Once again, retired Rev. Phil Schmidt, a member and Deacon at Trinity Lutheran Church, Frankfurt, Germany, shares with us concerning a slide show presentation of art depicting Biblical stories. Trinity is a congregation supported by The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) for the English-speaking community in Frankfurt. It is served by Rev. Robert Flohrs. Due to the copyright laws concerning the artwork presented, we are not able to reproduce the pieces here, however, Rev. Schmidt has graciously shared with us two of his own acrylic on wood paintings illustrating aspects of Abraham’s life. Rev. Schmidt painted these for use in Confirmation and Sunday School classes.
On June 24, a group of 13 people from 6 countries gathered in a darkened room at Trinity Lutheran Church to look at color slides of 20th century Christian art depicting some of the key events in the life of Abraham:
- his call to leave his home and enter into an ambiguous and dangerous future
- his moment of faith as he gazed at the stars and was declared righteous
- God’s visitation in the form of three men, confirming the immanent birth of a son, causing Sarah to laugh
- The intercession for Sodom, a city destined for destruction
- The test on Mount Moriah which reflects the historical experiences of Israel and points to Golgotha
These stories contain so much intricate detail that we were occupied for a full 90 minutes with our contemplation of the Biblical texts and pictures. Many of the pictures we looked at were from Marc Chagall and from Sieger Köder, a German Catholic priest.
Christian faith means projecting oneself into the Biblical story of salvation in such a way that it becomes one’s own story. This dynamic of faith is especially appropriate for the story of Abraham, because his faith is foundational, a prototype of Christian faith. Over 4 Billion Christians, Muslims and Jews claim Abraham as Patriarch.
It is impossible to summarize all that we considered on this afternoon. One story stands out: the intercession of Abraham for Sodom. God had informed Abraham that the city of Sodom would have to be destroyed because its inhabitants were hopelessly debased. Abraham starts a discussion with God about justice. He asks: would it be just to destroy the innocent with the guilty? Suppose there were 50 “righteous” people in Sodom, would you still destroy the entire city? God conceded the point. Abraham asked further: but what if there were 45 innocent persons: would that still be enough to save the city? God conceded this number as being adequate. Abraham bargained with God again and again until he worked down to the number 10. God answered: “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” At this point the intercession stops.
It seems strange that Abraham is so concerned about strangers. He only knows 4 people who live in Sodom: his nephew Lot, Lot’s wife and their 2 daughters. He does not merely ask God to remove his relatives to safety. He wants to save a decadent community.
Abraham represents a unique concept of justice: he wants depraved people to be saved from their own self-destructive actions, simply because a blameless minority is perhaps living among them!
Normally in this world, the wicked cause the annihilation of the innocent; Abraham pleads for a world in which the innocent protect the wicked.
The latent message of this intercession is that Abraham reveals the heart of God. God wants to save even the depraved. God is ready to save the wicked on behalf of a small number of “righteous”, a term which Abraham defined when he entered into a right relationship with God by trusting Him. (Genesis 15:6)
Judaism saw in this story a message about the power of prayer to preserve a community from disintegration. When a prayer service is held in an orthodox or conservative synagogue, 10 men must be present, otherwise the service cannot occur. Thus a congregation is required to produce 10 men (or 10 people in a liberal synagogue), because a small prayer group of 10 can have a redeeming power which extends far beyond the walls of the meeting place.
Some Christians have also witnessed to the power of prayer as a force which can prevent chaos and devastation from going unchecked. The world might look God-less, but how would the world look if all prayer ceased?
Abraham stopped at 10. But what if there were less than 10? Eventually, Christian faith saw in Jesus the one completely righteous person who could save not only a city, but an entire world from self-destruction.
–Rev. Phil Schmidt
Rev. Schmidt is a member of Trinity Lutheran Church, Frankfurt, Germany, where he serves in his retirement as a Deacon and frequently leads slide show presentations using art to reflect on Biblical stories.
- Pray that the Gospel proclaimed through this event would strengthen the participants.
- Learn more about Trinity Frankfurt.