“God is Our Fortress”
Reformation Day (Observed), October 25, 2020
Do Not Fear: The Lord of Hosts Is with Us
Text: Psalm 46
Well, you may notice that today we got the red out. We have been green here for months now. We are red because today is Reformation Sunday. Reformation Day is actually Saturday. It is generally agreed upon that the Reformation began on Oct. 31, 1517 when Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg. Luther recognized that what was written in Scripture was lost and replaced by the thoughts and teachings of people, not God. That started the ball rolling that led to many changes in politics in Europe, and also brought about many Christian denominations where before there was only one. (Well, two actually but…)
Our text today is Psalm 46, a psalm that is well known to Lutherans. It forms the basis of the great Reformation hymn “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” This hymn, and the Psalm it is based on, recognizes the real problems we face from three sources: the world (sickness, disaster), people, and the devil. This psalm recognizes all these troubles, and how God’s people are always dealing with such things, while at the same time reminding its readers that God is a Mighty Fortress, that The Lord of Hosts Is Our Refuge, and all who trust in Him are safe.
When it comes to everything this psalm says to us, we start with this: God is our refuge when the world turns on us, you know, like with natural disasters. They seem to be everywhere. Tsunamis, earthquakes, mudslides, forest fires, floods, hurricanes, and tornados continue to plague our planet. From the tornadoes in Moore to the tsunami that wrecked the nuclear power plant in Japan, to the fires that still burn out west, to the hurricanes that keep coming (Epsilon!), we know all about how these things just keep happening.
The fears of natural disasters coming again are the focus of the first section of this psalm (vv 2–3). The psalm mentions many of those things that afflict our natural world: the earth giving way, mountains falling into the seas, the waters roaring and foaming, the trembling of the earth. We don’t want to deal with any of that stuff, right? And we haven’t even gotten to plagues/pandemics!
It’s easy for Christians to say we will not be afraid when the earth shakes or the wind blows, but if the wind starts to howl or the earth starts to shake (that used to happen quite a bit here for a while), even if you don’t want to admit it, the fear is there. However, in this psalm, God promises to be our refuge and strength. He is our “very present help” (v 1). In the middle of all these things, all these troubles, the psalm gives an alternate picture: peace for those in Christ Jesus (vv 4–5). While so much of the news is about these natural disasters, the psalm pictures a calm river, “whose streams make glad the city of God.”
In the Church, we share these promises. The world around us is in chaos. And it really looks like as 2020 continues, that chaos is getting worse. But we can find that peace here, in God’s House (or online). Once we are in the presence of God, who speaks to us through His gifts of Word and Sacrament, peace is given.
That’s not all. In addition to the natural disasters we face in this sinful world, people can bring us worry and anxiety and fear. In fact, the attacks we receive from other people can cause much more pain than natural disasters do. Nevertheless, God is our refuge against our worldly enemies, too.
Psalm 46 talks about this. The example given in the psalm is of nations raging and kingdoms tottering (v 6). We don’t have to go too far to find such examples in our time. Just watch the nightly news. Wars and rumors of wars can be seen all around us (The Internet told me right now there are 34). Civil unrest is so common, not only in countries that are far away, but also in our own cities. People are protesting everywhere, it seems like. There are so many protests, there are people protesting the protests!
And then there are the things people do to one another that are on a smaller scale but are the things that happen to you. And me. When people betray. When people gossip or lie or cheat. I’m pretty sure all of us have known what that’s like. (Of course, we don’t want to talk about the times we’ve done those things, as opposed to having them done to us…) Nations/people are raging. There is not a lot of “Love your neighbor” or “Be nice” going on out there. (And sometimes in here.) But when the raging is being done against us, God is our refuge, our fortress, our strength.
Not only do we have to deal with the assaults of nature, not only do we have to deal with the assaults of other people, but we also deal with the assaults of the devil and his demons. They are real and remain active in the world, seeking to do evil and bring despair and death to God’s creation. But hear this once more, God is our refuge against the powers of evil.
The devil is constantly on the attack. His chief weapons are secularism and spiritualism. The first seeks to remove God from the world. You know this is going on, even if you don’t know what to call it. The Church used to be the cultural center of the USA. Now, for most, it is an afterthought, or not a thought. Spirtualism, the second seeks to provide false gods. People who worship the earth (a lot of that going on, worshipping creation instead of the Creator). There is a guy (a former Google guy) who is trying to create an artificial intelligence that he intends to worship. I could keep going…but I know you want to go get brunch/lunch. We all know our country continues to fall away from God and into the devil’s lies.
Yet again, in the middle of all the chaos, the psalmist tells us to look to God: “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (v 7). There is nothing that can harm those who are in Christ Jesus. God has defeated the powers of sin, death, and the devil through the death on the cross and the resurrection of His only Son, Jesus.
Nothing out there can stand up against the crucifixion of Jesus, His resurrection, and our Baptism that completely connects us to Him. The Lord our God will make these evils cease on the day of Jesus’ glorious return. The psalm assures us, “He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire” (v 9). God does indeed bring the peace that surpasses all human understanding.
While we live in a world that looks like it is descending further into chaos every day, while we see disasters left and right, while we live through a pandemic, while we see people doing evil/being evil, and listening to the devil and turning their backs on God, I have Good News. In Psalm 46, we are reminded that no matter how chaotic things may seem, God stands above all things, and He promises us a place of comfort and safety even when we are surrounded by evil. We find this safety in Jesus! In Jesus, we have a mighty fortress. He is our place to rest until we meet Him face to face. Thanks be to God that He worked through the Reformation to bring such clarity back to us, the clarity of the Gospel of Jesus, who saves us from sin, death, and the devil.
“The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our Fortress.”
In the Name of Jesus.