Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from our very present help in trouble. Amen
Today is the Sunday we, as Lutherans,
have set aside to remember our origins
in the protestant reformation,
beginning when the priest and professor Martin Luther
posted some topics he wanted to debate
about certain points of theology and practices of the church.
In drawing up his list
Luther did not foresee or plan
the great upheaval that followed,
he simply wanted to discuss ways
that the church, the primary way that people interacted with God,
could be more faithful,
could do a better job at sharing the grace of God with the people of God.
Now Luther was not the first to make suggestions along these lines
but like a bolt of lightening striking dry grass and setting off a wild fire
his ideas for debate hit at just the right time and place
and set off a fire of their own,
one which shook the foundations of church and society
with great change and the violence that comes with something old resisting something new.
So happy birthday to us?
This heritage of division
is why we commemorate,
rather than celebrate the reformation.
Even as we recognize all the good that came from the time as well.
In the history of the reformation
we are reminded that as Christians
we believe that out of death comes new life,
our faith and salvation are dependent on this belief,
that Christ died and three days later rose from the dead,
we take time to remember our reformation heritage
because the way we encounter God
in worship, song, church structure and history
is based on the new life
that came from the deaths of 500 years ago,
a renewed emphasis on the gift of grace given to us by God through Christ Jesus,
the belief that all people should understand and participate in worship and Bible study,
that Christ comes to us in water, bread and wine offering forgiveness and new life.
With God new life is always springing up all over the place,
or to put it another way,
God is constantly reforming,
working to bring about the kingdom of God
and because this world will not be perfect until the end
reformation is an ongoing process,
yes that means something is always changing,
and with that change comes fear and loss,
resistance and violence
and yes even new life,
and at the center of it all is God,
constantly calling us to ways of faithfulness and sharing the grace of God
with the people of God for our time and place.
While we recognized so called reformers like Luther
the true reformer,
the one at work in all of this and all of us is God,
the one who brings new life out of death.
And in the midst of all this constant reforming
we often wonder where exactly is God and what is God doing?
This is a common response to the workings of God,
we see people all throughout scripture asking these questions
as change swirls around them.
The Psalmists in particular
manage to capture, in the verses of their hymns, t
he truth of upheaval in the world
and the presence of God in the midst of it all.
Somehow they have found a way
to hold two conflicting truths together,
the truth that there is chaos and the truth that God is present.
This is the case for our psalm of the day, Psalm 46,
which describes the rebellion of nature and humanity
at the same time as acclaiming the presence of God,
God who is present in the midst of trouble,
God who is more powerful than the trouble,
God who is a mighty fortress.
“A mighty fortress is our God, a sword and shield victorious;
He breaks the cruel oppressor’s rod and wins salvation glorious.”
Luther penned the words to his famous hymn
as a loose paraphrase of psalm 46,
hopping to apply the message of the psalm
to the situation of his time,
interestingly on one of the earliest copies of the hymn
it is titled “A Hymn of Comfort”
instead of the fight song of the reformation,
which is how we tend to think of this hymn today
it was intended, as was the original psalm,
to comfort and provide hope
during a time of turmoil
when the very foundation of society seemed to be shifting underfoot.
As in the day of Luther
we too are in a time of turmoil,
everyday it seems we hear of another disaster
either natural or political or interpersonal,
and it seems the foundations on which we have long built
are no longer as steady as they once were,
and from across the ages the psalm speaks to our reality,
reflecting the chaos of creation
“though the earth be moved and though the mountains shake in the depth of the sea;”
and people “the nations rage and the kingdoms shake”
and throughout it all a word of hope,
“The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our stronghold”
Whatever changes God is making,
whatever changes we are resisting,
God is present working for good,
offering forgiveness, grace and yes even peace,
calling us to be still
and know who is our true foundation, our fortress.
In reflecting on all of this,
I began to wonder what a paraphrase of psalm 46 for our time might sound like,
And so I will close with my humble offering, thought I didn’t set it to music.
God is our security
A present calm in the midst of chaos
From God we draw our confidence
Even as hurricanes destroy,
Waters rise, and fire consumes the land.
Like the eye of a storm
God’s peace is in the center
the winds swirl around it
But the calm is not shaken
God is present in the center of human winds
Words that stir up storms separating people
One from another, giving into the chaos that divides
But these words are no match for God’s word, Jesus
The word made flesh who makes his home among the people
Though at times it seems hopeless
God will have the last word,
And that word will be peace.
Peace among nations,
peace among peoples,
peace in creation
Be still and know peace,
Experience the security of God
Who is greater than the most powerful person
Who is greatest in all the earth
Though life at times is difficult
God is with us making all things new.
A present calm in the midst of chaos.
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.