Sunday the 30th of October 2016
On this day, we celebrate and think about the reformation of the church nearly 500 years ago. And of course being Lutheran’s we think about Martin Luther and the role he played in it. Many Christians of all protestant denominations have a great deal of respect for Luther. But all too often when people think of him, they think of him as a hero, who took on the Roman Catholic Church and who changed the history of the Church and also Europe at the time. The problem is that often the very heart of what he was on about is missed. That is that the Gospel be made known to everyone. This is what the reformation was really all about.
On this Reformation Sunday I would like to preach on one of Luther’s favourite psalms, Psalm 46. This psalm was very important to Luther, in the time and place in history that he lived in, just as it is for us here in this time and place some 500 years later. It is a psalm in which God is at the centre of all life, no matter what it looks like to us. And it is a psalm that is full of God’s promise, which Luther hung to dearly, and encourages all Christians to do the same.
Luther lived in a time where he was surrounded by hardship and devastation. Once Luther discovered that Jesus Christ had paid for his sins and that we are not saved by our works, but rather through our faith in him, this put him at odds with the entire Roman Catholic teaching that taught the opposite: that we contribute to our own salvation before God by our good works. His boldness in publically speaking out, standing on God’s Word, set in motion a very turbulent time in history. What followed was wars between Roman Catholics states and between those who declared themselves as Lutherans and the development of many others following Luther’s example in questioning what they had been taught about the Christian faith and developing their own new interpretations of God’s Word.
At the same time a very bad plague was sweeping through Europe killing a significant number of people. Death by illness and disease was a very real threat. If this was not enough the Ottoman Empire, bringing with them their Muslim belief was making its way through Europe and was very close to taking all of Europe. So Luther was in a place where life was very unpredictable and unstable.
So you can imagine those people asking the question: Where is God? Why is God not intervening? Luther was no exception, he really did struggle with these questions and he had long bouts of depression and struggle in his life, but that is why this psalm was so important to him and is important for us here today also.
We here today may not be facing the same struggles, in fact we need to be thankful for those like Luther that have gone before us, who have made it possible for us to be here Worshiping God in the freedom that we have, but we do face different types of struggles.
We look at the world around us and see that it is against God, that the Christian Church is trying to be silenced or destroyed. The pressure put on our young people to conform to the culture around us to leave the faith is great. The values that we have as Christians that have come from his Word are being eroded day by day. There are times when we face human tragedy, family break downs, mental and physical health issues. Whilst we in the western world like to think that life is within our control, we often find that life can be very unstable.
Psalm 46 is the prayer of his people in a time of great chaos and instability. It says 1 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, 3 though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. The earth around us may be in chaos, but we do not need to fear or be afraid because God is our refuge. Verse 6 says: 6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; again pointing the environment around us not being stable. However, “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.
In the times in his life when Luther felt surrounded he would ask himself “who am I clinging to” In times of despair he would answer: “I cling to Jesus all the more” Who we cling to in times of trouble is a very good question to ask ourselves. Whilst we live in a world that appears to be in control, beneath the surface it is a different story. The western world has the highest rates of depression and anxiety. Australia has the highest rate of suicide in world. As a society we may not speak openly about the struggles we face, but there are problems. People are searching looking for things to help them deal with the uncertainties and the chaos they confront in life. What do they cling to in these times? Sadly more and more they cling to themselves. As those who belong to God, as his children, we need to cling to God, not ourselves. The point of this psalm is that nothing on this earth, not matter how volatile is outside of God’s hand. It certainly at times looks like it is to us particularly at times in history when we as his church seem to be surrounded by enemies of God. But as this happens we are to cling to God’s word of promise all the more.
This psalm continues from verse 8 “Come and see what the Lord has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth. 9 He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire” Come and see God says, in other Words lift up your eyes so that they are on me. Nothing on this earth can withstand God. Nothing is able to overcome Him. This is the confidence that we have as his children. 1”0 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
Luther and those of the period of the reformation stood upon the promise of God’s Word to them. Luther was passionate about making sure that the Gospel was not lost, as it had become at that time. Luther stood firm on God’s Word. He stood firm on God’s Word of promise. Even in amongst the challenge of the religious and political enemies, he stood firmly on God’s Word. Even when things around him seemed to be falling apart, and danger was ever so present, Luther stood firm on the promise of God’s Word. No matter what happened around him Luther came back to this psalm. God is exalted above all things; and God is with us in our trouble.
Luther understood God does not just sit up there in heaven and have control over everything from a distance. No he comes near in our times of trouble. He comes near through his son Jesus Christ. He came to us in Jesus the one who was born, who lived with us, the one who died for us. As we are children through Jesus, we belong to him. Because of Jesus Christ and the forgiveness of our sins that we have because of him, we cling to him. He is our refuge and our strength. We stand on Jesus Christ our rock and we stand on the promises that we have through him.
Psalm 46 is about God’s Word of promise: The he is our ever present help in time of need; that God is exalted above all and that his kingdom will stand firm. We are to “Be still, and know that I am God”; In other words stop, trust and have confidence in Him at all times. His promise is that he is with us, that he is our fortress. That he protects us and has us in his hands.
For Luther God’s Words of promise to his Children through the psalms and even more so through our Lord Jesus, were at the very heart of his life and work. And he clung to this tightly in amongst the joys and sorrows of life.
It is this very thing that we are to remember on Reformation Sunday. Not just on this day, but continually. Because like Luther, we live in world that wants to cover this Gospel over, or make it into something else that it is not. As I have highlighted the problems he faced, we also face. But we remember the reformation because it is at the very heart of who you and I are as God’s children, in that we here today stand up on God’s Word to us. So I encourage you to remember not just Luther the man, but to remember what was at the centre of his life and that was to encourage all Christians to have in Jesus and stand in confidence on God’s Word of promise to us, and to hold on to them even through the storms of life.