O, God, when it seems like life is falling apart, be our refuge and our strength. Silence in us any voice but your own now, so that we may hear the word you have for us this day: in Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
This morning is the last Sunday in the liturgical year, known as Christ the King Sunday. It’s the Sunday when all of the scripture and the hymns focus on Jesus as King. When we think of a king we think of someone holding a septor and wearing a crown made of gold Jesus wasn’t that kind of king. He held bread and wore a crown made out of thorns. Jesus was and is a different kind of king. He was and is a king for a world that would know all kinds of trouble. Louie Armstrong once sang the Gospel hymn:
Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Nobody knows my sorrow
Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen
Nobody knows but Jesus
Psalm 46 is written by someone who knows all sorts of trouble – He says
God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.[c]
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble.
This Psalm is about assurance of God’s presence even in, especially in the times of crisis and upheaval. The writer holds two truths at the same time – a way of seeing life and a way of answering the question of the way life presents.
The Psalmist doesn’t deny there will be trouble. He seems to have lived through both environmental catastrophes and war. He seems to have the experience to have come out on the other side, and the wisdom to know that God has the whole world in his hands.
Imagine a family reading this Psalm as they take cover in the subways in the city if Keeve.
Imagine an elderly couple reading this Psalm as they sit on top of their kitchen counter as the flood waters rise around them.
Imagine a mother whispering this in her child’s ear as they escape the gangs of El Savador and seek safety in the United States.
When have you needed to say this scripture passage? When have you sought God’s refuge and strength?
In my research this text for today, I was struck that it is the Psalm and particularly this verse that has been used repeatedly for two historical events: September 11 and the Pandemic. It was the scripture used by Billy Graham at the Washington Cathedral on September 14, 2001. It was used by Rev. Derrick Harkins at the 19th Street Baptist Church on Sunday, Sept. 11 came from Psalm 46. He said “ the Bible doesn’t talk about the absence of calamity, but God promises his presence in trying times. Sept. 11 was not the first, and sadly it will not be the last time we will see inhuman acts, but we always can depend on God’s presence when tragedy strikes.”
“Psalm 46 says God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. The reality is that there will be difficult times, but God promises to be our refuge. When buildings crumbling and our world is shaken. God has not failed us. He has promised to be with us in the middle of tragedy. We sometimes think that when we find ourselves in difficult circumstances that God has abandoned us, but this is not the case.”
Have you had the experience, where you go through something where the ground under you shakes and you live through it and you testify that God had you all along?
Arch Bishop Desmond Tutu preached on Pslam on September 11, 2002 and said,
“On many occasions, back home in South Africa, when ghastly things were happening in our struggle against apartheid, often the cry went out from our people, “God, where are you? God, do you care? God, do you see?” And we would tell our people that wonderful story in the book of the prophet Daniel, of the God whose servants had been cast into a fiery furnace. And then, and then, God didn’t stand at a safe distance giving useful advise — “Guys, when you go into a fire, it would probably be sensible to put on protective clothing.” No, fantastically, God entered the fiery furnace, and was there side by side with God’s servants in their anguish and agony, because this God was Emmanuel, “God with us,” God with us in our suffering, in our oppression and in our anguish.
You have probably heard the story of the little Jew in the concentration camp, humiliated and taunted by his Nazi guard. And one day he is asked to clean out the restrooms, and the Nazi guard standing above him taunts him, and says, “Where is your God now?” And the little Jew replied quietly, “He’s right here with me in the muck.”
We have all been in our own days and weeks of muck. – When we await a diagnosis or undergo treatment. When we experience a crisis in our home, or deal with a car accident. When we make mistakes that have big consequences. When we are snowed over with papers and exams.
Breathe in: God is our refuge and strength. Breathe out: A very present help in times of trouble.
When we get anxious it’s easy to forget to be still and know. To stop and think. This what God commands in this Psalm. When life caves in, stop, be still, and know. God will not be louder than the voice of anxiety that shouts at you to react and seek refuge in worldly things.
We often want to seek refuge in anything other than the steadfast love of God.
We want to seek refuge in the promise of a pension, or the relief of a savings account.
We want to seek refuge in living in a safe town
We want to seek refuge in our beliefs and experiences.
We want to seek refuge in almost anything other than God.
When we seek refuge in those things, we find eventually find that those our false securities. When we seek refuge in God, we discover something sustaining and eternal.
This week most of us will celebrate Thanksgiving and be surrounded by people who have been with us when the earth has shaken and the mountains have trembled in our personal lives. They have been with us in our most anxious moments, perhaps they have been afraid for us, and you for them. There may be people whom you will pass the stuffing to who are in the muck of their lives right now and all you can do is pass them the stuffing, because it all seems so complicated. Do not be afraid, be still and know. Know that God is at every table. If you sit at a table of one, God is there. If you sit at table of 30, God is there.
Whatever it is that is keeping you up at night. Whatever it is that is shaking your faith, take comfort you can seek refuge in the God who created the wide grey skies, the mists that roll and rise, thy woods and this one holy autumn day. -Stand in awe and do fear, but trust in the one who made the world too beautiful this year.
Rev. Dr. Shelly Wood