Welcome to our third installment of “Boosts from the Bible.”
What we try to do is take a section of Holy Scripture and see how it applies to today’s situation – and how it can “boost” our spirits during this time.
Today’s featured Scripture is Psalm 46. I will read.
1 God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.
6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; He utters His voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
8 Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations He has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; He burns the shields with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations; I am exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Here ends the lesson.
Martin Luther was inspired to write, “A Mighty Fortress is our God” because of this Psalm, Psalm 46. As I read it, I think it is just about the best psalm to read when a whole nation is facing a great cataclysm. Note the imagery here: “Therefore,” the psalmist writes, “we will not fear, though the earth should change [and we have gone through a great deal of changes already], though the mountains SHAKE in the heart of the sea” – and our hearts sometimes shake at this or that bit of news every day – “though it’s waters roar and foam” which reminds of the old saying when someone was scared – “my heart felt like water.” Then comes the next phrase, “though the mountains tremble with its tumult.”
Frankly, you and I had, in our lives, a great many things we were taking for granted before COVID-19 showed up. Every winter we took the latest flu epidemic in stride, as we traveled hither and yon and, though our economy has had its rough spots, kept getting stronger and stronger as the stock market kept going higher and higher. What does God have to say about these times? Well, let’s look further into Psalm 46.
God tells us not to fear in verses 4 and 5 for a very specific reason: God is with us, very intimately. We read, “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of the city; it [the city] shall NOT be moved; God will help it [again, the city] when the morning dawns.” God promises to get us out of this mess, but doesn’t explain it any further – and that’s quite all right! Sometimes we are not given all the answers, such as how long this whole dreadful thing will last, and so it is all right for us to lament the fact that “this Lent,” as the biblical scholar N. T. Wright has recently pointed out, “this Lent has no fixed Easter to look forward to. We can’t,” he adds, “[just] tick off the days [to a certain endpoint].” He concludes, “There is [nowadays] a stillness, not of rest, but of poised, anxious sorrow.”
Wright suggests for the faithful a different approach – that we take up a biblical practice called “lamenting”; Wright defines “lament as “what happens when people ask ‘Why?’ and don’t get an answer… yet. Sometimes we can’t see ahead very far, but we still have hope in the future. As Paul wrote, “Who hopes for what is seen? For if we hope for what we do NOT see, we wait for it with patience” – the patience we will need to receive from God while we are waiting for an answer. In the meantime, God, in the last two verses of Psalm 46, talks DIRECTLY to you and me in our distress. “Be still [BE STILL!],” God says, “Be still and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations; I am exalted in the earth” Listening to God say this, the psalm writer concludes, “The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.” Now. what is this “God of Jacob”? Well, I believe that to be THAT God that Jacob met and trusted in the book of Genesis. THAT God is our refuge TODAY.
Let me explain what I mean by that. When I think of Jacob I think most of how Jacob famously wrestled with God when he, Jacob, was scared out of his wits to see his elder brother Esau again the very next day. Remember that, years earlier, Jacob had tricked Esau out of his birthright and then fled when Esau threatened his life. So the day before his possible death at Esau’s hands, Jacob sends his family and servants across the river, leaving him isolated and alone – like you and me now! – for the rest of that long night.Jacob then, in the middle of that LONG night, finds himself wrestling a man to a draw – a man he later realizes was God Himself! God wants to Jacob to let Him go but Jacob refuses and exclaims to God, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!” And so God did indeed bless him.
Now here’s the key: Since God DID bless Jacob, just HOW did God bless Jacob? Well, God seems to have given Jacob courage – courage in the face of danger ahead. Yes, that’s right, courage in the face of danger. Sounds like a helpful gift to get for just about all of us right now, doesn’t it?
And HOW did Jacob use that courage God gave Him? Well, the very next morning, Jacob crossed that stream and led his family to the meeting with dreaded Esau. And, when Esau saw Jacob, Esau…RAN to see Jacob and, we read, Esau “embraced [Jacob] and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they [both] wept.” Then Jacob gave a gift to Esau that Jacob insisted Esau keep, saying to him, “for truly to see your face [Esau] is like seeing the face of God – since you have received me with such favor.” So, thanks to the Lord giving courage to Jacob, HE AND HIS BROTHER WERE RECONCILED!
Thus, when Psalm 46 today calls on us to rely on “the God of Jacob,” we realize that we are called to rely today upon a God who makes great efforts to get us to work together, as he did Jacob and Esau…but this time to fight this coronavirus together…by sticking with the guidelines…by checking on each other…by taking care of our OWN health…and by praying for each other several times a day.
Oh, and in the midst of ACTIVELY fighting this disease, remember that one more thing God tells us to do from Psalm 46: “Be still, and know that I am God.” But why “be still”?
Well, when it comes to fear, worry and anxiety, “still” your heart…still your mind…and still your soul, by letting the Spirit “still” them for you. “Be still,” therefore, God declares. God wants us to know that He is very active, inspiring us not only through our church connections, but also acting through doctors, nurses, other medical staff and administrators, people in government, police officers, EMTs, grocery store administrators and grocery personnel, scientists, healthcare experts, and many, many more souls.
Being “still” DOESN’T mean that we no longer are the heart, hands and voice of Christ; being “still” means we stay still long enough to silence our anxious thoughts, calm our nerves and other people’s nerves…and, “be still enough” to LISTEN for God’s voice in that stillness…LISTENING for God’s instructions on how to minister both to the people around us AND to society in general, so that God may more effectively guide us, and fulfill our purpose in this special time.
Let us pray: Lord, let us be like Jacob and honestly wrestle with our feelings and fears before You – the God who has wrestled into us Your strength and will do so again and again. Help us, O Creator, to see and acknowledge that You are already fighting this virus and that You ARE in charge! Still our frantic hearts, our fevered minds and our jumpy souls so that we may hear clearly Your call to join YOU, O Lord, in Your 24/7 mission to heal and save this world that You love. In Christ our Savior’s name we pray – Amen!
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