God Is Our Refuge
Reformation Day Sermon: October 25, 2015
For a moment, imagine you live in 16th century Europe. Everyday life is hard. There is no doubt about it. Children are especially vulnerable. There is not a parent in your village who has not buried at least one of their children. Women, too, live precarious lives. The death or disability of a husband could drive the family to crisis, and petty wars and squabbles take young men away or destroy crops. Disease is everywhere and outbreaks of plague can kill off an entire village.
In this setting, in this time, it would be difficult for us to believe that God is good and gracious. It would be hard to believe with all this suffering that surrounds and overwhelms us that God is not and angry and wrathful God ready to punish at every turn. It would seem nearly impossible to imagine an afterlife that would be any better, at least for us, living under God’s wrath. What hope of heaven could we have if we start to believe that God has assigned us a life of living hell on earth.
What can we as a church do to make life better, to give refuge and strength and comfort and consolation and hope and faith and love to people in a time like this?
Martin Luther, a young priest and professor who had himself struggled with all the depression and anxiety of the times; had felt adrift in the world; had felt the weighty disapproving stare of an angry God; had experienced the gnawing emptiness of hollow religion and the nagging feeling that God had turned away from us; … when he finally finds comforts in the words of scripture, it is because the Spirit has caused him to hear the good news. “All have sinned and fall short of God's glory.” Don't we know it. But by grace God has saved us through faith in Jesus Christ who loves us, died for us, and lives for us. In him we find peace, forgiveness. When the Spirit breaks through and fills Luther’s heart and mind with the truth of the Gospel, he has finds the refuge he had been looking for and the good news he wanted to share with his flock and his students. He had the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ that could give comfort and healing and consolation and salvation in a time like his
So, when people come to him and show him a piece of paper that they have bought that says that the child they lost, the grandparent they loved, the husband or wife that died too young, was now released from purgatory, and they asked if this was true ... What could he say? How would we respond if we found out that our church was exploiting people's pain and spiritual distress to make money. The anger and the outrage that sparks the Reformation wells up from a righteous indignation that is pastoral and caring at its heart. The caring community God has established in Jesus Christ had lost its way and could no longer minister in a time like this. It is time for renewal.
Church is changing. This can cause grief because it means that something has been lost. Yet, we can see that God has not left us to ourselves, but God is in this change with us, transforming us and re-forming to live as God's people in the world, so that the people in this world will know that there is a God, that God cares, that God is with them and has not left to themselves. God is always reforming God's church. God is always doing something new with us. We are a people who are on our way to the next thing that God is creating, redeeming and making God's own.
Think of a friend who is going through a tough time, send them a text, a message of some sort right now … Say something like: In church. Thinking of you. Praying for you. God loves you. Talk to you soon.
Church is changing, and one of the reasons is because we now have the power to reach and communicate with people and invite them into our community no matter where they are in the world right now. One way church is changing is that you … the people who make up Christ’s church … have the power to extend the reach and message of the Gospel to the ends of the earth in the wink of an eye. The church is changing, and God is with us in this change.
God's steadfast love endures forever. We see God's steadfast love and commitment to us in Jesus Christ. God did not leave us or reject us or turn away from us, but came to us, suffered for us, died for us, and rose again as a promise, a sign, an ultimate hope that God is making all things new. And God gave us the Holy Spirit, God presence within us, to comfort us, to commune with us, to listen to us and to speak to us. God's love, the message of the Gospel, god's enduring presence in us and the promise of God's kingdom ... These are the constants. Yet, in every generation, every congregation, God is at work reforming us so that we can be signs of God's gracious love.
God is our refuge and strength. Martin Luther used this Psalm as his inspiration for A Mighty Fortress. That is what God is for us through Christ. Our refuge, our strength. When we have no place to turn, when the events of life have us on the run, we flee for refuge to God's infinite mercy. When we are weak. God is our strength. But how does God do this? How does God give refuge? How does God give us the strength? It's through us. It's not us. It's not our good work. But it's God's Spirit working through us, providing refuge, giving strength as witness to the Gospel.
Think of one way you have found refuge, shelter and relief in God through this St. Paul's community. Share it with someone. Go ahead and do it right now.
If we want to guess how God is reforming us ... this would be my Spirit-guided best guess: God is reforming us to be a caring community where all can find refuge and strength in God through Jesus Christ. Now, that would we be a gift to our neighborhood, and it would be witness to the Christ in whose name we live and move. Amen.
The latest news, sermons and commentary on our life in mission together.