3.04.2013

March Forth

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Many, many years ago, while I was still doing Christian work on the Penn campus, I mentored a student whose dad was both a pastor of a church in Hunting Park and an accomplished classical musician.  I remember hearing this pastor preach once, not out of the Bible but from Martin Luther's "A Mighty Fortress is Our God."  It was a terrific and powerful sermon, and since then that hymn has been one of my all-time faves.

It has been referenced lately by my pastor, and I appreciate the reminder that its message represents.  For, individually and as a congregation, it is not hard to feel assailed, outnumbered, under-resourced, and outright defeated.  Luther's lyrics don't sugarcoat the hardships of life; if anything, they describe them in stark, spiritual, and fearsome terms.  And we are reminded, as if we needed to be told in the midst of our fearsome trials, that we don't stand a chance on our own.

But wait, there's hope.  The hymn, and the Christian narrative in general, are brutally honest about the fierceness of our opposition and the insufficiency of our own strength.  But they hold forth a Savior and a saving action, which decisively secured victory and which guarantees future triumph.  His name is Jesus and His conquest did not come in the form of brute force or superior numbers, but in humble submission and torturous death. 

The message is both exhilarating and sobering.  Assailed, we have a Deliverer; what a relief!  But, our access to deliverance still requires a stark decision, to surrender as He did.  There is no halfway when it comes to believing in or tapping into such a life narrative.

Indeed, some of the great saints that went before us understood that "the body they may kill, God's truth abideth still."  Whether martyrs in distant lands or civil rights heroes fighting generations of racism and injustice, God's people believed in a Savior who had won the victory, and were willing to hold loosely "goods and kindred...this mortal life also" because there was a greater and more lasting prize waiting at the end. 

May we be found marching forth, believing the same things and living our lives according to that belief in the same ways.  When life assails us beyond our ability to cope, and our enemies seem too fierce to fight alone, let us take refuge in our mighty fortress and never-failing bulwark.

A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing;
Our helper He, amid the flood of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great, and, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.


Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing;
Were not the right Man on our side, the Man of God’s own choosing:
Dost ask who that may be? Christ Jesus, it is He;
The Lord of Hosts, His Name, from age to age the same,
And He must win the battle.


And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us,
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us:
The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure,
One little word shall fell him.


That word above all earthly powers, no thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours through Him Who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
The body they may kill: God’s truth abideth still,
His kingdom is forever.

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