Standing firm in the Spirit.
O friends, stand very firm!
“Stand, O stand firm! Stand, O stand firm!” This is a Cameroonian song from the book World Church music. I think we have sung this song a few times over the years, but not recently! A Cantor, that is a type of choir leader, sings a few words in between in each verse. “O sisters, stand very firm”. And then you are off again.
“Stand, O stand firm! Stand, O stand firm!” Cantor: “O brothers, stand very firm”.
At a world conference in 1989, a woman from the Cameroons stood up at one of the meetings to sing this song. The impression is that any group of people or individuals can be called upon by name, in the course of the singing, at the Cantor’s discretion “O children, stand very firm”. “O workers, stand very firm”. Etc…
A bible passage read in church recently was the story of the calming of the storm (Mark ch 4 v 35). With first the breezes around us followed by the raging winds, & sometimes tornadoes unsettling & knocking us off balance, this song is a good reminder of how we as a community can support & care for one another when life’s storms are raging.
Interestingly, a few weeks earlier, I remember hearing in the church the bible story of Nicodemus meeting with Jesus in the dead of night exploring & wondering what a walk with God is actually like. “The wind blows where it chooses,” says Jesus, “So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John ch 3 v 8). One moment the wind is a metaphor for life’s worries & troubles, the next God wants us to be blown around willy-nilly! No wonder my sermons are confused!
Five hundred years ago in 1521 Martin Luther the credited author of the Protestant Reformation, whilst opposing various abuses at that time in the Catholic Church, was called before the Emperor of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in the City of Worms, Germany, to recant his criticisms of the Church. On that late Monday afternoon, five hundred year ago, Luther refused to renounce his books, teaching, & preaching, claiming: “I cannot and will not retract anything since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. I cannot do otherwise, here I stand; may God help me. Amen.”
Was he standing firm against the storms of life & the troubles of the lives of many poor & disenfranchised people by the church of the day? Was he listening to where the wind of God’s Spirit was leading? His conscience would ignite the Reformation & come to fracture the religious establishment of Christ’s own Church.
Such are the struggles of conscience in a life of faith: when we are led to stand up strong & hold on to traditions, principles, & the values we hold dear; when to see where the Spirit of God is moving & changing us & our church into ever new ways of sharing God’s love.
There is some historical debate as to whether Luther actually uttered these famous words, “Here I stand”. However, there is little doubt that his intention reflects that sentiment. But from Luther we have received three theological pillars for our tradition & our faith.
The first is that Scripture has ultimate authority, & the second is that we are justified by faith alone. Hence, we are to be careful how we come to understand what scripture says to us & how we impose our expectations of faith on others.
The third pillar is that every follower of Jesus is a Priest. This is encapsulated in the doctrine of the universal “priesthood of all believers”. We learn from one another, serve one another & thereby show God’s grace & forgiveness in Christ to one another. God’s grace is not mediated through a “special person”. We are all special. Everyone is special. This is the reason why it is important to be careful how we come to understand what scripture says to us individually as well as careful about how we impose the expectations of our faith on others. We see how these three pillars are interlinked.
Freedom in Christ has set us free, says Paul, (Galatians ch 5 v 1) “Stand firm therefore”.…”through love (we are) slaves to one another” (Galatians ch 5 v 13). The Word of God, justification by faith, & the universal priesthood of all believers is the solid ground upon which we as a community stand as the winds of the world swirl & the breezes of God blow. May we stand together to discern again which are the storms to stand firm against & which are the winds of God blowing where the Spirit wills to challenge & change.
As I reflect on the anniversary of Luther standing firm, may we in such examples stand firm with the Cameroonians & with one another.
“Stand, O stand firm! Stand, O stand firm!”. “O friends, stand very firm”.
God bless you all,
We are delighted to wish Mrs Joan Deering a happy 100th Birthday.
We all have just one birthday,
The day that we were born,
A tiny, helpless infant -
Our life’s amazing dawn.
And then for ever after
We celebrate our birth,
And ask another happy year
To bless our time on earth.
Joan, you have seen a hundred –
God’s blessed you all the way.
I pray that you may now enjoy
A really perfect day.
Barbara Pearson 2021
v Please note that a list of dates for everyone’s birthday, from 1-100 years
is available from Dennis and Anne Sexton. Enjoy!