Rev. Paul J Cain
Psalm 46:1-11 (ESV)
Refuge and Strength
Reformation Sunday, 25 October 2009
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
The opening hymn this morning, “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” in German, “Ein Feste Burg ist Unser Gott,” has been sung by Lutheran Christians since at least 1531. The most well-known of all of Luther’s hymn texts and tunes, it has been translated into more languages than any other hymn in Christendom. It has been rendered into English from the German at least 100 times.
Two versions of the melody are found in Lutheran Service Book. #656 is Luther’s own original rhythmic form of the melody. We know it from TLH. Once you learn it, it’s easy to sing, and many prefer it to the version found at hymn #657.
More familiar outside of Lutheranism is that later version of the tune, a smoothed-out version common during the time of Johann Sebastian Bach. Modern Roman Catholics have this version in their hymnals and worship books, quite a change from a 16th Century criticism of Luther’s writings and hymns leading people astray.
“A Mighty Fortress” is based on the Psalm, God is our refuge and strength, known as Psalm 46.
GOD IS OUR REFUGE AND STRENGTH, A VERY PRESENT HELP IN TROUBLE. 2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, 3though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah
Not only is He the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but our God, our Refuge, our Help present with us in our time of trouble as Christians living in a post-September-11-world. We will not fear though anything come our way. He has already defeated Satan, the old evil foe. We pray that he would hinder all of Satan’s work, the world’s temptation, and the desires of our own sinful flesh.
Satan does not want you to be healthy, to rest, to have good relationships. He wants you to get sick, curse God, and die. He wants every relationship in your life to fail. He wants you to doubt God’s good and gracious will. Our strength is nothing compared to the old evil foe.
A mighty fortress is our God, A trusty shield and weapon; He helps us free from ev’ry need That hath us now o’ertaken. The old evil foe Now means deadly woe; Deep guile and great might Are his dread arms in fight; On earth is not his equal.
Sometimes people only sing the first stanza of “A Mighty Fortress.” That reminds us we need to understand the words and the flow of the text. At the end of stanza one, Satan is in charge: “On earth is not his equal.” Jesus shows up in stanza two. Jesus will help us against Satan, for on earth there is no one to equal that old evil foe. With our human might alone, nothing can be done. But there is one in Heaven who far exceeds the power of Satan’s guile and great might. He is Christ, the valiant One, valiant for us! Hope is on the way!
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. 5God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. 6The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. 7The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
With might of ours can naught be done, Soon were our loss effected; But for us fights the valiant One, Whom God Himself elected. Ask ye, Who is this? Jesus Christ it is, Of Sabaoth Lord, And there’s none other God; He holds the field forever.
8Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has brought desolations on the earth. 9He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. 10"Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!" 11The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah
The nations, deceived by devils and hellish teachings at times threaten believers. Today we fear those who misuse a false world religion for their own political goals. With terror attacks happening or thwarted by arrests around the world, it does seem that devils fill the world to devour us. Luther understood “harm” differently than we do today. For him “harm” meant permanent harm. For us, “harm” usually refers to anything unpleasant in this world, no matter how temporary. That ignores the spiritual component of spiritual warfare. From an eternal perspective death isn’t that big of a deal compared to an eternity in hell. In Christ, you have nothing, really, to fear. The Lord of Hosts, of angel armies, is with you. Even if they take your life, you will be safe with the Lord for all eternity.
The Lord cannot tolerate sin going unpunished. The desolations he brings on the earth are judgment for sin in general. Christ has already borne our sin, so we have nothing to fear. The valiant One fights for us and will ultimately destroy those who wage war on Christians, even if only at the Last Day.
Though devils all the world should fill, All eager to devour us, We tremble not, we fear no ill, They shall not overpow’r us. This world’s prince may still Scowl fierce as he will, He can harm us none, He’s judged; the deed is done; One little word can fell him.
The Word is our only weapon today, the Sword of the Spirit. The devil can’t stand pure teaching, the Word quoted in context, nor can he stand seeing Christians gathered by the Spirit around Word and Sacrament in Worship.
In this world, the church is always at war. We Christians war with our own sinful flesh, the influence of the fallen world, and with Satan himself. With all those enemies, no wonder Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.” “A Mighty Fortress” comes from a section of hymns entitled “The Church Militant.” That’s the Church at war. We don’t become “The Church Triumphant” until heaven.
Don’t fall for the Devil’s deceit. The War’s outcome has been decided, but the battle rages on. The Devil is a defeated foe, but he will resist until his final judgment. Such spiritual warfare is real, and every generation and congregation of Christians must fight the devil, and all his works, and all his ways. Resist him, standing firm in the faith and the rock-solid foundation of God’s Holy Word. The devil doesn’t want pastors and congregations to get along, because that would mean Christians would be in Church hearing the Word, making good use of the Sacraments, being forgiven by Christ, and inviting friends, neighbors, and family to come to Divine Service to be served by Christ.
Thank God for the gift of His Word. Rejoice in the promises and comfort you find therein. Live in the Gospel promises of Jesus for you—forgiveness of sins now, and divine protection now and eternally, and the promise of eternal life in the Kingdom of God. There we will rejoice with all the angels and the saints of every age, including: Abel, Abraham, David, Isaiah, Peter, Paul, Augustine, Athanasius, Luther, Walther, and especially those recently departed from us in the faith. Hold fast to the Word of God as they did, so that we may join them.
The Word they still shall let remain Nor any thanks have for it; He’s by our side upon the plain With His good Gifts and Spirit. And take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife, Though these all be gone, Our vict’ry has been won; The kingdom ours remaineth.
W. G. Polack wrote, “The good this hymn has done, the faith it has inspired, the hearts it has comforted, the influence it has exerted, cannot be measured and will first be revealed to us in eternity, where the saints of God will praise their Lord and redeemer for many blessings, not the least of which will be the privilege of having known and sung this hymn here on earth.”
Let us rejoice that this hymn, and the others in our new hymnals, present the clear teaching that Jesus Christ came to rescue you from sin, from death and from the devil. Let us rejoice with all Christendom that God’s Word brings us such refuge and strength, Christ Himself! Amen.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.