History of Hymns: “Jesus, Tempted in the Desert”

by C. Michael Hawn

"Jesus, Tempted in the Desert"
by Herman G. Stuempfle
The Faith We Sing, No. 2105

Herman G. Stuempfle

Jesus, tempted in the desert,
lonely, hungry, filled with dread;
"Use the power," the tempter tells him;
"Turn these barren rocks to bread!"
"Not alone by bread," he answers,
"Can the human heart be filled.
Only by the Word that calls us
is our deepest hunger stilled!"*

Herman G. Stuempfle, Jr. (1923-2007) was one of the most prolific and theologically thoughtful hymn writers in the United States during the last twenty-five years.

Originally from Clarion, Pennsylvania, he was educated at Susquehanna University (A.B.), Lutheran Theological Seminary, Gettysburg (B.D.), Union Theological Seminary, New York (S.T.M.), and Southern California School of Theology at Claremont (Th.D.). After serving parishes in Pennsylvania and Maryland between 1947 and 1959, the Rev. Stuempfle joined the staff of the Board of Social Missions of the United Lutheran Church in America in 1959. In 1962, he became Professor of Preaching at Lutheran Theological Seminary, Gettysburg, a position he retained until his retirement in 1989. Dr. Stuempfle also served the seminary as Dean from 1971-1976, and as President from 1976-1989. He was active in much of his retirement in Gettysburg, continuing to teach, preach, lead workshops and conferences, and write hymns. He died on March 13, 2007 after a long battle with ALS.

"Jesus, tempted in the desert" appeared in the author's first published collection of hymns, The Word Goes Forth (1993). Drawing upon the gospel accounts found in Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13, the hymn has the feel of a sung sermon. The first three stanzas place Jesus in the three locations mentioned in the narrative:
Stanza one: "Jesus, tempted in the desert. . ."
Stanza two: "Jesus, tempted at the temple. . ."
Stanza three: "Jesus, tempted on the mountain. . ."

The symmetry of the construction guides the singer through the narrative. Each stanza quotes the words of Satan followed by a response from Jesus. Singing the hymn allows the worshiper another opportunity to understand the overall content and structure of the passage. As is the case in the Lutheran tradition, one would both hear and sing the gospel.

The fourth stanza reveals Dr. Stuempfle as a preacher. This stanza offers the "So what?" or the hermeneutical application of the passage to the life of the singer. Beginning with "When we face temptation's power. . .," we understand that Christ was tempted just as we are. The fourth line of the stanza offers an imperative statement: "Come and be our living bread." A source of strength may be found in Christ, the Bread of Life (John 6:35) and in the Eucharist itself.

The remainder of the hymn is a prayer:

By your grace, protect, preserve us
Lest we fall, your trust betray.
Yours, above all other voices,
Be the Word, we hear, obey.

Two of the principles of Lutheran worship – the sacrament and the hearing of the Word – are included in the final stanza as sources to resist temptation. God's grace, ever present to humanity in Lutheran theology, is a source of protection and preservation. Grace is revealed most completely through the gospel and the sacrament. By capitalizing "Word," Stuempfle reminds us that Jesus himself is the most fundamental expression of God's word, along with Scripture and preaching.

Dr. Stuempfle was the author of several books on preaching and theology including Theological and Biblical Perspectives on the Laity (1973), Preaching in the Witnessing Community (1973), Preaching Law and Gospel (1978), and Images for Ministry: Perspectives of a Seminary President (1995). His collections of hymn texts are published by GIA Publications, Inc. and include The Word Goes Forth (1993), Redeeming the Time (1997), Awake Our Hearts to Praise (2000), and Wondrous Love Has Called Us (2006). His hymn texts have also been published by the Hymn Society in the United States and Canada and are found in numerous hymnals and choral works. Dr. Stuempfle was honored as a Fellow of The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada in 2004 for his contributions to hymn writing.

His obituary published by The Hymn Society stated: "Stuempfle is among the most honored and respected of hymn writers of the 20th and 21st Centuries. His four volumes of hymn texts, published by GIA Publications, include songs of devotion and reflection; dancing and jubilation; sorrow, wonder, and delight." Stuempfle promoted the relationship between preaching and hymn writing: "hymns are the sung testimony to God's mighty acts of grace and judgment." To compose hymns was for Dr. Stuempfle a "fundamental vocation to communicate the Gospel."

 

 

*© 1993 GIA Publications, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Dr. Hawn is distinguished professor of church music at Perkins School of Theology. He is also director of the seminary's sacred music program.

Categories: History of Hymns, History of Hymns/Hymn Studies Related to Lent and Easter