August 29, 2021. Sermon Title: Our Mighty Fortress

­­­­­­­First Mennonite Church

August 29, 2021

Our Mighty Fortress

Text: Psalm 46

For her English class at Cuesta College, Lilian had to read and write a book report of American Ground, by Willian Langewiesche. It is the recount of the cleaning of Ground Zero in New York City. I read most of the book too. And what impressed me the most was the description of the underground section of the Twin Towers. According to Langewiesche, there were “more than a thousand cars abandoned and covered with gray concrete dust. . . Fire ranges and gun rooms, bank vaults, and vast treasures in cold cash and in gold and silver ingots. [1]  The Twin Towers foundation was remarkably deep. It was more than 70 feet deep laid on solid rock. The underground section of the building was surrounded by what was called the “bathtub,” three-feet thick waterproof wall 80 feet high. 

The damage inflicted to the structure when the airplane hit the building and its weight made the Twin Towers collapse. The foundation and structure of the Twin Towers were in many ways comparable to that of a fortress.

The image of a fortress is what came to Martin Luther’s mind when he read and meditated on Psalm 46. Thus, the hymn he composed, based on this Psalm, comes from the opening line: “A Mighty Fortress is the Lord.”

 This hymn appears in the Mennonite Hymnal on page 325.

Psalm 46 presents God not only as a refuge, but also as “strength” and “help.” Literally, the Hebrew version of verse one reads, “God is for us a refuge and help.” That means that the three qualities of what God represents, that is: his protection, power, and assistance, are not just oozing, radiating, or emanating ethereally or neutrally in the universe. These are there for his creation, but particularly for his people. In other words, God as a refuge, strength and help is for the benefit of his people.   

God is a refuge, a fortress, a very present help in trouble.” There is a footnote in the NRSV version after the phrase “very present.” The translators indicates that the verse may also read: “God is our refuge and strength, a well-proved help in trouble.” Both ways of translating this phrase communicate God’s trustworthiness and ready availability to you and me in our time of trouble. If you go with “well-proved,” you have a God who has been time-tested and, over and over again has proved reliable. He can be trusted upon to keep you secure in your time of trouble. Either way, in all times and circumstances we have a God who has got us covered. God is our fortress; that is, once we enter the presence of God by placing our trust in Jesus. There, we get the protection we need in our time of trouble.

It is important for us to take note of this: God does promise we will be exempted from trouble. As the rest of this Psalm indicates, those who find strength, protection, and assistance in God live in a world of chaos.  

Therefore, based on the affirmation that God is our tried-and-true place of refuge in times of trouble, we can make the following confession: Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Verses two and three illustrates how powerful a refuge and help is our God. The images portrayed in these two verses are about ultimate worst-case scenarios. They portray a world in cosmic upheaval.

From an ancient Hebrew perspective about the universe, the chaos described in verses two and three is a cosmic cataclysm—the violent crushing of the world. Ancient Near Eastern cosmogony held that the mountains were the foundation that anchored the dry land and were also the pillars that held up the sky. Therefore, verses two and three describe the sudden disintegration of the very foundations of both the earth and the sky. It was no wonder why the Psalmist says, “Though the earth should change.” These two verses describe the horror and devastation worse than that of the simultaneous events of both a 10.0 earthquake and a category-five hurricane on earth.

I have only experienced a point four earthquake while in Guatemala City. I have also only experienced what a category-three hurricane in Belize. Both situations are scary and neither of them was anywhere close to what we find described in these two verses.

Although the descriptions given here were metaphorical, the point the Psalmist wants to communicate is that God is a secure place of refuge to us, no matter how mild or earth-shattering a situation could be. The point the Psalmist wants to communicate is that even in this degree of trouble, when we feel the world is crumbling under our feet, like when someone gets the worst diagnosis, or when a loved one dies, God is the place where our heart can find peace, strength, and rest.  The words of the apostle Paul to the Romans captures that very idea when he says, “If God is for us, who is against us? Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?

 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8: 31, 35, 37-39).

I just said that the trouble, which this Psalm portrays, is in cosmic terms, yet verses four to seven and 11, reveal it is human trouble. The nations are in uproar. The kingdoms totter.

In the last couple of weeks, we watched with sadness the desperate situation in Afghanistan, a nation in an uproar and in a freefall into a precipice of uncertainty. But such world in uproar, mayhem, and convulsion is not only happening in faraway lands. There are many signs it’s happening here too, in some other ways. There is resentment, weariness, and even deepening confusion about Covid-19. There is an upcoming special election awaiting an already weary constituency. There are fires burning uncontrollably. There is drought. There is inflation, of which we are reminded in real terms every time we go to the grocery store. There is a general feeling of skepticism about everything and at all levels of society. In the words of the Psalmist, it feels as if the earth had changed and the primordial chaos has overtaken the world. Nothing seem reliable. Nothing seems hopeful.

Yet. Yes, yet, for the people of God there is good news. There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
    God will help it when the morning dawns.
And so, “We will not fear.”

In the Bible, the sea is always presented as place or source of danger. Rivers, on the other hand, are always presented as life-giving and peace inspiring. The only time a sea is described in a positive light is in Revelation where there is a crystal sea (4:6).

There is river making glad the city of God. God’s presence and peace-inspiring streams give his people peace, assurance, and strength in the midst of convoluted world. Therefore, God’s people will not and should not be shaken by any of the uproar and mayhem that sweep over the rest of humanity. God is in our midst. God is for us a refuge, strength and help.

The river here, symbolized the assurance God’s power and provision, even in the worst imaginable situation.

But how are we to enjoy God’s power and provision available to us? The well-known command found in verse 10 gives us the answer. “Be still, and know that I am God! Often times this command is misunderstood. Many see as if we are asked to engage in meditation or relaxation. It could be that the translation of this verse leads to that understanding. The Hebrew meaning of the word rapa, is “Stop!” or “Surrender!” The idea is that of ceasing to fend or to fight for ourselves and to acknowledge God’s graciousness and power that are for our behalf.

God’s exaltation among the people will happen when God’s people learn to depend on him. But if we are restless and fearful like the rest who do not trust in the Lord, how will the unbeliever know the difference between God’s people and rest of society, between trusting in God and fighting for ourselves?

The closing verse once again reaffirms the opening verse: The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. God is with us. Jesus is the Immanuel—God is with us. God is our refuge. The word refuge here is not the same as in the opening verse. The Hebrew word misgab is other parts of the Bible is translated “fortress” (Psalm 55:9), or “sure defense” (Ps. 48:3), or “stronghold” (Ps. 9:9).

Psalm 46 reminds us of who God is to us. He dwells among his people. His people live in his holy presence. God is light, protection, and provider to his people. The world around us is in upheaval, but from the presence of God flows a stream that make his people glad. The presence of God makes his people immovable; they are not shaken, even when the world around them is shaking and crumbling. The only thing we need to do is to yield to God, to surrender at his feet. He will deliver to us his victory. Be still and know that I am God, then the Lord will be our strong fortress. Amen!

Pastor Romero

[1] William Langewiesche. American Ground. North Point Press, New York 2002. pp 34, 35.