Tuesday, November 22, 2016

God is our Refuge and Strength

November 20th, 2016         “God is our Refuge and Strength”          Rev. Heather Jepsen
Psalm 46 and Jeremiah 23:1-6
          This morning is Christ the King Sunday; one of those little liturgical holidays that the church celebrates but that does not seem to exist outside of our doors.  This is the final Sunday of the liturgical cycle and next week we start a new liturgical year with the beginning of the Advent season.  This is the Sunday that we conclude all that we have spoken of in the past year, this is our big finish, this is the day that we say no matter what has happened this year we still believe that Jesus Christ is king.
          When examining the texts for this week I was drawn to the reading from the book of Psalms.  I think that Psalm 46 truly is my favorite Psalm for this is one I always return to in moments of crises and fear.  When I am feeling down and sad, or when I am feeling overwhelmed by the world; the words of Psalm 46 offer me comfort and peace.  I think all of us could use a little comfort and peace today.
          The Psalmist encourages people to find comfort in the presence and knowledge of God.  “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”  People are encouraged not to fear, though the natural world around them seems to be in a state of upheaval.  From earthquakes to hurricanes, tornadoes to floods, God continues to be with us even when the very earth appears to be against us.
          The city of Jerusalem, the dwelling place of God, is the place of life.  That is what that river in the city is all about, as there obviously isn’t really a river running through Jerusalem.  The water represents life, and life is found in the presence of God.  The surrounding nations are in an uproar but the Lord of hosts is with us, the God of our ancestors is our refuge.
          The reader is told to “come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth.”  Desolations sounds like a bad thing but what God has really made desolate are the warring armies.  God makes wars to cease, breaks the bow, and shatters the spear.  It is disarmament that is promised, God will disarm the warring forces and God will disarm us as well.  God will assert power by destroying what we use to impose power over others.
          Thinking this way brings new meaning to the beloved line, “Be still, and know that I am God!”  Rather than a request to slow down and meditate, this is more of a command from a parent to two fighting children.  “Knock it off and listen!  I am in charge here!”  God is the one who is exalted over the nations.  God is the one who is in charge of this earth.  God is the one who is the boss of this mess, not us.
          I think the words of the Psalmist are helpful this week as we look at the world around us.  Our world is in upheaval.  Now is a time of wars and of rumors of wars.  It appears that we have undergone a populist revolt in this country.  There is a lot of anger and fear on both sides, and as a nation we seem more divided than ever.  We know this is nothing new, as even the Psalmist is familiar with “nations in an uproar”, yet still we are afraid.
          It is one thing to say that God is a help in times of trouble but it is another thing to actually believe it.  When we look deeper at this Psalm, we find ourselves asking that sticky old theodicy question, “Why does God let bad things happen?”  We know God is with us, but we also know that that promise of the presence of God is not a promise of the end of suffering.
          As I mentioned at the start, this is Christ the King Sunday, and when we look to Christ’s reign we find that it is no throne he sits upon on this earth.  Christ was certainly not a king in any traditional sense of the word.  He held no earthly position of authority and he had no wealth or earthly power.  Christ the king’s crown was made of thorns, and his robe was only a symbol of mockery and derision.  This king we worship was king of the losers, king of the outcasts, king of those on the fringes of society.  This Christ the king was really Christ-no-king by earthly standards.
          And yet in this image of weakness and suffering, we find our hope for it is here that we see proof that God is not to be found in ways of earthly power and authority.  Rather, God is to be found in suffering and pain.  Our God is the one who identifies with us in our suffering for our God is one who knows suffering.  When the mountains shake and the nations are in an uproar, our God is with us in our weakness.  And this knowledge of the presence of God is what gives us the strength to move forward.  God is our refuge and strength, because God is on our side as we seek justice and peace in our broken and hurting world.
          There is a lot of fear in this nation at the election of Donald Trump.  Some of it is well placed, as he seems to bring out the worst in some people.  Also, if he follows through on all of his campaign promises, a lot of good people will have their lives turned upside down.  I think Trump’s election is in response to the rise of fear in our nation and around the world to those who are different.  Folks have been disenfranchised by the global economy and they are feeling left out.  If we feel we aren’t getting what we deserve then we look around for who is taking those things instead.  Immigrants are a perfect scapegoat for these fears.  We see this rise of nationalism not only in the election of Trump but also in Brexit.  There is talk that France too may move in this direction.  As a nation, we are not alone in this struggle over resources.
          I don’t want to assume that Trump will be an awful President or the end of our country, any more than I assume that everyone who voted for him was a racist.  I don’t think that’s true and those kind of statements don’t bring us together, they only divide us even more.  I want to assume the best of Trump, which can be a challenge when he puts people like Bannon in the White House, but I want to give Trump a chance.  I don’t believe we have a choice and I want to stay positive as long as I can.
          In the meantime, I find comfort in the fact that if he does turn out bad, we have survived terrible leaders in the past.  Terrible leaders are nothing new, as evidenced by the writings of the prophet Jeremiah.  “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture. . . It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and have not attended to them.  So I will attend to you for your evil doings.”  Jeremiah reminds us that God will judge bad leaders.  God will repay those who have handed out evil and misery in the world. 
          Jeremiah looks to a day when God will bring a new king, a righteous branch from David’s line.  Though we find this king in the reign of Jesus Christ, we also find ourselves still longing for healing among nations.  Still we look to God, hoping for the day when justice and righteousness shall be executed in the land.
          Soon our nation will move into our annual holiday season.  This week we gather with family at the Thanksgiving table and soon we will be looking toward Christmas.  Olivia and I have been reading “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” and I have been musing on the idea of Christmas.  You may remember that in that story, the White Witch gains power over Narnia and plunges the land into a state of perpetual winter.  It is winter and never Christmas.  Thankfully, that cannot happen here.  Though we may feel that we are in a time of darkness, Christmas is still coming.
          The hope of Christmas is the arrival of “Emmanuel” God with us.  This promise rings true from the prophet Jeremiah’s messianic claims, to the Psalmist’s promise that God is in the midst of the city.  Even though the world around us appears to be in darkness and strife, the promise of Emmanuel carries us through.  God is with us.  God is our refuge and strength.
          This week, as you gather with family and friends to celebrate, remember that Christ is the King.  Not in a cheesy sort of way, but in a hope filled powerful way.  No matter what happens, no matter what tomorrow brings Christ the king is with us.  And this king encourages us to continue to stand on the side of justice and peace.  Even if it means we end up looking like losers.  The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter, yet still God is our refuge and strength.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.


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