“When Things Fall Apart”
REFORMATION DAY (OBSERVED), OCTOBER 26, 2014
When Things Fall Apart
Text: Psalm 46
I believe we have all had to face, what I am calling here this morning, “One of Those Days.” You know, your alarm does not go off and you have no clue why it failed. You run into the kitchen to start the coffee and you step in a puddle with your bare feet, and this is when you realize your cat got sick overnight. Your shoelace breaks, and you can’t find a new one when you are already late. And then you go down the Broadway Raceway and a truck flips and dumps its cargo across all the lanes, causing a traffic jam. When you finally get to work, you go to the kitchenette and because you’re late, somebody else got the last donut. We don’t like those days, right? Those days when things fall apart.
Well, we can smile and maybe even laugh at the scenario we just had there, sounds like a movie about Alexander and his really bad day, right? But what about when things are REALLY bad: when the doctor says the test was positive, when you get the call from the police, when the boss says your job is no longer filled by you. A lot of unanswered questions: the what-ifs, the how-longs, the how-bads. What do you say?
Well, this morning let’s work through these questions by turning to Psalm 46 to discover clearly how we should respond When Things Fall Apart.
Psalm 46 was the Old Testament lesson today. Sounded familiar, right? Yes, this is the psalm on which Martin Luther based “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” We’ll talk about that more. But the psalmist also describes all kinds of natural disasters, political turmoil, interpersonal conflict, and all kinds of other stuff that happens simply because we’re imperfect people living in an imperfect world. I assume it does not come as a surprise to any of us that the kind of stuff the psalmist wrote about here go on all the time. We go on the internet or turn on the TV and see conflict between countries and conflicts between political parties and conflicts over moral issues. We hear often about earthquakes, floods, droughts, and famines. Right? And we see kids being killed because they are the wrong religion and we see people shooting up military bases and schools and people getting beheaded at work, and we go “What?!?” Meanwhile, there are all sorts of questions that run though our minds: Where is God? How should we understand what’s going on all around us? How should we as Christians respond during these times?
Now, right away in this psalm the author makes a bold statement about the position people of faith should take when things fall apart: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear” (vv 1–2a). We will not fear. Period.
Then the author describes three scenes. Did you catch this? The first scene is in vv 2–5, describing hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, and other natural disasters. “We will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling” (vv 2–3). The earth is giving way, the mountains are falling into the sea, at least that is the way it seems on Facebook every time we have a tremor here in Central Oklahoma. We are familiar with so-called natural disasters in this part of the world. But right in the middle of this scene, what do we see? “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” (vv 4–5). A river. The kind of river that, when people see it, they’re glad. We move from a picture of storms and waves to water that is calm, tranquil. The difference between the ocean during a hurricane and your favorite fishing spot where the water is calm like glass. Some commentators think this river is a picture for the Holy Spirit, where out of Christ flows rivers of living water that brings life. You know, like Baptism!
The second scene is in v 6: “The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.” Sudan, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Israel and Gaza, North and South Korea, Afghanistan, Kiev. Geopolitical conflicts are raging. Military forces clashing. Hard-line, ideological, hate-filled, power mongers trying to take what is not theirs to take. And yet right in the middle of all the chaos and the turmoil, what do we see? “The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (v 7). A fortress. The Lord Almighty is with us. The God of Jacob is our fortress. A place of safety and security for us. A hiding place where we can rest secure.
The third scene is in vv 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.” Some interesting words here describing the mighty, holy, unbridled power of God, doing things that God in His wisdom sometimes does without our comprehension. Breaking spears, destroying kingdoms, bringing desolation upon this earth. And sometimes, God’s mighty, holy, unbridled power intersects with our lives, and there is collateral damage. But right in the middle of all of this, what do we hear? A voice. “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (v 10). Be still, and know that I am God.
Let me ask you a question this morning. Which of these three scenes do you see in your life right now? Natural calamities, where things are falling apart in your home or with your health? Are you in conflict with someone? The inexplicable, holy, unbridled power of God, where sometimes stuff just happens? How are you doing with this playing out in your life? In the middle of the chaos and the anxiety and the uncertainty, how is your faith? Or should I ask, Where is your faith? In whom is your faith?
Without knowing it or intending it, Luther found himself in the midst of conflict that rocked the world. Raising ninety-five questions, topics for debate really, just asking for open discussion, wound up changing the face of Europe and the planet—and confronting Luther with the threat of death and, worse, excommunication from his Church, the official word that his soul would spend eternity in hell. Where could he put his faith? In whom?
Well, no matter which of the psalmist’s scenes is being played out in your life, God comes to each of us this morning as He came to Luther, with these words: “Be still. I am your refuge and your strength. I am your fortress. I am that calm, tranquil stream.” As Hebrews says, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (13:5). Or to paraphrase God’s word to us: “I will stand by your side no matter what. I sent my Son, Jesus, to make this happen. His life, His death, and His resurrection took away the sin that had separated you from me, so now and forevermore I am with you.” This Table—this body and blood—is the guarantee of this promise. The waters of Baptism are the guarantee of this promise. And with God’s promise, we can depend on the Lord’s presence throughout our lives. We can say, as the writer of our psalm says, “The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (v 11).
This is the promise that enabled Luther to stand against popes and armies. His Lord of hosts, His Jesus, was with Him. A mighty fortress was His God—and is ours.
There will be times in future weeks and months when we witness the three scenes of Psalm 46 playing out right in front of us. Just ask the folks in Ottawa. Here’s the question: how will we respond when things fall apart? Well, God Himself comes to us in this psalm and encourages us with these words: Do not be alarmed. Do not worry. Do not be afraid.
Here’s the point. When things are falling apart, there will be opportunities for us as Christians to speak these words to one another: “We will not fear. Be still.” There will be opportunities for us to sit quietly in our favorite chair and read these words over and over again: “God is our refuge and strength. Do not be afraid.” In the middle of this chaos, we have a calm, peaceful river. We have a strong and mighty fortress. We have a voice speaking to us: “Be still, and know that I am God.”