthodox Church except for the Russians are meeting in an Ecumenical Council, the first in over a thousand years that some of these groups have talked to each other. Many major evangelical Christian leaders have come out in support of Donald Trump. There is a lot to process in all of that!

In some ways, none of this has immediately impacted our lives here at this old house and yet, at some level, the ground has shifted under our feet in significant ways. What will Britain’s exit mean for the global economy? Has Pope Francis and his reign of love and mercy motivated the Eastern Orthodox hierarchy around the world to try to connect more intentionally with each other and with laypeople? Are we watching the end of evangelicalism as a viable view of Christian living and theology? These are not things that will be answered quickly; maybe not even in our lifetimes.

The late Phyllis Tickle believed that about every 500 years, there was a major shake-up in the Church and the world. We are nearly 500 years past the Protestant Reformation and so, if she is correct (and there are some who take issue with her analysis), we may be living in the midst of an upheaval that will only be accurately assessed decades from now.

All of this uncertainty can leave us feeling vulnerable. As humans, we like security, safety and total control. Yet, world events have always served to, among other things, remind us that there is ultimately no safety and security here on earth. We are invited to rely on God in times of great uncertainty. Current events can remind us of the need to walk by faith, holding God’s hand in the dark, waiting for God to move rather than trying to take things into our own hand.

There is a story in 1 Samuel 15 that illustrates what can happen when we seek to play God in the world:  Samuel said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord. Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did in opposing the Israelites when they came up out of Egypt. Now go and attack Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have; do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”

Saul goes out and defeats the Amalekites but he took King Agag of the Amalekites alive, but utterly destroyed all the people with the edge of the sword. Saul and the people spared Agag, and the best of the sheep and of the cattle and of the fatlings, and the lambs, and all that was valuable, and would not utterly destroy them; all that was despised and worthless they utterly destroyed.

God is not pleased and sends Samuel back to Saul. When Samuel came to Saul, Saul said to him, “May you be blessed by the Lord; I have carried out the command of the Lord.” 14 But Samuel said, “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears, and the lowing of cattle that I hear?” 15 Saul said, “They have brought them from the Amalekites; for the people spared the best of the sheep and the cattle, to sacrifice to the Lord your God; but the rest we have utterly destroyed.” 16 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Stop!”

“What then is this bleating of sheep in my ear”: the witness against Saul’s taking things into his own hands. It is like a little kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar, all the while denying that he was getting a forbidden cookie. Samuel hears Saul’s “hand in the cookie jar” through the bleating of sheep and the lowing of cattle and says, “Stop! I will tell you what the Lord said to me last night.” [Saul] replied, “Speak.”

17 Samuel said, “Though you are little in your own eyes, are you not the head of the tribes of Israel? The Lord anointed you king over Israel. 18 And the Lord sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go, utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ 19 Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do what was evil in the sight of the Lord?”

And here comes Saul’s good, honestly believed to be right, rationalization. 20 Saul said to Samuel, “I have obeyed the voice of the Lord, I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me, I have brought Agag the king of Amalek, and I have utterly destroyed the Amalekites. 21 But from the spoil the people took sheep and cattle, the best of the things devoted to destruction, to sacrifice to the Lord your God in Gilgal.”

It makes perfect sense that he did this, right? 22 And Samuel said,

“Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
    as in obedience to the voice of the Lord?
Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice,
    and to heed than the fat of rams.
23 For rebellion is no less a sin than divination,
    and stubbornness is like iniquity and idolatry.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord,
    he has also rejected you from being king.”

What a powerful indictment for us all! Ouch! I so get it, Saul! I really do. It all made perfect sense at the time! Except that it was not what God commanded; it was taking things into my own hands and not trusting God’s instructions.

My take-away with Brexit and the Ecumenical Council meeting and Christ-followers compromising principles so they can stay in power, is that my job is to remain faithful, remembering God always bats last.

We had a lot of excitement here mid-week. My husband miscalculated the ice level between this old house and the neighbor’s, fell and tore the tendons in his left quad. He had surgery to sew it all back together on Thursday. He will be in a massive brace for about six weeks and will begin physical therapy in about two. There were lots of “hand of God” protection points throughout the whole ordeal, including the fact that it happened at a time when I was able to hear his knocking on the side of the house! An unfortunate situation but we are trying to learn what we can in and through it.

I made an interesting self-discovery as well. I really like lists! I have always been a list maker but I became very conscious of how enjoyable I find list making this week. Right now, I am creating a list of Lutheran hymn-writers and composers in anticipation of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in October of 2017. It started out as a personal interest project and has quickly mushroomed into something much bigger that will eventually be shared publicly.

It began when I had an idea that it would be fun beginning October 31, 2016 and going through October 31, 2017 to sing a hymn and/or have a composition every Sunday by at least one Lutheran composer or poet. It could be an educational time for the congregation (and me, as well) in addition to being a way to reflect on the events leading up to the world history-changing event known as the Protestant Reformation.

I have felt ambiguous about the Reformation for years because at one level, it splintered the Body of Christ into 38,000 denominations and counting. Too many groups through out the baby with the bath-water! For example, Luther assumed Holy Communion would be served every Sunday and that Mary would still find a place of honor in our faith. I find those losses among so many Christ-followers to be very sad.

However, one cannot deny the political, theological and social tsunami Luther unleashed. Those 95 Theses posted on the church door on Wittenberg on All Hallow’s Eve (October 31st) ignited a forest fire that was primed to burn. Certainly, there were many causes to the Reformation but the perfect storm came together with Luther’s public complaints against the errors he perceived in the Roman Catholic church. Civilization as they knew it really did shift significantly in the decades following 1517.

Imagine the music of J.S. Bach without the influence of the Lutheran chorale! Bach’s Lutheran theology was so primary to the way he composed his music; it is hard to imagine how it would have been written in a Roman Catholic context. Luther brought the Bible in the vernacular to the German people and created worship in which the congregation could fully participate again. (Up until then, the Bible was only in Latin, a language few understood, and corporate worship consisted of people watching the clergy “do the Mass.”)

My list of hymn-writers and composers will not have the same effect on society as Luther’s list did, of that I am sure. However, I do hope my list will be useful to someone else besides me somewhere. Either way, it sure is fun to create!