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Sunday, February 28, 2010

Columbus Indiana -- Lutheran Laymen League and Orphan Grain Train

Enlargement of Luther Nailing 95 Theses
Stained Glass St. Paul's Lutheran Columbus IN

Today Matthew C Harrison and I arrived in Columbus, Indiana, for a Lutheran Laymen's League banquet held at St. Paul's Lutheran Church. Pastor Bauman was an excellent host at St. Paul's. The church completed a building project in the spring of 2009. The sanctuary is splendid and has wonderful stained glass windows (a few pictures are below). We also met with Gene Wint of the Indiana division of Orphan Grain Train. The partnership between Orphan Grain Train and LCMS World Relief and Human Care has been very valuable and we are thankful for the work of OGT and people like Gene. Finally, you have to watch this short video clip below from Matt Harrison's presentation on Wyneken. This is only a 2 minute clip and it is very funny. Later, I hope to post more of the presentation.

Wyneken Video Clip

"We Preach Christ Crucified..."

Gene Wint and Matthew Harrison at OGT sorting area

Little Dixie Lake and Missouri State Capital

Little Dixie Lake, Columbia MO

On my way to Jefferson City, MO, I was a sign for the Little Dixie Lake Conservation Area. The sign said it was nine miles off the highway, so I decided to stop by and see it. Little Dixie Lake is near Kingdom City, MO (a lot of odd city names going West in Missouri). There are 22 ponds used for fishery research as well as the lake, created by damming up Owl Creek. The lake was called little Dixie because this area of Missouri was settled by people from Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina, who were loyal to the South. The area has a feel not unlike Appalachia. The Ozark region does not exactly resemble the Smoky Mountains but is perhaps more like the Cumberland Plateau in Tennessee, west of Knoxville. I arrived a Little Dixie Lake just before dusk and it was a nice diversion from driving. Unfortunately, I arrived too late to hike around lake.

Map of the Little Dixie Conservation Area (click for larger image)

Once I arrived in Jefferson City and before turning-in to the hotel for the evening, I drove to the Missouri State Capital. The capital building was larger than I expected it to be. The city is named after Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the United States. The capital building overlooks the area that Lewis and Clark passed by on their westward journey. You can read all about Jefferson City in Wikipedia.

Capital Building at Dusk

Capital Building with Monument to Jefferson

St. Peter Catholic Church in Historic Capital District
(across from Missouri State Capital)

The St. Peter Catholic Church was constructed 1881-1883. The first Mass in the church was celebrated Feb. 2, 1883 and it was dedicated on Aug. 12, 1883. The brick church designed Adolph Druiding in a German Gothic Revival style and constructed by Fred H. Binder with 800,000 bricks donated by G.H. Dulle. The church is 173 and one half feet in length, 60 feet in width and has a seating capacity of 700. The clock tower rises to a height of 170 feet. The tower contains four bells cast by the Struckstede Foundry with an aggregate weight of 8,000 pounds, purchased at a cost of $1,354 and dedicated to St. Peter (55 inches in diameter), St. Joseph (46 inches), The Sacred Heart of Jesus (34 inches), The Blessed Virgin Mary (28 inches). The clock in the tower was installed in 1888.

The church served as the first cathedral for the Diocese of Jefferson City after its founding in 1956. Cathedral of St. Peter served in that capacity until Christmas Eve 1968 when cathedral's jurisdiction was transferred to St. Joseph Parish.

Chile Earthquake: Is Mother Nature Out of Control? and Lent

Worldwide Earthquakes from Past 7 Days (USGS)

Livescience.Com ran an article called, "Chile Earthquake: Is Mother Nature Out of Control?" that has been picked up by several other media sources. The USGS estimates there are over 1 million earthquakes a year, most of which we do not feel. The article below states that some scientists do believe that there is an increase in the number of earthquakes over the past 15 years. Of course, several large earthquakes in the span of a few weeks makes people become aware of earthquakes.

When the Lord's disciples asked him when he would return, Jesus said there would be, "earthquakes in various places" (Matthew 24:7) but "these are the beginning of the birth pains." (Matthew 24:8)

When we heard the sound of the earthquake in Jimini back in January 2010, several described it as the sound of fright train. I thought it sounded like a howl. It reminded me of Romans 8:22, "For we know that ​the whole creation t​has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now."

Whether Christ's return is today, tomorrow, or a thousand years from now, the earthquakes as he said should remind us of his return. In the season of Lent, these signs of his return should cause us to repent. This is not a point your finger at someone else telling them to repent, but you and me should repent of our own sins and then seek comfort in the forgiveness found in the cross of Jesus.

Original Article:

Chile Earthquake: Is Mother Nature Out of Control?

By Jeanna Bryner, LiveScience Managing Editor
posted: 27 February 2010 12:35 pm ET

Chile is on a hotspot of sorts for earthquake activity. And so the 8.8-magnitude temblor that shook the region overnight was not a surprise, historically speaking. Nor was it outside the realm of normal, scientists say, even though it comes on the heels of other major earthquakes.

One scientist, however, says that relative to the time period from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, Earth has been more active over the past 15 years or so. 

The Chilean earthquake, and the tsunami it spawned, originated on a hot spot known as a subduction zone, where one plate of Earth's crust dives under another. It's part of the active "Ring of Fire," a zone of major crustal plate clashes that surround the Pacific Ocean.

"This particular subduction zone has produced very damaging earthquakes throughout its history," said Randy Baldwin, a geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey.

The largest quake ever recorded, magnitude 9.5, occurred along the same fault zone in May 1960.
Even so, magnitude-8 earthquakes occur globally, on average, just once a year. Since magnitudes are given on a logarithmic scale, an 8.8-magnitude is much more intense than a magnitude 8, and so this event would be even rarer, said J. Ramón Arrowsmith, a geologist at Arizona State University.

Is Earth shaking more?
The Ryukyu Islands of Japan were hit with a 7.0-magnitude quake on Friday night. News of that tremor, the Haiti quake and now Chile may make it seem as if Earth is becoming ever more active. But in the grand scheme of things, geologists say this is just Mother Nature as usual.

"From our human perspective with our relatively short and incomplete memories and better and better communications around the world, we hear about more earthquakes and it seems like they are more frequent," Arrowsmith said. "But this is probably not any indication of a global change in earthquake rate of significance."

Coupled with better communication, as the human population skyrockets and we move into more hazardous regions, we're going to hear more about the events that do occur, Arrowsmith added.

However, "relative to the 20-year period from the mid-1970s to the mid 1990s, the Earth has been more active over the past 15 or so years," said Stephen S. Gao, a geophysicist at Missouri University of Science and Technology. "We still do not know the reason for this yet. Could simply be the natural temporal variation of the stress field in the earth's lithosphere." (The lithosphere is the outer solid part of the Earth.)
While the Chilean earthquake wasn't directly related to Japan's 7.0-magnitude temblor, the two have some factors in common.

For one, any seismic waves that made their way from Japan to the Chilean coast could play a slight role in ground-shaking.

"It is too far away for any direct triggering, and those distances also make the seismic waves as they would pass by from the Haiti or Japan events pretty small because of attenuation," Arrowsmith told LiveScience. (Attenuation is the decrease in energy with distance.) "Nevertheless, if the Chilean fault surface were close to failure, those small waves could push it even closer."

In addition, both regions reside within the Ring of Fire, which is a zone surrounding the Pacific Ocean where the Pacific tectonic plate and other plates dive beneath other slabs of Earth. About 90 percent of the world's earthquakes occur along this arc. (The next most seismic region, where just 5 to 6 percent of temblors occur, is the Alpide belt, which extends from the Mediterranean region eastward.)

Colliding platesThe Chilean earthquake occurred at the boundary between the Nazca and South American tectonic plates. These rocky slabs are converging at a rate of 3 inches (80 mm) per year, according to the USGS. This huge jolt happened as the Nazca plate moved down and landward below the South American plate. This is called a subduction zone when one plate subducts beneath another.

(Over time, the overriding South American Plate gets lifted up, creating the towering Andes Mountains.)
The plate movement explains why coastal Chile has such a history of powerful earthquakes . Since 1973, 13 temblors of magnitude 7.0 or greater have occurred there, according to the USGS.

In fact, the Chile earthquake originated about 140 miles (230 kilometers) north of the source region of the magnitude 9.5 earthquake of May 1960, considered the largest instrumentally recorded earthquake in the world. The 1960 earthquake killed 1,655 people in southern Chile, unleashing atsunami that crossed the Pacific and killed 61 people in Hawaii, Japan and the Philippines.

In November 1922, a magnitude-8.5 earthquake occurred about 540 miles (870 kilometers) to the north of Saturday's earthquake, triggering a local tsunami that inundated the Chile coast and crossed the Pacific to Hawaii.

Because Saturday's earthquake was so huge, the amount of shaking experienced in Chile would likely have caused just as much damage had a similar-sized event occurred elsewhere, said Baldwin, the USGS scientist.
"If [the quake] were in Los Angeles you'd probably have massive destruction too," Baldwin said in a telephone interview.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Hiking in Castlewood State Park

View of Meramec River from Bluff 250ft above

Castlewood State Park is the site of a former resort area popular at the beginning of the 20th century. People would take the train from downtown Saint Louis to Castlewood. The park is a little larger than 1800 acres. The park offers hiking, biking, horse back riding, etc. and stretches about 5 miles along both sides of the Meramec River. 

This park is only a few miles from my home. During the summer, I go mountain biking in the park. There are some good trails and the park is very popular. To see a larger version of any photo, click on the picture.

Limestone bluffs that are reminisce of castle walls

A Doe with two Fawns on the Trail along Meramec

Satellite Track of the Hike (Click Photo for Larger Image)

Map of Castlewood (Click Image to Enlarge)

Earthquake in Chile

From USGS (Click for Larger View)

Woke up this morning to hear that an 8.8 magnitude earthquake hit Chile. So far a much lower death toll reported than when the earthquake hit in Haiti. The 8.8 magnitude earthquake that hit Santiago, Chile is 512 times more powerful than the magnitude 7 earthquake that hit Haiti. Yet fortunately Santiago, Chile is not as densely populated as Port au Prince, Haiti, and it seems as if the buildings are better able to withstand earthquakes. We wait and see what comes next. Apparently Tsunami warnings also. No doubt Revs. Glenn Merritt and Carlos Hernandez are on this and will be watching to see if it is possible and needed for LCMS World Relief and Human Care to respond. The Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Republic of Chile is a partner with the Missouri Synod.

Click for Summary from the USGS.

Friday, February 26, 2010

The Two Words Interview on Haiti

Today I was interviewed on "The Two Words" hosted by Rev. Jacob Smith, the associate rector at Calvary/St. George Episcopal in New York City, and Sean Norris, a writer and musician. These guys are Anglicans / Episcopalians who discovered the Lutheran teaching of Law and Gospel and who have read Walther's Proper Distinction Between Law and Gospel. Incredible. In my conversation with them, they told me that they considered themselves Robert Barnes Anglicans.  I encourage you to check out their website: and to listen to their program. They had me on Episode 26. I have provided the audio from my interview below (about 15 minutes of the 30 minute program), which unfortunately took place in the cell phone lot at Lambert-St. Louis International Airport since I just returned from a trip and the plane was a little late, rather than on a better sounding landline phone. Not only did these guys interview me but they asked their listeners to support our work at LCMS World Relief and Human Care. So take a listen and visit their website. Thank you Jacob and Sean!

From their web page:

Friday, February 26, 2010
Episode 26

On this six month anniversary of Two Words, the Stallions welcome special guest The Rev. Albert Collver of LCMS World Relief and Human Care to talk about his recent relief trips to Haiti.  It is a sobering account of the devastating situation there, but Albert offers some amazing insight and powerful words of hope.  Listen in to discover ways to help out.

If you haven’t listened already be sure to check out our first discussion of Haiti with The Rev. Peter Moore in Episode 23.

Insanely Dangerous Hikes -- Mount Le Conte

I was on and stumbled upon a post called "7 Insanely Dangerous & Dizzying Hikes from Around the World" ... well, I had to look... (here is the orignal post)  ... well according to the poster, I had been on one of these hikes :) ... well, I have been on one of these hikes several, several times... to some people who know me... that wouldn't be a surprise... to others who know the trail, etc. ... they would say... dangerous? what are you talking about...

In this particular "" post ... I am referring to Mount Le Conte in the Smokey Mountains (Click here for the National Park Service Webpage), near Knoxville, TN. I do not precisely remember how many times I have hiked Mount Le Conte... it has been several... one time was with an old girl-friend (I am listening to music from that era now)... another time was with a college buddy -- when in fact, we were in real danger because we (foolishly in our early 20s hiked it) during a snow storm and quite possibly could've become a statistic (Hey, Dave, remember that? Snow... Ice covered trail... clinging to the steel cable... you complaining I was out of shape... and then finally the recognition from you ... that we could be in danger? It was great fun and fond memories).

I have hiked Mount Le Conte several different ways over the years... per the video below... I have hiked it Alum Cave Bluffs -- which has a certain charm... I have also hiked it via Rainbow Falls... I wish I had time to dig out old photos for this ... perhaps this post will inspire my brother (17 years my junior -- to hike Le Conte the next time I visit Tennessee with me). Le Conte was the first USGS Topographical Map I ever purchased in my life -- of course with Google who needs maps now, but ... that was in the day when Google was a possible future but mostly a fantasy (yeah -- some of us imagined such things before they were reality but ... Well Google's CEO made it real)....

In any case, Le Conte always was an ideal and a realized dream -- the fact that I hiked it several times... and now a pleasure to hear it is considered -- at lest by this poster on Digg -- one of the most insanely dangerous hikes...

So I will dig out some old photos... and hopefully hike it again soon in the next year -- just like my desire to hike all the parks in the metropolitan Saint Louis area... oh, I also read that the Saint Louis airport is one of the best in the nation -- the same article said Miami International is one of the worst -- which also confirms my experience...

So here is to hiking dangerous trails! For a 6593 foot mountain... you wouldn't think it could be so dangerous... (I'm not sure that I believe the Digg poster... I don't think it is really "insanely dangerous".)



YouTube Video

Thursday, February 25, 2010

God's Word for Today: Ezra and Nehemiah

God's Word for Today: Ezra and Nehemiah is the little Bible study I wrote on Ezra and Nehemiah for Concordia Publishing House. Right now CPH has it on sale for $4 a copy. Go grab a copy! Here are some details from CPH's write up: Ezra and Nehemiah describe the final events of the Old Testament period, approximately four centuries before the birth of Christ. Ezra begins with the decree of Cyrus, then recounts the return of the exiles from Babylon and the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple. Nehemiah records his return to Jerusalem with the third wave of returning exiles and concludes his book with the rebuilding of the city's walls.

Together, Ezra and Nehemiah cover approximately a century of Israel's history, during which God prepared His people for the coming of the Messiah.
In this book you will learn about:
  • the meaning and importance of true worship;
  • the connection between Confession and Absolution and amending one's life; and
  • the fulfillment of the temple in Christ, and through Christ, God's people. 
  • An Outline of Ezra
  • An Outline of Nehemiah
  • The Lists of Ezra-Nehemiah
  • The Letters of Ezra
  • Introduction  
  • Lesson 1—Prophecy, Promise, and Fulfillment 
  • Lesson 2—Return from Exile
  • Lesson 3—Rebuilding the Temple
  • Lesson 4—Completion of the Temple
  • Lesson 5—Return of Ezra
  • Lesson 6—Ezra's Reforms
  • Lesson 7—Return of Nehemiah
  • Lesson 8—Rebuilding the Wall
  • Lesson 9—Internal and External Problems
  • Lesson 10—Restoration of the Divine Service
  • Lesson 11—Nehemiah's Final Acts
  • Leader Notes
Each study in the God’s Word for Today series provides an in-depth exploration of a book of the Bible. Each session includes the following:
  • Background information on the book of the Bible, its author, audience, occasion, and purpose
  • Learning experiences that promote exciting and challenging discussions
  • Notes for leaders that answer questions, suggest a learning process, and provide additional information
  • Discussion starters that help participants apply God’s Word to their daily lives

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

1001 Orphans Kenya and More

Children at Kisumu

One of the privileges I've had since working at LCMS World Relief and Human Care was to visit Kenya on a few occasions and to see the work of the Missouri Synod's partner church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Kenya (ELCK). Walter Obare is the bishop of the ELCK. Way back when I was a student at Concordia Seminary Saint Louis, Walter Obare was on campus doing some study and working in the mail room. Remembering back to those days, I remember a fellow student coming up to me and saying, "Dude, you have got to meet this guy. He's a bishop of an African church working on our mail room." Little did I know years later I would have the opportunity to visit Kenya and see Bishop Obare's church. Come to think of it... how humble for a bishop to be working in the mail room.

Bishop Obare and Collver in South Africa, August 2009

One of the projects that we have been able to do in South Africa in partnership with the Lutheran Church in Kenya is 1001 Orphans. Now orphan support for the church is nothing new. In Kenya, there are a large number of children in need due to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Ordinarily in Kenyan society, family members would take care of the children of their relatives who are in need, and this is still typically what occurs. However, there are instances where several brothers or sisters died of HIV/AIDS leaving no relatives left to take care of the children. The Lutheran church in Kenya has identified this as a need.

The actual name "1001 Orphans" came from working with another partner and RSO of LCMS WR-HC, Concordia Lutheran Ministries (CLM). Keith Frndak had the idea that 1000 children would be identified who could be "sponsored" by people in the United States. The "Thousand and One" indicates that there always is one more child in need of assistance. The idea was that after 1000 children were sponsored, another 1000 would be identified and the program could continue.

Jamison Hardy, Keith Frndak, Collver at CLM

From the LCMS Website:
1001 Orphans is a new opportunity to reach out with Christ’s love to orphans and disadvantaged children. The goal: to reach 1,000 children, "plus one lost sheep" – a reminder that there is always one more child who needs care, that the church’s work is never done.
In its first phase, there is a special emphasis on orphans and disadvantaged children living in Kenya. We hope the Kenya program is so successful, 1001 Orphans can expand into other regions of the world.

In Kenya, one of the main people administering 1001 Orphans is Pastor David Chuchu. He is the counterpart for Rev. Matthew Harrison for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Kenya. He does the "mercy" projects there.

Listen to my radio interview on KFUO AM from July 1, 2009 on 1001 Orphans.

There is much more information about 1001 Orphans on the LCMS WR-HC page and in the November 2009 Lutheran Witness.

I'm off to Pittsburgh today to meet with CLM.

Kibera Slums

Monday, February 22, 2010

Columbia Bottom Conservation Area

This past Saturday Kit and I went to Columbia Bottom Conservation Area in North Saint Louis. The park is 4,300 acres at the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. This entire area was under about 15 feet of water during the great flood of 1993 -- the year I first moved to Saint Louis. Kit and I walked just under 7 miles. The first half of our trip we walked along the river's edge; the second part we walked along the concrete road. At the confluence point, there are benches with sayings about Missouri and Mississippi Rivers. One saying said, "The Missouri River is to think to drink but too thin to plow." The park also has about 4 miles of paved trails that suitable for walking, jogging, or cycling. We saw deer on our walk along the river, an eager, and flocks of water fowl. See below for photos and maps.

(Click Photo for Larger Size)
SportyPal GPS track of the first part of the walk.

Kit at the River's Edge Trail

View Along River's Edge

Muddy Boots after Leaving Trail

(Click Photo for Larger Size)
SportyPal Track of Return Walk

Flocks of Birds

(Click Map for Larger Image)
Columbia Bottom Conservation Area

Sunday, February 21, 2010

First Sunday in Lent, Madagascar, and A Mighty Fortress

Matthew 4:1 - 11, Temptation of Jesus

"This is a comprehensive Gospel, particularly when applied to all Christendom, which also experiences trials, like Christ, by hunger and persecution, by heresy and finally by the kingdoms of this world, as the histories to the subject also well document. But on this occasion we shall not deal in a far-ranging way with temptation but as it is commonly understood. So, first, we want to note and learn from the example of our dear Lord Christ that every Christian as soon as he's baptized, is marshaled into an army in confrontation with the devil, and from his baptism onward is saddled with the devil who harasses him as long as he lives. If this bitter enemy cannot by his onslaughts get the better of Christians and bring about their downfall, he seeks to hang them on the cross and kill them as he did Christ. ... We can learn from Christ's encounter with Satan how to deal with and overcome this adversary, so that he's forced to let us go. ... It is the bounden duty, therefore, of every Christian to earnestly hear God's Word and its preaching, diligently learn and become well-versed therein. We also should persevere in earnest prayer that God would let his kingdom come among us, not lead us into temptation, but graciously deliver us from all evil."

Luther on Invocavit Sunday (Lent 1), 1534.
The House Postils, trans. Klug, 313.

Lutheran Congregation in Antsirabe, Lent 2007

Three years ago, I remember being in Madagascar for Invocavit Sunday (Lent 1). It was an incredible trip on many levels. One of the most significant memories I have is of the first Sunday in Lent and worshiping at the Lutheran Congregations in Madagascar. Call be ignorant, but at the time, I was unaware that there are about four million Lutherans in Madagascar. The Lutheran Church in Madagascar is larger than the Missouri Synod! Like all churches, the church in Madagascar has challenges and pressures -- even factions, some being closer to the Missouri Synod and others being closer to the ELCA. None of this diminishes the joy of being with the Malagasy Lutherans during Lent.

Front of the Mother Church In Madagascar

Pastor David Rakotonirina, President of a seminary in Madagascar, took us to three congregations on the first Sunday int Lent. The first congregation that we attended was in the city. We went to the 6 AM service. People in Madagascar sometimes work six or seven days in the week. So the church has a 6 AM service so people can attend before they go to work. Approximately 2,000 people attended that 6 AM service. We stopped by a second service around 9 or 10 AM to see another 2,000 people in attendance. Finally, we went to the "mother church" -- the church that began Lutheranism in Madagascar around 1860 or 1870; you see the Lutheran church in Madagascar is about the same age as the Missouri Synod -- about 10 or 15 years younger. As a result, the liturgy including some of the melodies and tones, and the church architecture are remarkably similar to Missouri Synod congregations from the same period. There were also about 2,000 people at that final service at noon held in the "mother church." In three congregations, there were nearly 6,000 people in attendance on a Sunday. Incredible. Many LCMS Congregations would be hard pressed to have 2,000 people at 6 AM. While the number of attendees was hard not to notice, the overall experience was rather encouraging for me. The Lord has a people for himself all over the world. 

Albert Collver and John Pless in the Cemetery of the Mother Church in Madagascar

 The worship in Madagascar was unmistakably liturgical. In fact, some of the canticles had the same melodies as the Missouri Synod's hymnal. This had to do with the fact that the Common Service had in some form reached the Malagasy. The Lutheran church in Madagascar was started by Norwegian Missionaries. After the king in Madagascar converted to Christianity, he sent his son to Norway to study to be a pastor. After his training, he returned to Madagascar as the first Malagasy Lutheran pastor. The Gospel lesson was Matthew 4:1-11, the temptation of Jesus, and the traditional Gospel lesson for the first Sunday in Lent. We sang, "A Mighty Fortress is Our God," which is the hymn of the day for Lent 1. I mentioned this experience in my story on "A Mighty Fortress" for the Lutheran Witness (reproduced below).

So three years later, I fondly recall our trip to Madagascar, being united with fellow Christians through the liturgy, a common lectionary, and the hymn "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." Although I have not had the opportunity to return to Madagascar, I remember the people I met and pray for the church in Madagascar. This trip was not the end of the Missouri Synod's contact with the Malagasy Lutheran Church. John Pless for the past three years has taken groups of seminarians to Madagascar for a Mercy Expedition, sponsored in part by LCMS World Relief and Human Care. We have sent several Mercy Medical Teams (MMT) to Madagascar. We have helped build a pediatric wing for a Lutheran hospital. Who knows what the future will bring? Lutheran churches all over the world, even some non-Lutheran churches, are seeking contact with the Missouri Synod -- largely due to our church's doctrinal position in light of a relativism that has swept Christianity in the world. It's Time for us to engage the world with Confessional Lutheranism.


"A Mighty Fortress," from Luther Witness, October 2009

As a boy I remember celebrating our bicentennial in 1976. Everyone was proud to be an American, or so it seemed to a child. All across the nation were decorations of red, white, and blue. Fireworks lit up the night sky and parades rolled down the streets of cities and towns during the day. People had renewed interest in the founding fathers, and there was talk of freedom and liberty. Churches offered prayers for the nation, and pastors spoke with thankfulness on how the Lord had blessed America. When the “Star Spangled Banner” played, people were proud, and some were brought to tears. This was America’s song of independence, full of pride and hope.
I also remember being in church in October 1976 as the organ played “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” The procession marched down the aisle with the cross in front. The pastors wore robes with scarlet stoles. The entire congregation roared with lusty singing. What a moment! How proud I was to be a Lutheran on Reformation Day. When I sang “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” I felt as if I were thumbing my nose at the devil, the world, and all enemies of the Church. This hymn was the song of the Reformation, full of hope and pride.
Yet, is there more to this great hymn than I imagined at the time?

Seeking comfort in distress

Photo of Wartburg Castle by
Many people today think of “A Mighty Fortress” as the “Battle Hymn of the Reformation.” It is one of the most translated hymns in the history of the Church, having been translated into more than 200 languages. What many of us might not realize is that the Festival of the Reformation was not celebrated during Luther’s lifetime. Therefore, the hymn was not written to celebrate the Reformation, which is the commemoration of the publication of the Ninety-five Theses on Oct. 31, 1517. Only later, after the Thirty Years’ War (1618–48), when the Reformation was celebrated as a regular part of the church year in Saxony, Luther’s home region, did the hymn become associated with the festival.
Considering that “A Mighty Fortress” is Luther’s most famous hymn, we know remarkably little about it. Nor are we even sure when Luther wrote it. The earliest existing hymnal in which it appears is from 1533. (From the records of 19th-century hymnologists we know that there were a few hymnals that contained “A Mighty Fortress” before 1533, but these hymnals were destroyed in the bombing of Dresden during World War II.) Most scholars think Luther wrote the hymn between 1521 and 1529, with the majority of scholars settling on 1527–28.
These years were some of the darkest in Luther’s life. A heading from a broadsheet (something akin to modern “sheet music”) of “A Mighty Fortress” published in Augsburg in 1529 reads “A Hymn of Comfort.” Rather than a battle hymn, Luther intended this hymn, based on Psalm 46, to be one of comfort. While we are not certain what prompted Luther to write the hymn, scholars have suggested a number of events during these dark years.
In August 1527, a man who followed Luther’s teaching was martyred. In the fall of 1527, a plague broke out in Wittenberg. In December 1527, Luther wrote to a colleague: “We are all in good health except for Luther himself, who is physically well, but outwardly the whole world and inwardly the devil and all his angels are making him suffer.” A few days later, in January 1528, Luther wrote that he was undergoing a period of temptation that was the worst he had experienced in his life.
When Luther speaks of “temptation,” he uses the German word. While Anfechtung is translated “temptation” or “trial,” it refers to anything that causes anxiety, doubt, fear, suffering, or terror in a person’s life. For instance, in December 1527, Luther’s daughter, Elizabeth, was born sickly. In May 1528, she died. The six months of wrestling with the Lord in prayer to save his sick daughter was a period of temptation (Anfechtung) for Luther. He was mentally and spiritually fatigued. He was under the cross of suffering. Yet, he took comfort in the Psalms and trusted in the promises of Jesus.

Struggles in the Church
Besides the challenges brought on by the plague and tragedy in his personal life, struggles abounded in the Church. From 1517 to 1525, most of Luther’s focus was on abuses within the Roman church. From 1525 onward, the struggles came from multiple fronts. Luther felt that his family, reputation, and work for the Reformation—that his entire existence—was at stake.
Because of its association with Reformation Day, many people not only think of “A Mighty Fortress” as the “Battle Hymn of the Reformation,” but also as a battle cry against the pope and Rome. Yet, when Luther likely wrote the hymn, his greatest challenge arose from other groups that had broken away from Rome. There were people who claimed to follow the Bible (and Luther) who wanted to revolt against the government, something Luther did not approve of. Others questioned whether pastors were necessary; they believed anyone could proclaim the Word of God. Some doubted whether infants should be baptized. The greatest and most divisive controversy among the reformers also took place during these years—the Sacramentarian Controversy, that is, the fight over the Lord’s Supper.
For 1,500 years, the Church had understood and confessed that Jesus gave His true body and true blood to eat and to drink in Holy Communion. No one within the Church questioned this. After the Reformation began, various interpretations about the Lord’s Supper appeared. People argued that Jesus could not really mean what He said, and that the words, “This is My body . . . This is My blood” needed to be understood in a different way. For instance, the Swiss reformer Zwingli argued that “is” did not mean “is” but rather “symbolized.” Others argued that it is impossible for Jesus to put His body and blood on many altars at the same time. Still others said that because Jesus’ body was in heaven, it could not be on earth, too. In total, several hundred different interpretations appeared, all denying that Jesus actually gave His body and blood to eat and to drink in the Lord’s Supper.
Luther saw this controversy as directly related to the proclamation of the Gospel. He believed that the literal words of Jesus needed to be confessed and defended.
In this controversy, Luther argued that there was nothing more true, certain, or powerful than the Word of God. Indeed, the Lord’s Word is a “mighty fortress.” In the battle between Luther and the Sacramentarians, the Lord’s Word was the “trusty shield” to defend against their error and the “weapon” used to fight against them. The evil foe was using deceit and “deep guile” to obscure the words of Jesus.
In stanza 3, the hymn says, “Though devils all the world should fill.” Luther truly believed he was living in the Last Days because the preaching of the Gospel—that we are justified by grace through faith—and the Scriptures were clearly taught, and controversy after controversy arose. The world seemed full of “devils” perverting the Lord’s teaching. The stanza concludes, “One little word can fell him.” In the case of the controversy over the Lord’s Supper, the little word that “can fell” the devil is “is” from the Lord’s words, “This is My body . . . This is My blood.”
The hymn concludes by confessing that the Word of the Lord will remain in the world even if people are not thankful for it. In Luther’s day, there was the very real danger that he could lose his life, all his possessions, his reputation, and his family. Nevertheless, he sings confidently that “our victory has been won; the Kingdom ours remaineth.” Luther’s hymn is one of comfort and hope in the midst of trial and temptation, and strife within the Church.

A Hymn That Unites

A rare copy of an early printing of "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." This copy is in the Lutherhaus Museum in Wittenberg.
A few years ago, I visited Madagascar. A vibrant Lutheran church exists there numbering in the millions. We arrived in time for worship on the first Sunday in Lent. While we could not understand the words spoken, many parts of the service were familiar because the liturgy of our churches is similar. The Gospel reading for the first Sunday in Lent is the temptation of Jesus. After 40 days in the wilderness, Jesus was tempted in every way that you and I will ever be tempted. He was tempted to question and doubt the very promises of God. In the midst of His temptation, Jesus “felled” the devil with one little Word. He called on the promises of God recorded in the Scriptures. Because Jesus defeated the devil’s temptations, we know that in Him we, too, will overcome the devil’s temptations and trials. After this comforting Gospel lesson was read, we heard the melody of “A Mighty Fortress.” Here in Madagascar, thousands of miles from our churches in America, the Malagasy were singing this great hymn of comfort. Through a common liturgy, lectionary, and this famous hymn by Luther, Lutherans around the world were united in confessing how the Lord is our Mighty Fortress.
Although my understanding of this great hymn has changed since I was a boy, I still love to sing “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God” on Reformation Sunday. Now rather than being merely the “Battle Hymn of the Reformation,” the hymn is so much more for me. It is the great hymn of comfort in the midst of trial, suffering, and temptation. This hymn reminds us how Martin Luther, and others, preached the truth in love in the face of many obstacles and hardship. Rather than finding a single event behind this hymn, we can see how the plague, the death of his child, the controversies in the church, and other struggles in his life caused Luther to cling to his Lord, who is the Mighty Fortress of all those who trust in Him. Because of this, we can sing this great hymn of comfort, not only on Reformation, but also during Lent and whenever we are in need of comfort.
Albert B. Collver