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Blogging my thoughts: A Person as a Word

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David Brooks writes in his OP ED piece in the New York Times (8/15/2014) page A21: “Every type of new hero is like a new word added to our vocabulary.” That was the kind of insight I was developing in my Joseph Book. If a word can already be a message, a promise, and a whole language-event, like a sermon or lecture, why can’t it also refer to a person?  Brooks makes it do so here. So I say that the children of God are Words of God — and we become the vocabulary in the language of God.

We of course refer to Jesus Christ as the Word of God. When Luther said in “The Freedom of a Christian,” that we all become Christs to one another, then becoming words of God is just another extension of this insight.


Written by peterkrey

August 15, 2014 at 10:11 pm

Blogging my thoughts: Lighting up the Thoughts of the Mind

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Blogging my thoughts: Lighting up the Thoughts of the Mind by Peter Krey

Reading about optogenetics in the New York Science Times for today (April 22, 2014) I read an article entitled, “Brain Control in a Flash of Light” by James Gorman. Reading it I had to think of the lightning flash of that preceded Luther’s entry into the monastery. (The incident took place before the Reformation on July 2, 1505 near the village of Stotternheim in Germany.)

Dr. Karl Dreisseroth and his team devised a practical way to turn neurons in the brain on and off with light. Is it far-fetched to think that the lightning strike that came so close to Luther that it knocked him down, also affected Luther, in this case, turning his mind on to ultimate questions? I’ve read how Karl Marx thought that that lightning flash began a change of mind not only in Luther but in all of Europe and I have somehow felt myself, that Luther’s whole Reformation came out of one flash of insight, that was not only intellectual but went way down to the enlightenment of his affects as well.

Dreisseroth talks of people with psychoses having a different reality from our own (New York Science Times, page D4). He describes bipolar disorder as “’exuberance, charisma, love of life, and yet how destructive’; of depression, [so] ‘crushing – it can’t be reasoned with.’” (D4) But what about on the positive side, that is, a brain that reaches a new level of integration and insight through an encounter with God? A Psalm speaks of God in terms of “the Light in which we see light.” (Psalm 36:9) Often we are locked with our thinking in the pathological, while we remain oblivious to the wholesome, the wonderful level of a new maturity in life. St. Paul on the road to Damascus and perhaps Luther, on his way back from home to Erfurt, experienced something along these lines.

Now to delve more deeply into the article: various laboratories experimented with using light to control brain cells. Needed in that process are proteins they call “opsins.” “When light shines on an opsin, it absorbs a photon and changes.” (D4) Smuggling opsin genes into nerve cells caused no harm. (D5) They found that one particular opsin called channelrhodopsin-2 “could be used to turn on mammalian neurons with blue light.” (D5) Dreisseroth used microbial opsins to get those neurons to respond strongly to light. With that Dreisseroth’s team could switch the neurons on and off.

Then working in his laboratory they took a step beyond optogenetics making the whole brain transparent in a method they have called “Clarity.” It cannot be used for living brains because a chemical called hydrogel has to be infused into the brain tissue, “which leaves the brain not only transparent, but also still available for bio-chemical tests.” (D5)

Dreisseroth’s aim continues to be helping people with severe mental illness or brain diseases “and he recently proposed ways that optogenetics, Clarity, and other techniques may be turned to this aim.” D5) It turns out that optogenetics is a crucial tool in understanding brain functions. “Clarity, on the other hand, is an aid to anatomical studies, basic mapping of structure, which, he says, is as important to understand as activity.” (D5) When as a psychiatrist he administered electro convulsive therapy (electric shock therapy) a general seizure results, in which the whole brain is disrupted. “’Within a few minutes the whole person comes back. Where does it come back from? From the structure,’ he said.” (D5)

It is interesting the way Dreisseroth speaks of the whole person coming back but then uses the pronoun “it” for merely the structure of the brain. Perhaps the mind envelopes the whole person, while the brain is just the seat of that source.

When Dreisseroth speaks of encountering a whole different reality in a person experiencing a psychosis then he needs to be completely cognizant that we all agree on a conventional, everyday level of reality which we call normal. This kind of scientific work, however, shows how there are deeper realities that go far beyond the everyday level of reality we accept as normalcy.

When a St. Paul or Luther experience the source of light, then perhaps they were treated to a shock therapy for a more wholesome reality through and after which the reality of the presence of the Divine has to be proclaimed. This ultimate reality, filled with healing love and compassion can also fill a psychotic person with healing light.

“Clarity” now for a live brain may provide a physical analogy to enlightenment, say of the Buddha, or the transfiguration of Jesus Christ. The transfiguration of the person or mind, if “mind” is understood as enveloping the whole person and the whole person’s intellect and affects as well are taken to be in the mind. When that mind becomes transparent, then perhaps the source of light can shine through a person.

Recently I wrote about the light of the eyes, as it was understood in Biblical times.[1] The light of the eyes, but really the light of the mind and all its wonderful functioning cannot hold a candle to “the Light in which we see light.” The whole verse from Psalm 36 also includes affects and more: “For with you is the fountain of life and in your light we see light.” That living light is the source of our being (structure) and consciousness (functioning and activity).

In blogging my thoughts here, I go all the way into opsins, photons, optogenetics, and “Clarity,” because Luther said that we cannot go into the flesh deeply enough. I first interpreted his sense of the word “flesh” to mean that we cannot go into everything concerning what it means to be human being deeply enough. In the words of Cicero, “I am a human being and I consider nothing that is human alien to me.” But here I interpret “flesh” as delving into this completely physical and natural study of the brain as a foray into theology.

Now Dreisseroth maintains that one cannot reason with depression. (D5) Of course not. But we should not discount the talking cure,[2] because insights enlighten the brain with optogenetic potential. And the encounter with the omniscient, compassionate, and wholly loving God, can bring a healthy person back from a “divine structure” into the wholeness of a new maturity, a fully functioning and fulfilling life. But God also has to encounter those like Dr. Dreisseroth, who go into a mind completely transparent or enlightened by the living Light of God to heal not only people with psychoses, but also as many of us who are walking around in an everyday reality unenlightened by the real presence of the One who “created the sun, moon, and the shining stars; for God commanded and these lights were created.” (Psalm 148:3 and 5)


[1] See “Your Eye is a Lamp for your Body.” Also see “Seeing the Light of God.

[2] Check out Ira Steinman’s book Treating the Untreatable. I relate a story from it in my Sermon of Feb. 8, 2009 called, “Not just the Healthy, the sick are saved too.”  Here of course, I take the neuroscientific approach of this article.

Blogging my thoughts: the Social Justification by Faith

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Blogging my thoughts:

In packing boxes while getting ready to move, I found some notes jotted down during the writing of my dissertation that I did not throw away:

In my dissertation, I worked with four of Luther’s most popular pamphlets: Sermon on the Ban, Sermon on Good Works, The New Testament, that is, the Holy Mass, and the Freedom of a Christian. In analyzing these pamphlets I found that they follow the same regular pattern in critiquing the church of that day for the wealth and power of the hierarchy, the exclusion of the Christian laity from the spiritual estate, the fact that cardinals, bishops and priests did not consider it their duty to preach, unless called to do so with a different call above sacramental ordination. These factors, among others, brought opposition to the hierarchy of the spiritual estate.

In the Great Peasants’ War of 1525, the peasants were looking to improve their lot. They could work as peasants on the level of being feudal serfs but they could also work as peasants, like farmers as the equals of burghers and the common man.

Patrick Collinson, in The Religion of the Protestants[1] works with the concept of elective affinity comparing laws. He wrote that the many laws of that day were not like the ones the Puritans would have attempted – for a severe and legally enforced religious and moral discipline. The laws in Luther’s days amounted to an unjust legally enforced exploitation of the peasants. A complicity of the laity and clergy existed in undermining the severity of the Christian moral mandate. Karl Holl would also have argued that the legal practice of the church ban was not used for moral discipline. It was used for debt collection for the spiritual estate and control of the laity.

I think that Holl is convincing in arguing that Luther emphasized the conscience and the intensification of the Christian moral mandate. But Luther’s mandate is more than that of a religion of conscience. With conscientia – according to Steven Ozment, heart, soul, and spirit have to be included as well, to grasp Luther’s anthropological concepts referring to the whole person,[2] (and I add) in terms of maturity and creativity as well. Luther’s concept of spontaneity refers to being moved personally, but who cannot see that it is involved with initiating and sparking social movement for justice as well – rather than merely the justification of the person? Thus Luther’s theology should also include shalom or the Russian concept of sobornost. This idea is not one of a collective emotionalism or an enhancement of religious pleasure, but the experience of a new social and personal harmony and creativity in the further approximations of the Kingdom of God, the Beloved Community – or what Luther describes as “the internal Kingdom of Christian Freedom in terms of the circulation of grace for the common good in the joyful economy of abundance” – (to patch in some of my later work)[3] – while realizing that the Christian state is a historical problem not yet at all solved. Basing it as Luther does on reason and law, rather than a particular faith and Gospel, should not preclude greater and greater approximations of justice.

How can justification merely apply to an individual person? That ignores the historical reality of the social dynamism unleashed by Luther: the Wittenberg Disturbances came first, then the Knights’ Rebellion, and then the Peasants’ War or the Revolution of the Common Man as Peter Blickle would have it.

I like to relate Henri Bergson’s first order feelings and reactive ones.[4] A charismatic social movement as well as a charismatic personal response can issue from a first order “feeling,” that is, not a reactive feeling – but a feeling that initiates new thoughts, feelings, and actions.

So Luther experienced justification by faith as an individual; the peasants wanted justification by faith in terms of social justice. I was thinking in those terms when I wrote against systematic racism and justification not by race, but by grace.[5] What would constitute justification on a social level? The way a whole and mature person can be described as self-aware, autonomous, with quality relationships, etc., the basic ingredients of social justification should also be worked out, as Luther attempts to do in the third part of his pamphlet on Christian Freedom.


[1] Patrick Collinson, The Religion of Protestants: the Church and English Society 1559-1625, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), p. 241.

[2] Luther’s thinking is holistic. When he refers to the anima, soul, cor, heart, spiritus, spirit, and conscientia, conscience, he always refers to the whole human being from a certain aspect. Steven Ozment notes that for Luther this totus homo is operationally united. Ozment, Steven, Homo Spiritualis: a Comparative Study of the Anthropology of Johannes Tauler, Jean Gerson, and Martin Luther (1509-1516) in the Context of their Theological Thought, (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1969), pages 89, 95, and 100.

[3] See the Third Mini-Lecture On Christian Freedom for Our Redeemer in South San Francisco. The existential rapture also applies to individuals and in face of personal realities can seem far-fetched. It is some flight of the imagination to take it to a collective level.

[4] Bergson, Henri, The Two Sources of Morality and Religion, (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1935, 1954).

[5] See my writing: Luther’s Justification is not by Race and my Social Ethics developed from Luther’s Theology.

Book Review: Martin Luther, On the Freedom of a Christian by Tryntje Helfferich

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Book Review with Translation Issuesby Peter D. S. Krey

Tryntje Helfferich, On the Freedom of a Christian with Related Texts, edited, translated, and with Introductions by the author. (Indianapolis/Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc., 2013), 132 pages with a 21 page introduction and important introductions before each translated text, a two page bibliography for further reading, and an index slightly longer than seven pages. The footnotes are well researched, informative, filled with background and biographical notes, and very helpful for the reader as an introduction to this material.


It is always welcome to see Luther texts presented for readers today, especially with the coming Luther Decade and the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation October 31, 2017. I was surprised that not the Latin, but the popular German version of Luther’s most popular pamphlet was translated by Tryntje Helfferich, because I had just translated it for Luther’s Spirituality, (New York: Paulist Press, 2007), in an anthology for The Classics of Western Spirituality edited by my brother Philip D.W. Krey and me. Translation is such a challenging art, so I read Tryntje’s work avidly to compare her translation decisions with mine.

First to the contents of this short book and then to translation issues with what I hope is constructive criticism and a help for future translations.

Perhaps the title of the book should not read “with Related Texts,” but “with Opposing Texts,” because along with one of Luther’s most famous non-polemical pamphlets, Freedom of a Christian, containing the whole sum of the Christian life,Tryntje included Johannes Eck’s Handbook of Commonplaces against Luther and the Enemies of the Church, John Fisher’s Sermon against the Pernicious Doctrine of Martin Luther, Thomas Műntzer’s Highly Provoked Defense against the Spiritless, Soft-living Flesh at Wittenberg, (He’s referring to Luther of course.) and finally, Luther’s most notorious pamphlet, Against the Rioting Peasants, which registers down there with Luther’s most inexcusable outbursts full of rage, like his Anti-Semitic writings at the end of his life. During most of Luther’s life, he was able to keep opposite extremes in a tension that brought deep theological insights, but it seems at the end of his life he fell apart and produced scurrilous writings on the one hand and the wonderfully rich and rewarding Genesis Lectures on the other. How can one fathom that?

Again, what drew me to this book was Tryntje’s translation of the popular German version of Luther’s Freedom of a Christian. I thought that I had been the first to translate it until I discovered Bertram Lee Woolf’s translation for London’s Philosophical Library in 1956 in a two volume work named, Reformation Writings of Martin Luther (reissued in 2001). All the common translations of this very important writing that were available until now are from the intellectual Latin version and not this more spiritual one.

Tryntje’s translation is very strong and may well be “smoother and more faithful to Luther’s tone and meaning” (p. xxvi) than Woolf’s and mine, but the following criticisms are meant for a future translation that can provide the basis for one very much more improved. This pamphlet is worth it and even the foremost Luther scholar today, Oswald Bayer, asserts that it deserves more study.[1]

I believe that Bertram Woolf and I agreed on the significance of a passage of Freedom of a Christian of Luther’sin point 6: “What is the word that gives such great grace, and how shall I use it? Answer: It is nothing other than the preaching of Christ contained in the Gospel, which should be, and indeed is, presented so that you hear your God speak to you, explaining how all life, etc.” In my translation which, if I remember correctly, Woolf also affirmed when I discovered his translation, we made a full stop after “you,” namely, “so that you hear your God speaking to you! It shows how your whole life and work, etc.” There’s a vergula or slash in the pamphlet and in Otto Clemen’s Luthers Werke,[2] left out by the Weimar Edition. The vergula used by the printers can be interpreted as a comma or period. Placing a period there brings out the point that in, with, and under the words proclaimed by the preacher, God is speaking to you. As a preacher, one often marvels at what a listener in the congregation heard, something you realize that you did not say.

As opposed to Tryntje, I avoided using the word “doctrine” and always translated “teaching” because of how the doctrinal emphasis has distorted and dampened the creativity in Luther’s thought.[3] Then in Luther’s St. Paul’s citations, Tryntje uses the word “predestined” (p. 28) and “reprobate.” (p. 32) From Lutheran sensibilities, these are Calvinist words that do not belong in this quintessential Luther writing.

I respectfully disagree that gender inclusive language transforms the text, because in Luther’s day the masculine, patriarchal language did not offend women, but it does in our day, and that offense is the real transformation of the text, from my point of view.

Luther’s theology is misrepresented in the Introduction (p. xx), with Tryntje perhaps taking the cue from Johannes Eck, Luther’s life-long adversary, who “strongly criticizes Luther’s claim in Freedom [of a Christian] that the believer is his own priest.” (p. 50) Along the same line, in the Introduction, Tryntje writes, “Furthermore, Luther argued, Christians did not need a priesthood to mediate for them with God. Each man was his own priest and the overseer of his own soul.” (p. xx) Perhaps like Pope Leo X, Eck never read Freedom of a Christian, because in Tryntje’s own translation of the pamphlet, Luther writes, “Therefore in all his works his thoughts should be free and directed only so that he thereby serves and benefits other people. He should conceive of nothing else than what is necessary for the other.” (p. 37) (As an aside, Tryntje entitles this section “Man’s Relationship to Man,” which today is no longer inclusive of women.) Again just before the concluding paragraph of his pamphlet, Luther’s writes that we are not to seek our own benefit and intend thereby to expiate our sins and be saved, but “God’s goodness [must] flow from one to the other and become common to all, so that each one accepts his neighbor as if he were himself…the holy apostle said of love that it does not seek its own interests, but those of the neighbor.” (1 Cor. 13:5)(p. 41). Because each person is his or her neighbor’s priest,[4] Lutherans do not even sing hymns where the “I” is pronounced, as in “I Walk in the Garden Alone,” but only hymns using the pronoun “we.” That may also be why Scandinavian countries that are Lutheran are very socially advanced and Lutheran Social Services in this country makes a strong witness.

Tryntje’s decision to allow masculine language to dominate allows the structure of language to reinforce patriarchy. Language does not, of course, have absolute control and is not the only reinforcement of sexism, but it has a measure of influence. For example, when translating point 12, I wanted to soften the word “whore” and replace it with “harlot” in the marvelous exchange. The passage in question goes, when “the rich, noble, pious bridegroom Christ takes the poor, despised, evil whore in marriage, absorbs all of her wickedness, and adorns her with all goodness,” (p. 26) my decision was overturned and the word “whore” was replaced into the text. A woman that I know was really offended by this passage. The masculine gets to identify with the innocent Christ, while the soul, referred to in the grammatical feminine somehow sticks women with the very worst epithet: a whore.

Now God did not become a man as opposed to a woman in Christ, but God became a human being in Christ. So the passage could also be turned around: “the rich, noble, pious bride Christ takes the poor, despised, evil schmuck in marriage, absorbs all of his wickedness, and adorns him with all goodness.” That puts the man into the pejorative for a change. At least now there is a growing awareness that the woman in the streets should not be arrested, but all the Johns and pimps should be, because of their victimization of women and the rampant violence perpetrated against women. Linguistics has a way of forming social realities and shaping social policies, sometimes against women.

Tryntje uses the words “pious” and “piety” to translate the German word “fromm,” to use the modern spelling. I first translated the word as “religious.” A decision in my case was made to translate each occurrence of the word with “upright,” a word that I believe does not capture the whole meaning. “Spiritual” does not have the traditional churchly sense of the word. Today I would use the word “devout” which can be a noun or modifier. Very seldom are the words “pious” and “piety” used today.

The following assertion by Tryntje in the introduction to Eck’s Handbook left me skeptical. “Indeed, sixteenth-century Catholics were just as prolific as Protestants in publishing pamphlets, essays, sermons, and books to defend their own ideas and attack the ideas and character of their enemies.” (p. 43) David Bagchi estimates that there was a ratio of about five Reformation to one Catholic publication, especially when Luther’s non-polemical publications and his polemics against other Protestants are included.[5] Between 1521 and 1525 Luther himself published 192 titles while all his Catholic opponents between them published only 128. Many pamphlets in that day developed from sermons and while Luther preached two or three times a week, Cochleus, a staunch opponent of the Reformation at age 62 had never preached a sermon in his life.[6] Other evidence to the contrary of Tryntje’s assertion is the consideration that Catholic authorities frowned upon disputations that included the laity and thus Catholics wrote in heavy scholastic styles and mostly in Latin. Bagchi reports that publishers refused to publish Catholic works because they would not sell. Murner and Emser had to bear their own publication costs.[7] Meanwhile Luther became a best-selling author in his life-time with over a million copies of his pamphlets in the homes of the people.

That made me question Tryntje’s assertion that John Eck’s Handbook of Commonplaces appeared in almost a hundred printings in its various editions before 1600. (p. 49) But in reading the introduction of what seems a magisterial work of reconstructing Eck’s Latin text by Pierre Fraenkel – to translate the Latin title, “The Handbook of Commonplaces against Luther and the Enemies of the Church,”[8] it turned out that there could have been a hundred printings of Eck and his many revisions, some with the help of others. To explain the difference: Eck’s Handbook is probably an exception, because Bagchi does not follow printings until 1600, focuses more on Germany, rather than Italy, France, Spain, and pre-Elizabethan England, where the Reformation did not take hold; and most interestingly, Eck took Melanchthon’s popular Commonplaces as a model; and finally also translated his work into German. For those reasons, Eck’s Commonplaces was probably an exception.

Let me end with these comments: If Eck and Fisher are to be taken seriously asserting that good works are required and demanded for salvation, then those among us with wealth and power will be saved. Who can equal the works possible by a very powerful president or wealthy philanthropist? Exactly how many good works will save us? Sorry, a poor woman with MS in a wheelchair, who can do nothing, will be condemned. Such a woman said to me, “Will you please tell people that although I have MS and cannot be productive, that I still have value?” Good works leave us with the limitations of the law. We have to go to the source of good works, into the grace of the Gospel.

And Tryntje should have also included Eck’s chapter 27, his justification for burning heretics at the stake to balance Luther’s notorious pamphlet against the Thuringian Peasants, who in his area under Thomas Műntzer were plundering monasteries and burning down castles. That Luther supported going into battle against the peasants in those frightening times remains a blemish on his career and an inexcusable injustice on his part.

But while there is plenty of ammunition for an ad hominem argument demolishing the man, Luther, that will not refute the Christian truth of the Gospel of grace that he proclaimed. God’s Word and Luther’s teaching will remain for eternity. In German: Gottes Wort und Luthers Lehr vergehet niemals and nimmer mehr. His is a version of the authentic subjective truth of Christianity that the unreformed, objective Church of that day wrongly rejected. Reconciliation, however, is on the horizon, because the times are changing.


[1] Oswald Bayer, Schöpfung als Anrede, (Tübingen: J C B Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1990), p. 61: “Freedom of a Chrisitan [has] not received from Lutheran scholars the attention it deserves.“ (my translation) But see my dissertation, Sword of the Spirit, Sword of Iron, (PhD diss. Graduate Theological Union, 2001) where I have a seventy-five page analysis of the Freedom of a Christian and have posited the structure in terms of “Existential Rapture.” For the latter see Peter Krey’s Website.

[2] Otto Clemen, Luthers Werke in Auswahl, Zweiter Band, (Berlin: Verlag von Walter de Gruyter & Co., 1929).

[3] In a conversation with Hartmut Lehmann about Thomas Kaufmann’s biography of Martin Luther that I am translating for Eerdmans Publishing, I asked why Kaufmann called Luther a heretic throughout his book. Lehmann explained to me that he was calling him a heretic not from a Catholic point of view, but in order to honor Luther as an independent thinker! That is somewhat analogous with the Hamburg publishers in Luther’s day calling themselves Die Ketzerpresse, the Heretic-press, feeling honored to be so-called.

[4] In Freedom of a Christian, Luther even maintained that much more than a mere priest, believers should become Christs to their neighbors.

[5] David V. N. Bagchi, Luther’s Earliest Opponents (1518-1525), Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991), pp. 198-200.

[6] Ibid., p. 197.

[7] Ibid., pp. 199-200.

[8] Pierre Fraenkel, Johannes Eck: Enchiridion locorum communism adversus Lutherum et alios hostes ecclesiae, Published by Irwin Iserloh in Corpus Catholicorum: Werke Katholischer Schriftsteller im Zeitalter der Glaubensspaltung, (Aschendorff, Műnster Westfalen, 1979).

Written by peterkrey

April 4, 2014 at 5:07 pm

Wie Wird Dann die Stube Glänzen, Weihnachtspredigt von 2013

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Advents- und Weihnachtsgottesdienst, 1. Dezember, 2013 United Lutheran Church, Manteca, CA

Deutsche Adventsfeier, 15. Dezember, 2013 Resurrection Lutheran Church, Oakland, CA

Lukas 2:9 und die Klarheit des Herrn leuchtete um sie.

Wie Wird Dann die Stube Glänzen

Warum weiss ich nicht, aber als ich fűr diese Advents-Weihnachts Feier meine Predigt schreiben wollte, kamen mir wieder die Worte in den Sinn, „Wie wird dann die Stube glänzen.“ Ich hab zwar schon einmal davon gepredigt, aber es hat nichts geholfen. Wieder wollte ich diese Worte betrachten.

Die Worte kommen doch von einem wohl bekanntes Weihnachtslied:

1.Morgen, Kinder, wird’s was geben,

Morgen werden wir uns freu’n.

Welch ein Jubel, welch ein Leben

Wird in unserem Hause sein!

Einmal werden wir noch wach,

Heissa, dann ist Weihnachtstag!

2.Wie wird dann die Stube glänzen

Von dem grossen Lichterzahl.

Schőner als bei frohen Tänzen,

Ein geputzter Kronensaal.

Wisst ihr noch vom vor’gem Jahr

Wie’s am Heiligabend war.

Am Heiligabend war unsere Wohnstube fast verklärt. Wir hatten schimmerndes Lammetta am Weihnachtsbaum, mit siebzehn echten Kerzen, eine fűr jedes Familien-Mitglied, fűnfzehn fűr die Kinder und zwei fűr unsere Eltern. Wir konnten wohl singen, „Am Weihnachtsbaum, die Lichter brennen.“ Und dann lagen eine Menge Geschenke im Weihnachtszimmer herum. Wir haben die Weihnachtsgeschichte gehőrt mit Bibellesung und Gebet und wir haben Weihnachtslieder gesungen. Wenn ich mich an das glänzende Weihnachtszimmer errinere, muss ich an Verklärung denken – es kam mir vor wie ein wunderbares, heiliges Licht. Ein geweihtes, heiliges Leben war da in unserem Hause fűr eine geweihte und geliebte Welt. Das Christkind ist gekommen und im Christkind war Gott selbst anwesend und der Raum und die Zeit waren verklärt. Diese Verklärung kann sich durch Gläubige daher in die ganze Welt verbreiten, damit plőtzlich alle Welt und alle Menschen in einem neuen Lichte gesehen werden kőnnen, wie sie eigentlich von Gott so wunderlich geschaffen worden sind.

In der Weihnachtsgeschichte, fűr die Hirten „trat der Engel des Herrn zu ihnen und die Klarheit des Herrn leuchtete um sie.“ Dabei sehen wir wieder, wie die Frohe Botschaft der Engel unsere Welt mit Himmlischen Licht verklärt.

So beten wir:

O Gott, du hast diese geweite Nacht im Glanz des wahren Lichtes scheinen lassen. Verleihe uns, dass wir dort im Himmel der Freude jenes Lichtes innewerden, dessen Geheimnisse du uns hier auf Erden offenbart hast. Durch unsern Herrn Jesus Christus der das wahrhaftige Licht [ist.][1]

Ich wűnsche so sehr, dass ich fähig wäre diesen Glanz fűr euch zu erläutern! Wir kőnnten auch beten: O Gott, du hast die Stube in dieser geweihten Nacht im Glanz des wahren Lichtes scheinen lassen. Dieser Glanz ist dann auch also eine leuchtende Freude innewerdend in uns.“ (Auch ein leuchtender Glaube, Gnade, Liebe, Trost und Wunder innewerdend in uns.) Der Glanz im Weihnachtszimmer kam, weil das Christkind, das Licht der Welt, mit dem himmlischen Glanz Gottes anwesend war.

Ach, nach diesem Glanz der Ewigkeit will ich jetzt etwas weiter forschen, und zwar durch die Weihnachtslieder im Evangelischen Gesangsbuch, denn ich habe fűr diese Predigt all diese Lieder durch gelesen.

In unsere dunkele Finsterniss ist das Licht der Welt gekommen.

Jochen Klepper singt,

Die Nacht ist vorgedrungen, der Tag ist nicht mehr fern/ So sei nun Lob gesungen den hellen Morgenstern! Auch wer zu Nacht geweinet, der stimme froh mit ein. Der Morgenstern bescheinet auch deine Angst und Pein.

Das Christkind treibt die Finsterniss unserer Schwermut weg mit dem Licht der leuchtenden Freude und neu geborenem Trost.

In Luthers Liedern kommt das Christkind zu uns, so zum Beispiel bei „Vom Himmel Hoch da komm ich her,“ kann man an ein kleines Kind denken, das die Krippe anschaut und sich dann auf die Zehenspitzen stellt und in die Krippe hinein guckt.

Da findet ihr das Kind gelegt,

das alle Welt erhält und trägt.

So auch in dem Luthergesang „Gelobst Seist Du, Jesu Christ:“

Der alle Weltkreis nie beschloss,

der liegt in Marien Schoss.

Er ist ein Kindlein worden klein,

der alle Welt erhält allein. Kyrieleis.[2]

In der Schőpfung spricht Gott: „Es werde Licht und es ward Licht!“ Auf Hebräisch: Yehi Or, wa Yehi Or! Weil das Christkind gekommen ist, sieht man kein Tohu wa Bohu, sondern Gottes wundervolle Schőpfung. Das Wort ward Fleisch und wohnte unter uns. „Fleisch“ in Hebräisch bedeutet „Mensch.“ Das Wort ward Mensch. Das Licht der Welt wurde Mensch und besinnt euch in welch einer lieblichen Art und Weise, als ein Kindlein, ein Baby in Marien Schoss. „Ach, mein herzliebes Jesulein,“ singt Luther.[3]

Und er singt weiter:

Das ewig Licht geht da herein, gibt der Welt ein’ neuen Schein/ es leucht’ wohl mitten in der Nacht/ und uns des Lichtes Kinder macht. Kyreileis.[4]

So im Glanz Gottes könnten wir wohl singen: „Wie wird dann die Stube glänzen!“ Und auch, im Licht unseres Glaubens, wie wird dann diese Welt durch das Christkind glänzen! „Denn uns ist ein Kind geboren, ein Sohn ist uns gegeben!“

Luther spricht őfters von einem Gnadenhimmel űber allen Gläubigen. In einem Weihnachtslied wird das Christkind „die Gnadensonne“ genannt. Dieser Glanz ist dann halt also auch die leuchtende Gnade Gottes űber uns. Im Christkind ist Gottes Gnadensonne zu uns kommen, denn er ist das Licht in dem wir das Licht sehen, wie es im Psalm 36 steht. „Bei dir ist die Quelle des Lebens und in deinem Licht sehen wir das Licht.“[5]

Wenn wir Raum in der Herberge unseres Herzens fűr das Baby Jesu haben, dann kőnnen wir mit Paul Gerhardt singen:

So lass mich doch dein Kriplein sein/ komm und lege bei mir ein/ und alle deine Freuden![6]

Welch ein Glanz also von leuchtender innewerdender Freude! Wenn wir seine Krippe sind, dann ist das Jesulein in uns geboren, und unsere Gnadensonne vertreibt unsere Sorgen, Sűnde, Angst und Pein, und in der Klarheit des Herrn, gibt uns unsere Gnadensonne Licht, Leben, Freud, und Wonne. Siehe welch Liebe Gott uns erweisst!

Das Christkind trägt uns unter dem Gnadenhimmel, wo wir auf-atmen, wenn wir die schőnen und warmen Strahlen unserer Gnadensonne innewerden. Und da kann unsere Schwermut und Trűbsal nicht Stand halten. In der tiefsten Nacht ist das Christkind unsere Sonnenschein,[7] denn in einem anderen Weihnachtslied heisst es: „und diese Welt- und  Himmels Licht weicht hundert tausend Sonnen nicht.“ Die ganze Strophe geht so:

Dies ist die Nacht, da mir erschienen des grossen Gottes Freundlichkeit/ das Kind, dem alle Engel dienen, bringt Licht in meine Dunkelheit, und diese Welt- und  Himmels Licht weicht hundert tausend Sonnen nicht.[8]

Dann wird Jesu die schőne Weihnachtssonne genannt:

Drum Jesu, schőne Weihnachtssonne, bestrahle mich mit deiner Gunst; dein Licht sei meine Weihnachtswonne und lehre mich die Weihnachtskunst, wie ich im Lichte wandeln soll und sei des Weihnachtsglanzes voll.[9]

Wie wird dann unsere Seele glänzen! Ja, wenn wir in seinem Lichte wandeln, wie werden dann unsere Augen glänzen! Wie werden dann die Kinder Gottes glänzen, wie wird dann diese ganze geweihte Welt glänzen? Ich konnte mich nur an den Glanz unseres Weihnachtzimmers errinern, aber jetzt merken wir schon, dass zuvor unserer Gnadensonne, unserer Weihnachtsonne, hundert tausend betrűbte Sonnen weichen műssen! Welch ein Morgenstern! Welch eine Sonne bringt uns Gott in diesem Kind fűr uns geboren, diesen Sohn uns gegeben! Und der heisst: Wunder-Rat, Gott-Held, Ewig-Vater, Friede-Fürst fűr uns gekommen!

Die Welt is voll von Trűbsal, Schwermut, Sorgen, Sűnden, Angst und Pein, aber in diesem Christkind will Gott bei uns sein. Der Engel des Herrn trat zu den Hirten, aber er tritt auch zu uns mit der frohen Botschaft der Geburt des Jesulein in der Krippe liegend und in Windeln gewickelt. Die Klarheit, die verklärende Klarheit des Herrn leuchtet auch űber uns, und unsere Gnadensonne, unsere Weihnachtssonne ist auch fűr uns Licht, Leben, Freud und Wonne. Auch zu unserer Weihnachtszeit im Licht des Glaubens scheint der Glanz der Ewigkeit űber uns. Unsere Gnadensonne ist geboren. In dieser heiligen Nacht ist er aufgegangen. Nun bricht an der Gnadentag und in dessen Strahlen werden wir alle glänzen. Amen.

[1] Evangelisches Kirchen-Gesangbuch: ausgegeben fűr die Evangelische Kirche Berlin-Brandenburg, (Verlag Merseburger Berlin GmbH, 1. Advent, 1951), Seite 27.

[2] Ibid., Seite 15.

[3] Ibid., Seite 16.

[4] Ibid., Seite 15.

[5] Ps 36:10.

[6] Evangelisches Kirchen Gesangbuch, Seite 28.

[7] Ibid., Paul Gerhardt, Seite 28, die dritte Strophe.

[8] Ibid. Seite 32.

[9] Ibid.

How our Living Room Glistened and Glowed on Christmas Eve, Advent and Christmas Service at Manteca 12/1/2013 and Oakland, CA 12/15/2013

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Advent- and Christmas Service, 1.and 15. December, 2013

at United Lutheran Church in Manteca, CA

and in Resurrection Lutheran Church, Oakland, CA

How our Living Room Glistened and Glowed on Christmas Eve


[Remembering how our living room glistened and glowed becoming transfigured on Christmas Eve still fills me with awe and wonder. The candles were all lit on the Christmas tree and the tinsel sparkled, glistened, and glowed and presents surrounded us all around in the room and under the tree. A verse in German Christmas song goes, “How our room will glisten and glow that night!” God was present as we celebrated the birth of the Christ-child and the way that room became transfigured, that Christmas glow can spread throughout the whole world. The people and the whole world can suddenly be seen in the wonder of that light. Like that Christmas room, the whole world can be seen in that wonder of the mystery of our being, the magic of our reality, in the goodness of God’s creation. That is the basic concept of this sermon and I go through all the Christmas songs and prayers in the German Hymnal to show how all the world lights up and becomes transfigured like our living room in the glistening grace and Christmas glow mentioned in those hymns.]

The Sermon: Even though I’ve preached about it before, I need to preach about how our living room became transfigured in such a special way on Christmas Eve. “O how our Christmas room will glisten!” is the line from a song.

   Children Waiting for Christmas

  (Morgen Kinder Wird’s was Geben)


1.Tomorrow, children, such elation!
Tomorrow is the day, oh girl, oh boy.
Jubilation, what a celebration!
Our house will be full of life and joy!
Just try to wait for goodness sake.

  And it’ll be Christmas Day when you awake.

2.  How our Christmas room will glisten,

Because of all the candle light aglow!
To the Yuletide story we’ll listen
About the birth of Jesus here below.
Do you remember anymore, Christmas Eve,
the way it was before?

On Christmas Eve our living room became transfigured. There was the shimmering tinsel on the Christmas tree, with seventeen candles, one for each family member: 15 for us children and two for my parents. We could really sing, “On the Christmas Tree, the Candles are burning.” Then there were the many presents surrounding us in the room as well as under the tree. We listened to the Christmas story, heard the scriptures read, said prayers, and sang Christmas carols. When I remember the glistening glow of the Christmas room, then I think about transfiguration; the room became changed in a wondrous, holy light. A sacred and holy life was there in our house for the sake of God’s sacred and beloved world. The Christ-child had come and in the baby, God was present and time and space was transfigured. This transfiguration can spread over the whole world through believers, so that suddenly the world and all the people in it can be seen in a new light, the way they and the whole world actually have been wonderfully created.

In the Christmas story, it says that “the angel of the Lord stood before the shepherds and the glory of the Lord shone all around them.”[2] With that we can again see how the Good News of the angels can transfigure this whole world with the light of Heaven, by making the glory of the Lord shine all round us. In our prayer it says,

O God, you have let this sacred night shine in the glow of the true Light. Permit us there in Heaven to take in the joys of that light, whose secrets you have revealed to us here on earth, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is the true Light of the World.[3]

I wish I were capable of explaining what this glistening light means for us. We could also pray, “O God, on this sacred night you have let this Christmas room shine in the glow of the true light.” So this glow is also a joy that shines through us and inside us. (It can also be a shining faith, grace, love, comfort, and wonder shining from within us.) The glory in which the Christmas room shone came about because the Christ-child, the Light of the World, was present with some of the heavenly light of God.

I want to explore this glow of eternity, this light of eternity, somewhat further, by picking up the allusions to it in the songs of the Evangelical German Hymnal.[4] I read all the Christmas songs for this purpose.

Into our darkness has come the Light of the World. Jochen Klepper sings:

The night is spent and the day is not far off. So let us now sing our praise to the bright morning star. Those who cried during the night, just sing along. The morning star will also shine on your pain and sorrow.[5]

The Christ child drives away the darkness of our sadness with joyful light and new born consolation. In Luther’s songs, the Christ child comes to us in a special way. In “From Heaven Above to Earth I come,” one can think of a small child on tip-toes before the manger and with a shining face, looking into it at the baby Jesus.

Now in a manger-bed, in swaddling clothes,

[lies] the child, who all the earth upholds.[6]

And the Luther song, “We Praise You, Jesus that You’ve Come”:

Asleep in Mary’s lap has lain

one the world cannot contain.

Our God a little child so small

who nonetheless sustains us all. O Lord, have mercy.[7]

In the creation God speaks, “Let there be light and there was light.” In Hebrew it goes, Yehi Or va Yehi Or. (My father used to say that when he switched on a light in a room.) Because of the coming of the Christ child, one does not see Tohu va Bohu, (My mother used to say that when she looked into our rooms.) an expression, which means chaos in Hebrew, instead we see God’s wonderful creation.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld his glory, the glory of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth.[8]

“Flesh” in Hebrew mean “human being.” So the Word became a human being. The Light of the World became a human being and just think about in what a loving, gentle, and inviting way – as a child, a baby on Mary’s lap. “The Little Jesus, so dear to my heart” Luther sings:

The light eternal enters time,

giving this world a whole new shine.

It brightens up the darkest night

and makes us children of the light. Lord, have mercy.[9]

So in the shining glory of God, we can well sing, “How our Christmas room will glisten!” And also, in the light of our faith, how our whole world will glow and glisten because of the Christ-child. “Because unto us a child is born; unto us a child is given.”[10]

Luther often speaks about a Heaven of grace that is far greater than our sky and stretches out over all believers.[11] In the Christmas songs, the Christ-child is called a shining Sun Full of Grace. This shining glory is also the luminous grace of God over us. In the Christ-child, God’s Sun of Grace shines over us with the light in which we see light. As Psalm 36 says, “With you is the fountain of life and in your light we see light.”[12] If we say, “Come into my heart Lord Jesus. There is room in our hearts for you,” then we can sing with Paul Gerhardt,

Let me be your little cradle,

come and lay down in me, with all your resplendent joy.[13]

How we will glisten and glow when we receive the shining joy of the light of the Christ-child in us! And when we are his cradle, then Jesus becomes born in us, and his sun-shining grace drives away all our worry, sins, sorrows and pain; and the shining glory of the God gives us a Sun Full of Grace for light, life, joy, and bliss. See what love, beloved, our God has shown us!

The Christ-child carries us under the Heaven of Grace, where we can take a deep breath, and take in the radiant beams of our Sun of Grace shining down on us. Our sorrows, even should we be depressed, will lose their hold on us, as Paul Gerhardt sings:

I lay in the deepest night of death,

And you were my sun, shining on me

You brought me light, life, joy and bliss.[14]

While another Christmas song says, “A hundred thousand suns do not equal to the light of Heaven shining on this world.” This verse goes:

This is the night, in which God’s great friendship appeared, the child, whom all the angels serve, brings light into my darkness and this world- and heaven’s light will not be vanquished by a hundred thousand suns.”[15]

Then in the last verse, Jesus is named the Christmas Sun:

Therefore, O Jesus, beautiful Christmas Sun, shine your goodness upon me with your radiant beams of light. Let your light be my Christmas bliss and teach me the art and skill of Christmas: how I can walk in your light and glisten with the glow of Christmas.[16]

Yes, when we walk in that light, how our eyes will glisten! How the children of God will glow and glisten! Just like this whole sacred world will glow and glisten in holiness. I could only remember with awe our glowing and glistening Christmas room, but now we already have a glimpse of how the Christ-child, who is the Sun of Grace, the bright and shining Christmas Sun, can vanquish a hundred thousand shining earthly suns. What a morning star! What a Sun God brings to us in this child born for us, this Son unto us given. And he is called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.[17]

The world is full of sorrows, depression, worry, sin, terror and pain, but in this Christ child God has promised to be with us. The angel of the Lord stood before the shepherds and the angel also comes to us with the Good News of Great joy for all people about the birth of little Jesus, the Christ child, who is lying in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes. The transfiguring glory of the Lord shone all around them and also all around us and in the darkest night we have a shining Sun of Grace, a Christmas Sun to give us light and life, joy, and bliss. Even in this Christmas time, in the light of faith, the glistening glow of eternity will shine upon us, because our Son Full of Grace is born. In this holy night there breaks a day full of grace and in its radiant beams we will all glow and glisten with the Light of the World within. Amen.

[1] These are my mostly unrhymed translations. I worked on this one, however, translating it from the song we sang as children so that it is singable in English.

[2] Luke 2:9.

[3] From the German hymnal. Evangelisches Kirchen-Gesangbuch: ausgegeben fűr die Evangelische Kirche Berlin-Brandenburg, (Verlag Merseburger Berlin GmbH, 1. Advent, 1951), p. 27. For this hymnal I thank Irmentrud Bronsch.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid., Hymn No. 14.

[6] Hymn No. 16 verse 5.

[7] Hymn No. 15 verse 3. My translation from Philip and Peter Krey, eds., Luther’s Spirituality, (New York: Paulist Press, 2007,), p. 250.

[8] John 1:14.

[9] Hymn No. 15 verse 4. Philip and Peter Krey, eds., Luther’s Spirituality, p. 250.

[10] Isaiah 9:6.

[11] Philip and Peter Krey, eds., Luther’s Spirituality, p. 138ff. Luther notes that under this heaven of grace believers are never shut out, because God’s steadfast love endures forever. Psalm 117.

[12] Ps 36:9.

[13] Hymn No. 28 verse 9.

[14] Ibid., verse 3. It continues: “O sun, who configured in me the valued light of faith, how beautiful your radiant beams.”

[15] Hymn No. 32 verse 1.

[16] Ibid. A translation note: In English calling Christ the “Christmas Sun” works pretty well, but not the “Grace Sun,” so I word it “Sun full of Grace” or “Sun of Grace.” Perhaps I should have used “Sun-shining Grace.” Like in Luther’s very meaningful Heaven of Grace, this Sun shines grace; we bask in its radiant beams of grace.

[17] Isaiah 9:6.

Written by peterkrey

December 14, 2013 at 12:43 pm

Forgiveness Spells Freedom, Reformation Sunday, October 27, 2013 St. Paul’s Vallejo, CA

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Reformation Sunday, October 27, 2013 St. Paul’s Vallejo, CA

Jeremiah 31:31-34 Psalm 46 Romans 3: 19-28 John 8: 31-36

Forgiveness Spells Freedom

I was struggling to write another play about Luther for you this morning. Then I thought, I could write all about the new study[1] that shows how Luther thought you could proclaim the gospel with music, even when you did not sing with words. He placed music right up there with theology. But then, our gospel lesson says, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples.” We need to always make room for the Word of God and continue learning, hearing, and living in that word in order to know the truth and because the truth can set us free.

So I just went back to the lessons chosen for today, and will try to understand them and help you understand them and take them to heart. I might have studied Luther and even earned a PhD and I could go into my new understanding of the Reformation,[2] but the point is to continue with God’s Word, Jesus Christ. “Come into our hearts, Lord Jesus. There’s room in our hearts for you.” So speak to us, dear Lord Jesus, and we will hear you and we will learn, hear, and continue to live in your word. Amen.

Jesus spoke to the Jews who had believed in him. Jesus was completely among Jews and he himself was a Jew of course, so we have to read “people.” Jesus spoke to the people that had believed in him. Oops. It seems that their faith was flagging and they stopped believing. So Jesus tells them, start opening your Bibles again and learning the Word of God. Hey, start going to church again and listening to what the scripture readings say. A woman in another church always reads the lessons and then hits me with questions about them the week before. She stumped me by asking, “Did Abraham divorce or separate from Sarah after she made Hagar leave them?” She thought Abraham was elsewhere when Sarah died! (I have to study that issue further.) But she hears what Jesus is saying. Make room in your heart for the Word of God, learn it, hear it, and continue to live in it, should you want to uncover the reality of your lives, know the truth, and become free. Lies cover up reality, while the truth reveals it.

We say, “We are free. This is a free country. How can you say we are not? We live in the land of the brave and the free!” I wonder how true that is. Churchill said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others. Thomas Jefferson said that eternal vigilance was the price of freedom and right now the NSA can not only read our emails, like Big Brother, but even Angela Merkel’s and – is she mad! We are free in an external kind of way, but not at heart. The wonderful comedian Victor Borge was a great piano player and accompanist. He was told by a singer, a soloist, to accompany him, to follow him closely. As the singer moved over the stage, Victor Borge and his page-turner pushed and moved the grand piano following behind the singer wherever the singer went on the stage. That is following someone in an external way instead of listening to his singing and playing the piano in the same heart-beat as the singer’s voice.

So like that joke, we can have an external kind of freedom but not be free when, for example, we are addicted to a drug or alcohol or to pain-killers, which are making so many of us die because of overdoses. Are we really free if the government shuts down, and we go to Point Reyes and we are stopped by the police, who said, “Sorry this National Park is closed.”

“What about Limantour Beach?”

“Sorry. It’s closed.” So we went to Stinson Beach. Sorry, it was closed, too. Thank God, Mt. Tamalpais was a state park and we went hiking up there. (We were merely denied recreation on Columbus Day, but Native Americans have had many of their funds cut.) Are we really free when over two million of us are incarcerated and many prisoners are in the isolation cells, in solitary confinement, in the prisons inside our prisons? Are we really free when 25 million of us cannot find jobs and our employers say, “We don’t owe you a living!”?

So Jesus says, really when you commit sin, then you are slaves to sin. When you realize that you are sinning and you can’t stop, you are enslaved, and that, whether you realize it or not. Here’s the Gospel: The forgiveness received in the Word makes us free, emancipates us from evil and the destructive power that death has over us. If you cannot master yourself, you will be the slave of another. If you get completely out of control, they put you in a cage like an animal, called a jail. You need to have external constraints until you can make them internal and realize your limits, the places beyond which you should not go. My father used to say, “The battle that you fight with yourself, is the most difficult one you will ever fight, but the sweetest victory you will ever win.” I myself discovered that making Jesus my Master, made winning that battle a possibility. In Christ we become more than victorious.

And remaining in Christ and continuing in God’s Word is more than just an individual thing. The House of God is greater than our White House; the latter stands for our United States, while we remain in the House of the Lord forever. The name Pharaoh meant the House of the King, the king of Egypt. So entering God’s House, meaning the kingdom of heaven, is being freed from the slavery of sin, from the House of Bondage, and entering into the freedom of the children of God. With Jesus in our hearts we are the sons and daughters who have a permanent place in the household of God, and it is slavery when we stay in the bondage of sin.

The ticket of entry into freedom is God’s forgiveness, our forgiveness of others and their forgiveness of us. Say we could have forgiven those evil terrorists for 9/11, the way those Amish people forgave the killer of seven of their children in that schoolhouse in Pennsylvania. They went to the serial killer’s funeral! But we had to declare war on a country not even involved and lose 4,000 soldiers there on top of the 3,000 lost in 9/11 and I think we have already lost over 2,000 in Afghanistan and we will not even mention a hundred thousand Iraqis, I don’t know how many Afghans, and then right now Iraq is again sliding into the abyss of further bloodshed, 5 to 600 killed by suicide bombers a month. Revenge enslaves us. We have to live by forgiveness, even though our worldly power seems to make it impossible. With drones we are killing those who threaten us, and whole new groups have joined El Qaeda and those who hate us are multiplying and not going away.

We have to keep proclaiming Christ, the Lamb of God, and remaining sons and daughters of the kingdom of heaven, in the freedom of the children of God, who have eternal life promised to us, because continuing in the Word of God gives us a permanent place in the household of God. The doorway is the forgiveness attained by Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who shed his blood for us, so that we are forgiven and set free from our sin.

And you know the hard part. We have to forgive others. “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us.” It would be nice if Jesus said everybody had to forgive us, but we didn’t have to forgive others the rot and dirt and hurt, all the evil they did to us.

You say, “Now you’re meddling, Pastor.”

Being forgiven by others is really wonderful and freeing. “Okay, you stole that money, but Jesus paid it for you, so you are free. Take three steps and go out into that lovely world God created for you.” But someone steals money from you. Now that’s a different story. William Blake wrote a poem about someone stealing an apple which illustrates this problem well, while it really also makes the point about bringing things up to resolve our anger as well:

“A Poison Tree”

I was angry with my friend: I told my wrath, my wrath did end.

I was angry with my foe: I told it not, my wrath did grow.

And I water’d it with fears, night and morning with my tears;

And I sunned it with smiles, and with soft deceitful wiles.

And it grew both day and night till it bore an apple bright.

And my foe beheld it shine and he knew that it was mine,

And into my garden stole when the night had veil’d the pole:

In the morning glad I see my foe outstretch’d beneath the tree.


This hatred of an enemy, this lack of forgiveness and this exacting of revenge not only make you become as bad as your enemy, but even worse. He merely stole an apple from you and you became his murderer, to address the speaker in the poem.

Blake writes about the extreme case. But not being able to forgive makes anger fester inside you; you wake up at night, enraged. You say, “After all you did for him!” You get a head ache, and you take the person to court and pay huge legal fees to the lawyer – and you just could have forgiven the person the way Christ forgave you.

It’s not easy. Forgiveness is a process. It requires some real suffering we have to go through. But it is the doorway to heaven. “For freedom Christ has set you free. Stand fast therefore and do not submit to the yoke of slavery again.” That’s St. Paul.

Having a permanent place in the household of God means that we have eternal life hereafter as well as having abundant life even here and now. When Luther realized that God was not a wrathful judge waiting for him to sin one more time and swatting him dead like we would do a fly and realized that God was in love with him, and wanted to pour integrity and righteousness into him, and free him up in thankfulness by forgiving his sin, then Martin Luther of old felt like the gates of paradise had opened for him again and he was entering heaven. He called himself “Eleutherus” for a while thereafter, because in Greek in this text it means “to be made free” and Christ, in truth, had made him free. He was a professor, but like a child he wanted to sing about it. He had a fine voice and played the lute, much like guitar players today singing while playing chords for self-accompaniment. That is impossible with a trumpet. You have to play or sing; you can’t do both at the same time. Luther proclaimed the wonderful freedom he experienced by writing songs about it and singing many songs to share the sweet message of the Gospel with all people. “Keep us steadfast in your word! From Heaven Above to Earth I come. Out of the Depths I cry to Thee, O Lord. A Mighty Fortress is our God.” Those are just some of his many songs.

We too will find that continuing in God’s word, Christ will free us from our sin, and the kingdom of heaven, will set our country on the straight and narrow path that leads to abundant life and true freedom, the internal one as well as the external one. (I realize how important the external freedom of religion, speech, the press, and assembly are.) But how can we feel free when at any moment someone takes a gun and starts shooting us? We have to forgive that evil festering in our midst so it comes to light and we overcome it. Evil can only be overcome by goodness. When we return evil for evil it multiplies. That Norwegian who shot 46 young people: they gave him 21 years. I can’t be that free I’ll tell you. He complained that he could not have a computer in his jail cell! But has executing so many people in our country stopped all the killing? Honestly, it seems to have gone into high gear.

Let the forgiveness of Christ set us free. Let it lift us up into the place where Luther experienced the river of grace that makes glad the city of God; the river of strength that streams to us from God. Let it place us under the heaven of grace, where God’s steadfast love and faithfulness endure forever; the heaven of grace, much greater and more beautiful than our heaven,[3] that heaven full of grace, God’s forgiveness and faithfulness which endures forever. Let’s really become “the land of the brave and the free” through the only way, the straight and narrow way, the way of God’s Word, who is the truth, who is Jesus Christ, the real emancipator, the heavenly “Eleutherus!” who sets us free. Amen.

[1] Miikka Anttila, Luther’s Theology of Music: Spiritual Beauty and Pleasure, (Berlin/ Boston: Walter de Gruyter, GmbH, 2013).

[2] Martin Luther versus Hildebrand, who became Pope Gregory VII and launched the Catholic revolution in the eleventh century that Luther overturned in the sixteenth. Gregory made 3,000 priests in Germany divorce, while Luther opened the way to their marriage again. Gregory launched the system of ecclesiastical, episcopal courts and placed the canon law over the civil law, while Luther made the civil law the law of the land and threw the canon law into the flames on December 10th 1520. Luther replaced the legislation of the church with the proclamation of the Gospel.

[3] Peter and Philip Krey, Luther’s Spirituality, (Classics in Western Spirituality) (Mahwah, NJ: The Paulist Press, 2007), pages 138-140.

Written by peterkrey

October 27, 2013 at 10:46 pm