Seventh Sunday after Pentecost July 23 and 24, 2022
“God with Us” Psalm 46
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Last Sunday, on the way out of church, one of our folks offered me a suggestion for a sermon theme. “You need to preach about living life once the unexpected happens.” They recounted that they knew of a person whose life was going along well and then, suddenly, out of the blue, an accident happened and life was not so well. They wondered – how can you ever prepare for something so capricious?
Last Sunday in the paper the lead story in the second section was about two bicyclists, who in separate hit-and-run accidents with a car, have had their lives changed – probably forever. Greg Johnson, 64, was hit by a car and has 21 broken bones, including the femur which was shattered into 40 pieces. Lisa Ludwig, 61, was hit and suffered a severe brain injury, receiving care now at Craig Hospital. Her husband, Dave, said that “Lisa will never be Lisa again.” Both went out for the joy and challenge of a bike-ride and both ended up in the hospital because the unexpected happened.
That suggestion about what I should preach about was a good one. How does anyone live life when the unexpected happens? Our psalm for today, a fairly well-known one, Psalm 46, speaks about living life when the unexpected occurs. “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.” (Psalm 46:2-3) What is the writer talking about? Earthquakes? Tsunami’s? Floods? Tornadoes? Drought? I think he is talking about the cosmos – our world. This is something that has begun to get our attention as we experience more and more extremes throughout the world. These are the unexpected things that trouble us deeply.
The unexpected is found in much more than just nature. It is seen in the challenges that one nation has against another, it is seen in the tensions that exist all over the world. “Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts.” (Verse 6) For instance, when one country, Russia, invades a neighbor, Ukraine, we watch and see the horror that war brings to so many people. Though it is thousands of miles from us, it still touches us. Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall.
Chaos can be in all of the created world, and it can be within our country, and among all the nations in the world, and it also can be ours, personally. Life can implode. We find out that we are no longer loved within a marriage, no longer wanted at our job, no longer valued by our friends. We are pained that the Christian faith that we gave to our children and grandchildren has been forsaken, forgotten, rejected and spurned. We feel that we have failed. We anticipated how life would go and it didn’t follow the desired path. We have experienced that the earth gave way and the mountains fell right into the heart of the sea.
The unexpected happened and now what will we do? This last Saturday and Sunday, during our worship service, Stephanie Roettjer played a solo piece on the handbells. Stephanie teamed up with Mike Zehnder, on the keyboard, to play “It Is Well With My Soul.” Whenever I hear or sing that piece, I think of Joyce Wagner, one of the great members of this congregation. Joyce, who died at Easter time in 2019, was at the communion rail, position 1 as I know it, and she was both singing and crying at the same time. It was that hymn that she was singing. “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way; when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well with my soul.’” (LSB 763, Verse 1)
I don’t know the happenings that faced this author, nor the chaos that confronted him and his people, but I do know that he knew what to expect even when they faced the unexpected. In confidence he spoke:
- God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear…
- God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day.
- The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
- Be still and know that I am God.
What did he have? What did they have? What do you have? Faith. He, they, we, have something that we can expect. We have a God who is our refuge and our strength. We have a God who is with us. We have a God who is our fortress. We have a God who is our peace and allows us to be quiet and still in His love. We have a trust and a belief that God is for us, not against us. We have a confidence that God will fight on our side.
This psalm, 46, is well known to us Lutherans because Martin Luther based the hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is our God” upon these words. Look at the unexpected in the hymn, and then what Luther was most certain about:
Though hordes of devils fill the land all threat-‘ning to devour us,
We tremble not, unmoved we stand; they cannot overpow’r us.
Let this world’s tyrant rage; in battle we’ll engage.
His might is doomed to fail; God’s judgment must prevail!
One little world subdues him.
What do you do when chaos has come to rest within the walls of your house? What do you do when the devil with his temptations and lies tries to take over your life? What do you do when everything has crumbled? Go to the one thing that holds you together. Go to the one word that subdues the devil. The one word? The one person? Jesus!!
The psalmist brings hope when he introduces what God is going to do for his people who were disheveled – The Lord Almighty is with us. The stumbling block that many people at the time of Jesus had, as well as many people since have, is that Jesus of Nazareth, was actually God in the flesh. “God with us.” When Joseph, the man who would marry Mary, the mother of Jesus, was going to leave and abandon Mary and her baby still to be born, an angel came from God and told him not to leave and then said, “All this took place to fulfill what the Lord has said through the prophet: ‘The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him “Immanuel” – which means, “God with us”. (Matthew 1:22-23)
We expect that God is with us still today. How do I know? How do you know? God hasn’t lost His voice. He speaks and tells us to turn from everything that is wrong and evil and against the holy purposes that God has for us. Especially in our world today, we had better hear His clear voice. That is the voice in His word that tells us that He is still with us. His voice is clear, telling us that Jesus is our refuge and Redeemer – that all sins, when we truly seek God in repentance, are forgiven by the blood of Jesus. God is with us when we come to this table and receive His body and blood. He is with us in the pure waters of Baptism, washing us and filling us with the Holy Spirit.
The God with us, in the flesh and by His Spirit, is also the God who is for us. Like Romans 8 says, “What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Verses 31-32)
This generous kindness of God, totally underserved, is expected, because of how much God treasures us. We find ourselves in a fortress, in protection, with security. We find ourselves with a calm and stillness, even when everything else around us is in upheaval. “Be still, and know that I am God.” This God who is for us, our Lord Jesus, says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14:27)
We find ourselves in the best hands for our eternal life. We can expect our God, our Savior Jesus, to be our refuge and strength eternally. This psalm is about faith and trust, not just for now, but forever. Trust Jesus. Jesus said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:1-3)
Life is always the unexpected – the surprises. But it is more than that. It is a life of faith and trust and hope. It is a life with Jesus, God-with-us and God-for-us, assuring us we can expect great things from Him.
Lord, give us such faith. Amen!!