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Lord, Keep Us Steadfast

 

“Lord, Keep us Steadfast in Thy Word”  Until the twentieth century, the Lutheran Church was fairly “steadfast,” meaning that it resisted cultural pressures which told it to update its worship, modernize its devotional practices, and adapt its doctrines to the whims of political correctness.  The Lutheran Church was not interested in adapting its theology of the sacraments to a Reformed understanding in 1830s Germany, resulting in an influx of immigrants to the United States who eventually formed the LCMS.  Neither was the LCMS interested in accepting the notion of Scripture as literature, thereby caving into the “historical critical” method of biblical interpretation.  This was a struggle in the LCMS in the 1970s which eventually resulted in the formation of the ELCA (whose official doctrines do not hold to the inerrancy of Scripture.)  Yet, we have now arrived at a time where we can visit other LCMS churches whose confessions of sin recognize sin as a mistake, but not as a condition (“by nature sinful and unclean”), we find some churches whose music centers on “how I feel about God” rather a response to what He has done for us, and we can find preaching which is drawn more from self-help, self-esteem manuals than from Scripture.  It is unfortunate, but the struggle between Christ’s Church and the world is as old as humanity. 

This hymn is inspired by John 8: 31, 32 when Jesus states, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  What is this “teaching?”  The Greek word is “logos,” which John is fond of employing and which is used in the famous prologue to John, when he writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  Here, logos is translated “Word,” and is a reference to Jesus.  So, when Jesus states later on that the disciples must follow His teaching or logos, He is actually stating that one must hold to Him.  Jesus, especially in John’s gospel, reiterates that “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”  (John 8: 19b)  Jesus is what He teaches.  Doctrine, that is, what we confess about Jesus, is inseparable from that faith we have in Jesus.  The study of doctrine is not a dull, cerebral matter best left to ivory-tower theologians and bored confirmation students;  rather, it constitutes the nature of Christianity. 

This hymn, written by Martin Luther in 1541, prays to God that we would remain “steadfast in Thy Word.”  The second stanza is addressed to Christ, who is “Lord of Lords alone,” again reminiscent of the logos ideal.  The third stanza, not surprisingly, prays that the Holy Spirit would “send peace and unity on earth.”  Yet, unlike many in the modern ecumenical movement, we cannot accept “peace and unity” when it involves compromising matters of doctrine.  The original first stanza reads, “Lord, keep us steadfast in Thy Word and work/Restrain the murderous Pope and Turk/Who fain would tear from off Thy throne/Christ Jesus, Thy beloved Son.”  We must expect no less than blatant honesty from Luther!  At the time Luther wrote this, the Moslems were advancing into Europe as far as Vienna.  And we all know the troubles Luther had with the Pope!  For Luther, there could be no compromise with people who wished to change Christian doctrine.  Whether it be the Moslem or the stubborn medieval Catholic, Luther realized that he struggled “. . . not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world.” (Eph. 6: 12) Christian doctrine is the Christian faith.   Perhaps diplomacy prevents us from singing Luther’s original text this morning.  However, we can pray always to remain steadfast in God’s Word, knowing that this Word, logos, was Christ and His teachings.

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I'm But a Stranger Here

 

“I’m But A Stranger Here”  In Jeremiah 26, the Prophet Jeremiah speaks a word of warning to the people of Judah saying, “Now therefore mend your ways and your deeds, and obey the voice of the Lord your God.”  Provocative words spoken to a society comfortable with meting out swift, trial-less justice, a reality which Jeremiah acknowledges when he commends himself into their hands when he speaks, “Do with me as seems good and right to you. Only know for certain that if you put me to death, you will bring innocent blood upon yourselves and upon this city. . .”  Jeremiah here foreshadows Jesus’ own role not as a priest or king, but as a prophet.  In Luke 13, Jesus quotes from Psalm 118: 26 when he responds to King Herod’s desire to kill him, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it!  How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!  Behold, your house is forsaken.  And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’”  Jesus, of course, would not return to Jerusalem until the events of Passover week.  The salient point of these lessons is not necessarily that “heaven is our home” and that earth is not, but that our home is not our home.  It might be easy for us, were we suddenly transported to the vast wastelands of Iran or the cold Siberian tundra, to opine for our home—for something better.  Yet, Jeremiah spoke to his own people, just as Jesus spoke to His own people.  Neither the Hebrew prophets nor Jesus spoke to strangers primarily.  Jesus’ message, of course, was meant for all people, but it was the Jews who forsook him during His lifetime, and He was crucified in the familiar city of Jerusalem, the place where we first encounter Him preaching at age twelve.  This holy city of the Jews would reject the one sent to save it. 

            Can we then sing, “I’m but a stranger in Plano, heav’n is my home; Texas is a desert drear, heav’n is my home.  Danger and sorrow stand round me on ev’ry hand; heav’n is my fatherland, heav’n is my home”?  Probably we chuckle, for neither Plano nor Texas seem particularly dangerous to most of us suburbanites.  We are familiar in our comfortable surroundings with the people we know, roads we frequently travel, and merchants whom we patronize.  New York City, Calcutta, Constantinople—now those are foreign to us!  But not Plano!  Yet, this is what Jeremiah and Jesus experienced—their message was rejected by the people they knew in the environment with which they were most familiar.  What if suddenly people in our city were hostile to Christians because of our faith and practices?  We can all think of instances of Christian discrimination, perhaps even close by, but it is doubtful that we have received much of that in our lives.  It is easy to grow too fondly attached to our easy, pleasant, earthly existence which, in comparison to many generations prior to us, confronts us with little hardship. 

            This hymn text, written Thomas Taylor in 1836, is, coupled with its tune, probably one of the weaker in the hymnal.  Granted, it is a favourite of many.  Its rather maudlin text is a bit dreary even by Victorian standards, and how we twenty-first century enlightened folk are still singing of the Fatherland is beyond this writer’s understanding! Of its tune, composed by Arthur Sullivan of Gilbert and Sullivan fame, hymnologist Erik Routley observes harshly that it evidences “. . . the disastrous rubbish which a musician of outstanding gifts thought appropriate for church use.”  This writer doesn’t think it is *that* bad!

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