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Our Refuge and Strength

October 31, 2010 Speaker: Rev. Jack Meehan Series: Lectionary

Topic: Biblical Verse: Psalm 46:1–46:11

The Festival of the Reformation
October 30-31, 2010
Psalm 46

 “Our Refuge and Strength”

In the minds of most Americans, October 31 means Halloween – carving jack-o-lanterns, dressing up in costume, trick or treating for children, parties for grown-ups, and more candy than the human mind can comprehend. And yet, for Lutheran Christians October 31 means something else, or at least it should. On this day in the year 1517, a fervent and devoted Augustinian monk did the equivalent of some social networking for the 1500s. He posted his points of disagreement with the medieval Church on the community bulletin board of his day; that is, the doors of All Saints Church in Wittenberg, Germany, more commonly known as the Schlosskirche, or Castle Church, so named because it was part of the castle complex belonging to the Duke, or Elector of Saxony. That monk was Martin Luther, and his action on October 31, 1517 came to be known as the beginning of the Reformation movement that would give birth to that confession of faith of which we are a part and which bears Luther’s name: the Lutheran Church. The tower of the Castle Church is round and rises over 288 feet. Around that tower is a band reading Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott - the title of Luther's famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” Luther’s hymn, which came to be known as the “Battle Cry of the Reformation,” is based on Psalm 46, which we read together: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved, and though the mountains shake in the depths of the sea… The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold” (Psalm 46:1-2, 7). On this Festival of the Reformation, the message is based on Psalm 46 under the theme, “Our Refuge and Strength.” May the Lord’s rich blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word, for Jesus’ sake.

The psalms are sometimes called the prayer book, or the hymn book, of the Bible, and rightly so. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, as all of Scripture is (2 Timothy 3:16), the psalms express beautifully and poetically the gamut of the faith experience in the life of the believer: joy and thanksgiving, fear and uncertainty, anguish and sorrow, trust and hope. The psalms are musical, and were meant to be sung, rather than spoken. They speak to us across the ages. We see ourselves in them, and know that we are not the first to go through such things. And that is tremendously comforting. In the midst of overwhelming circumstances in life that threaten to consume us, where is our refuge and strength? In time of crisis, in the hour of need, when our own resources have dwindled down to nothing, where do we turn? When people we thought we could rely upon disappoint or desert us, when support systems that we have carefully put into place collapse underneath us, when every earthly prop is gone, where do we turn? Perhaps it is only in times like this that we realize how small and powerless we truly are. It is precisely then – when we are faced with the naked truth of our existence before God – that God can then step in and act. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

Psalm 46 is divided into three distinct sections: verses 1-3 that focus on creation, verses 4-7 that focus on history, and verses 8-11 that focus on the end of the world and the Lord’s reigning over all. God who created the heavens and the earth tells us that these will also be destroyed at the end of the world (2 Peter 3:10). Jesus himself tells us that people will faint from fear at what is happening (Luke 21:26). For the believer whose trust is in the Lord, even this total collapse of the created order cannot frighten us because we know that something better awaits us from the hand of the Lord: “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved, and though the mountains shake in the depths of the sea” (Psalm 46:2). This is a call for endurance and the perseverance of the saints in faith. In contrast to the raging of the sea, “there is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High” (Psalm 46:4). Recall the words of Jesus to the Samaritan woman at the well: “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14). This gift of faith in Jesus is at the heart of what the Reformation is all about. This spring of water flows out of what Jesus has accomplished for us in his death upon the cross. Through his suffering, death, and resurrection we have received forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. With God himself among us, “in the midst of the city,” we “shall not be shaken.” Even though “the nations rage and the kingdoms shake,” God is in control. When events in life rage and shake against us, we hold fast to the truth that “nothing in all of creation can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Roman 8:39). On that great and final day, when the landscape of history has been littered with weapons of war and destruction – bows, spears, shields, all of these are swept away. Psalm 46 testifies to God’s will for peace. On that great and final day when all of this unfolds before our eyes, God’s command is for silence – truly, the only appropriate response before the Lord God. In place of our mindless chattering and incessant babbling is holy and reverent silence: “Be still, then, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). You see, that great and final day is not about us, but God. It is that God and his holy name may be exalted among the nations in all the earth. And that blessed refrain closes out this psalm: “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold” (Psalm 46:11). And how is the Lord of hosts with us?  Here, in his Word, in the cleansing water of holy Baptism, in his holy Supper, in Jesus, who is Immanuel, God with us (Matthew 1:23; Isaiah 7:14, 16).

Luther’s age of 500 years ago is not unlike our own. In many ways, it closely parallels the time in which we live today. Luther straddled the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The old order of things was giving to something new. There were profound and sweeping changes underway in science, technology, communication, government, and exploration, just to name a few. This was a time of great upheaval and unrest, threatening to some and welcomed by others. We surely sense that upheaval and unrest in the world today: a world threatened by global terrorism, new technology and communication forms that are constantly emerging, institutions that no longer seem effective. What can we rely on as constant in the midst of so much that is changing so rapidly around us? We lift up our heads and say with the psalmist: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” Amen.

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