Yesterday was my first Sunday preaching at St. Peters Lutheran Church Brownstown, IN as vacancy pastor. http://www.stpetersbtown.com/
Here is a simplified text of the sermon for Reformation Sunday, based on Psalm 46.
One of the privileged callings of a pastor is that when congregation members encounter difficulties or interpersonal conflicts in life, a pastor is there to provide a renewing and healing perspective to any situation in life through the power of God’s Word. When the difficulty in question is a health challenge, sometimes there are no easy solutions or quick fixes.
When you are sitting with someone in the midst of a time of great need, when there are a lot of unanswered questions just what do you say? When a couple is grieving the unexpected loss of a child early on in pregnancy, what do you say in the midst of questions about God’s role in the face of loss that is hard to understand or accept at all?
We all have our own unanswered questions and impossible setbacks in life. Psalm 46 gives us God’s answer to how we should respond when things fall apart. This is the appointed Psalm for the Reformation each year. The psalm has a familiar ring to it. It is the Psalm on which Luther based “A Mighty Fortress is our God”
Let’s now hear those words of the Psalm:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved;
6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
8 Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
The psalm provides a vivid descriptions of natural disasters political turmoil, interpersonal conflict and all kinds of things that that happen as a result of our state as fallen people living in a fallen world. And that is another reason the psalm may have a familiar ring to it is that the events happening in the psalm are also happening all around us today. There is evidence of international chaos just about every time we check the news. The vast majority of American have experienced our election campaign season as disheartening and unpleasant, to the point where for many our upcoming election on November 8th brings uncertainty more than hope. The weather itself even seems to be more extreme and hazardous than ever in recent years.
As a society we seem to be busier than ever trying to make ends meat, so that for many there is simply not enough time in the day to invest in self care, rest and renewal. School and activities demand more time of our youth than ever before in the past, so that family time is limited. How should we as Christians respond to such times? Should we despair?
The Psalm gives us a sure answer to what position we take when we observe things falling apart around us. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear.” The position we should take when all appearances suggest that things are unraveling is to not fear.
The Psalm goes on to describe three scenes of turmoil. The first in verses 2-5 describes hurricanes earthquakes and tornadoes or any other natural disasters. “We will not fear, though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea.” The earth is giving way, mountains falling into the sea the earth shaking and trembling.
Sometimes even in the church we experience the foundations coming apart. I have known several congregations who have experienced a struggle in their relationship with their pastor. Sometimes a pastor’s actions have led to people feeling betrayed or becoming deeply wounded. For some congregation members who have been hurt, I imagine it almost feels like an earthquake sometimes.
But in the middle of that scene God brings peace. “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the most high, God is in the midst of her, she shall not be moved. God will help her when morning dawns.”
This is not just any river, but a river that assures us of the presence of God. A river that when the people see it they no longer pay attention to the destruction all around, instead they see the certain promise that God will help at the break of day. In the midst of destruction they see and know only peace.
The second scene begins in verse 6: The nations rage, the kingdoms totter, he utters his voice, the earth melts. We know about nations raging. If there was a time in history when the cold war ended that it looked like peace was on the horizon, that hope is now non existent. Conflicts rage in nations like Syria, Sudan, Iran, Iraq, North Korea and always more we are not expecting. Military forces clash, religions seeking to persecute Christians, power mongers, and international arms dealers all contribute to unrest and chaos. And yet right in the middle of all the turmoil what do we see?
“The Lord of Hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress.” The Lord almighty is our fortress and defense , our safety and security where we can rest secure. The phrase Lord of Hosts means Lord over all armies, as in holder of all the power in the world.
The defense God provides is so secure that as it is written in Romans chapter 8: neither life nor death, neither principalities or powers, nothing in all of creation can separate us from the love of God.
The third scene is in verses 8-9, “Come behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations on the earth, he makes wars cease to the end of the earth, he breaks the bow and shatters the spear, he burns the chariots with fire.” This scene is describing God’s great power taking control of history from those who raise up armies and consider themselves as god. God breaks their bow and shatters their spear. Through a chain of events that we cannot understand or foresee God takes control.
Thee verses help us to see that there are no political events or outcomes of a war that should make us feel that our way of life has come to the end. We may have fears about what direction our nation is taking, but God is in control of the nations and of our lives.
Perhaps one of those three scenes seems too real in your life right now. Are there things about your schedule and your daily life that are falling apart right now? Has something unexpected happened that makes what had been a comfortable life feel more like a storm? In the middle of the uncertainty and chaos where does your faith fit in?
Martin Luther found himself in the middle of the storm before he knew it. On the last day of October in the year 1517 Luther posted 95 questions for debate on the Wittenburg castle door. In a short time these challenges to the church to understand the gospel rightly began a series of events that would drastically change Luther’s life and eventually all of Europe and the world. Luther was excommunicated- which means the official word that he would spend eternity in damnation. Where could he put his faith?
Regardless of which of the psalmists scenes is being played out in your life, God comes to each of us as he came to Luther with the words: “Be still I am your refuge and your strength. I am your fortress, I am the calm tranquil stream. As it is written in Hebrews, “I never will leave you or forsake you.” Jesus stands by our side no matter what. His death and resurrection took away the sin that separated us from God so that now and forever Jesus can say I am with you. By faith we know God is with us, and our faith will become sight when Jesus returns- the ultimate realization of God with us.
We are now one year shy of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. In the next year the significance of the Reformation will be celebrated and explored by both our church and our society. But whether there is a landmark anniversary or not, the process of repenting of false teaching that leads us away from the gospel is an ongoing activity of the church each Sunday. The scripture is full of reminders that our trust is not in the wisdom of man, but in God alone. Psalm 118 says exactly this:
“It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man.
9 It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.”
On this Sunday of Reformation we celebrate the great heritage of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, that Jesus is indeed with us forever through the gifts of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper which the church has received from the Lord. Jesus is with us as the Psalm promises: “The Lord of Hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress.”
There will be times in our future when we can expect to witness the scenes of disaster in Psalm 46 playing out in our midst. When things fall apart in front of us we are ready to respond in faith saying “God is with us, we shall not fear.”
When we see others encountering the storms of life we have opportunities as Christians to speak words of comfort to each other, we will not fear, Be still. As a congregation you have experienced the storm of a separation from your pastor, and God’s Word invites you to that same calm confidence in the Lord’s provision: Be still and know that I am God. God is in control.
As I begin service as a vacancy pastor, it is my prayer that in my service you find evidence and reminder that the Lord is with us through the gift of the office of pastor, the office whereby one person embodies and represents the gift of the gospel to us in the midst of the chaos that can surround us in life.
Because of the Reformation we know that in Christ we have a secure fortress for whatever storms come our way. May we rest secure in its protection, today and forever, Amen.