A Moment to Reflect

18 July 2020

A Moment to Reflect -65

A MIGHTY FORTRESS

How would you like to live in a castle

[This one is Castle Stalker in Argyll, photographed in April 2016.]

The only castle I’ve ever lived in (and for a couple of nights only) was Balmoral Castle though it is really more of a palace than a castle. I suspect a real castle such as Castle Stalker would be an awful lot draughtier and considerably less comfortable.

The Turkish playwright, novelist and thinker, Mehmet Murat ildan, does make the point however that “A castle can never be a home because home is born out of love not of fear!” ― Mehmet Murat ildan

I think that’s a very interesting observation. It is certainly true that the primary purpose of any kind of fortress is to protect you from your enemies and keep you safe from attack. Now of course, you do want to feel safe in your home. But you also want much, much more than that: you want your home to be the place where you feel comfortable, accepted, welcomed and loved.

At the moment, because of the ‘great enemy out there’ (Covid-19) our church building feels more like a fortress than a home. So many restrictions and barriers have had to be put in place to ensure people’s safety that it is impossible for us at the moment to return to being “the place for all” that we want it to be—a home for the whole of our church family and a welcoming place for everyone.

As many of you will know, the concept of God himself as a fortress is one that appears in various places in the Bible, particularly the psalms—at least 11 of them. This is why Martin Luther, the great Reformer, used the idea in composing what is probably his most famous hymn, “Ein Feste Burg ist unser Gott” —usually translated as a “A Mighty Fortress is our God. [In the Church of Scotland Hymnbook, the version used is a translation by Thomas Carlyle which begins with the slightly weaker line “A safe stronghold our God is still.”]

Luther’s hymn, written in 1529, has been sung all around the world for nearly 500 years, though to be honest we’ve not used it very often in Kirkton Church. For me, however, it provokes a particular memory—though one I’d probably rather forget.

So, let me share with you another true story.

It was the 30th of October 2016. As part of an official visit by the then Moderator of the Church of Scotland (Rev Dr Russell Barr) to the USA and Canada, I was attending a Sunday morning service of worship in the rather imposing and historic “Brick Presbyterian Church” New York. (In the posh and wealthy ‘Upper East Side’ Manhattan)

It was, as you might imagine, a rather formal affair. 

A large robed choir filed into the sanctuary to take their places on the chancel…

The Senior Pastor, Rev Michael L. Lindvall, entered along with the Moderator…

I was sitting in the front row of the fairly large congregation that had gathered in the impressive Sanctuary with its even more impressive pipe organ (no less than 6288 pipes apparently!)

After the usual preliminaries the opening hymn was announced and, since it was Reformation Sunday, that hymn was, not surprisingly, “A Mighty Fortress.” 

The congregation rose to their feet as the organist thundered out the introduction…

I took a deep breath and in my usual not-so-quiet voice started to bellow out the opening line – only to feel a firm tap on my arm as the woman next to me said, “Not yet! You have a nice singing voice …but not yet!” [It turns out that the ‘introduction’ wasn’t just the first or last 8 bars of the tune but the whole verse!] Oops!

My only consolation was that, since I was sitting in the front row with my back to the rest of the congregation, I couldn’t see any of their faces …and they couldn’t see mine.

More seriously, for your reflection, ask yourself what it might mean for you to think of God as your “fortress” or “castle?”

Or would you prefer to think of God as your home?

“O Lord, you have always been our home.” —Psalm 90:1 [Good News Translation]