Sermon Reformation Sunday Yr A


Reformation Sunday Yr A, 26/10/2008

Ps 46

Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &

Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s

South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta


“God’s Powerful Word”


On this Reformation Sunday, it’s appropriate to ask ourselves: Who or what is a Lutheran? According to Luther’s Small Dictionary, a Lutheran is defined as: Someone who lives Lent all year long.1 Then, according to another source: You know you are a steadfast Lutheran if: You wonder why Martin, as long as he had taken the time to write 95 theses, didn’t round it off to an even 100? Or you know perfectly well why there is no Lutheran Church named Good Works Lutheran. Then there is this one: You know you are a Norwegian Lutheran if: You won’t admit that Children of the Heavenly Father was written by a Swede and that Away in the Manger and A Mighty Fortress were written by Germans.2

In a more serious vein, Psalm 46 reminds us that: “God is our refuge (our fortress) and strength, a very present help (a well proved help) in trouble. The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge (our fortress),” says the psalmist, along with ancient Israel with bedrock confidence. This psalm, of course, inspired reformer Martin Luther to write his most famous hymn. It also remains a source of inspiration for many today.


Some scholars believe that the historical background out of which Psalm 46 arose is found in 2 Chronicles 20, during the days of King Jehoshaphat. King Jehoshaphat of Judah was afraid that he and his kingdom would fall to the surrounding peoples of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir. So in fear and panic, he calls together the inhabitants of Judah in an assembly at Jerusalem, and the LORD reveals an oracle to Jahaziel, a descendent of the Levites; who reassures Jehoshaphat and the assembly that even though Judah is outnumbered and an inferior military power; nonetheless, they would win the battle, “for the battle is not yours but God’s.”  

So, the next day the choir of Judah and Jerusalem took their position on the front-line and began singing: “Give thanks to the LORD, for his steadfast love endures forever.” And this confused the armies of the Ammonites, Moabites and Mount Seir; putting them in disarray; so that they turned against each other and killed one another; until there were no survivors; thus the LORD gave Jehoshaphat and Judah the victory.

I believe that it is most instructive for us to note how first it was the power of the word spoken to Jehoshaphat and the assembly; how that oracle from the LORD gave courage and confidence to God’s people in a time of fear and threatening destruction. Second, it was the power of the sung word of God by the choir on the battle front that totally caught Judah’s enemies off-guard, caused them to turn against themselves, and hence, bringing on their defeat and self-destruction. The psalmist also underscores the power of God’s word, particularly in verse 6, where, amidst all kinds of catastrophic events: “The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;” the LORD then “utters his voice, the earth melts.” The power of God’s word working in many and varied ways then is what saved the ancient Israelites, and, as we shall see, it saved Martin Luther in the sixteenth century, and it continues to save us today.

We Lutherans like to sing with vigour and enthusiasm, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” which remains, among Martin Luther’s 37 hymns, the most favourite of them all. I don’t know how many of you realise this, but the hymn is based on, and inspired by the first verse of Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Little did Luther know that as time moved on from century to century up till today, his hymn would be translated into some 200 languages and sung by virtually every mainline Christian denomination, including Roman Catholics!

The hymn of course spread like wildfire in Germany and other Lutheran lands. Luther himself, along with his other reformer friends and colleagues, it is said, sang it daily–especially in times of trouble, temptation, and depression; to be lifted in spirit and be restored with new courage, faith and strength. The tune–EIN FESTE BURG–also composed by Luther, has inspired J.S. Bach’s famous tune of Cantata 80 “JESU JOY OF MAN’S DESIRING,” and Felix Mendelssohn’s “Fifth Symphony.” It also influenced Giacomo Meyerbeer’s opera Les Huguenots and Alexander Glazunoff’s Finnish Fantasy.

For Luther himself, likely one of the–if not the–most important message(s) of the hymn is that for him, on numerous occasions, God was like A MIGHTY FORTRESS. Perhaps it was during his year that he spent in hiding at Wartburg Castle while he translated the New Testament into German that he found God on a much larger scale to be like that mighty fortress at Wartburg. Those thick protective walls of Wartburg Castle may have helped him feel safe and secure away from his military, political and ecclesiastical adversaries. Oftentimes Luther felt that everyone was against him–hence, it was solely by the protective and gracious God that he remained unharmed and safe, and was able to continue with his reforming work. For Luther, Jesus Christ himself being The Word of God Incarnate could accomplish ALL THINGS. Luther took great comfort in this and it was The Source of his strength and inspiration throughout his life.

Fast forwarding now to the present day, we too are able to be inspired, strengthened, and encouraged by God Our Almighty Fortress. I’m certain that if we all stopped to think about it; every one of us here today could recall at least one time—if not more—in our life when God has protected us from troubles, dangers and harm. God has been like a Strong Fortress for us too; whether we face physical, mental, spiritual or other dangers.

Maybe, like ancient Judah and like Martin Luther, we’ve had to face some overwhelming opponents and obstacles. We, like they, might feel we have precious little chance of overcoming or winning over such opponents and obstacles. Our own strength, skills, gifts and resources may seem next-to-nothing compared to those of others. Yet, we’re still here! God is good! God has given us exactly what we’ve needed at the right time. We have been protected, strengthened, encouraged, inspired—we’ve overcome and prevailed because “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” The power of God’s word has worked in us and in our lives too. And so we worship the LORD our Mighty Fortress and serve him as did ancient Judah and Luther in gratitude for what he has done for us throughout our lives.

We, like ancient Judah, like Luther and the other reformers, can continue to live confidently and secure—trusting and knowing that “One little word subdues” the devil and all evil powers, that Word is Christ. The power of God’s word is very much alive and active; bringing healing to the sick, hope to the hopeless, faith to the doubter, love to us all. Jesus Christ is the ultimate victor. Praise God our Mighty Fortress for that! Amen.

1 Janet Letnes Martin & Suzann Johnson Nelson, Luther’s Small Dictionary: From Aal to Zululand (Hastings, MN: Caragana Press, 1999), p. 124.

2 Janet Letnes Martin & Suzann Johnson Nelson, You Know You Are A Lutheran If… (Hastings, MN: Caragana Press, 2002), pp. 10-12, pp. 130-131.