October 28, 2018 [Reformation]  Psalm 46  J.D.Roekle

Dear Friends in Christ,

          “A Mighty Fortress in Our God.”  Is there any more recognizable Lutheran hymn around?  Our German ancestors knew it as “Ein Feste Burg ist Unser Gott.”  Since Martin Luther wrote it sometime around 1529, it has been a staple in the Lutheran church.  The fight song, if you will, of the Reformation.  And what a powerful hymn it is.  Powerful because it expresses Scripture truths.  Based on the words of Psalm 46.  Listen to these powerful words:

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.    Selah

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.

7    The Lord Almighty is with us;

the God of Jacob is our fortress.    Selah

8    Come and see the works of the Lord,

the desolations he has brought on the earth.

9    He makes wars cease to the ends 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 will be exalted among the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth.”

11  The Lord Almighty is with us;

the God of Jacob is our fortress.    Selah

          They were in a pickle.  Caught between a rock and hard place.  In front of them was the sea and they had no means of crossing it.  No boats, etc.  Behind them was the heavily armed enemy coming in droves and bearing down on them. Unlike the enemy, they weren’t armed.  What were they to do?  How was this going to turn out?  It didn’t look good!  This was the predicament of the nation of Israel after making their escape from slavery in Egypt. 

          And how did it turn out?  The people cried out to the Lord and complained to Moses.  Moses, in turn, told the people not to be afraid and to stand firm.  The Egyptians would not have their way with them anymore.  Then the Lord granted a miraculous ending to this chapter of history.  As Moses stretched out his hands toward the Red Sea, the Lord separated the waters so that dry land appeared and the Israelite nation could walk safely across. 

          This was indeed a miraculous crossing.  Conservatively speaking, the nation of Israel numbered at least 2 million people at this time.  Can you imagine moving 2 million people on foot across a path created as the seas parted?  What you also need to know is that God’s assuring presence was with them during this whole process.  There was a pillar of cloud that had led them to this point and now went behind the Israelite nation, moving between them and the Israelites, serving as a buffer so that the enemy wasn’t able to get them. 

          But there’s another detail to this account that may not get as much attention.  Moses writes in Exodus 14:19 “Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them.”  The angel of God was the Son of God.  This was Jesus before he came in the flesh.  This was their assurance that God had intentions of saving them for eternity, and he was here to give them that assurance as he protected them from the enemy. 

          With this assurance and with their deliverance from the pursuing Egyptians, the Israelites could joyfully proclaim: “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”  Yes, A Mighty Fortress is our God. 

          Martin Luther faced many difficult and trying times.  Perhaps none were more trying than when he was summoned to appear at an official meeting in the city of Worms, Germany where the Roman Empire and the Catholic church were represented.  Luther knew that his life was in danger if he went to the meeting, even though he was granted safe passage to the meeting. 

          At the meeting, Luther thought he would get a chance to state his case for what he was teaching.  However, he wasn’t allowed to speak freely but was told to answer two simple questions.  They had copies of Luther’s writing there and asked him, first: Are these you writings?  The answer to question number one was simple.  They were his.  It was the second question which raised the difficulty.  He was asked: Do you recant?  In other words, do you take them back? 

          Knowing the weight the answer to this question carried, Luther asked for time to think about it.  He was granted one night.  Luther knew that standing by his teachings would cause certain trouble to him.  He knew his life would be in danger.  After a night spent in prayer, Luther answered that he would not take back his writings. He would not recant.  He stood by the truth of God’s Word. 

          As a result, he was declared a heretic and an outlaw of the state.  As such, he could be captured and killed.  As he left Worms, it appeared that this might be taking place.  Luther was captured.  But his capture was orchestrated by friends.  Elector Fredrick ensured that he was safely hidden away from his enemies.  Luther was taken to the Wartburg Castle. 

          Throughout this experience, Luther could rightfully proclaim.  “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”  Yes, A Mighty Fortress is our God.  It makes good sense that Luther would write the hymn by that title!        

          What lies ahead for you?  Will your physical safety be challenged?  In the Gospel lesson for this morning, Jesus warns that there will be opposition by the government and within the church.  Opposition that leads to being arrested and beaten.

          So what’s ahead for you?  Are any of those things ahead?  One thing is certain.  There will be and there is opposition to the Gospel.  There always has been and there always will be this side of heaven.  Whatever the opposition, Jesus encourages us to speak up.

          Last week we concentrated on the fact that we are to take the message of the Gospel to the ends of the earth.  Pastor Pope focused on personal evangelism.  Spreading the Gospel through marriage.  Through family.  Just as Andrew told his brother Peter about Jesus, so we are to pass the truths on to those who are closest to us and then work our way out from there. 

          As we go out with the truth, there will be challenges to our faith.  People will question what we believe.  Some will simply shrug their shoulders as if what we’re saying is going in one ear and out the other.  Some will even oppose it. 

          In the face of all this, how do we muster up the boldness to speak up?  Here it is:  “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”  Yes, A Mighty Fortress is our God.” 

          Even when we aren’t necessarily at a point where we are proactively trying to share our faith, our faith can still be under attack.  The college professor who laughs at people for believing there is a God can be a daunting prospect.  The boss who is outspoken about you working on Sundays and perhaps Monday evening too is a challenge to reason with.  Even the friends who are accepting of the steadily declining morality of the day may be difficult to talk to.  There might even be a stranger who attacks your faith out of the blue.  Several years ago, I was visiting a member at First Evan at the nursing home.  As I made my way to her room, I met a lady in the hallway who asked me who I was.  After identifying myself as the pastor at First Evan, she proceeded to attack our teaching on Baptism.  “Oh, you Lutherans are the ones who teach that Baptism is a work.”  I was baffled by this accusation, because nothing could be further from the truth.  Baptism is an act of God’s grace, and I patiently tried to explain this to this woman unsuccessfully.

          But in all of these things we need to stand ready to stand for what we believe.  To let people know where our priorities are.  Whether it’s a professor, a boss, a friend, or even a stranger it isn’t easy.  How will we manage?  We will manage by remembering: “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”  Yes, A Mighty Fortress is our God.” 

          And we will manage with the confidence that our LORD gives us.  Let’s not miss a beautiful picture that we have here for our comfort: “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.” 

          As believers, you and I are the city of God.  It is among us where our God lives.  And what makes us happy is the river that flows through us.  God’s Word is that river.  The happiness that God’s Word brings us is the message that God is powerful to save us.  That in spite of our sin and weakness, he has orchestrated a plan to overcome that.  His plan includes the need for a Savior who came in the form of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  It was his perfect life and his perfect death that overcame our sin and enables us to look perfect in God’s sight. 

          As we take refuge in the LORD Almighty, we have the reassurance of this message of salvation.  That nothing can truly harm us.  Not natural disasters.  Not wars.  Not persecution.  Not even death.  Our place in God’s eternity is secure. 

          The problem with fortresses in our world is that they are not impenetrable.  They may appear to be that way, but there is always a weakness that the enemy can expose.  But, there is one fortress that is impenetrable.  A mighty fortress is our God.  It is there we find security unlike anything the world can offer.  Because of that, it is there alone we find perfect peace.  “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.”  Amen.