All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
June 24, 2018
Text: Psalms 46
Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of our heart be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
In last weeks sermon I made the passing statement that we often fear other people more than we fear the Lord. I think this statement needs to be contemplated and unpacked more deeply. Furthermore, it is a part of the theme of Psalm 46 and has to do with God’s Judgement. As we read our Psalm for this morning we are met with sentiment which is repeated three time, though said slightly differently: “God is our hope and our strength, a very present help in trouble.” This reminds us that we shall not fear. We shall not fear though the world around us rages on.
I think the first thing we want to do this morning is understand the difference between fearing man and fearing the Lord, the difference stems from the position of motivation. To fear other people – to fear the world around us – is to fail to trust the Lord. The fear of the Lord, on the other hand – stems from a proper reverence towards the Lord and in that reverence trusting His word to be true, and trusting fully in His promises. The fear of the Lord comes from placing ourselves humbly before Him in the utmost respect for holiness and love.
Let’s unpack these two ideas a little more. If you spend any time at all listening to the news it would seem that the world around us is an utterly terrifying place, between domestic and international political turmoil, regular reports violence on our streets and worse yet in our schools, and even economic uncertainty it seems perfectly reasonable to be frightened. However, this fear as reasonable as it may be comes out of a place of lacking to trust in the Lord.
When we examine any of the hot button issues of our age we want to ask the question – is what we see happening and our reaction to it a reaction driven out of fear of the other person, or is it driven out of love for that person and a dependence on the Lord as our fortress. When fear is the driving factor we find we are quick to judge and can even dehumanize the other. Unfortunately, this is often our culture’s default mindset – to protect ourselves, no matter the cost.
There is another element of fearing man over the Lord and it comes from a desire to protect relationships. Instead of speaking truthfully – instead of lovingly saying “that hurt me because..” or “I think you’re wrong because…” we say everything is fine, we don’t speak the truth or worse yet, we let the relationship atrophy because working through the problems is harder than ignoring them.
No, we want to avoid being driven by the fear of the world around us, the fear of losing someone, or the fear of being vulnerable, but instead learn to dwell in the love and fear of the Lord.
Dwelling in the fear of the Lord changes how we approach the world and others. We remember first that the Lord is sovereign and omnipotent, that is all powerful, that He is a very present help in a time of trouble. So, like chicks run under the wings of a mother hen, we too run to the protecting wing of the Lord, we hide under His good protection. We know that in the Lord no-one can harm our soul, even if they throw sticks at us, even if they call us names, even if we are looked down upon.
As we contemplate all of this, we reminded of the words of Christ who told us “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” We may be called to die for our faith – and this at this moment may seem a scary thing – but it is a far better thing than losing our soul. We may lose the freedom or economic stability – and as scary as this may be – it is a far better thing than losing our soul. We may be asked to bear our soul before another, allow them to see where we have failed to Love the Lord – but to be vulnerable for the Glory of the Lord is a far better thing than to close ourselves off, to fail to love well.
Now, let’s be clear here – we don’t desire that persecution comes, we do not desire darkness, but we can have confidence that no matter what happens the Lord is good and He is our fortress. To say this another way - though the world spins madly on, though any number of crazy things may happen – we rest all our hope in the Lord, nothing more, and nothing less and we are comforted to know, no mater how dark the valley we walk through is, He is with us.
When it comes to being vulnerable – when it comes to loving other individuals well, we place our trust in the saving grace of Christ. We place our trust in knowing that no matter our sin, the Lord has forgiven us – that we repent, turn away from our sin and flee back into the grace we find in Christ. So, let us be constantly trusting in that grace.
I hope we are starting to see the difference here. I have a challenging piece of home work for you this week – next time you’re listening to the news, or reading the paper or talking to a friend and you feel within yourself a fear or anger popping up stop, and prayerfully ask yourself – is this feeling being driven by the fear of man or the fear of the Lord? Ask yourself in earnestness if you will trust the Lord to protect you from whatever is troubling you and if your fear or frustration is stemming out of concern for the world, or concern for the kingdom of God, if your fear is stemming out from a concern for your comfort or for the glory of the Lord to shine brightly.
Now, what has this to do with the judgement of the Lord? We don’t like to think of the Lord as being judging, we have no problem with his mercy and love, so long as they are directed at us, we have no problem with His goodness, so long and we, and not our enemies, get to enjoy it. However, we tend to cringe when we thing of God’s judgement. We think of judgement being a bad thing.
Yet, our culture has this strange attachment to karma. In other words, the mindset is that it’s okay to think that there is some force out there that will balance out the pain that you personally experience and exact revenge for you, but to imply that God is something more than loving is a major faux pas.
Let us contemplate God’s judgement for a moment. There are two reasons I think we should be far more comforted by this than an idea of karmic justice. First, it takes the pressure off of us and allows us to forgive. When Christ taught us to pray we are told to ask the Lord to forgive our trespasses as we forgive others. Personally, I want to forgive others – almost blindly – to let go of the pain that others have brought on me, because I have enjoyed an abundance of grace from the Lord. For, I have regularly fallen so very short of His glory. I would rather the Lord forgive and forget the blunders that I have made, than to think of Him as a Lord who silently holds my blunders over my head, waiting for me to trip and fall again.
I have told many of you about the person in my life who held a position of authority over me. This person was unkind, and it seemed he was constantly looking for the worst in me. He would even slander me to others. To be honest the pain situation still haunts me and it at times it makes trusting others difficult. One day, while I was reading an essay by C.S. Lewis, I realized I had to forgive him, and the only way I could was through prayer. As I prayed about this – I felt a slow shift in my heart. It went from a raging anger at the man, an anger that was destroying my soul, to compassion and sorrow. I came to see that if he stays unregenerate he will be judged for those actions. If he never repents he will have to give account for His actions to the foot of the judgment seat on the last day and he will be responsible for them. My anger and pain shifted from a self-righteous frustration to heartbreak. That being said – if I am honest – there are still times that I feel anger towards him, but by the grace of God, through prayer, this pain is slowly subsiding. I tell you this story so you know that others may hurt us, and some of you bear deeper and more severe pain than me, but we still long to see these people repent, because we enjoy such a deep grace in Christ, it breaks our hearts to know others may not.
This brings us to the second point. There is a comfort in God’s judgement as well. Much as the secular world thinks of Karma as heal-all for their woes – we know that the Lord will make all things right – every crooked road he’ll make straight and in the last day of judgment – he will pour out his mercy and judgement in such a perfect way that we will be comforted in even our deepest of pain. However, the judgement is personal, the correction is kind and the mercy is deep, I think, this is far better than a mechanic karmic force.
God’s perfect justice frees us from having to worry – frees us from having to live in anger. This doesn’t mean we don’t struggle against the evils of the world – doesn’t make us call out for justice for the orphans, the abused, the pained. It doesn’t mean we don’t speak out against racism, against wickedness, and against those who cause heart ache. We do, but we do in the love of the Lord, not lashing out in anger as others might. We do it in such a way that the gospel of Jesus Christ is at the center of all we do, and that the Lord is glorified.
We call out for justice in such a way that we lean all our trust fully in the Lord because He and he alone is to be our hope and strength. There is nothing that can happen that the Lord is not our good shepherd. There is no fear or wickedness that we can experience that the Lord is not going to faithfully shepherd our souls through.
As we read the psalm this morning we are reminded of this – twice the Psalmist gives an example of earth and mountains trembling and then of raging waters. There is much in this life that can trouble us – it can be natural disasters or manmade, the very ground under us can shift with volatility or it can seem the sky is falling down upon us. The Lord is still our present help in all of this trouble.
There are a couple points of interest in the second and third verse. We are reminded that often in the imagery of scripture that mountain tops are seen as a place of proximity to God. Moses for example goes atop the mountain to receive the ten commandments, Elijah experiences the back side of the Lord on the mountain, and some have even hypothesized that the garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve walked with God, was a mountain top temple garden. Yet – we are reminded that the earthly places where we worship the Lord can be taken away from us, can crumble around us but the Lord is still good, and we are still called to trust in Him.
Conversely, the seas was often used to represent chaos and the ways of the world. We see this especially in Daniel where the beast arises out of the sea, the beast – in the book of Daniel is the creation of the forces of chaos. This understanding of the sea representing chaos is why it was so powerful that Christ was able to walk on water and calm the raging seas. For it told the disciples that even the forces of chaos had to submit to Christ. We see this in the Psalm this morning as well – that even when it seems that chaos will eat us up – the Lord is still our help and we can trust in that.
The Psalmist is saying – no matter what the world may bring – the Lord is still the Lord. Whether the institutions we thought would protect us fail, or the forces of chaos seem to be overwhelming – God is still God, He is still good, and He is still our help.
Now, the Psalmist turns his focus on the city of God. We first learn of a river whose streams make glad the city of God. We turn away from the chaos of the sea and the world and turn to a river that makes glad the city of God, and what do we understand this river to be?
We understand it to be Christ. For Christ is the living water, not the water that violently takes life, that consumes, but the water that gives life. We long for life – and Christ is that life, so we put our trust in Him, and we allow Him to make our heart glad.
The city of God is the church, that is the body of Christ. As we read these words we can’t help but think of the fact that it is in the church that the Holy Spirit resides, that the spirit is our guide and comforter. That as St. Paul says – we are the temple of the living God and not only the temple but the representatives of the living God in the world around us. So we drink deeply of the living waters found in Christ and dwell richly in the spirit, and take comfort that the Lord is in the midst of us.
We are told that the city – the Church shall not be moved. This is not a statement of pride, we needn’t dig our heals into the ground and say “no-no! We shall not move,” but instead we need to cast all our cares on the Lord. No one says it better than Martin Luther his hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God” where he writes and we sing:
A mighty Fortress is our God,
A Bulwark never failing;
Our Helper He amid the flood
Of mortal ills prevailing:
For still our ancient foe
Doth seek to work us woe;
His craft and power are great,
And, armed with cruel hate,
On earth is not his equal.
The hymn continues to work through the troubles of this world, but ends with this reminder:
That word above all earthly powers,
No thanks to them, abideth;
The Spirit and the gifts are ours
Through Him who with us sideth:
Let goods and kindred go,
This mortal life also;
The body they may kill:
God’s truth abideth still,
His Kingdom is forever.
The world does shake and tremble because of the works of the devil and the forces of darkness, but against even the most unimaginable evil God is a bulwark – He is a wall that protects our souls, and the Lord will never fail us.
As we reach the later part of the Psalm we see that it echoes several apocalyptic visions found in scripture:
He brings destruction upon the earth
He destroys the tools of war
The first part of this disturbs us – how can the Lord who we claim is good bring destruction upon the earth? How can we claim he is good and kind, and claim this at the same time? This is a hard word – but we are reminded that there is wickedness that roams the earth. We are reminded that evil still exists, and so evil must be put down. We are also reminded of the apocalyptic vision of St. John in Revelation – that in the day of the Lord all wickedness driven out – it is then that the Lord re-creates the heavens and the earth.
At first glance this may seem discouraging, there is a promise here too, that in the new creation that we look forward to in the last day – after the judgement has past, after wickedness has been put to rest – the wars will cease and not only that but the bows will be broken, the spears shattered, and the chariots shall be consumed with fire – that is to say the tools of war, the tools of death will be destroyed. We can look forward to the day when we reside with peace with our neighbor, to the days when we know no fear, but the peaceful fear of reverence that we find when we rest and walk with the Lord.
That brings us to the command of this Psalm:
Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!
We are to trust in the Lord – we are to be still, to know that the Lord is God. It is our trust that in the end He will be exalted in all the world. In the end every lip will proclaim that He is God.
When we think of all the troubles that we face, whether they be the troubles in our personal life, with our spouse, friends, or children, whether they be troubles that we face in our town, our country or in the whole world, isn’t this promise of great comfort? There is no force that the Lord cannot protect us from. Trouble may come, persecution may come, but there is nothing that can separate us from that Love, no earthly power, no temptation of the devil that can deter us from the simple call and promise – be still and know.
Like the previous two Psalms we’ve looked at this summer, we end where we began. Though, the Psalmist changes the words slightly the promise is still the same: The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. We know that we have a firm and good protection from the raging world around us. We know that the world can be a dark and dangerous place, but we have nothing to fear, so long as we rest in the goodness of the Lord. We know that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. We know that although the world may seem chaotic, that ultimately the Lord’s perfect blend of judgement and mercy are good.
As we go into the world, as we live out our daily lives, let us be aware of how we react to the world around us. How we react to our friends and family, how we react to the news. Are we being driven by fear of people, fear of losing something – whether it be love, position, safety, or comfort? Or are we being driven by the fear of the Lord, being driven by a desire to glorify the Lord in all we do?
Let us find our comfort in knowing that the Lord is our refuge, let us rejoice in knowing that he will shepherd our souls, no matter what may come. Let us be always glad to open our doors to the stranger, be glad to show kindness to whoever comes our way for though wickedness still exists, chaos is still a powerful force we have nothing to fear when we rest in the Lord. So, be not driven by fear of this for there is no wickedness that the Lord can’t correct, and no chaos that the Lord can’t calm. Rejoice good Christians – for the Lord is good, a very present help in our time of need.
IN the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.