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Text For The Month / Monatsspruch

Texts for the months of August and September 2017
Monatssprüche für August und September 2017

 

August 2017

To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great. Acts 26.22

This choice of text I find most unusual and at the same time obvious.

The unusual: It is neither a prophesy of godly things to come, nor an appeal or reminder regarding our conduct as Christians. It does not help in pastoral care. It is foremost a testimony, which can, on the face of it, be attributed to any number of persons, past and present, of any religious background, who have faith in the one God. The anonymity of the testimony can only be overcome by consulting the Bible reference in its context. And who in this, our hectic life, has the time or inclination for an in-depth study of even this small part of early church history? But here at least a few points: The book of Acts (of the Apostles) is the only, and therefore important link between the Gospel and the account of life in the early Christian Church as preserved in the Epistles. Our text is taken from a dramatic confrontation between Festus, a Roman governor of Judaea, who had enlisted the support of Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great and last King of the Roman province of Judea, and their prisoner, the Apostle Paul, a Jew, belonging to the Pharisees, a religious elite within the mainstream 1st century Judaism. Paul, after his conversion to Christianity and his consequent mission amongst his fellow Jews and most notably the peoples in the Gentile world, had gained powerful and deadly enemies within his own class in Jerusalem. As a Roman citizen, Paul appealed directly to the judgement of the Emperor in Rome. And Festus could not send Paul to Rome without a plausible charge against him. In this he had great difficulties, hence the above referred to interrogation. Paul’s judges, these prominent leaders, are neither qualified nor willing to make an informed judgement. They fall back on ridicule, making light and calling knowledge mockingly madness. A practice sadly effective in conflicts to this day. The outcome was a foregone conclusion; Paul was taken a prisoner to Rome, where he spent two years under house arrest.

It is now over 50 years ago that the venerable old Rabbi Dr. Salzberger, in a Faith Talk at the German YMCA, demonstrated the Apostle Paul’s good standing in Judaism. And several references in Acts support that Paul remained a Jewish Pharisee, even as a Christian leader and missionary, all his life. An in-depth study can be found on “Paul the Apostle and Judaism” in Wikipedia.

The obvious: Texts for the months are always chosen for a reason, they are not random. In this case I see a direct link to the commemoration of 500 Years Reformation. The similarity between Paul before the King of Judea and Martin Luther before the Emperor Charles V at the Imperial Diet of Worms in 1521, are great in many respects, although Luther’s closing words are different: Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason, I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen. And according to tradition, Luther also declared: Here I stand, I can do no other.

Both accused defend themselves with a powerful testimony of faith and stick to their principles for the good of the one Christian Church. In this they put themselves in great peril and end up loosing their freedom. Both are Reformers with a profound impact on their respective contemporaries, nearly 15 centuries apart, but influential to this day. In “Die Geschichte der Kirche”, Walter von Loewenich writes about the Apostle Paul: “This greatest Theologian of the Christian Church had only one true student, and that was Luther”. Reformation is an ongoing process. In each generation we find eminent Christians, who in the face of powerful opposition, give admirable responses of faith in the grace of God (as for instance cited in our August/September 2015 YMCA programme in the example of John Bunyan, who was jailed for 13 years for practising his faith in the 17th century). The BBC publication “Protestors for Paradise” covers in many examples the point, that the Reformation was and is no single event.

Already early in Christian Art characteristics about the appearance of the Apostle Paul had taken root and he became recognisable with his nearly bald head features. This is why I chose for an illustration my drawing of the now much damaged Stained Glass window from the 13th century in Lincoln Cathedral; it is still an expressive portrait.

 

 

September 2017

Und siehe, es sind Letzte, die werden die Ersten sein, und sind Erste, die werden die Letzten sein. Lukas 13,30

Dieser Hinweis, den Jesus mehrmals gibt, rückt uns ganz in die Nähe zu dem, was ich zum Text für August aufgezeigt habe. Der Apostel Paulus als Zeuge “bei Groß und Klein” ist dabei allerdings nicht zur Sprache gekommen und wird deshalb von mir hier eingebracht. Bedeutet die Aussage nun eine Rangordnung, oder die Realität zwischen weltlicher Macht und Ohnmacht, oder handelt es sich um Reiche und Arme, Starke und Schwache, Kluge und Einfältige? Ist dem Apostel Paulus gegenüber dem Kaiser Nero, Luther vor dem Kaiser Karl V in Worms, Bunyan über dem König Charles II der Vorzug zu geben? Vielleicht alles dies, vielleicht jedoch auch nichts von diesem. Die Ersten und die Letzten werden nicht von uns, sondern von Gott bestimmt. Darum bekennt der Apostel Paulus: Durch Gottes Gnade bin ich was ich bin (1. Kor. 15,10).

Und wie es so oft der Fall ist, kann ein einfaches Beispiel zum Verständnis eines schweren Lehrsatzes beitragen. So füge ich hier aus dem beliebten Loblied “All things bright and beautiful” den dritten Vers an:

The rich man in his castle,
The poor man at his Gate,
God made them high and lowly,
And ordered their estate.

Bernd Hildebrandt

 

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