God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. (Psalm 46:1, ESV)
Herb had never felt this kind of fear before… He had walked this way home a thousand times, but this time was different… this time he was afraid. Maybe it was because his hip hurt more than ever… maybe it was because his cane felt heavier than usual… or that the ally was darker, there was surely someone there waiting to jump out and hurt him like before. Everything tonight reminded him of the night when someone did jump out at him, and knock him down and hurt him. That was the night he wanted to forget, but it was too much like tonight. “Give me your money, Old Man!” said the young man towering over him as Herb lay in pain on the ground. “I know you’ve got it…” Herb obeyed without a word. When he gave it to him, the mugger just looked at it in disgust… “Is that all you got, you stupid old man?” he said kicking him in the hip for emphasis. Then he was gone and Herb was left lying there on the sidewalk, alone. Now tonight, he passed by the very spot where it had happened. Herb walked as quickly as possible, whatever his hip would take. He looked down the street; he could see his own front door. The light there above it was on for him. That was where he wanted to be. It was where he was safe. It was his refuge.
Psalm 46:1–3,7 (ESV)
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. Selah
The LORD of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
Like Herb, we need a refuge, because the world is a dangerous place. There is trouble out there. The Psalm paints a picture of violence, the earth falling apart, mountains crumbling and oceans coming out of their banks sweep over everything in their path. It shows us dangers we can’t avoid… dangers that we can’t get away from, because they are too big. God is our refuge, it says, even in the face of these kinds of dangers.
God is our refuge… our safe place… when I was younger, I remember walking through our neighborhood and seeing a sign on some house, “Block Home.” “Dad, what’s a block home?” I asked. I sure I had in mind the block heads that some of you might remember on the Gumby television show, the one’s that troubled him all the time, or maybe a place where you go and play with blocks… “That’s a place you can go if you are in trouble.” He said, “It’s a safe place to run if someone is chasing you.” Around here, I see the blue stars in the window. In St. Louis, the fire stations all have signs up that say… “Safe Place” It is a refuge, somewhere to go in time of trouble.
The world is a dangerous place… but God is our refuge. He is our refuge when we are threatened by sickness, that lurks in the darkness to catch us when we least expect it. …threatens to jump out and knock us down… to take away our independence, our self-reliance, and ability to take care of ourselves. But, in sickness, we turn to God, who is our refuge. Like the woman who came to Jesus crying, “Heal my daughter!” Just like her, we come to our Refuge for healing. We come to this altar in prayer.
The world is a dangerous place… but God is our refuge. He is our refuge when other people threaten us. People we don’t understand… people who don’t understand us. It isn’t just thieves and muggers… it is people willing to put them selves in an airplane and strike a building full of people. People who are willing to kill thousands to satisfy their own ideals. People who have very different ideologies… very different theologies that threaten us. Herb was beaten on a dark street; Christians are often ridiculed on primetime. What we believe, teach and confess, is said to be hate speech. Positive portrayals of people of faith are hard to come by on television. And it’s getting worse. People of faith are under attack in the legal system… and the school system. There is an ever-increasing persecution of Christians in general and conservative Christians in particular. And when it happens, we run to our Refuge. “Help us, Father!” we cry.
The world is a dangerous place… but God is our refuge. The ultimate trouble that faces us, the one that has been pushed into the forefront of our minds this week… is death. The old hymn “I walk in trouble all the way,” speaks of death ‘pursuing us.’
Death doth pursue me all the way
Nowhere I rest securely
He comes by night- he comes by day,
And takes his prey most surely
A failing breath, and I
I death’s strong grasp may lie
To face eternity for aye.
Death doth pursue me all the way.
Only a breath lies between life and death. A misstep… a mistake… during a trip to the grocery store, or home from work. The people working in the WTC were certainly caught of guard, Tuesday morning. Death walks along with us down the dark street… but God is our refuge, we turn to him when death threatens. “I walk with Jesus all the way,” the Hymn comforts. In Him, we find refuge.
The reformers who met at Augsburg castle to present their confession of faith to Emperor, Prince Charles understood what it meant for God to be our Refuge.. He demanded that no more “Lutheran Sermons” be preached. He demanded that they worship in the “Roman Way.” They refused. George, Margrave of Brandenburg spoke for all the Lutherans and for the confession presented to Charles. “Before I let anyone take from me the Word of God and ask me to deny my God, I will kneel and let them strike off my head.” God was his refuge. God was his strength in the face of persecution. He placed his faith in Jesus Christ and salvation won for him on the cross. In his time of trouble, Jesus was his refuge.
Martin Luther knew also, the hymn we sang just before the sermon is base on our text for today, Psalm 46. Luther saw God as a “Mighty Fortress,” a place to run in danger, a place to be safe. Just like the “block home,” or the “blue star,” or the fire station. God is our fortress where evil things that are pursuing us can’t reach us. God was a refuge for Luther.
God is our refuge… we have run to him today… right here in this place. Even though this church might seem like a tiny speck of pepper in a vast ocean… whose waves threaten to drown it… we have come here to seek refuge. We come here, because this is the place that God tells us about his greatest rescue. Here is the place where we hear how he saved us from our great enemies. How he sent his own Son… how He endured pain and death. “Crucified dead and buried,” we say every Sunday. Jesus Christ died, but just when death seemed to have its victory, God reached out a saving hand and raised him from death. Rescued him from the grave…
But, we couldn’t turn to God as our refuge if Jesus’ rescue was only for Jesus himself. The rescue of Jesus is our rescue, too. His death is ours. His resurrection is ours. It becomes ours when God poured water on us… and “baptized us into Christ.” “Receive the sign of the cross both upon the forehead and upon the heart, to mark you as one redeemed by Jesus Christ the crucified.” It is all there because in Holy Baptism God places his name on us. “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” The wisdom of Proverbs says the same thing like this:
The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous man runs into it and is safe. (Proverbs 18:10, ESV)
And the Baptismal liturgy says, “The promises are for you and your children” and “baptism now saves you.” Because of Jesus rescue and God’s promises found in His word and given to us in his name through Holy Baptism, we have our refuge in God.
The world is a dangerous place, but we have a Refuge, God is our Refuge, through Jesus Christ. So even if illness overtakes us, he is our refuge… we look to him for healing, but even if the illness ends in death we find refuge in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the resurrection that God promises us. Even though there are people out there who hate us and threaten us, we turn to God for refuge. Even if they kill us we find our refuge in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the resurrection that God promises us. And when death does finally catch us, when the pursuit is over, when darkness is closing in on us… we look to God, our refuge and remember the rescue, the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is in him we find refuge. Amen.
The peace of God, that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.