December 16, 2017

Sermon: Though the Wrong Seems Oft So Strong

waves-crashing

SERMON: Tho’ the Wrong Seems Oft So Strong
Christ the King Sunday

Prayer of the Day

O God, our true life, to serve you is freedom, and to know you is unending joy. We worship you, we glorify you, we give thanks to you for your great glory. Abide with us, reign in us, and make this world into a fit habitation for your divine majesty, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

PSALM 46

1 God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
    though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3 though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
    the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
    God will help it when the morning dawns.
6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
    he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our refuge.
8 Come, behold the works of the Lord;
    see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He 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.”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
    the God of Jacob is our refuge.

• • •

All year long during this upcoming Church Year we will be commemorating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, and I am going to try to take every advantage to talk about Reformation themes during my sermons.

So, for this Christ the King Sunday I will be preaching on today’s psalm — Psalm 46. This psalm was the inspiration for Martin Luther’s great hymn, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.

Mark Galli is the editor of Christianity Today  magazine and a friend of mine. Several years ago he wrote a wonderful piece describing the background of the hymn, and I’d like to share it with you today.

It was the worst of times—1527—one of the most trying years of Luther’s life. It’s hard to imagine he had the energy or spirit to compose one of Christendom’s most memorable hymns.

On April 22, a dizzy spell forced Luther to stop preaching in the middle of his sermon. For ten years, since publishing his 95 Theses against the abuse of indulgences, Luther had been buffeted by political and theological storms; at times his life had been in danger. Now he was battling other reformers over the meaning of the Lord’s Supper. To Luther, their errors were as great as those of Rome—the very gospel was at stake—and Luther was deeply disturbed and angry. He suffered severe depression.

Then, on July 6, as friends arrived for dinner, Luther felt an intense buzzing in his left ear. He went to lie down, when suddenly he called, “Water … or I’ll die!” He became cold, and he was convinced he had seen his last night. In a loud prayer, he surrendered himself to God’s will.

With a doctor’s help, Luther partially regained his strength. But this depression and illness overcame him again in August, September and late December. Looking back on one of his bouts, he wrote his friend Melanchthon, “I spent more than a week in death and hell. My entire body was in pain, and I still tremble. Completely abandoned by Christ, I labored under the vacillations and storms of desperation and blasphemy against God. But through the prayers of the saints [his friends], God began to have mercy on me and pulled my soul from the inferno below.”

Meanwhile, in August, the plague had erupted in Wittenberg. As fear spread, so did many of the townspeople. But Luther considered it his duty to remain and care for the sick. Even though his wife was pregnant, Luther’s house was transformed into a hospital, and he watched many friends die. Then his son became ill. Not until late November did the epidemic abate and the ill begin to recover.

During that horrific year, Luther took time to remember the tenth anniversary of his publication against indulgences, noting the deeper meaning of his trials: “The only comfort against raging Satan is that we have God’s Word to save the souls of believers.” Sometime that year, Luther expanded that thought into the hymn he is most famous for: “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

I hope you will remember that background when you sing A Mighty Fortress. It reminds us that this hymn is more than great poetry and stirring music. It came from the battles of Martin Luther’s life, from a year in which he experienced fear, distress, and dismay. It must have seemed at times in 1527 that the world was spinning out of control. But in that very context, the words of Psalm 46 were there to strengthen the reformer and give birth to the hymn we still treasure today. This psalm and Luther’s hymn remind us that, in the words of another hymn writer: “Tho’ the wrong seems oft’ so strong, God is the Ruler yet.”

Psalm 46 is a psalm of trust. In striking metaphorical language it calls us to believe that God is our refuge and that no ultimate harm will befall us, even if the whole world should fall apart.

You read this psalm, as we did this morning, and you see spectacular events portrayed — mountains come crashing down, the seas turns into a roiling tsunami, nations rise up and go to war, kingdoms topple, stretches of earth burn and become desolate. It’s like a special effects blockbuster movie!

And it’s right there, in the middle of all the chaos, the dazzling explosions, the deafening roar, when God stands up and thunders, “BE QUIET! BE STILL!”

And then there’s complete silence….

God speaks again, “I WILL BE EXALTED!” — in other words, “I’m the one in charge here!”

And at that word, the wars cease, the commotion dies down, and there is peace.

It reminds me of the disciples and their experience with Jesus on the Sea of Galilee, which I’m sure you remember. In the midst of a storm, out on the sea in that flimsy fishing boat where they feared for their lives, Jesus stood up and said, “Peace! Be still!” and the wind and the waves immediately became calm.

It’s like when someone is panicking and out of control and freaking out. A friend grabs him by the shoulders, looks him straight in the eye, and says, “Look at me! Stop! I’m here! You’re okay!” He hugs his friend close and tight until the fear subsides. By his firm grip and direct words, he takes charge of the situation and helps his friend calm down.

In the same way, Psalm 46 says, “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.” He is present, a “very present” help when we need help. He’s there to take hold us, to embrace us, to hold us close and tight, to allay our fears. How many times did Jesus need to do this for his disciples? How many times did he have to say, “Fear not!”

Have any of you been to New York City? In lower Manhattan, there is a tiny historic church called St. Paul’s Chapel. It is right near Ground Zero, where the Twin Towers fell. On Sept. 11, 2001, when those magnificent buildings crashed to the ground in a spectacle the likes of which few of us had ever seen before, somehow the little chapel was protected from damage.

It’s a beautiful church and a major tourist attraction. George Washington once prayed there. But it’s just a tiny chapel. On 9/11 it served as a place of rest for rescue workers — in fact, I understand that the marks from firefighters’ boots and equipment are still visible on the pews. But it could only do so because on that day it survived in what seemed to many like a miraculous intervention by God.

The chapel is located just steps from Ground Zero. And yet when the buildings fell right next to it, it kept standing without a scratch. No broken windows. Even the steeple remained intact. Only one tree -– a nearly 100-year-old sycamore in the church yard -– fell. And it was that tree that saved the chapel. It prevented a huge steel beam from smashing the 235-year-old church to splinters.

What is even more amazing is that this was not the first time St. Paul’s Chapel experienced such a remarkable deliverance. The chapel also stood unscathed during the Great Fire of 1776, even when Trinity Church -– located just a few blocks down on Broadway -– was ruined.

Twice, when the world crumbled all around, St. Paul’s Chapel found that God was with her, a very present help in time of trouble. Her refuge and strength.

Almost every time I pray with one of my hospice patients and families, I pray that they will know God in this way — as their refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble. And then in my prayer I add words that come from the NT equivalent of this psalm, from Romans 8: “And Lord, help them to know that you will never leave them or forsake them, that there is nothing in all creation that can ever separate us from your love.”

Psalms like this are meant to inspire us, to hearten us, to ground us in a Deeper Reality when it feels like life is taking us on a bumpy and scary roller coaster ride. It might not always feel like God is with us, and we might wonder sometimes if it’s all falling apart and the whole world is going to go careening off to crash into the ground.

But here are a few handles you can grab onto as you hang on for dear life:

God is our refuge and strength
A very present help in time of trouble.

The Lord of hosts is with us
The God of Jacob is our refuge.

Nothing, nothing, NOTHING can ever separate us from his love.

Comments

  1. As a Lutheran I can’t help but have mixed feelings about the Reformation. It seems more an ugly revolt of division than any kind of reforming of the church. I just can’t bring myself to participate in the festivities…

    • We see historical events as primarily sublime or horrific, when they’re generally both. Chaplain Mike’s eloquent essay perceives the sublimity and the Deeper Reality of the Protestant Reformation. A secular view would note that the new printing press technology tripped up the Catholic Church in its deadly power play with the reformers: Jan Hus, tricked into captivity and burned alive a century before Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, had no such access to rapid communications.

      Same dilemma with the brave little church of St. Paul’s Chapel that Chaplain Mike mentions. The church didn’t fall, “God was with her.” But the Twin Towers did fall, burying 3,000 Americans. Skepticism wonders,” Was God not with them?”

      To which there is no answer, of course. We can only pray to see as God sees.

    • Of all the schisms we’ve had, the Reformation gets the celebration. Wonder why that is.

      • My sentiments exactly. Lets celebrate division.

        • It’s mixed, like every other movement in history.

          Don’t celebrate it all, don’t condemn it all.

          • Chaplain Mike
            You have been quoting Luther a lot in the last months, and some of his bombastic statements.

            That does not paint him in a good light. The Reformation was a huge tragedy, it may have been necessary, but a tragedy nonetheless.

            So I just don’t understand how Protestants can celebrate the biggest schism in Christian history with such a sense of triumphalism. It does not seem Jesus shaped or seem to be a fruit of Christian virtue.

            I just don’t get it.

            • Ken, why do you lump me in with those who celebrate “with triumphalism”? Is that what is coming across in our posts? I hope not.

              Don’t worry, this year will see us exploring all sides of the Reformation, including my opinion that it is essentially over.

              • That was not explicitly directed at you, but look around, the sentiment is out there with protestants. Re-read some of the posts where Luther was insulting Catholic authorities – what’s that all about if it isn’t some type of triumphalism?

                I once had a guy get together with me and say he was concerned that I expressed doubt about the reformation.

                I look at the cost. Its kind of like one guy I know, after the first divorce the second and third weren’t as hard. Look at the fruit – how many denominations in the USA? Now anyone and everyone can start a church. And it has bred an unhealthy individualism.

                IMHO a better approach is that we actually celebrate the Reformation with a day of mourning and grieving about the lost unity in the body of Christ. And that we perhaps start trying to understand one another instead of throwing rocks.

                • William Martin says:

                  Yoo probably won’t see this Ken…..Didn’t quite have the thought till just now. I live in Pennsylvania ….Penn’s woods William that is. This was his grand experiment. All faiths being welcome here. He was a Quaker. I get Quaking and being a friend.The Spirit has come over me leaving shaking for quite awhile especially after speaking in front of many. Many have jumped up to try and touch me but it wasn’t me they were trying to touch. Some of those people don’t even know why because they don’t look at things that way. Penn spent time in jail going against the King and the established religion by the state. Penn knew there to be many ways to God and steps. So was Pennsylvania to be this kind of place. Penn died poor. Our Capital building is full of sayings dating back to Penn. We aren’t divided anymore than before the reformation. There has always been division and those in power who were corrupted by their own thoughts which is what we find today. Still if looked upon as steps in the individual life that is what they are. Should some lead churches, Probably not. I know I shouldn’t

            • I kind of get it, Ken.

              The Protestant Reformation (or Revolt, depending on your POV) opened up the people’s mental and emotional access to God *directly*, rather than through other human channels like priests and bishops. That is a tremendous liberation for the individual soul and conscience. IMNSHO.

              Of course, horrible things were done by authorities on both sides of the divide. But for the ordinary person, the idea that the Bible stories are *theirs*, and *they* can talk directly to God — that idea must have been simply breathtaking at the time.

              • By the end of the Middle Ages, most of the laity only received the Eucharist one time a year, during the Easter season, when it was their duty receive, under penalty of incurring mortal sin if they did not do their “Easter duty”. So much superstition surrounded receiving Communion in an unworthy state that only those who were required to celebrate Communion on a daily basis, the priests, received it frequently.

                One of the things that was recovered in the churches that formed after the Reformation was more frequent communion for the laity, though not as frequent as Luther and the other Reformers would’ve preferred. The medieval superstitions continued in the newly formed Protestant churches, making implementation of weekly communion difficult; but once a month, or once quarterly, was still far more than the Catholic laity had been partaking. In this, the Protestant churches helped the Western Church move back in the direction of frequent communion for both clergy and laity, which had been the practice of the ancient Church, though it had been lost in the West. While it’s true that in the intervening centuries the Roman Catholic Church has moved past most Protestant churches in the frequency of communion received by laity, it was not always so. This change was at least partly due to the Reformation, though it’s not commonly known.

              • Although I think there was an important recovery of certain things that crystallized in the Reformation, and although I’m a member of a Lutheran church, I find it disagreeable to celebrate the Reformation. Especially for a year. At best, the Reformation was a necessary evil, like warfare.

                I especially dislike the mild contempt that so many of my fellow Lutheran parishoners have for the Catholic Church and its practices and beliefs; it reminds me of nothing so much as the attitude of superior contempt that with which some atheists regard Christianity (and all religion) in general.

                • Oh but immeasurable progress has been made, and even more in the European churches. Just think, to have the church kick off the year by inviting the Pope to a joint prayer service in Sweden is such good news!

                  • But CM, the Church in Europe is moribund. If it weren’t for the fact that in many places, the Church receives state funding and support, it would be even less lively than it is now. Do the discussions and decisions among the different churches in western Europe effect the churches in places around the world, many of which are far more vital than the European churches, and very independent.

                    Of course, the Catholic Church is a vast international institution, and no doubt the deliberations and decisions of prelates in Europe impact the Church in other places in significant ways. But not all the religious power-brokers in the Church in Rome are on-board with the openness of Pope Francis. Some are working against him, mostly in the area of the Church’s teaching on sexuality, but I’d be surprised if they are supportive of a reconciliation with the Protestant churches, except on traditional Catholic terms. They may well have the power to reverse both his openness in the area of sexuality, and to the Protestant churches, and such a reversal would have impact on the worldwide institution.

                    As for the European Protestant churches, I don’t see that their opinions have far-reaching, decisive influence among international Protestant churches, and whatever influence they do have diminishes each year. The center of gravity for Protestant Christianity has already shifted from Western Europe to developing countries beyond Europe.

                  • The reconciliation between Catholic and Protestant churches in Europe is a victory taking place mostly in seminary and academy; it’s hard to see how it will have far-reaching impact beyond those places.

                • You have expressed my sentiments well.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        It’s the descendants of the Reformation (especially the Really Truly Reformed) doing the celebrating.
        “Hooray! WE WON!”

    • Joel,
      Thank you for saying that. I find it hard to find joy when so many had suffered so much. But I guess I must think of it as the excuse used by politicians to increase their power.

  2. My wife and I had a tough day yesterday. This morning is a tough morning. I don’t want to go into the whys. I do want to ask for the prayers of anybody willing to pray. They are needed. Thanks.

    • Burro [Mule] says:

      From one man in a tight situation to another, you have my most earnest prayers.

      For some reason, I thought to request the intercession of St. Anne. Maybe it was nothing more than a caprice, as she is not a prominent saint in my life, nor in the life of my family.

      A refuge from every storm
      And a divine help in time of need
      Art thou, O righteous Anna, for those who with faith
      Draw nigh to our Master Christ
      And trust in your holy prayers;
      For your intercessions
      Save our souls from grievous maladies.

      • My wife and I have been frequent visitors to the parish of St. Anne’s Roman Catholic Church, in a nearby city, about 15 miles from where we live; she’s been pianist for many Saturday evening Masses over the last year-and-a-half. It’s impossible for me to see your impulse to pray for St. Anne’s intercession as the result of caprice or coincidence. God is real, and apparently so are his Saints.

        Thank you, Mule.

        • Is this the same St. Anne who was grandmother to Our Lord?

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

            If it’s “St Anne” without any other qualifier, it usually is.

            Original Semitic pronunciation/spelling “Hannah” AKA “God’s Gift to the World”.
            (I know the origin of the name because the only girlfriend I ever had was named Ann.)

          • Christiane, Yes, the parish is named after St. Anne, grandmother of our Lord.

        • Praying.

    • Praying for you, Robert

    • Lifting both you and your wife in prayer, Robert

    • You have my prayers.

    • To Robert F: praying for you both…glad you asked. This is the prayer that was in my prayer book for today:

      Watch Thou, dear Lord, with those who wake, or watch, or weep tonight, and give Thine angels charge over those who sleep. Tend Thy sick ones, O Lord; rest Thy weary ones; bless Thy dying ones; soothe Thy suffering ones; pity Thy affected ones; shield Thy joyous ones; and all for Thy love’s sake. Amen. St. Augustine

      To CM: this is my favorite Psalm…simply because it has my favorite verse, verse 10– be still and know that I am the Lord.
      This is really unfathomable by most evangelicals who want to ‘fix’ it there way. All I do is mention this is a recurring theme through scripture — and eyes glaze over like I’m crazy. Even my brother this weekend told me he thought we were called to be busy ! Nope, we’re called to work/vocation here in God’s creation, but never to be busy or too busy. We’re called to stillness– how else will we hear His still small voice?

      • –> “…’be still and know that I am the Lord.’ This is really unfathomable by most evangelicals who want to ‘fix’ it there way.”

        Yep. Worship services at my church have drifted toward a non-stop barrage of noise, either music or someone speaking. I can’t remember the last time we spent a minute in contemplative prayer.

        • Which is why I left evangelical churches and worship at the Lutheran church around the corner from us. Too much noise, videos, entertainment-see, etc.
          Scripture is too clear on this from Genesis to revelation. Silence, stillness, quietness.
          But, no..evangies have to build empires..please.

          • I think I’d end up complaining about some of the Lutheran traditions eventually, too…LOL.

            I just want a nice balance, please!!!

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

          You need periods of Quiet to set off the periods of music and talking.

    • Not sure if the prayers of a sinner availeth much, but I’m praying, Robert.

    • Thanks to all for your prayers….

    • Of course I am praying for you both, Robert.

  3. Robert, praying for both you and your wife. May the Lord touch you both with his peace and love everlasting !!!!

  4. William Martin says:

    This has been one of the worst years of my life. Got hurt and got on PKs and now having to quit them. Started drinking again after a 13 year lay off. didn’t go so well. sick to where I couldn’t get out of bed for 7 days. Couldn’t even hardly walk more than to the bathroom and back to bed. Mostly turned my back on everything. How sorry I am and humbled by the whole thing. Been sick on and off all year. Hard for a 280 pound man who repping 300 at 55. Sorry for the toes I’ve stepped on here.
    One thing has occurred to me through it all. Everything that isn’t of God leads me right back to Him. Here as it is in Heaven, not a request but a statement. All the things that are no good for me bring me to that which I was designed for done on purpose By a God who knew I would need that. Somehow deep inside I know Heaven is the same way and that’s why the rebellious angels couldn’t stay as their choice was made. I still have a choice to rebel more or except the design by a loving God who made things the way He did.
    My hope is to remember the humble state I find myself in, Be kinder and more gentle. Slower to speak quicker to listen Smile a little more and be slow to anger. I wonder if the illnesses humbled Martin Luther the way it has me.

  5. Ronald Avra says:

    Great sermon; thanks for sharing it. Prayers will go out for all.

  6. The comforting prayer ‘Anima Christi’ has often evoked for me the Shelter that is Christ Himself Who leads us ‘from death into life’.

    from the ‘Anima Christi’:

    ” Soul of Christ, sanctify me
    Body of Christ, save me
    Blood of Christ, inebriate me
    Water from the side of Christ, wash me
    Passion of Christ, strengthen me
    O good Jesus, hear me
    Within Thy wounds hide me
    Permit me not to be separated from Thee “

  7. Luther set out to reform the Roman Church, not destroy it. As it turns out with what is called the “Counter Reformation”, he accomplished a great deal for good within Rome, and that eventually led to Vatican Two, and that eventually led to what is going on today with Francis, stay tuned. The Lutheran churches have some mighty catching up to do, but at least some of them will let you share their table. As Heather points out, all this could not have been done without the printing press. Today an even bigger revolution is going on underneath most people’s radar, with the ongoing reformation of the whole World System, and that would not have been possible without the internet. In a general sense Psalm 46 has been happening since Jesus walked the earth, but perhaps never so much as today. The fate of humanity seems especially precarious right now, and I have never been more optimistic as to the outcome, may God’s light and love prevail.

    Every day I walk out to bless the land, all within, and all without. Amongst many others, I send out blessing and healing and protection to CM and all those who gather here, but in particular I name Bill and Robert and Mule, who seem to be carrying an especially heavy load, along with David Cornwall, and maybe he will show up today as well. It seems like an auspicious day, a day for healing and progress and growth, even as the the nations rage, kingdoms totter, and the earth melts under out feet. Blessings of God Most High to all!

  8. These are all wonderful posts. Thank you all and I send you all my heartfelt prayers in return. God bless!

  9. Thanksgiving and prayers for all.