Reformation B - Psalm 46

Psalm 46 (NIV)

Grace, mercy and peace to you from our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

The text for today’s message will be read during the preaching of this sermon.

Let us pray.

Lord teach us with Your Word, for Your Word is truth. Amen.

 Dear Friends in Christ,

The name of Martin Luther will always be associated with Psalm 46. His famous hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God” is a paraphrase of this Psalm.  When Luther and his fellow reformer Philip Melanchthon were struggling and discouraged they would sing it together.

            The Psalm was originally written on the occasion of the city of Jerusalem being saved when it was attacked by heathen invaders – most likely the overthrow of Sennacherib’s Assyrian army in 701 B.C..

            This Psalm celebrates Jerusalem as the city of God, the sure foundation for the Kingdom of God. Today we can find spiritual strength and security in this Psalm, as Luther did, especially when everything else seems so topsy-turvy.

            In the times of loss, drought, tragedy or high anxiety of your life, when you think your world is falling apart, how do you find the strength to face the dawn of another day?

Do you work so hard you try to forget what troubles you? Do you become a recluse hoping the world will go away?  Do you try to hide in a bottle?  Or do you seek the Lord’s help and go to His Word for comfort and reassurance?

            In the difficult periods of our lives Psalm 46 is most helpful.  We can discover in this Word of God: hope, strength, security and peace. 

Let’s have a closer look at Psalm 46.

            The first part of the Psalm verses one to three, reads:

God is our refuge and strength,

an ever-present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way

and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam

and the mountains quake with their surging.

            We’re told of God’s protective hand being there for us when our world caves in. 

            Sometimes our life may be like a glacier, a slow moving river of ice, which, when it gets to the precipice over the calm lake, suddenly breaks off in huge chunks and is moved into the heart of the sea stirring up all kinds of waves which upsets the peace and tranquillity – not only our own but that of those who are close to us. 

            All who are around you see what’s happening and those who are close suffer the shock of being hit by icy coldness.

            In this world where many things move slowly, interspersed with our sometimes hassled existence, there is the security of God where refuge or sanctuary may be sought - a safe place where His strength protects us. 

            In times of national sadness, as with the Christchurch Earthquake in February of 2011, or with a more personal tragedy with the death of a love one, many people seek sanctuary in their community’s churches.

            This happened here a couple of years ago when a couple came one Sunday afternoon from Ngaruawahia to pray here at St Matthew when a loved one died in Germany.

            When a person is beset by the problems of the world, the church building, representing God’s presence in the world, is a common place for people to run to for safety and help in all kinds of troubles. 

            We can go to God in our troubles - why? Because He is God almighty and through His Son He knows what it’s like to be troubled. 

            When you’ve lost a loved one, or severe illness or disability strikes your family you are helped by knowing and believing the torment Jesus went through in the garden of Gethsemene before He was arrested, tried and killed was to bring about your comfort and salvation.

            Jesus went to His heavenly Father in prayer.  Those who were close to Jesus went with Him to the garden – but they fell asleep and were half hearted in their support for Jesus. 

            Sometimes, it can be that those we take with us on the journey though suffering and pain may not always be there with us and we feel deserted. 

            Take heart.  In verses four to seven we are told of the joy of being secure in the presence of God.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

the holy place where the Most High dwells.

God is within her, she will not fall;

God will help her at break of day.

Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;

He lifts His voice, the earth melts.

The Lord Almighty is with us;

the God of Jacob is our fortress.

          Water means life.  In the ancient world a city which had a stream or river flowing through it could withstand a siege by an attacker.  The water kept those who were besieged alive.   Without the flowing river there is defeat and humiliation as the Psalm writer says: Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; …

            The streams which flow around the Christian are the waters and words of Baptism. It is in that water and Word that you are fed and nurtured with the life of Christ, who not only washed you clean but keeps you in the knowledge that you belong to Him.

            Jesus said in John 7:37b-38 ESV …"If anyone thirsts, let him come to Me and drink. 38Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, 'Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.' "

            We’re invited in verses eight to 10 to witness and be a part of God’s victory over what troubles us. 

Come and see what the Lord has done,

the desolations He has brought on the earth.

He makes wars cease

to the ends of the earth.

He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;

He burns the shields with fire.

10 He says, “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 Almighty is with us;

the God of Jacob is our fortress.

            When you see the victory of God you see that He is more than capable of protecting you by defeating the powers which attack you.  The winner of a war or battle will destroy the weapons of the conquered enemy so that they can’t rise again to threaten.  Your fear is taken away as Jesus overcomes sin, death and the devil for you.

            As the words of comfort from the committal in the funeral service say, “Death has lost the battle!  Where is it’s victory?  Where is it’s sting?  But thank God for letting our Lord Jesus Christ give us the victory.”

            God has destroyed what threatens us: the power of sin tempting you in your lives, the power of death over you, and  the power of the devil who wants you in turmoil. 

            You see in Jesus, God’s power which is given to you in Baptism, with the Holy Spirit who enables you, like Jesus, to use the Word of God to combat temptation, to share in the victory Jesus has over death so that you will rise with Him, and so that you can be still and be at peace with God and each other.

            You can find the stillness of God, the peace of God in His Word, in worship and gentle service.  All this: in your own personal life, in your congregational life, and in the life of the wider church – but this stillness isn’t limited to the spiritual realm, it flows into the community in which you live as God uses you to bring peace to others affected by troubles. 

            This peace isn’t in the structures or buildings, it’s not in the institutions but in the knowledge and knowing God in the most intimate way. 

            How can you study the beauty of your lover if you’re always on the move, never slowing down to meditate and reflect, to gaze upon and touch.  As one person put it, you need to “stop and smell the roses.” 

            You need to stop what we are doing and tune into God, encounter Jesus and take seriously the third commandment which teaches you encourages you to be involved in the sacred - to take time for God and keep the Sabbath holy. 

            As we meditate on these words, think about what is threatening or pounding away at your life.  What’s attacking your sense of security in God? How can you remain still (v. 10) and know God's fortress-like strength (vv. 7, 11) in the midst of your existence?

            As God has triumphed, and will triumph, over all that wars against the city of Jerusalem and the soul of the believer, how can you "exalt Him among the nations"? I encourage you to spend some time being still and centring on the Lord God. 

            So, make a special time each day, if you don’t already, even if it’s only a few minutes to read and pray the Bible reading listed for each day of the week on the back of your worship bulletin.

            Gather too, as the disciples, in the presence of the risen Lord Jesus who promises you victory, refuge and His strength.  Gather with the disciples and eat and drink, for the forgiveness of sins so that you too may be “strengthened and preserved in body and soul till life eternal.  In His peace.

11 The Lord Almighty is with us;

the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Amen.