God is our refuge and strength

Good morning, Friends!

I’m glad to see every one of you who’s here today. Thank you for coming!
I hope you’ve all been OK. It’s a blessing just to see you. We pray for you, but every now and then it’s good just to see you. So, thank you all for coming.

Our Scripture today is another one of the Psalms. There are so many of them. There’s everyone’s favorite – Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul. . .”

There’s the one we read a couple of weeks ago – “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?”

There are the praise Psalms – “Praise the Lord, all his angels! Praise him, everyone in heaven! Praise, sun, moon and stars! Mountains and hills, trees and animals, creeping things and flying birds, young and old! Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!”

Then there are the prayer Psalms – “I lift my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. . .”

There are all kinds of Psalms. I encourage you to read more of the Psalms, and mark or underline them at home, so you can find them again.

Full disclosure: I use a yellow highlighter on my Bible. Sometimes there are long stretches that I haven’t marked. But when I hit the Psalms, there are whole pages that I’ve highlighted – whole pages marked in yellow.

Today we’re going to read a Psalm that really spoke to me this week. Psalm 46 is a prayer of faith, and trust. It’s a good one for us today.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear,
though the earth give way
though the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their crashing.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.

Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
God lifts his voice, and the earth melts.
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done,
the awesome things he has brought about.
He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
He burns the shields with fire.

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Psalm 46

I always turn to Psalm 46 when things feel truly overwhelming. I remember I read it the Sunday after Hurricane Katrina destroyed the entire city where most of my mother’s family lived for generations.

I read these same words, the Sunday when the whole world watched, as a gigantic tidal wave came ashore in Indonesia, and 100,000 people were swept away.

I read it once, at the beginning of a war, when I wished that the Lord would just step in, and stop the fighting.

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

That covers all kinds of situations. It covers our personal problems. It covers all the hardships we’ve been forced to face during this past year.

I don’t think anyone has been unaffected. We’ve been isolated. We’ve been afraid. How many of you had to change your plans this year, because of things that have been going on? How many of you have been unable to see family and friends? I won’t even ask how many of you have had financial losses. We’ve all been under strain.

And then, there’s the violence that’s rocked our nation, beginning last summer and continuing right up through the past two weeks and even today?

What’s been so strange is that it feels like the epidemic is mostly invisible. It affects all of us. But what causes it is an invisible enemy, a virus too small to see.

And what’s been so strange is that the rioting, both last summer and this month, didn’t come from some outside enemy. It’s our own people, our own neighbors, the people we know.

It’s been really scary, in some ways even more scary than an earthquake or a hurricane or a natural disaster. Those things are local, and they mostly don’t affect us. These new things are national and global.

God is our refuge. God is our strength. God is the one we turn to, for help and protection and understanding.

Listen to what it says again:

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
though the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their crashing.

The person who wrote those words knew all about tumult and trouble. This wasn’t some imaginary disaster he was writing about. Whatever it was, this person was an eyewitness to something overwhelming.

Mountains collapsing, landslides, water and flood, the earth shaking. Whether it was something natural, something political, or something personal, their whole world was being overturned.

Then the writer kind of shifts gears, and talks about a vision. The vision is about a river, and a city.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the city is the holy place where the Most High dwells.
God is within her, she will not fall;
God will surely help her at the break of day.

That picture of the river is actually at both ends of the Bible. It talks about a river in Genesis, where a river flows out of the garden of Eden. All the goodness of the world, all the goodness that God created with love and filled with light, flows out and brings life to the whole world.

Genesis says that the river of God spreads out, and branches, so that every part of the world is fed by it. Every part of the world gets its life from God. Without God, everything would dry up and be no more.

And then at the other end of the Bible, in Revelation, it also talks about a river. Revelation says that the holy city, where God lives, is perfect, with twelve different gates, so that all the people of the earth can come pouring in. They don’t even have streetlights in the holy city, because day and night are all the same. The light of the city is the light of God.

And out of the throne of God, in the center of the city, says Revelation, a clear river comes pouring out. It comes out of the city, much like the river in Eden, and it brings life to the whole world.

And all along the banks of God’s river, it says in Revelation, are different kinds of trees, drinking from it. And the leaves on the trees – I love this part! – the leaves of the trees are for the healing of the nations.

You really ought to read the Bible some time. There’s some really cool stuff in there!

What we’ve got here in Psalm 46 is the same thing. A river that makes the city glad. A city, with God in its very center. A city that will never be destroyed. “God will help the city,” it says, “when the morning dawns. . .”

Then the camera switches back to the present. “Nations are in uproar,” it says. Well, that seems right on point. “Kingdoms fall; but God lifts his voice, and the earth melts.”

Then we get this verse which is kind of a reassurance, kind of a refrain: The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress

Not just the Lord, but the Lord Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth, is with us. And not just with us, here, but with all of us, with all people and with the whole world.

God wants all of us to get along. God wants all of us to have a home. God wants every nation to live in peace, and God wants every family to be unafraid.

God wants wars to cease, to come to an end, here and to the ends of the earth.
Then the Psalm says, “Be still, and know that I am God!”

Quakers love that line. It the inspiration for the quiet prayer time that we have here at worship every week.

Actually, there are some other translations for that line. Instead of “Be still”, the Jerusalem Bible says, “Pause a while. . .” Take a little time. Be quiet. Stop and see what’s going on. Pause and see what God is up to.”

The translation by the Jewish Publication Society says, “Desist!. . .” or more literally, “Stop! Stop what you’re doing! Cut it out!. . .” It makes God sound like an exasperated mom or dad.

But all of them say, “. . .and know that I am God.” Know who I am. Know that I am bigger than all these things.

The psalm starts out by saying, “God is our refuge and strength” and it finishes up by saying, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

I think there’s a connection there. In order for God to help us, we need to stop for a while. We need to back off from the panic, and all the crazy things we’re doing. We need to pause, to relax, and especially we need to be still, both outwardly and inwardly.

If God really is our refuge, we need to stop trying to take refuge somewhere else. If God really is our strength, shouldn’t we stop trying to pretend that other sources of strength are going to make things better?

At the heart of what we believe, where we place our faith and trust, is that if we pause, if we are still and quiet, if we lay down all the blame and the hatred and the fear and the shouting, if we let go and let God, that great things can happen.

Doors can open. Walls can come down. Chains can be broken. Life can come back. Light can shine in the darkness.

When we turn to God, sometimes everything can get turned around. God’s love doesn’t change. Who we are, and what we’ve lived through, doesn’t change. We may not even have moved all that much. But we’re facing in a different direction. And that can make all the difference.

I’d like to ask you to spend a few more minutes together now in quiet prayer. And keep your Bibles open. Re-read those words of Psalm 46. See if there’s any help or meaning there for you. Pray those words from the Psalm if you like.

God is still with us, a help in time of trouble. God is our refuge and our strength. God is a river of life, a river of mercy, a river of healing and reconciliation.

God wants the fighting to stop. God wants us to lay down all the weapons we’ve been using against each other, not just the physical weapons, but the lies we spread, the exaggerations we buy into.

“Be still, and know that I am God!” That’s some of the very best advice there is.
Let’s take it.

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