Archive for February, 2021

Fight the Good Fight?

Churches are great places to fight! Think about all the discord and conflict that has occurred in the church from the time Jesus started to gather disciples. Who would be the greatest? Who would sit at Jesus’ right hand? Who would best betray and deny him? Then, after Jesus’ resurrection, the church continued to fight for its life, so to speak, both within and without. When we fight in the church, and sometimes we must, what criteria do we use to do so? St. Paul in First and Second Timothy gives some guidance:

“Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (I Timothy 6:12),

and then when all is said and done, so to speak, St. Paul bows out of ministry by saying,

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

Both of these examples give the impression that we are able to “fight the good fight,” but are we? Do we know what the “good fight” is? If we might know, would we be able to fight it and win, or would we just make a good show if it, going down swinging? If we were to go down swinging, what night we swing, fists, a bat, playground equipment, or perhaps some type of big band music?

Our society is full if fighting talk. We may think that we “fight the good fight” when we often disease, crime, injustice, pollution, and so forth. Sometimes we even give ourselves the impression that we might win some of these battles, but do we ever win the battles or not to mention the war? What has been the outcome of the “war on poverty” or the “cold war” or the “war on drugs”? According to the news, the rich have got richer, and the poor have got poorer. The once dangerous, atheistic socialist-communist threat has faded in some countries only to arrive in another guise in US politics. As to the war on drugs, how many US states have “legalized” marijuana, even though it is still a federal crime? Maybe we win the wars when we give up the fight and capitulate to human sin. So, what is the good fight, and what is right?

From the time of our birth, we are born into a fight for our lives. For some, the fight is relatively benign, like fighting with siblings about who inherits the family fortune. For others, from birth onwards, the fight is daily, grueling, fraught with despair, desperation, and devastation. Most of us experience life in-between. For all of us, the daily fight of life ends in death. When that moment comes, will we be able to say, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”? Think about your daily routine. How many of us can hand on heart say, “I have kept the faith” every day in every way, come hell or high water or indifference or disregard? Think of something really mundane. If most of us cannot stick to a simple healthy diet as if our lives depended on it, and sometimes they do, what chance do we have of fighting a truly good fight? So, to distract ourselves, we fight the mean, petty fight of exerting our self-righteousness over against all and sundry, claiming ourselves the victors and “them” to be the losers.

We Lutherans have a fight song, one near and dear to our hearts. It goes like this:

A mighty fortress is our God,
A sword and shield victorious;
He breaks the cruel oppressor’s rod,
And wins salvation glorious.
The old satanic foe,
Has sworn to work us woe.
With craft and dreadful might
He arms himself to fight.
On earth he has no equal!

No strength of ours can match his might.
We would be lost, defeated.
But now a champion comes to fight,
Whom God himself elected.
You ask who this may be?
The Lord of hosts is he,
Christ Jesus mighty Lord,
God’s only son adored.
He holds the field victorious.

Though hordes of devils fill the land,
All threatening to devour us.
We tremble not, unmoved we stand,
They cannot overpow’r us.
Let this world’s tyrant rage,
In battle we’ll engage.
His might is doomed to fail,
God’s judgement must prevail!
One little word subdues him.

God’s Word forever shall abide,
No thanks to foes, who fear it.
For God himself fights by our side,
With weapons of the Spirit.
Were they to take our house,
Goods, honour, child or spouse,
Though life be wrenched away,
They cannot win the day.
The Kingdom’s ours forever.
(Lutheran Service Book, Hymn 657)

That translation of Martin Luther’s hymn “Ein’ feste Burg” describes the war and also each and every battle therein. It is a fight which Adam and Eve so easily and willingly lost in the Garden of Eden. Thereafter, each laborious birth bring forth a child to be another casualty of inherited sin and death. No human effort, strength, talent, wealth, intellect, and so on can put an end to human sin and death. We fight and fight and fight, but in the end we too often become too tired or ill to swing any more.

When they were swinging their hammers onto the nails in Jesus’ hands and feet, the forces of sin and death believed that in crucifying Christ they were fighting the good fight, that they would win the race, that they were keeping the faith. When God the Father raised God the Son from the dead and then sent his word into the world by the power of God the Holy Spirit, God declared the forces of sin and death to be vanquished.

When you are next feeling weary of the war of our sinful world or fatigued by the battles of mundane daily life, when disease, despair, and death are knocking at your door or beating on your heart, remember the words of “A Mighty Fortress,” remember, “Now a champion comes to fight, whom God himself elected. You ask who this may be? The Lord of hosts is he. Christ Jesus mighty Lord, God’s only son adored. He holds the field victorious.” and thereby be reminded, “ The Kingdom’s ours forever.” Amen.

New Years

In Luther’s day, the new year began with Christmas Day. In a way, that is very fitting since the incarnation of Christ means the beginning of the new creation which is granted to all who believe in Jesus as the Christ.

As many are aware, Luther wrote hymns, not only because he was musically adept but chiefly because he wanted people to learn and live the faith, and song is a good medium so to do. From ancient times, meter and rhyme have provided a cadence for remembrance. In a day and an age when many could not read or write, learning through verse was effective, and still is today. Think of how easily an advertising jingle or the refrain of a pop song takes residence in our memories.

Through the advent of the printing press and with the widespread ease and abundance of reference materials, multiplied exponentially today with the internet, modern people seem to have been significantly relieved of having to learn through memory. Some would question whether people today really learn much at all but rather parrot what they see on their smart phones. (Do smart phones make dumb people?)

One of Luther’s great Christmas songs is entitled Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her, which I would translate as From Heaven above I Come Here. Other translations of the same include From Heaven Above to Earth I Come (Lutheran Service Book, 358) and From Heaven on High I Come to You as translated and printed in Luther’s Works. The full translation of the latter is below.

From Heaven on High I Come to You

1 From Heaven on high I come to you.
I bring a story good and new;
Of goodly news so much I bring,
Of it I must both speak and sing.

2 To you a child is come this morn,
A child of holy maiden born,
A little babe so sweet and mild—
Your joy and bliss shall be that child.

3 It is the Lord Christ, our own God.
He will ease you of all your load;
He will himself your Savior be,
And from all sinning set you free.

4 He brings you all the news so glad
Which God the Father ready had—
That you shall in his heavenly house
Live now and evermore with us.

5 Take heed then to the token sure,
The crib, the swaddling clothes so poor;
The infant you shall find laid there,
Who all the world doth hold and bear.

6 Hence let us all be gladsome then,
And with the shepherd folk go in
To see what God to us hath given,
With his dear honored Son from heaven.

7 Take note, my heart; see there! look low:
What lies then in the manger so?
Whose is the lovely little child?
It is the darling Jesus-child.

8 Welcome thou art, thou noble guest,
With sinners who dost lie and rest,
And com’st into my misery!
How thankful I must ever be!

9 Ah Lord! the maker of us all!
How hast thou grown so poor and small,
That there thou liest on withered grass,
The supper of the ox and ass?

10 Were the world wider many fold,
And decked with gems and cloth of gold,
’Twere far too mean and narrow all,
To make for thee a cradle small.

11 The silk and velvet that are thine,
Are rough hay, linen not too fine,
Yet, as they were thy kingdom great,
Thou liest in them in royal state.

12 And this hath therefore pleased thee
That thou this truth mightst make me see—
How all earth’s power, show, good, combined,
Helps none, nor comforts thy meek mind.

13 Dear little Jesus! in my shed,
Make thee a soft, white little bed,
And rest thee in my heart’s low shrine,
That so my heart be always thine.

14 And so I ever gladsome be,
Ready to dance and sing to thee
The lullaby thou lovest best,
With heart exulting in its guest.

15 Glory to God in highest heaven,
Who his own Son to us hath given!
For this the angel troop sings in
Such a new year with gladsome din.
(Luther’s Works, 53:290-291)

So, if you were to write a song to tell others about Jesus’ birth, life, death, or resurrection, how might it go? The Parish Rebuilder will publish in forthcoming editions song submissions of 5-15 verses edifying others about Jesus. So, open your Bibles, put on your thinking caps, find your creative crayons or keyboard, and send submit a song or two. Perhaps we could put some of them to music and sing them in church!

Mark Menacher PhD. Pastor

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