Out of This World
22-Stanza Hymns and a 90-minute Homily
The next morning, a Sunday, buggies pulled up in front of Raber's property. Bearded men in black suits piled into his basement to "salute one another with an holy kiss" (Rom. 16:16, KJV). They took their places on benches without backrests to the left of a makeshift lectern. The women came down from the first floor and sat on the other side.
A deep male voice intoned the first word of the Anabaptist hymn "O Herre, in deinem Thron" ("O Lord, in Thy Throne"); the others fell into a powerful a cappella in harmony, slowly, hauntingly, for 22 stanzas. More hymns were sung, followed by a one-hour sermon on Psalm 107 partly in English, partly in dialectical German. After more singing, another preacher gave a 90-minute homily on the Book of Daniel entirely in 16th-century German. It was all law. A lesson from one of the Gospels was read but left uncommented on; we were not taught the gospel's immensely liberating message that as redeemed sinners, we must boldly embrace our role as God's masks through which he carries out his hidden purposes, to borrow one of Luther's axioms.
When I left for St. Louis after the service, Raber told me that his flock would soon send out members to form new congregations far away. This was good news at the end of my stay in Little Arabia. Yet I knew that I could never join them. I am joyful over having experienced the Amish alternative to my own world. Did not Luther say in 1525, "There must be sects so that the spirits may clash"?
I have no wish to belittle the Amish—quite to the contrary. When I left Raber and his people, I was filled with gratitude that in their midst, I had found spiritual rest and regained the strength to return to my Lutheran reality of working with rolled-up sleeves in God's left-hand kingdom.
Uwe Siemon-Netto is director of the Center for Lutheran Theology and Public Life, which is affiliated with Concordia University in Irvine, California.
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