God, Our Refuge and Strength, Is Comfort in the Midst of Chaos (Nov. 3, 2019)

Sermon Text: Psalm 46

Pastor Philip Bigelow

When do you sing?  Well, we just did about thirty seconds ago.  We sing in worship and that is probably a fairly obvious answer.  Maybe as you turned onto Wisconsin Ave. this morning or during your drive to work you were singing this week.  You sing in the car.  Maybe that’s one of the safest places to sing—at least if you are alone—because no one is there to hear if you are off key or can’t quite stretch up to that high note or you don’t quite know the words so you can just mumble for through the verses until you get to the chorus and then you can belt it out with all of your off key gusto, but who cares because it’s just you.  Why do you sing?  Maybe it puts us in a good mood, or we are already in a good mood and we just want to sing.  We sing to praise God as we come together to worship him.  Today we are starting a sermon series that we will focus on for the next four weeks titled “Singing the Psalms ‘Til the End Times” and each week we are going to look at a different Psalm that tells us the reason we have to sing praise to our gracious God as we focus on his return.    Today we get to see the contrast between comfort and chaos and why we have a reason to sing even in chaotic times.

I’m going to tell you about someone that didn’t know what was going to happen.  It was such an important moment for him that he even asked for a day to think about it.  He didn’t just want to “wing it”, but he wanted to make sure he gave a thoughtful answer and he gave the right answer.  So, he asked for a day to think about the answer he should give.  Here’s what led up to that moment.  A no-name monk named Martin Luther from a backwater, sleepy, out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere town called Wittenberg nailed 95 Theses, or statements, to the door of a church and this was the match that ignited into the blaze of what we now call the Reformation.  He was hoping for a chance to debate or talk about where he thought the church was going wrong and not teaching according to Scripture, but he was given no such chance.  He was only told to recant, to take back everything he had written.  This came to a head at the Diet of Worms, or the meeting at the city of Worms, where he stood before the most powerful man on earth, the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V, who told him to take back everything he had written and could give him the same ending as those that came before him, which was death.  Many of his friends and supporters thought they would never see Luther again and advised him not to go to this meeting because they thought Luther wouldn’t leave that meeting alive.  After being told to take back everything he had written he asked for a day to think about his answer.  When the sun rose the next day Luther didn’t know if he would be around to see it set that evening, nevertheless he stood before Emperor Charles V and poured gasoline on what was already ignited with the Reformation with this reply, “…I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God.  I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience.  May God help me.  Amen”[1]  Talk about chaos—standing before the most powerful man in the world who can execute you with the snap of his fingers and you just gave an answer that others have been put to death for—now that’s bringing some chaos in your life.

Luther knew what Psalm 46 was talking about.  Psalm 46 gives a picture of complete and total chaos.  Listen again to what’s happening, “…the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging” (Psalm 46:2b-3).  The earth is falling apart, waters are rough and rushing whitecaps.  Everything is out of control.  Is there anything more terrifying?  Sometimes we feel like we can take on anything as long as I’m in control.  If my hands are on the steering wheel, then I feel like I can control where this is going, and everything will be OK.  But, what about when we don’t feel in control.  What about when it’s total chaos and out of control?  Then what?  Luther wasn’t in control. He was at the mercy of the emperor.

What about you?  How has chaos hit your home?  How has your world been shaken to its foundation?  I have a feeling you don’t need me to stand here today and tell you examples of what chaos looks like.  You’ve experienced chaos and felt your life shaking under your feet.  For some of our families chaos looks like a Tuesday morning when your 4th grader tells you ten minutes before you leave for school, they forgot to do a homework assignment.  This is happening while trying to get your three-year-old dressed and out the door, but not today.  Not today because today she wants to be a princess and wear her princess outfit that she had for Halloween and princesses dress themselves, which inevitable results in her head going in the left arm hole and both legs trying to fit in one pant leg that of course results in screaming and crying—and not just from the three-year-old.  And after you felt like you just got a grizzly bear dressed and are off to school your third child has the breaking news that he forgot his lunch.  And you are just so tired and worn out from it all because as much as you try to be organized and in control it feels like chaos has moved in and has given no indication it’s moving out anytime soon.  Maybe your mountains falling into the heart of the sea and waters roaring and foaming in your life happened in the doctor’s office when the doctor told you the results from the test and you can’t remember anything he or she said after that because it’s just a blur as fear, worry, and worst-case scenarios flooded the mind as you realized you don’t have control over what’s going to happen and you can only sit and wait and find out.  Maybe the chaos in your life looks like the worry of a parent that’s done their best to show direction, and sensible boundaries to a teenager and all of your efforts are only met with rebellion, frustration, slammed doors, and stinging words of accusations of being loveless and uncaring.  It tears your heart out because you wish they would only understand that you are doing it because you love them and the more you try to be in control the worse it gets.  And as a teenager you just wish someone would listen to you for once and what you wanted and what you thought.  And so, the thoughts flood in: Where did I go wrong, what can I do to make it better? Instead the crescendo of chaos just gets louder.  So, you ask yourself in the quite moments with your thoughts staring at the ceiling at night: What can I do to make it better?  In other words, if I could just get a little bit of control then everything will be all right.  If I could just contribute in some way and pull the reigns in a little bit.  If I could just get control of the chaos in my life, then I can make it better.

We have a hard time not being at the wheel, not being in control.  Do we have any backseat drivers here today?  “Slow down, speed up, it’s a red light, brake, brake, brake, BRAKE, it’s a green light, no one else on the road can read your mind so use your turn signal, and on and on.”  Isn’t it better if we just get behind the wheel?  Because we are the best driver in the world, and if not the world, then certainly our household because things are better when we are in control. And the devil is grinning ear-to-ear if he can get you to swallow that lie hook, line, sinker, fishing pole, and boat.

The Psalm paints a picture of total chaos today.  Look at the Psalm again.  How many verses talk about you needing to be in control?  How many verses present that as the solution to our problem?  Three verses?  Two?  One?  There has to be one verse, right?  Let’s listen to the Psalm, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging” (Psalm 46:1-3).  Look at where God starts with us today?  The Psalm opens with a statement of fact.  God is your refuge and strength, our help, the one that has been tested and is always proved to be faithful and is there for us.[2]  He does not abandon us.  He does not leave us in distress because it’s too hard for him.  God, our refuge and strength, is comfort in the midst of chaos.  And here is the huge point that gives us reason to sing God’s praises in Psalm 46: it is because it is true that God is our refuge and strength bringing comfort in the midst of chaos—therefore we will not fear because we are not in control!  What?!  Do you know how hard it is for us to be at peace with not being in control, especially in times of distress and chaos?  We just want to do something because then we can find comfort in the circumstances.

Here is the comforting proclamation from God, “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).  What is God’s promise to us?  He will take the chaos away?  He will shield us from the chaos?  That he will give us the perfect circumstances of life that will always give us comfort?  It is simply, “Be still, and know that I am God”.  God doesn’t promise to take away the chaos.  He promises he is our refuge and strength, our help in distress so that when the circumstances look like everything is falling apart around us we will not fear because my refuge and strength is in my loving God.

We fall for the devil’s sinful deception that if I just had more control that would equal comfort.  How would my sinful control, my sinful plans, my sinful and sin-stained outlook on things bring comfort?  Our comfort is in the one that says I have done it all.  The word for “be still” in the original Hebrew actually means relax and sink.  It has the idea that the work is done.  Sink back in the chair.  There is nothing for you to do.  God has this.  He did it by coming down to the chaos.  He did it not as a stand-off God that watches from a distance at our struggle, but God came to us in the flesh in Jesus Christ to step into the struggle.  He stepped in when we were struggling for control in the chaos and failing miserably and said, “I am the one in control.”  I am the one that will take the punishment of sin.  I am the one that will release you from the control of sin, death, and Satan.  I am the one that gives comfort in the midst of chaos.  Comfort of sin forgiven.  Comfort of eternal life granted.  Comfort of knowing it’s not up to me, but to just be still and know that he is God.  And so, we see how frivolous it is to want to be the one in control when we have our God that set the stars in the sky and the boundaries of the ocean as our refuge and strength.  We see how silly it is to want to push God out of the driver’s seat and take the wheel because he has replaced our eternal chaos with his eternal comfort.

Why do you sing?  Because you are in a good mood?  Because good things are happening in life?  Sing in those moments.  But, also sing when the mountains are falling and the waters are roaring in your life because God is your refuge and strength.  Your comfort isn’t the latest hit by your favorite band, but it’s Psalm 46.  Be still and know that he is God.  Amen.

[1] Martin Brecht.  “Martin Luther: His Road to the Reformation 1483-1521” p. 460

[2] The words in Hebrew for “ever-present help” have the meaning of being tested and proved faithful by passing the test.