- Singing the Faith: 656 (CD27 #6)
- Herman Stuempfle
- "God of healing" by Guy Turner
Idea for use
It isn’t intended as a facetious suggestion that this may be an apt hymn for use during the Christmas season.
Many of us are familiar with tensions between family members and friends that can come into particular focus during the Christmas period. Seasonal family gatherings are, on occasions, times when “things are said” or silences hang awkwardly in the air. One feels that Herman Stuempfle knows this.
But he also knows that the Christmas message is one of peace and reconciliation – between individuals and communities. The startling appearance of the angels to the shepherds underlies this hymn as much as Jesus’ powerful act of self-giving on Calvary. When we sing “in Christ you crossed the chasm when our hearts were far from you”, we may recall a baby in a stable as well as a man on a cross.
This is as open and honest a hymn as one might hope to sing. It reflects the down-to-earthness we can perceive in Stuempfle’s biography. Behind the hymn’s words are couples struggling with their relationships, friends who have fallen out, communities (including church congregations) where differing opinions have led to sharp divisions. We sing here of very human situations that we can all recognise – around us and within ourselves.
These are situations, also, that God recognises, and Jesus understood; St Paul, too, whose letters often address conflict and difference within the early Christian communities. It’s not hard to guess, for example – in general terms at least – what motivated his first letter to the Christians in Corinth. (1 Corinthians 1: 10):
“I appeal to you, my friends, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ: agree among yourselves, and avoid divisions; let there be complete unity of mind and thought.”
This is not something we can always achieve on our own. We need help; so Stuempfle introduces a recurring prayer: “God of healing, reconcile!” Just as God reached out to share God’s creating love with us in human form, so we pray for “grace to reach to others, broken bonds” in order that broken bonds may be repaired and renewed. (v.4) As St Paul puts it: “Spare no effort to make fast with bonds of peace the unity which the Spirit gives.” (Ephesians 4: 1-3)
Remembered on his death in 2007 as “a gracious, gentle man”, the Revd Dr Herman Stuempfle was born in 1923. To read details of his life can be somewhat exhausting, given the range of his work and commitments.
Stuempfle, a minister of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, lived in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, for five decades, and was on the faculty of the Lutheran Theological Seminary (now the United Lutheran Seminary) for 27 of those years. He served as professor, dean, and president. In 1962 he had taken up the post of John and Susannah Ulrich Professor of the Art of Preaching, and in his honour the Herman G. Stuempfle Chair of the Proclamation of the Word has been established.
As a professor of homiletics, his most well-known publication was Preaching Law and Gospel. One reviewer wrote of the book that “Herman Stuempfle challenges tidy and trivial approaches to preaching with a call for sermons that embody the deep and enduring theological themes of law and gospel.”
Academia was no ivory tower for Stuempfle. Before arriving in Gettysburg, he had served individual Lutheran congregations and for four years was associate director of the Board of Social Ministry of the (then) United Lutheran Church in America. A commitment to “social ministry” was worked out fully in Gettysburg, where Stuempfle helped establish day care centres, served on the Gettysburg inter-church social action committee, and helped create and support prison ministries and a homeless shelter.
Stuempfle’s hymn writing was mainly undertaken during his retirement, and was closely tied to his commitment to preaching. "Hymns are the sung testimony to God's mighty acts of grace and judgment," he said, and crafting hymns was part of his "fundamental vocation to communicate the Gospel." He wrote some 550 hymn texts, many of them inspired directly by lectionary readings. Four volumes of his hymns have been published by GIA since 1993, and in 2004 he was made a Fellow of The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada.