October 31, 2010
John 8:31-36, Psalm 46, Jeremiah 32:32-34, Romans 3:19-28
34Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.
a very present help in trouble.
2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
4There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
6The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
8Come, behold the works of the LORD;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
9He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
10“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
11The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
In 1529, Martin Luther had endured a year of deep depression. He had struggled with episodes of depression his whole life. This one was especially hard. The work he had done to wake up his church to its role in bringing people to Christ through Scriptural teaching and preaching had nearly spun out of control. Many of the people who had struggled beside him to translate the Bible into the people’s language and bring preaching to every worship service had deserted him, moving into what Luther considered extreme directions. They destroyed Christian art in the name of cleansing churches from idolatry, and they moved into private enclaves, out of the world which they felt was evil and corrupting. People had accepted the doctrine of their salvation by grace so completely that they abandoned many of the practices of community care in which they had engaged, taking care of themselves and their families and leaving others to fend for themselves.
Luther’s first-born, daughter Magdalena had died the year before. For a man who came late to family life, Luther had embraced it. His children gave him great joy and many of his hymns were written as children’s songs and plays which the family performed. Magdalena had been the light of his life; lovely and bright and full of promise. His grief kept him bound the whole year after her death. It was in reading this Psalm before us today that he found new hope. After meditating on these verses, he sat down to write “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” the hymn we sang for the processional this morning. It contains his whole theology in its verses.
It seems especially appropriate to me that we should take a moment to consider the promise of this psalm as the days are so chaotic, our civic discourse so polarized as to be unhelpful, our economic future so uncertain. We are fearful. We are overwhelmed by the tragedies which confront us on every side. Where is God in this world run amok? Can we find a place of comfort? What can we trust these crazy days?
“The LORD of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our stronghold,” says the Psalmist. The earth moves, the mountains shake, waters rage and foam, nations rage, and kingdoms shake, the earth melts away. And yet we are surrounded by rivers, streams which make us glad. Streams which remind us of God’s presence in creation, and that God has always been with us. “Come,” says the Psalmist, “come, regard the works of the LORD, who makes wars to cease, breaks the bow, and burns the shields with fire.” God says: “Be still, and know that I am God.” The LORD of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Jesus says that when we continue in his word, we will know that truth, and that truth makes us free. It is Jesus, the very Word of God himself who brings everything back into to perspective for us. The truth is that we are never free of the human tendencies which make us put ourselves first, grasp at resources, crave what is not good for us, disregard the dignity of other humans and of the creation with which we have been entrusted. Jesus calls it sin, Paul calls it sin. Jeremiah calls it iniquity and sin. We are as fractured and chaotic as the world which surrounds us, and our sin is often the cause of the chaos itself.
BUT, that is not the whole story. God comes to us anyway. Through Jeremiah, God says, “I will write my law in their hearts…and they shall know me, and I will forgive them…and remember their sin no more.” Even before the person of Jesus, trust in God’s mercy was salvation. Paul tells us that the “righteousness of God has been disclosed through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe…a person is justified by faith…” The arrival of Jesus in our history is the final proof of God’s presence with us. Jesus lived fully as one of us, and then in his resurrection, broke the bonds which sin has on us forever. It is our trust that this is our story which saves us. Not what we do, not what we have done or not done in the past. The freedom which this gives us is the freedom to live with daring, being God’s hands and heart in our world of suffering and uncertainty; because we have certainty at the center of our lives. The truth expressed so beautifully by the Psalmist: Be still, and know that I AM God. The LORD of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Emily, most of the people in this assembly today have watched you grow up into young adulthood. They are so proud of you, and want the best for you. Speaking for your church community, I want you to wrap these truths about you and God around yourself today, as if you were putting on armor. To remember that no matter where you go in this life, or what happens to you, you will never be beyond the presence of God. That the love of God, expressed so powerfully in the ministry and death and resurrection of Jesus, gives you the freedom to live with joy, gives you eyes to see God at work in the world, and gives you hands to work beside God in everything you do. May the words you hear today, and the promises you make sustain you in all that you do. The LORD of hosts is with you, the God of Jacob is your stronghold.
And now may the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.