Psalm 46 (Reformation Sunday)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
October 27, 2013
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Psalm appointed for Reformation Day, Psalm 46:
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; God will help her when morning dawns. 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. Selah
What makes a good fortress, a good place of refuge? Think walls are enough? Perhaps, if they are high enough or thick enough. But for optimal protection and fortification, you need walls that are on a lofty place—you need the high ground. Much of the Battle of Gettysburg during July 1, 2, and 3 1863, centered on who held the high ground. For most of the battle, Union troops were positioned on the high ground of Cemetery Hill, and well-known places like Little Round Top. But fifteen days later, another battle took place outside Charleston, South Carolina. Fort Wagner was a beachhead fortification on Morris Island that covered the southern approach to Charleston harbor. It is considered one of the toughest beachhead defenses constructed by the Confederate States Army because the fort was on a very narrow island so the Union could only assault the fort with one regiment at a time. The approach to the fort was constricted to a strip of beach 60 yards wide with the ocean to the east and a marsh to the west. Upon rounding this gap, the Union Army was presented with the 250-yard south face of Fort Wagner with cannon and mortars and rifles pointed at them. The attack was spearheaded by the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, a black regiment. Their story is told is the movie Glory. The unit’s colonel, Robert Gould Shaw, was killed. Members of the brigade scaled the fort, but after brutal hand-to-hand combat were driven out with heavy casualties. Over 1500 Federal soldiers were killed in this assault on Fort Wagner, but the fort was not taken. It was an impenetrable fort on the high ground.
Psalm 46 appointed for Reformation Sunday also speaks of an impregnable fortress and place of refuge: God Himself. “God is refuge and strength for us, an exceedingly present help in trouble. . . . Yahweh of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is a fortress for us.” And surely we need such a God as this, who is a fortified refuge and place of strength for us, who is present with us in every trouble. After all, we have all kinds of trouble. St. Augustine (who lived around A.D. 400, yet sounds like he could be speaking today) once wrote, “There are many kinds of tribulation, and in all of them we must seek refuge in God, whether the trouble concerns our income, our bodily health, some danger threatening those we love or something we need to support our life.” Doesn’t that sum up our lives? Look at the financial situation many of us find ourselves in today. Consider the health issues many of us face day to day. There are all kinds of turmoil that threaten us—storms, earthquakes, cancer, death of a loved one, disease, anxiety, depression, worry about finances and personal well-being because of job loss, divorce, or raising children in our current world.
For all that we go through in a day or a week or a month, we certainly need a place of safety where we can go and know that we will be safe and secure, loved and cared for. But you won’t find that place here on earth. You won’t find it in your man-cave or your woman-cave. You won’t find that place through your television or at the movies, or in your favorite hobby, although you may find temporary relief and relaxation. But the minute you return from that temporary safe spot, there you are experiencing the troubles of this life again and again on account of the devil, the world, and your sinful flesh.
And “sin is a heavy kingdom, and it subjects to a heavy servitude the souls of all sinners. . . . The kingdom of sin is the kingdom of death, and for a long time it held sway over all the earth.” (Ambrose) In short, sin wreaks havoc on our lives as we suffer the blows and the temptations of the sin-filled world, our own sin-filled flesh, and the lies and destructiveness of the devil.
Sin destroyed our relationship with God our heavenly Father by putting us in a constant state of rebellion against Him. Sin separates us from God and places us squarely in the line of fire of His wrath and displeasure—His judgment against our sins which is death and hell. Sin destroys our relationships with each other. Rather than loving one another, we hate, find fault, cheat, lie, and deceive one another, gossip and slander, steal and murder each other (if not physically, then with our words and actions). Sin also brings devastation to our bodies. We are subject to disease—physical and emotional and mental. We are subject to fire and flood, drought and storms. We are subject to death.
To whom, then, can we go for refuge and strength in all these troubles? Who is there to save us from sin and Satan? Who is there to rescue us from this body of death? To borrow from Martin Luther and his hymn based on Psalm 46, “Ask ye, Who is this? / Jesus Christ it is, / Of Sabaoth Lord, / And there’s none other God; / He holds the field forever.” (LSB 656, A Mighty Fortress)
In the middle of every temptation, amid every disease and worry and fear, among each trial and trouble, in the midst of death itself stands your Mighty Fortress. “Yahweh of hosts is with us.” Yahweh, I Am who I Am, is with us in His Son, Jesus Christ, the One who is Immanuel, or “God with us.” He is the Lord of armies, the commander of the heavenly host who fights for us—the valiant One, whom God Himself elected—Jesus our Savior! He took on human flesh and was born among us as a baby, “conceived by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made man.” “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” (1Peter 2:24) By His dying on the cross, Jesus suffered the full punishment of our sins. He died our death and suffered our hell. Jesus shed His blood to purchase our forgiveness of sins. Sin is defeated. We have been set free from the slavery of sin. As we heard Jesus say in today’s Gospel lesson, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. . . . So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:34, 36)
Since we have been set free from sin through the forgiveness Jesus purchased and won for us, we have also been rescued from death. Through Jesus suffering, death, and resurrection, Christ triumphed over death. With our sins forgiven, Christ gives us eternal life. Now we do not near to fear death. 1 Corinthians 15:55-57, “’Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!” And what of the devil? Conquered! Defeated! The biggest loser! So what of him? “This world’s prince may still / Scowl fierce as he will, / He can harm us none. / He’s judged; the deed is done; / One little word can fell him.”
In Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior, we have refuge, a place of safety, from Satan, sin, and death. Our sins stand forgiven. Eternal life with God is ours, guaranteed by Jesus’ blood shed for us on the cross. And what of the troubles that we go through in this life? Our Mighty Fortress stands with us. The Psalmist writes in verse 7, “God is in her midst; she will not fall; God will help her.” He speaks of the people of God in Christ like a city. In the middle of the city is the tabernacle where God Himself dwells with His people. The Word of God, Jesus, became flesh and tabernacled among us to be our Savior so that He might be in our midst through His Holy Spirit. God has located Himself in the very place where we are under assault, where fear and trouble try to rule our lives. “He’s by our side upon the plain / With His goods gifts and Spirit.”
Our God will not allow sin, Satan, death, troubles or fear to win out over us. We can truly relax and be still. We can stop all our worries because we know that He is God, our refuge and strength. He is the very God who made us. He is the God who saved us from sin and death through His Son, Jesus Christ. It is He who loves us with a love that never ends. “And take they our life, / Goods, fame, child, and wife, / Though these all be gone, / Our victory had been won; / The Kingdom ours remaineth.” Yahweh of hosts is with us. The God of Jacob is our Mighty Fortress. Amen.