Date: June 21, 2020
Festival: 3rd Sunday after Pentecost
Text: Psalm 91
Preaching Occasion: St. Paul Lutheran Church, Union, MO
Sermon Hymn: LSB #725 Children of the Heavenly Father
Exegetical Statement: In this psalm, the psalmist begins with a confession of faith in God the Most High, who is Almighty, who is Yahweh in whom he trusts as his refuge and fortress. The subject then changes to the singular “you.” From the psalmist’s perspective, this God is not only my God; He is also your God. Therefore, this God is also your refuge and fortress in whom you can trust. God’s promise is to deliver you from traps of evil and from your own weakness like pestilence. While you are a little fowler (a little bird), God is a giant, armoured bird who hides you under His wings. Because this God is your refuge and fortress, no evil will befall you without His allowance. He will even charge His angels with orders to guard you and protect you. Then there’s a final change in subject to the first person, “I”—God speaking to you. God Himself promises to be the Deliverer, Protector, and Salvation of those who cleave to Him.
Focus Statement: God is your refuge from every trouble, whether evil or your own weakness.
Function Statement: That my hearers will take refuge in God in the midst of all the troubles of evil and human weakness.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Introduction: Insurance Policies
How well are you insured? Do you have property insurance, or life insurance? Health? Automobile? Have you read any of your insurance policies word for word? I’ll be the first to admit that I haven’t. Heck, I don’t even read the Apple terms and conditions. Sadly, though, many people do not know what’s covered in their insurance policies until a catastrophe strikes and they need them. I wonder how many people have found out the limits of their health insurance during the COVID-19 pandemic, unable to get the care they needed.
To make matters even worse, many policies are written with exclusive clauses for losses that result from “acts of God.” The intent of these exclusions is to protect the insurance companies from risks so improbable that they can’t possibly be factoured into the normal calculations for common causes of financial exposure. Many times, victims of these extraordinary circumstances find out the hard way as they tumble into massive financial debt to pay certain damages of loss, health, or even life. In spite of their flaws, though, insurance policies bring a sense of comfort, don’t they? Certainly, there’s some level of comfort in knowing you have some coverage for any unforeseen automobile accidents, theft, or a sudden decline in health.
How Big is Your God?
What about spiritual insurance? In describing what occurs in Baptism, some Christians have described it as a type of “insurance policy”—that in case something bad happens, your soul is insured in that you’re guaranteed a spot in Heaven. As appealing as that might sound, this is a false understanding of Baptism. If Baptism were an insurance policy, we would be able to live our lives however we want without fear of the consequences.
But as Paul says at the beginning of Romans 6, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! [Today, we’d say, “Heck no!”] How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into His death? We were buried, therefore, with Him by baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” [vv. 1-4].
Not the same old way, but newness of life. Baptism is not an insurance policy you purchase and hang onto as you live your life however you want in case something bad happens. Baptism is God’s assurance policy.
But before we dive into that more, let me ask you this question: How big is your God? Before you answer this, you might first need to ask yourself: Who is my God? You might answer off the cuff and say, “Well, God, of course! You know, capital G God?” But this is too close to the ambiguous God that’s printed on our currency—that God is whatever I want Him to be.
Others might more accurately say, “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.” Okay, good, but how true is that? is He still your God when you turn to food, alcohol, TV, or something else as your source of comfort in times of trouble—when you find refuge in something that is not God? In truth, these gods we raise up within ourselves are tiny.
I have found that there are two types of believers: those who have a little God and those who have a big God. The psalmist depicts us as a fowler, which is a little bird. Those with a little God say they love and worship the big God, but in truth they worship themselves as they turn to their own ideas of refuge and who God is, hence why they have such a little God who abandons them in trouble because this “God” is their little self.
Those who worship a big God, however, have the same God as the psalmist. He confesses his faith in the Most High God who is Almighty, who is Yahweh, his refuge and fortress. Then the subject changes from “me” to you. This is not only my God; He is also your God.
You and I are little birds who are weak and easy to capture. Satan is a serpent who sets a snare to capture us so that he might devour us. He is intelligent and cunning. As Genesis [3:1] describes him, he is “craftier” than anything else in all creation; he is extremely creative when it comes to capturing his prey.
Not only have we always experienced this in our daily lives as we deal with sin and temptation, but the Devil proved this even further as the pandemic stalked us in darkness. Christmas was good and normal, we celebrated Epiphany as usual, then as soon as Lent began, suddenly there’s a pandemic that insidiously stalked us in darkness and snuck in and quickly changed everything, reminding us of how weak we humans truly are.
But God is a much bigger bird and He is covered in unrelenting armour. He is infinitely smarter and more cunning than the Serpent. Satan was crafty enough to twist the Word of God to deceive Adam and Eve into rebelling against God, thus bringing sin and death into the world. He made the same attempt with Jesus in the wilderness who, quoting from this psalm, tried to tempt Jesus into casting Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple since God’s Word promises angels will “bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone” [Matthew 4:5-7].
Not only was Jesus smarter than the Devil’s snare by speaking God’s Word, “You shall not test the Lord your God,” but God showed His crafty mastery over sin, death, and the Devil in that Jesus was born of a virgin—an impossible thing—whose death on the cross that Satan laid as a snare for the Son of God became a snare for himself as Jesus’ death struck a major blow to the Serpent’s head. Then Jesus struck another major blow as He rose from the dead not for Himself, but for the whole world, for whomever would believe in Him…
There are some eagles that prey on snakes. It is no wonder, then, why the Scriptures portray God as a mighty, armoured eagle swooping down upon the Serpent, crushing him with His mighty claws as He hides you in the shadow of His wings.
God’s Assurance Policy
Despite the snares the Devil lays and despite your own weaknesses, being under God’s shadow of protection is the assurance you have.
Insurance companies build a reputation by how they advertise themselves, like Good Neighbor Insurance. This company markets themselves as “being a good neighbour.” Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? “Love thy neighbour as thyself.” Their message is that they offer more than just financial coverage, but also a caring relationship with their clients.
However, when it comes to insurance companies, this relationship is entirely your responsibility. If you don’t take the necessary steps to pay the premiums and reduce the risks, then that relationship will not be available when you most need it. This “relationship” totally relies on you; there is no grace in failure.
Your relationship with God is totally opposite. It was God’s gift that first opened up that relationship to you in His coming down to you in the gift of His Son who paid the entire premium for your soul by sacrificing Himself on the cross. As Paul says, you were bought with the price of Jesus’ blood [1 Corinthians 6:20; Ephesians 1:7].
The cost of your life is a price you cannot pay—a cost so high that you can’t even pay it with your own life or the life of someone you love dearly, as God demonstrated through the near-sacrifice of Isaac [Genesis 22]. So, God paid the premium Himself with His own blood in Jesus, which has become yours in Baptism.
I must now remind you that Baptism is not something you do; it’s not even something the Pastor does even though he is God’s instrument. Rather, this is something God does to you. Jesus describes Baptism as a rebirth—of being “born again.” No one chooses to be born the first time in the waters of their mother’s womb. Much more, then, no one decides their rebirth in the waters of Baptism.
This is a gift God has chosen for you, which He does to you through water and the power of His Word. This is God’s assurance for you because it rests entirely on Him. As Paul says in our epistle reading today as he continued his talk on Baptism, “But now that you have been set free from sin [How? Through your Baptism.] and have become slaves of God [no longer slaves of sin], the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life” [Romans 6:22].
You haven’t set yourself free; you have been set free by God. You don’t get the fruit of eternal life yourself; you have been given this assurance from God in your Baptism.
God’s assurance policy was spoken long before Baptism’s institution. God’s care for you is so deep that He will even charge angels with orders to watch over you. I cannot speak on what this exactly looks like because the Scriptures do not detail it for us; all I know is that it is true because it is what His Word speaks, and whatever God speaks, He does.
As the psalmist changed the subject from “me” to “you,” God then takes over the rest of the psalm as the subject of what is spoken next: “I will deliver you. I will protect you. I will be with you in trouble. I will rescue you and honour you. I will satisfy you. I will show you My salvation.”
You have seen your salvation in Christ on the cross, which was bloody and glorious. You have seen your salvation in the waters of Baptism, smooth and calm. You have even tasted it in your mouth through the sweet body and blood of Jesus in the Holy Eucharist, in which your thirst for righteousness is satisfied. And you will taste it again today.
God has shown you His salvation on the cross, in your baptismal waters, and in this holy meal. Yes, the snares of evil and pestilence are still among us today, but God’s promise is that these things will not have the final say. Rather, Jesus has the final say as in His final words on the cross. “Τετέλεσται! It is finished.” God’s work of salvation has been completed in Christ for you…
When we come out of a tragedy or catastrophe, we often describe ourselves as “survivors.” But the psalmist here conveys you and I not as survivors, but as victors. You don’t merely “survive” evil and weakness, you are victorious over it through Christ. You will tread upon it like stomping on a lion or a venomous adder with your own foot (imagine that!), and you will trample the Serpent underfoot just as Christ has done already.
Once more, as Paul echoes later in Romans, “In all these things we are more than conquerors [more than victorious] through Him who loved us” [8:37]. Amen. Let us pray:
May the shadow of God’s wings, which protects you from snares and weakness, guard your hearts and minds in the grace and victory of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.