St. Thomas Evangelical Lutheran Church

3800 East Third Street

Bloomington, Indiana 47401

(812) 332-5252


Sermon for the Third Sunday after Pentecost (June 5, 2016)

Liturgical Color: Green

Reverend Doctor Lyle E. McKee


Bright Hope

Grace to you and peace from our loving God, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

There are two people who have occupied many of my thoughts, study, and reflections this past week. One is contemporary; the other is nineteenth century. One is male; the other is female. One is a pastor; the other a translator of hymnody. They arose in connection to these stories of healing—of restored life and hope by Elijah and Jesus. You likely already know that these biblical stories are more about hope than they are about restored life and more about the widows than about the sons who are raised. Widows in scripture represent all those who are in greatest need; their hope rests beyond themselves—in these cases, in their sons and in their God.

I suspect that many of you have read the latest issue of "Living Lutheran" the recent successor of the long-standing magazine, "The Lutheran." In these monthly visits with international Lutheran reflection and news, we have been blessed by the insights and inspiration of columnist Peter Marty for the past six years. His article in the latest issue (June, 2016) is his last, and its subject is hope. He was recently named publisher of "The Christian Century."

He writes: "Hope is a simple four-letter word that packs unbelievable punch in the Christian life." He goes on to contrast hope with optimism, affirming that "Hope is much more than wishful thinking that current conditions will get even better. Hope grows in the soil of the possibilities of God, not the dirt of life's present circumstances. Hope is the deep conviction that God is working powerfully in our lives and in the world. Based not on what we can do or see, hope is anchored in the faithfulness of God.

"Here's the real surprise about hope: it thrives especially well in situations where the evidence seems to be mounting against us. When adversity besets us, and worry gets a stronger foothold than it deserves, and the future begins to look grim, hope has its best chance of lighting up the darkness. This is true because hope is the power of God that always comes at us from the outside."

I'll miss Peter Marty—yes, the son of Martin Marty. But I'm sure I'll pick him up again in his new place in "The Christian Century." I appreciate his approach, and I like this take on hope as the power of God that comes at us from the outside—something that surprises us in moments when hope may be the farthest thing from what we grasp.

We will sing a lovely hymn following the sermon. Listen closely as you sing. The stanzas speak of such hope.

In my considerations this week, I searched for a story of significance from the life of the author of the text of the hymn "Jesus Lives, My Sure Defense," but I found none. The life of Otto von Schwerin (1616-1679), while remarkable for its political accomplishments, yields nothing much that helps us understand from what depths of personal and spiritual angst sprang the glorious affirmations of his hymn—perhaps other than the tantalizing note that he was married three times.

But what does deeply impress is the work of the translator of these and many other hymns from the German—Catherine Winkworth (1829-1878). It is my practice as I sing hymns always to pay attention to the notes at the bottom, which include composers, translators, authors, arrangers, and tune names. If you have done this too, you will recognize the name. In fact, in our hymnal there is only one name that appears more frequently than that of Catherine Winkworth—Marty Haugen, with 20 references. Catherine Winkworth ties with Martin Luther for number two; each has 19 credits. Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley have only 10 each!

Born in London in 1829 Catherine was as one admirer wrote, a happy example of the piety which the Church of England discipline may implant. That is, perhaps, an understatement. Here's a tribute to Winkworth in a hymnal from 1872: Catherine Winkworth is "the most gifted translator of any foreign sacred lyrics into our tongue, after Dr. Neale and John Wesley; and in practical services rendered, taking quality with quantity, the first of those who have laboured upon German hymns. Our knowledge of them is due to her more largely than to any or all other translators... she has laid all English-speaking Christians under lasting obligation." (Annotations of the Hymnal, Charles Hutchins, M.A., 1872)

An article on Miss Winkworth in July 20, 1878, notes: Her "translations...are invariably faithful, and for the most part both terse and delicate; and an admirable art is applied to the management of complex and difficult versification. They have not quite the fire of John Wesley's versions of Moravian hymns, or the wonderful fusion and reproduction of thought which may be found in Coleridge. But if less flowing they are more conscientious than either, and attain a result as poetical as severe exactitude admits, being only a little short of 'native music'" (Dr. Martineau)

Winkworth's translations are the most widely used of any from German, and have had more to do with the modern revival of the English use of German hymns than the versions of any other writer. (John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)

Take a look at those 19 hymns sometime; there is a useful index at the back of the hymnal. Among them are: "Comfort, Comfort Now My People," "Christ, the Life of All the Living," "Lord, Keep Us Steadfast in Your Word," "Open Now Thy Gates of Beauty," "Lord, Thee I Love with All My Heart," "Jesus, Priceless Treasure," "Now Thank We All Our God," and "Praise to the Lord, the Almighty." What treasures we would not know without Winkworth's worthy efforts!

In the hymn before us in a moment, dwell upon the metaphors and turns of phrase all of which call us to hope:

In the hymn before us in a moment, dwell upon the metaphors and turns of phrase all of which call us to hope:

- "my confidence rests in hope and will not waver" (st. 1)

- "bright the hope this promise gives" (st. 2)

- "faith's strong hand the rock has found, grasped it, and will leave it never " (st. 3)

- "let your hearts rise from longings vain and hollow" (st. 6)

- ""set your hearts beyond the skies!" (st. 6)

In researching this hymn I found that Winkworth translated a full ten stanzas from Schwerin's original. I found them in an old Missouri Synod hymnal from 1941 that is in my collection. I suppose Lutheran limits have shrunk a bit regarding hymn length, so I won't make you sing them. But it might be instructive to hear them—stanzas 5, 6, 7, and 9.

Glorified, I shall anew

With this flesh then be enshrouded;

In this body I shall view

God, my Lord, with eyes unclouded;

In this flesh I then shall see

Jesus Christ eternally.

Then these eyes my Lord shall know,

My Redeemer and my Brother;

In His love my soul shall glow-

I myself, and not another!

Then the weakness I feel here

Shall forever disappear. (Nice.)

They who sorrow here and moan

There in gladness shall be reigning;

Earthly here the seed is sown,

There immortal life attaining.

Here our sinful bodies die,

Glorified to dwell on high.

Laugh to scorn the gloomy grace

And at death no longer tremble;

He, the Lord, who came to save

Will at last His own assemble.

They will go their Lord to meet,

Treading death beneath their feet.

Stanza 9 brings to mind that one of the lesser-known decisions made at the Council of Nicaea is that no Christian should kneel. Since Christ is risen from the dead, the thinking goes, those who worship Christ also should remain in a posture of resurrection. This makes me wonder how our bodies give witness to the hope that is in us—and not only our words or our singing. Consider, for example, just what it means that we stand for the gospel, for the creed, for the words of institution, and for the singing of most of the hymns. These are not random acts meant to keep us awake. They bespeak honor and proclamation of grace. They offer a posture of resurrection and of hope. We will go our Lord to meet, treading death beneath our feet.

A final word from Peter Marty about this hope portrayed today in scripture and song:

"We are Christians because we have been given a hope that is better than the hopes the rest of the world tries to live by. Your hope and mine is based in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. You aren't a Christian because you're smart (though I have no doubt you are), or because you're nice, or say powerful prayers, or are morally better than your next-door neighbor. You are a Christian because you have been given an infinite hope. Finite disappointment is everywhere, noted Martin Luther King, Jr. 'But we must never lost infinite hope,' he added.

"For those of us who have long believed that hope powers life, much like a locomotive fuels a train, the apostle Paul reminds us that hope is more like a caboose. Speaking of the good things that come out of life's difficulties—'suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.' (Romans 5:3-4)—notice where hope emerges for Paul. It comes at the end, not the beginning. It derives from life's struggles. This may be why those who know how to trust their suffering to God know best how hope never disappoints."

And so, we bid a fond farewell to Pastor Marty in the pages of our denomination's periodical. And we offer thanks to God for the abiding hope of which he speaks and about which Catherine Winkworth spins glorious images for our edification.

"Bright the hope (Christ's) promise gives...bound unto him by hope forever." Bright our hope which, like widows of ancient times, lies beyond ourselves. Thanks be to God. Amen.

May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus our Lord unto eternal life. Amen.

 

 

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