It has been 20 years since the Berlin Wall came down, an anniversary already starting to make the news. For me, memories come flooding back from a visit to East Germany in 1990 to see the Luther sites. I had visited them in 1986 and was eager to see what changes had been made in the country. And there were lots of them already. Even the tour guide on our bus was astounded when the guards failed to check our passports at the border.
In Wittenberg, the government had erected a monument several years earlier as a memorial to the Soviet soldiers who had "liberated" the East Germans from the Nazis. The location, I think, was deliberate. Across the street from the monument was the Schlosskirche, the Castle Church where Martin Luther had posted his 95 Theses. At the top of the church tower, in bold mosaic letters, are the words to Luther's famous hymn, "Ein Feste Burg ist Unser Gott, ein gute Wehr und Waffen" ("A mighty fortress is our God, a sword and shield victorious"). Across the street from each other were two conflicting ideologies, two belief systems competing for the hearts of the people. That standoff lasted several years. But in 1990 the Russian tank that sat on top of the monument was removed—"two days after Easter," we learned from one of the locals. This particular battle was over. And the tower, with its message of faith in God, was still standing.
Luther's great hymn is a paraphrase of Psalm 46. "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." Twenty years later I still marvel at how this psalm describes the events that happened and how quickly the wall fell. "The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter." What's even more amazing is that this was a peaceful revolution. "He makes wars cease to the end of the earth." The government that was so intent on keeping power was now out. I've heard stories of the influence of the churches and faith in that transformation. The people of Wittenberg removed the tank and replaced it with a symbol of peace and unity among all. "He breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire."
Luther was a realist about human nature. He knew that if the old gods fell, new ones would rise up to replace them, competing for human devotion.
In May 2010, I will lead another tour to Luther's Germany. Again I'll be eager to see the changes that have taken place over 20 years. The old idols of communism are gone. But what new idols have taken their place?
The tank is gone, but the tower still stands with its message to put our trust in God. It's a timeless message for people of every age. "Be still and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge."
This week's front page features:
Facing despair: (right) Don't do it alone—trust in Christ, turn to community.
Mission in reverse: In Arizona, pastors take humble approach that preserves Navajo culture.
College & seminary crunch: Mission and funding collide in these economic times.
Casserole Club: The cheapest meal in town made with lots of church-lady love.Also: CORE taking a discernment year.
Also: Effort to get it right.
This week on our blog
Sonia Solomonson (right) thanks The Lutheran's readers.
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