Date: November 3, 2019
Festival: Proper 26, 21st Sunday after Pentecost (All Saints’ Day)
Text: Psalm 46
Preaching Occasion: St. Paul Lutheran Church, Union, MO
Exegetical Statement: In this psalm, the psalmist looks to God as the refuge and strength—the fortress—of His people Israel. The help that comes from God is immediately available, even though creation rages and even though mankind rages. This is because God has made His people His holy habitation—God has chosen to dwell in the midst of His people (which is ultimately fulfilled in Christ). Even though mighty mountains move as creation rages, God’s people shall not be moved toward destruction. The psalmist views the works of God with an eschatological eye—bringing wards to cease and destroying armies. Therefore, in the midst of all this moving/raging, God tells His people to “be still” and know that He is God. God’s people can be still without worry or anxiety in the midst of all this raging because God will be exalted among all the nations (man) and in the earth (creation) in spite of their raging. Therefore, the Lord is our reliable fortress.
Focus Statement: God the Creator upholds His whole creation and promises His people will not be moved since they remain in Christ.
Function Statement: That my hearers will trust (“be still”) in God their Creator in the midst of raging creation and man.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I’m going to get straight to the point today by talking about climate change. I know, it’s a sensitive topic. Yet while this is supposedly a political problem, I am not going to be talking about politics or taking sides here. Rather, I’m going to be talking about what God’s Word says. The dilemma in the debate is this: Is the climate drastically changing and is it so much of a threat to human existence that there’s a crisis? Maybe, maybe not. I’m not here to say whether or not there is. I am here to tell you what the Word says concerning creation, particularly what it says concerning God’s promise.
What do We Confess when We Say God is Creator?
At the core of the issue is the longevity of creation. We can also call this the end times or the apocalypse. For some reason, we are obsessed with the apocalypse in our culture. Hundreds of movies and TV shows are dedicated to fictional displays of the Christian apocalypse. Many of these do the Book of Revelation great injustice with ridiculous misinterpretations, but the point is that we are all incredibly preoccupied with the apocalypse.
This includes the climate change debate, whether this is myth or reality. Some are saying the world is going to end in 12 years if we don’t do something drastic to end the climate crisis. Could the world end in 12 years? Absolutely. It could also end tomorrow. It could even end in the middle of my sermon. Boy, wouldn’t that be nice? [Wait for laughing to end.] Will it absolutely end in 12 years, however? I have no idea, because no one knows the day or the hour, but I’m not worried about it because of who we confess God to be as our Creator.
What we confess about God as Creator is fundamentally who we confess Him to be. When we confess God is our Creator, what are we saying? Well, let’s return to our Catechism.
Who we confess God to be as Creator is in the first article of the Apostles’ Creed, which says this, “I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.” What does this mean?
Luther answers the question in the Small Catechism, “I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them.” The end of that statement is the key: He still takes care of them. That is, God still takes care of everything He has given me, including my very life.
Question 118 of the Small Catechism asks, “What does it mean to confess that God made me ‘and all creatures’?” . One answer is given in point C, “All the rest of creation—the universe, this planet, land, sea, and the whole material world—depends upon God for its ongoing existence just as I do.” The real question, then, is this: Is our Creator the kind of God who will allow His creation to perish without any intervention on His end? Is that the kind of Creator we confess God to be?
Absolutely not. We confess God to be our Creator not only as the one who created all things, but especially as the One who still takes care of creation and in whom we place everything in His gracious hands, especially our very lives He created.
The Raging of Creation & Man
This is why Psalm 46 is relevant to us. The psalmist prefaces the poem with, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” That is, God is our shelter that can withstand any storm, He provides strength where there is none, and His help is immediately available to us.
This God is our refuge, he says, even though creation rages. Sinkholes in the earth might suddenly give way, tsunamis and floods might sweep over the nations, earthquakes might shake the earth and move mountains, hurricanes might tear apart the lands, fires might be burning across forests, the oceans might be polluted, they might be rising, and animals may be going extinct, but… God. Is. Our. Refuge. [short pause]
The God, who is our refuge, is the God who has command over all the earth. Our Creator is the God who split the Red Sea. He is the God who fed Israel with water from a rock when they were thirsty! He is the God who fed Israel with manna from Heaven—literally out of nothing—for 40 years in the desert. He is the God who withholds rain and brings rain when He wills it. He is the God who tells the earth to spin, revolve around the sun, undergo winter and summer, day and night, hot and cold, and so forth [cf. Genesis 8:22]. The magnitude of the mountains might move as the earth is groaning, but God will not let His people be moved. [long pause]
God is also our refuge even though mankind rages. The nations might rage against each other in war and politics, mankind might rage against God’s people, we might fall into temptation, and the world might be killing us for our faith, but… God. Is. Our. Refuge. [short pause]
Jesus said the gates of hell shall not prevail against His Church [Matthew 16:18]. If not even the very gates of hell, why is it that we are so afraid that the raging of mankind or the raging of a climate crisis (that may or may not be real) will prevail against Christ’s Church? This raging of the earth and mankind is nothing compared to the raging of the gates of hell, which not even they can destroy the Church.
If you’ve heard this from me before, it bears repeating: In literally every single age, the Church is on the brink of extinction, but she always manages to persevere… and sometimes flourish. Why is this? Because of God’s promise—because of Christ’s promise to His Bride, the Church, that she shall not be moved. [long pause]
Today is All Saints’ Day, so this psalm is a great psalm to read on a day like today, even though it makes no mention of saints. This is because in the midst of all this raging, interposed between these two raging storms—and in the form of the poem itself—is God’s gracious action: there is a lifegiving river in the place where God has made His holy habitation.
The waters of creation roar and foam, the psalmist says, but in the midst of God’s people is this calm, peaceful, lifegiving river. What is this lifegiving river? It is none other than Jesus Christ.
Jesus says to the woman at the well in Samaria, “Whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirst again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” [John 4:14]. St. John says the same thing in our reading from Revelation earlier, that spring of living water Jesus will lead us to [Revelation 7:17]. Jesus Christ is that lifegiving river who has interposed Himself between these raging storms. Jesus is the Rock that shall not be moved; therefore, you shall not be moved since He dwells in your midst.
Consider the history of the saints. Mankind raged against the apostles, and even though they were martyred, not even their enemies prevailed, for they—like all of you here today—have the promise of the bodily resurrection. Polycarp was burned at the stake by the Roman Empire, and tradition reports he felt no pain. Rome killed these saints, but Rome collapsed, and the Church remains.
Last week, we just celebrated Reformation Day. Pope Leo X sent out a papal bull not only for Luther’s excommunication, but even his death with the false accusation of heresy. He was not killed but he did die at the tender age of 63. Even today, saints everywhere are killed for the sake of Christ, as is the case with our dearly beloved who have fallen asleep in Christ due to tragedy, illness, or a peaceful death. We remember our saints not only for their faithful example, but especially as a reminder of the hope of the resurrection we have in Jesus Christ.
This is why the psalmist gives two encouraging statements at the end of the poem. First, he says, “Come, behold the works of Yahweh” [v. 8]! The psalmist uses his eschatological eye—which is looking toward the Last Day—and he encourages us to do the same. Look through these raging storms and see God there in the midst of you. You have seen His Old Testament works. See now His New Testament works in Christ Jesus!
The second encouragement is God Himself speaking, “Be still and know that I am God” [v. 10]! St. Paul says the Israelites who passed through the Red Sea and in this way were baptised into Moses “drank from the same spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ” [1 Corinthians 10:1-4]. Christ the Rock is the Cornerstone of the Church, which is the place where God dwells [Ephesians 2:19-22]—which is wherever God’s people are found.
So, why can we be still and not panic amidst this raging turmoil as we are centred between these two raging storms of creation and man? Because, as Paul says, you are baptised into Christ who is the Cornerstone—the immovable Rock, the lifegiving River, your mighty Refuge. Therefore, you will not be moved even though the mountains move. [short pause]
[Quiet] Be still. Be calm. The Lord your God—your Creator—holds all creation in His hands. Who is He? St. John tells us He is God the Son, the Word made flesh, who was with God the Father and the Holy Spirit in the beginning of creation [John 1:1, 14]. God the Son took flesh in Jesus Christ, placing Himself in the midst of mankind between these raging storms of creation and man for you. He did miraculous works such as turning water into wine and calming the raging storm of the sea with merely His voice.
Most of all, Jesus overcame these two raging storms in a single act: His resurrection. Creation, as it stands right now, dies; and it was mankind—we—who killed Jesus. Both these raging storms killed Him, but He rose in the midst of these storms as that immovable Rock and lifegiving water who gives you life everlasting. This is given to you in your own Baptism. In these lifegiving waters, you shall not be moved into eternal death, but remain in eternal life and the new creation through Christ Jesus our Saviour and Redeemer.
May this peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, our Lifegiving River. Amen.