Reverend Christopher I. Thoma +
Text and Theme: Lutheran Service Book, Hymn 656, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God”
(The Preaching of the Gospel for this feast takes a different form than what is our usual practice. The intention is to combine the preaching of the Gospel with the singing of the hymn. The pastor will preach a portion and the congregation will respond by singing a stanza. This is to happen in consecutive order with the sermon conclusion being the final stanza.)
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The fortress is God’s. A mighty fortress is our God. His bricks and mortar, His moat and iron girds, His gates and towers are unbreachable. His ramparts are sure and sturdy. They are a trustworthy shield to hem his residents. The might and the power of his scripted voice—His Holy Word—the certain promise of deliverance and an unbreakable weapon against every onslaught. Within His walls, His citizens, those He has rescued from the battlefield, those whose wounds have been bound and healed, those He has gathered and nourished with the richest of fare from the fortress’ bountiful storehouses, they are free from fear, they are protected and certain within their fortress-master’s watchful eye. They sleep in peace and they wake to each day with the knowledge that their master keeps them from every need that threatens to overtake them. But there is that kingdom in this world, it lies beyond the borders of the fortress. And though its days are numbered, its general, the old evil foe, he gathers his relentless band toward deadly woe. Deep guile—an insidious cunning and craftful treachery bent upon rebellion and the devouring all of the countryside and all of the fortress citizens, these are the foes’ dread arms in fight. Both in history and upon the horizon of created beings, there has stood no greater foe, no more sinister opponent, no more menacing and threatening and ruthless enemy than the one called Lucifer. On earth is not his equal.
(Sing stanza 1) A mighty fortress is our God, A trusty shield and weapon; He helps us free from ev’ry need that hath us now o’ertaken. The old evil foe now means deadly woe; Deep guile and great might are his dread arms in fight; On earth is not his equal.
The rooms of the fortress are not yet full. There are those in the countryside who traverse the lands in darkness by their own might. In their spirit, they are drawn to the foe’s battle drums convinced of their own strength, their own sufficiency. They charge headlong into battle wielding a broken sword and a paper shield of “self-righteousness.” They gird themselves foolishly with armor sewn together from nothing more than the filthy rags of “good works.” They press forth into the seemingly ceaseless battle through day and night with no food to sustain them and no skilled army to buffer them. And soon their loss is effected, as they are easily pierced by the fiery arrows. They are effortlessy overcome and chained and caged in bondage. They are trampled underfoot and consumed by the enemy’s hellfire. But across the horizon, the fortress gate opens and pouring forth from its brilliant threshold comes the Valiant One, whom the fortress-master Himself has elected. His charge is clear. His path is certain. His glory unbounded as He gives Himself strangely unto death in the battle and is lifted up as an embodied flag of victory. Ask ye, “Who is this?” And the voices of His sturdy militia, those who from all nations are gathered unto His side and believe in Him, those who by faith are citizens of the fortress, they lift up their voices with what is to the foe the most dreadful and yet most glorious battle cry: “Jesus Christ, it is. Of Sabaoth Lord. There is none other God. He is the deliverer of the citizens of the fortress against which the gates of hell will never prevail. Behold His victory. See, He holds the field forever!”
(Sing stanza 2) With might of ours can naught be done, Soon were our loss effected; But for us fights the valiant One, Whom God Himself elected. Ask ye, Who is this? Jesus Christ it is, Of Sabaoth Lord, And there’s none other God; He holds the field forever.
The battlefield horizon swells with the redeemed in full armor. The treacherous Lucifer sends forth all his devils to fill the field against this church militant. The bellies of these devils growling with hunger, seeking to devour these citizens, seeking to draw them into temptation and greed and back-biting, seeking to darken the skies above them with the arrows of fear and failure, threatening to break their ranks with deceit and despair. But these villains are met with unwavering might, men and women who tremble not. The bellies of these soldiers have been filled with the Gospel merit of their Captain given by His Sacraments. They are unfaltering and ready for the terrible blows of the foe’s assault as they stand in the iron-clad certainty of their Captain’s delivering work. And the blows come—the wailing upon the body and soul and mind, it is fierce and the warfare is long. But the enemy that encircles the believer, he may rant and rave and contort and scowl as fiercely as he wills, he can harm them none. He cannot penetrate the sturdy protection forged in the very merciful heart of the Mighty Fortress! Behold, the victory flag of the cross, you scoundrel. Behold the assurance of victory, you rascal. This battle was over before it began! There is your judgment in all of its gory splendor. You have been judged. The deed is done. With one little word you are rendered without strength and fang and claw. With one little word, your forces are decimated and you are felled.
(Sing stanza 3) Though devils all the world should fill, All eager to devour us, We tremble not, we fear no ill; They shall not overpow’r us. This world’s prince may still scowl fierce as he will, He can harm us none. He’s judged; the deed is done; One little word can fell him.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, behold, the Word made flesh, He lives and breathes again! And this Holy Word, the treacherous enemies must let remain. And they writhe in agony at it, they thank Him not for His enduring presence through the Holy Gospel and the blessed Sacraments of Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the absolving means of grace. There are no thanks for these. There is no laud or honor for them because it is by them that the Captain fights side-by-side with His people upon the plain, giving His good gifts and Spirit, and the Church Militant is strengthened by them to inherit the victory of the Church Triumphant, that is, to dwell within the Fortress of the Lord forever. And as the clashing swords continue and the bronzed shields continue to be lifted, the Savior, the One who has already taken the field, He calls out to you by His Holy Word through the haze: “Be not afraid, my beloved! Press forth! Be not afraid of this world and the threats of sin, death, and the devil against goods, fame, child and wife. Be not afraid! You are forgiven! Follow me!” And as you hear these words, weak arms are strong again, and you interpret His words to be that you are only fit to continue forth through faith in Him. You already know that your possessions and reputation and relationships will be accosted. Though these all be gone and your face becomes dirty from the ash and cinder of battle, the victory flag of the cross, the crucified One ever stands before you and declares: “The victory has been won! The kingdom ours remaineth!” Amen.
(Sing stanza 4) The Word they still shall let remain, Nor any thanks have for it; He’s by our side upon the plain with His good gifts and Spirit. And take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife, Though these all be gone, Our vict’ry has been won; The Kingdom ours remaineth.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.