Sermons

10/25/20 Sermon: Still

Sunday, October 25, 2020
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Schuyler, NE
Reformation Sunday
First Reading • Psalm • Second Reading • Gospel
Preacher: Pastor Day Hefner
watch this service online (readings start around 16:28, sermon around 22:26)

Psalm 46 is one of those old favorite psalms that we read together every Reformation Sunday.  It’s a powerful and comforting psalm.  And, of course, Martin Luther loved this psalm so much that it inspired him to write A Mighty Fortress, which we also sing every year on Reformation Sunday.  Both the psalm and the hymn still have lots of power, inspiring us and comforting us over five centuries later.  

With so much intense stuff going on in the world right now, it seems like now is a good moment to pause and just let ourselves rest in these words for a moment.  Now is the time to pause and remember that God is our refuge and strength, even in the midst of chaos and calamity.  The earth may move, the nations may rage and the kingdoms shake, but the Lord of hosts is with us, and the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

I know this hasn’t been an easy time for any of you.  I know your lives have been chaotic and disrupted.  This pandemic has stolen our sense of safety and forced us to question nearly everything that we once took for granted.  This election season feels like it’s lasted about 50 years, and now that we’re finally entering the final few crushing days before the actual election, it feels like every nerve is on edge like the sound of nails screeching on a chalkboard.  We’re all feeling the stress.

And I know you are tired.  I know you are sad.  I know you are frustrated and fed up and full of grief that things continue to be so difficult and so different from life as it was.

All of this is why today I want to invite you into the peace of Psalm 46.  There’s a centering prayer practice that uses Psalm 46 that I’ve seen people using around the synod a lot lately, and I want to share it with you.  It focuses specifically on the first part of verse 10 of Psalm 46, which is the part of this psalm that you probably know best: “Be still, and know that I am God.”  This practice shows that practically every word of this phrase has rich meaning and can speak good news to us.  

So whatever else you might be doing as you listen to this (or read this) – wherever you are – I invite you to put that aside for a second.  Get yourself into a comfortable position and close your eyes.  Focus on your breath; feel your body expand and contract with its rhythm.  And listen once more to each word of this verse.

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still and know that I am.

Be still and know that I.

Be still and know that.

Be still and know.

Be still and.

Be still.

Be.

We don’t know what it was that moved the psalmist to write these verses or even when they were first written.  He never says what the upheaval or calamity was that led him to pause and remember that God is his refuge and strength.  We just have his words – words of faith and confidence in God’s goodness, even in the midst of turmoil.  

However, we do know quite a bit about Martin Luther and about the struggles he was facing as he found comfort in the words of Psalm 46.  On October 31st, 1517 – the evening before All Saints Day – Luther posted his infamous 95 theses, detailing a list of reforms he believed the church should make in order to bring it more in line with the gospel.  

It was never Luther’s intention to break away from the church and start a new one.  And he probably never even imagined what a firestorm of chaos his act of protest would set off: Luther’s ideas fueled division between the Holy Roman Empire and the German nobility that eventually led the entire continent into decades of conflict, ending in one of the most destructive wars in human history.  Not to mention it split the church in a way that to this day has never healed.  Luther himself was excommunicated from the church he had dedicated his life to; he had to go into hiding to keep from being arrested; and he even received regular death threats, including from a prominent theologian who wanted to see Luther burned for heresy.  

But in the midst of all this trouble, Luther found peace in God, through the words of Psalm 46.  And his is just one story among many more that we’ll probably never know.  Centuries of faithful disciples before us and before Luther encountered God through these same texts.  God has been the refuge and strength of believers who lived through world wars and plagues and natural catastrophes.  God has been the mighty fortress of our parents and our grandparents and our great-grandparents and of all the ancestors who came before us.  Generation upon generation of the faithful have read these texts before us, and God is still not done speaking through these ancient words;

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still and know that I am.

Be still and know that I.

Be still and know that.

Be still and know.

Be still and.

Be still.

Be.

God is still speaking.  God still speaks to us through the ancient words of the scriptures, like with Psalm 46.  And, of course, when we talk about the word of God, we’re speaking about much more than just words written down on paper and bound in a book.  As we read in our first reading from Jeremiah, God figured out a long time ago that it wasn’t enough to write things out with pen and paper or stylus and papyrus, or even carved into stone.  Instead, as God plans to make a new covenant with the people, God says:

I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.

Jeremiah 31:33-34

God’s living word is written on our hearts.  And because of it, even the words of scripture aren’t just dead words that happen to move us.  The living God of our ancestors is speaking to us – today through the words of Psalm 46.  God is still our refuge and strength – here, now, in the year 2020, even in the midst of chaos and disruption and division and grief – the Lord of hosts is still with us, and the God of Jacob is still our stronghold.  God’s story is far from over.  It’s still being written, verse by verse, on the pages of our hearts.

So I invite you today; let these words from the ancient psalmist be written anew on your heart:

Be still and know that I am God.

Be still and know that I am.

Be still and know that I.

Be still and know that.

Be still and know.

Be still and.

Be still.

Be.

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