I’ve been dwelling in Psalm 46 lately. Many years ago, I preached a sermon on this text. As it turns out, the text has even more to teach me today. As it grew and took shape, the sermon presented itself as two sermons. So today on the podcast, I preached on the first part of Psalm 46, and I expect the second part to be released next week. Here’s the transcript:
Our message today comes from Psalm 46.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in our distresses.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change and the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, and the mountains tremble with its tumult.
There is a river whose streams make joyful the city of God—the holy tabernacle of the Most High. God is in her midst, she will not be shaken. God will help her before morning breaks.
Nations rage, kingdoms shake; He utters his voice, the earth melts.
YHWH of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Come, behold the works of YHWH, what horrors he has set on the earth.
He causes wars to cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and cuts off the spear. He burns the chariots with fire.
Be still and know that I am God. I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted among the earth. YHWH of hosts is with us. The God of Jacob is our refuge.
The word of the Lord.
The 46th Psalm has a very odd flow—or lack of flow—to it. There is this refrain of ‘God is our refuge,’ and war language, and right smack in the middle of it there is this description of a city with a river that seems so out of place. As the psalmist begins, the words are almost trite. We’re all nodding our heads and buying into what they are saying.
God is our refuge—Amen. We will not fear—nope, we’re not afraid. Even though the earth changes and shakes, we’re not afraid. Because God is our refuge and strength—our help in times of trouble. We still regularly proclaim this message in the church, don’t we? We sing songs like “you, oh Lord are my refuge” and “rock of ages,” “hide me away, O Lord,” and countless others.
But is this really our response? When the pandemic reaches our nation, and cases start multiplying uncontrollably? When the earth shakes and the mountains tremble. When wildfires rage and hurricanes rip through cities and earthquakes bring devastation? When our nation is teetering on the brink of chaos as we finally begin to reckon with centuries of race-based oppression and violence?
Do we clear our throats and sing loudly about the Lord of hosts who is with us, the God of Jacob who is our refuge? Or do we stumble and have trouble believing that God is even still here? What does our faith look like in the midst of a shaking earth and a raging sea? In the midst of waiting for test results and watching the protests and riots? What happens to our faith when the myth that ours is a “Christian” nation comes crashing down? When we realize that American Christianity has been co-opted by nationalism, capitalism, and white supremacy?
We can sing all we want about God being our refuge in times of trouble, but when times of trouble come, the reality is – we’re looking elsewhere. We look to ourselves and others for refuge. We turn to the news, desperate to figure out what’s going on. We turn to social media, sometimes irritated that all we see are posts about the pandemic or racism, and other times equally irritated when we see the rare post that has nothing to do with these huge national and international issues and we think how can you post about what you ate for breakfast when we are in the midst of multiple crises?!?
It’s not that we shouldn’t lean on others and help one another, but do we really think we don’t need God? I’ll be the first to admit that my prayer and worship life has suffered over the last four months. I don’t know where to start. And even if I can affirm theologically; mentally agree that God is sovereign,…my faith struggles to keep up. When everything seems to be getting so much worse with rarely a sign of hope…my faith struggles to keep up. When my dear friend is losing her battle with cancer, in spite of thousands of people around the world who have been fervently praying for three and a half years…my faith struggles to keep up.
It’s not that I’m losing faith in God, or am particularly upset with God. Although maybe I am because–God, you could do something about my friend. It wouldn’t be hard for you. She’s only 37 years old and she’s a really good person. As a nurse, she’s dedicated her life to being your literal hands and feet for people whose bodies need care. She was doing your good work of healing and restoration in the world. She’s followed you her whole life, and she and her husband are raising their daughters to follow you too. And don’t get me started on her husband. Because we were hardly out of high school when he watched his mom slowly suffer and lose her battle to cancer. Then his stepdad. And later he lost his dad too. He’s lost TOO much already. How can you just sit there and NOT stop his wife from dying?!?
I hear the psalmist saying that you’re our refuge and strength. What I really want, though, is for you to be the great healer. We have been asking, begging for a miracle. What are we supposed to do when you don’t come through? When the answer is no, or just silence??
God is our refuge and strength. The thing is, though, and sometimes I really hate this – the psalmist does *not* say that there won’t be any more storms. The psalmist does *not* say that if we put our faith in God, there won’t be any more earthquakes or cancer or loss. The psalmist says that God is our help in times of trouble. A “very present help in our distresses.”
Friends we have been struggling under the weight of a massive pile of distresses. The pandemic was a heavy one, but it wasn’t the first. And the current state of race relations is a heavy one, but it won’t be the last. Maybe you have lost someone close to you recently, or like me the loss is imminent and that’s a different sort of grief.
We are struggling under these burdens and they are taking an actual, physical toll. And I don’t think I can keep walking with all of this weight on my back. The physical pain that drives me to the chiropractor and the ibuprofen, only to need it all over again two days later – that’s how I know I can’t keep doing this. My body is screaming at me to do something different. And God’s word reveals a big part of the problem.
How can I claim that God is our refuge and strength, and then not even *try* to depend on God in this crisis? But I don’t know where to start or what to pray. The psalmist has an answer to that objection. Be still and know that God is God and we are not.
You know what I think that partly means? Not trying to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. You know what else I think it means? Not filling every moment of every day with words and noise–with books and audiobooks and zoom calls and text chats and music and conversation and Netflix all day long from the time your head is off the pillow until it crashes back into it at night.
I think it means spending some time in stillness and quiet. That just feels so hard right now. The quiet is where I might hear something I don’t want to hear. In the stillness I might have to face some anxieties and realities that I’ve been trying to manage by drowning them out with *all* the noise *all* day long.
And right there in the middle of the pandemic and racial unrest and grief, there is a Holy City. The psalmist invites us to look into this new reality that we can’t quite yet see. The author is painting a vision of the future city of God. The psalmist talks about the New Jerusalem and uses the language of poets and prophets. There’s a city with a river flowing through it that gives life to everything in the city. This is the language used in Ezekiel 47 and Revelation 22. The New Jerusalem is envisioned sort of as a second Eden, with the river that brings fresh water to trees and they bear fruit all year-round. This New Jerusalem is marked by endless light and life and the presence of God. And because God is in this Holy City, nothing can harm it. A mighty fortress is our God…
But we are not yet citizens of the New Jerusalem. We don’t still live in the Old Jerusalem, but we aren’t in the new city yet. We live in the in-between times. The already and the not yet. God’s community has come near, we can see signs and we can point to it… But we’re living in hopeful anticipation of its fullness. There’s a new community emerging under the watchful care and loving guidance of God, and we are witnesses to it. The nations are raging, empires rise and fall. But God’s voice melts the earth. The same voice that spoke all of creation into existence is the voice that speaks to us today.
Be still and know that I am God. Be still.
God is our refuge and strength. An ever-present, always-with-us, never-abandoning-us helper. A parent who sees us, who hears our cries, and who knows us better than we know ourselves. Maybe you’ve had a person in your life who has just been a rock for you, a safe harbor, a refuge. That’s who God is and who God wants to be for us. Our refuge and strength.
There is so much more to be said, about this Psalm and what’s going on in our world. And we’re going to say more about this Psalm next week. But for now, for today, be still. Peace be with you.
Wednesday, July 8, 2020
PreacHer: Dr. Jen Hale Christy
Summary: What does faith look like in the midst of chaos and loss? The book of Psalms is full of praise and lament, encouragement and conviction. In this episode, we turn to Psalm 46 for a word of encouragement. Be still and know that God is God, and we are not. This is part 1, and part 2 is coming..
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