A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

(Jones)

Psalm 46

 

1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea,

3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

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 her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns.

6 The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.

7 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

8 Come, behold the works of the Lord, how he has brought desolations 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 chariots 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 of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

 

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

It’s on everyone’s mind.  It’s dominating our conversation.  It’s greatly impacting our lives and the lives of the majority of the world.  Novel COVID-19, the corona virus.  How can something that cannot even be seen have such a massive impact on our lives? How can something that hasn’t even reached us cause such great disruptions in everything that we thought was normal – our sports and other events are cancelled, our schools closed or closing, 90 minute waits at Woodman’s just to buy a handful of groceries, a shortage of some of the essentials that we would never have given a second thought about not being able to get just a couple of days ago?

How?  Well, you all are well catechized Christians who know God’s Word. You know and understand that the answer to any ‘how can this be’ question regarding suffering is ultimately answered by one single word – sin.  The types of sufferings and the impacts that they have on our lives very greatly, but all suffering, all anxiety, all strife, all that is bad and evil in this world is caused by our own sin.

Now, I’m not saying, and will never say, that this plague that we call corona virus is God’s retribution for this, that, or the other sin.  Rare has God sent a specific plague as punishment for a specific sin.  And I don’t believe that He is doing so now. Rather, as always, He is allowing the consequences of sin to impact us, to harm us, to hurt us, to make us scared so that we can see our need.  Our need for help.  Our need for rescue from sin and its consequences.  Our need for God to come and set things right because our sin has turned creation on its head and made the very good and perfect world that God created for us to live in and take care of become the valley of the shadow of death, complete with viruses that disrupt our lives and hurt us greatly whether we get sick or not. 

I find it fascinating that it takes times like these to help us see our many and various violations of the First Commandment.  You know that one, don’t you?  You shall have no other gods.  What does it mean to have a god?  Well, your god is that which you fear, love, and trust in above all things. So, what are the gods that we fear, love, and trust in today?  Well, based on what I hear people grumbling about losing, what I see them making a priority by hoarding because of COVID-19, the gods that we have surrounded ourselves seem to be our sporting activities - how dare they cancel March madness and opening day?  Our finances – the stocks are tanking, and everyone is panicking.  And of course our beer and toilet paper as these were what I saw filling most carts at Woodman’s on Friday night – and might I say that I found it amusing that one of these items was limited to 2 cases per household and it wasn’t the beer.

What’s the answer to all of this?  How do we as Christians respond?  We do what we have always done. We turn to God and listen to what He has to say.  In Psalm 46 we pray, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.”  We will not fear though all these bad, horrible, terrifying things are going on.  We will not fear though the things that we trusted in to always be are in short supply or are gone.  Why, because “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” 

 

These, of course, were the Word’s that Martin Luther used when he wrote his most famous of hymns, A Mighty Fortress is our God. But do you know the circumstances that caused him to write this hymn?  It was in 1527, and the plague was sweeping through Germany killing upwards of 40% of the people.  In this situation Pastor Luther did what he was called to do, point people to God, reassuring them that no matter what happens here on earth, God is our refuge and strength.  God is our very present help in trouble.  He did this by fulfilling his vocation as pastor in Word and sacrament. He did this by preaching the Gospel of Christ Jesus crucified and risen for the forgiveness of all our sins. By writing about the Gospel of Christ Jesus crucified and risen for the forgiveness of all our sins.  By putting to song the Gospel of Christ Jesus crucified and risen for the forgiveness of all our sins.  Luther did this by pointing people to Jesus and saying, “There!  Jesus is your rock.  Jesus is your fortress.  Jesus is your very present help in your trouble.” 

 

Jesus is the One who came down from heaven and gave up everything that He so lovingly made so that He could take on all your sin, rescue you from sin, death, and the devil, and assure you that He is with you always.  Especially when all of the other gods that we have trusted in fail us and leave us frightened and alone. 

 

Jesus is the One who promises that you are never really alone because He took your place under the Father’s wrath against sin and idolatry.  He suffered the pains of hell as He was forsaken by our Father, and His Father, in heaven, so that we would never know what it is like to be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus. On the cross, with His own suffering, blood, and death, Jesus did all that was needed to save us from our sins and bring us within the Fortress that is God, protecting us from eternal harm, no matter what the world throws our way – whether it’s our teams not playing, our kids not learning, or our shelves getting empty, our family, friends, even ourselves getting sick from a new virus that is sweeping the world. Nothing, absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord, our Savior. 

 

With this in mind, please listen carefully to what God the Holy Spirit inspired the apostle Paul to write to the Romans, and to us:

 

Romans 8:28, 35-39  - And we know that for those who love God all things will work together for good…Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?  As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

As Pastor Luther did for the people of God gathered around the altar and pulpit that he was called to serve in Wittenberg,  so I will do to the best of my ability for you, the people of God gathered around His Word and Sacraments given from the pulpit and altar at Zion.  I will always point you to Jesus and His eternal, unfailing promises of forgiveness, life, and salvation.  I will always bring to you His Word and Sacraments, whether here at Zion, over the air waves of WCFW 105.7 FM, or at your home, hospital, or wherever you are.  Why? Because I am certain that neither death nor life, nor disruptions in our lives nor shortages of the basic necessities,  nor COVID—19, cancer, heart disease, dementia, nor any other sickness will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. For He is faithful, and He has died for you so that you can live in Him.  Amen.

The peace of God, which passes understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord to life everlasting. Amen.

I would now like to read to you a letter from Pastor Matthew Harrison, the President of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, written to help us during this time of uncertainty,

 

March 13, 2020

Dear friends in Christ,

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1).

The entities of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), including her seminaries and universities, have been taking various actions in response to government recommendations and mandates to try to stem the spread of COVID-19. At this time, our global missionaries and their families are all well. Some are quarantined in their respective countries by local governments, and we have put in place a temporary travel ban for their safety and that of others.

We do not want to add to what at times seems like a circus of media hype and political nonsense. Therefore, I would like to address you, the people of the LCMS, directly.

  1. We owe our local and national government authorities respect according to the Fourth Commandment. We owe them our constant prayers according to specific directives of St. Paul (1 Tim. 2:2). Within the last 24 hours, Dr. Anthony Fauci of President Trump’s White House Task Force stated that we are in a crucial period during which it is possible to significantly limit the spread of the virus by smart action on the part of the public.
  2. We have a duty of love to our neighbors according to the Fifth Commandment. “We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need” (Luther’s Small Catechism). The LCMS is not hierarchical. I have no authority to mandate anything in this regard to the 6,000 congregations of the Synod. Nor would we want it any other way. But I do have the freedom and responsibility to urge all of us to make a concerted effort to act in ways that limit exposure for ourselves and advance the well-being of our neighbors, at church and beyond.
  3. This is a very fluid and changing situation. Responses will not be uniform across the church. As Luther noted in his document on the plague in Wittenberg, different people will make different decisions based upon circumstance and vocation.
  4. We trust our well-trained clergy, as they consult with each other, circuit visitors and district leadership to take appropriate action in their context.
  5. We trust the great lay leaders of our congregations to discern appropriate action.
  6. Given the seriousness of this virus, as well as the fluidity of this situation and potential for much greater infection, actions may include, in some places, forgoing church services (and offering online substitutes). We trust the sanitary practices of our parishes with respect to the Sacrament of the Altar. But in these few weeks, individuals, pastors and congregations will be making decisions in light of the crisis, on various customary practices. We must, in love, be patient with one another as we strive to be both faithful and responsible. Also, remember to be generous with your offerings in these weeks when attendance may be affected. We will soon provide the opportunity to ask all manner of questions, including those on the Lord’s Supper.
  7. In Luke 21, Jesus foretold the kinds of things that would mark the time just before His coming. Wars, rumors of wars, earthquake, famine, persecution and much more. He also included pestilence. Many great Christians, including Martin Luther 500 years ago, beheld the mess of the world around them and thought the end must be coming soon. But Jesus said at the end of his speech, “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).

You all know Luther’s great Reformation hymn, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” It’s his hymn version of Psalm 46. But you may not know that it was written during the plague in Wittenberg in 1527. “A mighty fortress is our God, A trusty shield and weapon; He helps us free from ev’ry need That hath us now o’ertaken” (Lutheran Service Book 656:1). Your times are in the hands of the Lord (Ps. 31:15). Your days are numbed by Him (Ps. 139). In fact, the very hairs of your head are numbered (Luke 12:7). You have only the resurrection to look forward to (John 11:25). And you have the glorious apostolic promise: “All things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

I plead your patience as we all struggle through this, along with our nation and the world. I do know this: that crosses always drive people — including us — to Jesus. Count on it.

We’ll update you soon.

The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you His peace. Amen.

Pastor Matthew C. Harrison

President, The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod