151101 Psalm 46

Last Updated on Monday, 02 November 2015 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Psalm 46
Theme: Our God Is A Mighty Fortress

In the name of our triune God, the one true God, the God who has saved us by grace alone, by faith alone, through Scripture alone, dear friends:

Imagine going to Miller Park on a warm summer day and getting to your seat a few minutes before the game. You can see the players warming up on the field. You can hear the PA announcer introduce the starting lineups. You can't miss those two huge words, "Play Ball!," displayed in fancy graphics on the big screen. And before you know it the pitcher winds up and throws the first pitch. What is wrong with this picture? What's missing?

Somewhere in there aren't we supposed to sing the National Anthem? Before every game fans stand and remove their caps and some of them even put their hands over their hearts. Singing the Star Spangled Banner is a time honored tradition, and a baseball game just wouldn't be the same without it.

It's not just baseball fans who embrace tradition. Christians observe similar traditions when we come together in God's house on special occasions. For many people it wouldn't be Christmas if they didn't get to sing "Silent Night" in a candle-lit sanctuary. For others Easter wouldn't be the same without trumpets accompanying "I Know That My Redeemer Lives." And it is my personal belief that something would be missing from our worship if we celebrated the Festival of the Reformation without a hearty rendition of "A Might Fortress."

Martin Luther composed the text and tune of this famous hymn, and he based the words on the inspired words of Psalm 46. But instead of singing it once a year on the Sunday closest to October 31, Luther sang it often. When he was down, when he was discouraged, when he needed comfort and strength, he would say to his friends: "Come, let us sing Psalm 46." And then he was able to go forward with renewed courage and confidence.

I chose "A Mighty Fortress" as the opening hymn for today. Not because our church body is named after the man who wrote it. Not because that is what we are supposed to do on Reformation Sunday. Lutheran Christians sing this hymn on this day because the words are so powerful and so meaningful, because like Luther we face serious challenges to our faith, because we need comfort and strength, because we need to be reminded that...

OUR GOD IS A MIGHTY FORTRESS

I am by no means an expert on the topic of fortifications. The closest I have ever come to an actual fortress is probably Cinderella's castle in the Magic Kingdom at Disney World. But Luther understood castles. He had seen real fortresses that protected real people from real enemies. And there was at least one occasion when God used a fortress to preserve Luther's life.

The date was April 18, 1521. Martin Luther had been summoned to the Diet of Worms because his new and controversial teachings contradicted the traditional teachings of the church. As he stood near a table full of his books in a room filled with princes and bishops and Emperor Charles V (who was arguably the most powerful person in the world) he was asked: Are you willing to recant, or take back, what you have written?

Luther's clear and emphatic answer was: "No." Unless he was convinced from Scripture that his teachings were in error, he could not and would not take back a single word. And then he uttered those now famous words; "Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise. God help me! Amen."

Luther's bold confession made him a hero in the eyes of many, but it also made him a target. And some feared that his defiant words would soon make him a martyr. Luther was declared to be a heretic and an outlaw, which meant that anyone could kill him at any time without facing any punishment. And so when Luther left the Diet, there was probably some doubt in his mind that he would ever reach home.

Luther didn't make it home, but not because he was murdered my mercenaries. In a plot twist that could have come out of a British spy novel, a group of German knights kidnapped Luther and hurried him off to the Wartburg Castle. No one in Germany knew where he was. Almost no one at the Wartburg knew who he was. As long as Luther stayed within the walls of that fortress he was safe.

Luther spent the better part of the next year in the Wartburg. He had lots of time to pray, lots of time to work (he translated the entire New Testament into German while in seclusion), and lots of time to think. And I would like to think that as he looked out the window of his room at the Wartburg's tall towers and thick walls he was reminded of Psalm 46, that he was drawn to the psalm's refrain, The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress" (Psalm 46:7, 11), that this experience would later inspire him to compose today's opening hymn.

Luther was safe and secure, but he didn't attribute his safety to towers or walls or drawbridges or moats. With his trademark clarity and conviction Luther declared: Ein Feste Burg ist unser Gott." A mighty fortress is our God! He knew that his God was stronger than kings or bishops. He knew that the Word of God wields far more power than soldiers or armies. And in the opening words of his famous hymn Luther reminds us that this all-powerful, almighty God is OUR God.

And you and I need that reminder because it is so easy for us to forget. So often the newspaper headlines make it look like God is not in control. The latest statistics make us wonder if the Christian church is not just losing ground, but in full retreat. The current social/political climate of our country makes us more than a little bit uneasy about the future. How long will traditional Christian values continue to be accepted? How long before the truth of God's Word will no longer be tolerated? Maybe we should start reinforcing our churches like castles so that we can take shelter behind their walls.

There is no doubt that the world is the Christian's enemy, but the sinful world is not our only enemy. The forces of evil in this world serve the prince of this world. According to Luther, our real enemy is "the old, evil foe," who "now means deadly woe." He is filled with deep guile for us (that means he hates us). His arms are raised up against us (that means he wants to destroy us). But what is perhaps most disturbing about the devil is Luther's admission that "on earth is not his equal."

Do you understand what that means? It means that there is not a single person in the world who can stand up to Satan. It means that by yourself you will never be able to defeat the devil. And what is even worse is the fact that there is a part of you that doesn't want to. You and I have a sinful nature, and it can be extremely persuasive. It wants you to believe the devil's lies. It wants you to satisfy your sinful desires. It wants you to do what you want to do, no matter what the consequence, no matter what the cost.

The battle lines have been drawn, and as you look across the field you see the devil, the world and your sinful nature ready to attack. Three against one is almost never a fair fight, and with those odds Luther draws the inevitable conclusion: "With might of ours can naught be done; Soon were our loss effected." Or to put it in words that are a bit less poetic and a bit more direct: "We can't win. We will never win. We are doomed."

But...Luther didn't stop there. Luther never gave up hope, and what follows that little word, "but," gives us hope. "But for us fights the valiant one whom God himself elected." We have a champion who fights our battles for us. We have an ally who is stronger than our enemies. We have a Savior who was sent into this world by God himself.

"You ask, 'Who is this?' Jesus Christ it is, The Almighty Lord. And there's no other God; He holds the field forever." Jesus is our champion. Jesus came to our rescue. Jesus obeyed every one of God's commands. Jesus resisted every one of Satan's temptations. Jesus spoke the truth. Jesus healed the sick. Jesus raised the dead. Jesus lived a perfect life for you, and then he gave up his life for you.

And when Jesus cried out from the cross, "It is finished," he meant it. He didn't get us off to a good start and then say, "Okay. Now it's up to you to take it the rest of the way." He didn't say: "Just do the best you can, and that will be good enough." He didn't say: "I died to take away all your sins. All you need to do is accept me into your heart." He said: "It is finished! When it comes to your salvation, when it comes to the forgiveness of your sins, when it comes to your hope of eternal life in heaven, you don't have to do anything because I have done everything."

It is a beautiful truth, a liberating truth, an ancient truth that Luther rediscovered in the pages of Scripture. We don't have to do anything to earn our salvation. We can't do anything to earn our salvation, but there is something Christians can do. If you go back to the beginning of the hymn, Luther wrote, "A mighty fortress is our God." We get that. We can read Psalm 46 and point to the exact place where it says that. But Luther goes on to describe God in two other ways, as "a trusty shield and weapon."

Shields are much smaller than fortresses, but they do basically the same thing. They protect the people who are behind them. They keep people's enemies away from them. Both shields and castles are a good form of defense, but a weapon is different. A weapon can also be used to go on the offensive. So how does that work? How is our God like a weapon? And how can Christians wield this weapon?

God himself answers those questions for us in his Word, when he compares his Word to a weapon. Paul calls it the sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17). In Hebrews it is described as being sharper than any two edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). God's Word is powerful. God's Word is effective. God's Word works, but it won't do us any good if we leave the sword of the Spirit in its sheath.

Of all of Luther's accomplishments, and there were many, his greatest contribution to the church was that he put God's Word in the hands of God's people. And as sons and daughters of the Lutheran Reformation we honor his legacy when we make use of that precious gift, when we quietly meditate on God's Word, when we boldly proclaim the truth of God's Word, every time we give the Holy Spirit an opportunity to work through that Word to convict people of their sin, to lead people to repentance, to bring people to faith, to give people hope.

And even if we face opposition, even if we face persecution, even though "devil's all the world should fill all eager to devour us," we will not be intimidated. We will not be silent. We will not be afraid. Because God is our refuge and strength. Because the Lord Almighty is with us. Because our God is a mighty fortress. Amen.

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