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Go up into the hill country

by davesandel on September 23rd, 2021

Thursday, September 23, 2021                                  (today’s lectionary)

Memorial of Saint Pius of Pietrelcina (Padre Pio), Priest

Go up into the hill country

Consider your ways! Go up into the hill country, bring timber and build a house that I may take pleasure in and receive my glory, says the Lord.

At last on Wednesday, the first official day of autumn, our Texas weather broke. In the morning the dew point was 47, the temperature was 66, and the air outside felt like heaven. By afternoon the sun was hot again, but the humidity was still low and in the shade, with a slight breeze, I sat on our patio and relaxed into my body’s happiness.

What a pleasant place to build a house for God. Many Germans thought so in the mid-1800s. The de facto capital of the hill country was Fredericksburg, named for its German benefactor, 90 miles west of Austin. This small town quickly filled with Lutheran, Catholic and Methodist churches.

I imagine the new German Texans took their cue from the Persians and Israelites, from Ezra and Nehemiah, from Haggai and King Darius, building a temple for the Lord. They knew God was their provider, their Jehovah Jireh, and honoring Him was top on their list of action items.

Consider your ways! You have sown much but brought in little. You have eaten but not been satisfied; you have drunk but never been exhilarated. Your clothing does not warm you, and whatever wages you earn end up in a bag full of holes.

We cannot go on like this, they said over and over to each other in Germany. The princes taxed them mercilessly, and their carefully cultivated honor was in tatters because of their inability, or refusal, to pay. A few relatives wrote back from America, describing their new life free from persecution and taxes, in a country that promised riches of many kinds. They called it the Texas Hill Country, and for many German men, women and families, it was time to head west. With or without a leader, called empresarios back in Texas, they prayed, packed, and boarded a ship.

Go up into the hill country; bring timber and build God’s house and your house! The Lord takes delight in his people.

Comanches had something to say about the Germans’ desire to settle in their land. One of the German leaders negotiated a somewhat successful treaty with the Comanches, something no other Texan leader could do. But still, nighttime raids by Indians shouting and shooting arrows, brandishing knives and tomahawks, usually ended badly. Children were sometime taken into the Indian camps, where they were treated well and often wanted to stay. More often they were killed, along with their parents.

Almost no Germans owned slaves, unlike many Texans around them. When the Civil War began, they stood for freedom and the Union, while Texas as a whole voted to secede and join the Confederacy. This political conflict sometimes degenerated into violence and at least one mass murder of several German farmers by other white men from the surrounding country. The Germans prided themselves on unity through diversity. Not so those who opposed them, held their arms and hit them in the stomach, and finally killed them.

I think of Padre Pio, the peacemaker and healer who is memorialized today. “The life of Padre Pio shows an intense commitment to alleviate the sufferings of families.” And I think of all those families in the hill country: German, Comanche, and others whose lives along the frontier were constantly in danger, often filled with pain and suffering. And then I remember their church buildings and sacred places, the congregations, the crowd of souls who trusted God, living far beyond their own small selves. As did the Israelites, millennia before, led by Ezra and Nehemiah. Into thy hands we commit ourselves, O Lord.

The Lord loves his people, and he adorns the lowly with victory. This is the glory of all his faithful.

(Haggai 12, Psalm 149, John 14, Luke 9)

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