Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year
Proper 29

Text: Psalm 46:10
The Lord says, “Be still and know that I am God”.

Be still

As we reflect back on this year and even further back we can easily see that we have really been through a turbulent time –
we have a pandemic that won’t go away,
we have a war in Europe that has affected us all,
we have weather conditions on our continent that have brought us enormous amounts of rain and flooding and you can bet there will be a dangerous fire season this summer,
there are our own health, relationship or financial problems,
and I want to add one more – we have caught this highly contagious disease called “hurry sickness”. 

This is a modern problem that causes us to be constantly rushing about, to do everything quickly,
to always be looking at our smart phones to keep up to date,
to always be short of time,
hating to wait in supermarket queues or to stop at traffic lights or sit behind slow drivers,
constantly punching a lift button or the pedestrian traffic light button to get faster action,
we wish people would speak more quickly and get to the point,
parents are on the clock constantly taxiing their children to a variety of activities.

“Hurry sickness” is a pandemic that causes us to believe we don’t have enough time and so we stress, are anxious and can’t relax and can’t sleep at night. We want to slow down but are so accustomed to being time poor we don’t know how and so continue to complain and stress.

In the face of all this, God says to us today,

“Be still, and know that I am God”.  “Be still, keep calm, relax, chill out, don’t stress, because I am your God, you can trust me, you can be confident that my love for you will always be strong.  “Be still, and know that I am God”. 

By nature, we are people who worry and stress about many things.  Some people more than others, some show it more than others, but everyone has their own particular worries, even those who know God and all he does for us.  Trouble and difficulties and worry will always be a part of our life in this world, even for the sincerest Christian.  They can become overwhelming and consuming and overpowering and threaten to swallow us.  We are tempted to think that we can fix everything with “5 Habits to Stop Worrying” or “10 Easy Steps to Make a 48 Hour Day”.  We can find any number of do-it-yourself self-help solutions in bookshops and on the internet.

Psalm 46 reminds us that when we are stressed to the max, there is only one solution.  God says, “Be still, calm down, quieten your heart, be confident, I am your God, I am the almighty God who is with you and can help you”.

Remember the disciple Peter when he saw Jesus walking on the water.  He asked if he could walk on the water with Jesus.  Jesus said, “Sure thing!”  So he stepped over the side of a boat and began to walk on the water.  Then he noticed the white capped waves, and felt the wind pulling at his clothes, and he became afraid.  His fear took over and he forgot that it was Jesus who had invited him to walk on the water.  It went completely out of his head that Jesus was nearby.  He had seen with his own eyes how Jesus saved people from sickness and death and could stop storms.  He knew Jesus’ powerful love for people in trouble.  He knew Jesus wouldn’t just stand by and let him drown.  But at that moment, he lost sight of Jesus’ love for him, and his fear of the storm overwhelmed him, and he sank into the briny deep.

Jesus could have easily quoted Psalm 46 here. “Peter, be still and know that I am God”.  “Don’t doubt.  Be confident in my love for you”. Jesus calmly walked over to the drowning Peter, and grabbing his hand, he pulled him to safety.  Jesus asks Peter, “What happened to your faith?  Why did you lose confidence in my love for you when you were scared?”  And Peter realised his failure to lean on Jesus as his ever-present help in times of trouble and says, “Truly, you are the Son of God” – You are the Lord God Almighty who is with us (to use the words of the psalm).

Isn’t that what happens when we become afraid? 
We know God. 
We know his promise to always be our strength and support in times of trouble.
We know that God loves us and is committed to us – after all, didn’t he send his Son to die for us?
Proof of God’s commitment to us is seen in our baptism.  He welcomed us into his family and promised to watch over us and care for us just as a parent watches over a child.
We know that even though God never promises to eliminate all the problems in our lives, he will always look out for us and help us through the difficulties like any good parent. 
But when fear comes along, we forget.  We become anxious, depressed, terrified, worried, and panicky.  We become so focussed on ourselves that we forget that God is nearby waiting to embrace us and assure us saying, “Be still, calm down, quieten your heart, be confident that I am your God.  I love you dearly and will help you get through this”.

How can we have this kind of confidence?

I want to go back to the beginning of the psalm and see why we can trust God in times of trouble.  I’ll read the first 3 verses.
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)

The song-writer is describing the worst catastrophic disasters imaginable.  He describes earthquakes so bad that mountains fall into the sea.  The water in the sea roars and foams to the extent that they shake the mountains even more.  In other words, he is describing the worst possible natural phenomenon, something that the moviemakers try to do these days in their end of the world movies.  Even in the face of all this shaking, and flooding, and mountain landslides, and mighty seas and the roaring sound of a howling wind, he says, “God is with us … we will not be afraid”.  And why such boldness?  Why so much confidence in the face of such complete devastation?  The answer is this. He trusts God. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble”.

There is nothing that is so powerful, so terrifying, so destructive that God cannot stand against.  He is like a strong fortress who surrounds his people and protects them with his love.  When tragedy strikes any of us God surrounds us with his strong loving arms and he says to us, “Everything will be okay.” “Be still and know that I am God”.  “Be confident.  Trust in my love for you.  I will take care of you.” 

When the forces of the Church and theological scholars turned against Martin Luther and made life hard for him to the point that he even began to doubt whether he was doing the right thing causing such an upheaval in the church, and felt tempted by Satan to give up, when he felt downhearted, he and his friends would come together around this Psalm and pray it and sing it boldly. “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble. Therefore we will not fear.”

The downhearted and stressed Luther was once again refreshed and revived to continue his work.  His soul had been calmed by the words of the Psalm.  Whatever and whoever rages against him, God is with him and will give him the strength to go on.  He leaned on the words that form a chorus in the Psalm, “The Lord Almighty is with us”.  This is repeated again in the New Testament when God’s Son is revealed as Immanuel “God is with us”.  In the midst of chaos “The Lord Almighty is with us”. 

Did you take note of the Gospel reading today and perhaps ask, “Why are we hearing about the crucifixion of Jesus at this time of the year?”  There is the long answer and the short answer.  I will try to give the short answer. 

We heard that Jesus was mocked by the soldiers who were standing around the cross.  They shouted, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself”.  The soldiers couldn’t see it but the man on the cross really was a king – in fact when the gospel writers refer to Jesus being “lifted up” on the cross it is their way of saying that this crucified man is also king. 

We see this come to life when the man on the cross next to Jesus says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”.  We know he sees Jesus as innocent and undeserving of the same punishment he is receiving for his crimes.  No doubt he is in excruciating pain.  He is gasping for breath.  He turns to Jesus and for some reason trusting Jesus says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”. 

What is Jesus’ response to this dying criminal?  With the eyes of our imagination, we can see Jesus wrapping his arms around this pain wracked man and whispering to him, “It’s all right.  I am your God.  I am your King.  Today, after you take your last breath, you will be with me in Paradise.” Or simply “Be still, and know that I am your God”. No one else that day could see Jesus as this man did – hope in the face of so much hopelessness, not even the disciples.  Just this one dying man.  Jesus was to him at the moment, his refuge and strength, a powerful help in his dying moment when there was no one else to lean on. 

Psalm 46 and the words of the dying man beside Jesus leave us a powerful message today.  While we are travellers through this world for however long that might be, the road will not always be easy, in fact, for a large part of the journey it will be hard going.  Just because we are Christians, we aren’t promised a smooth ride or even a long ride through life.

God is our refuge, our place of safety.  He is our strength; he enables us to endure things when otherwise we would give up.  He gives us hope and comfort knowing that we are his, he cares for us, he heals us, and will take us to be with him in heaven – there we will find the perfect healing of all our sicknesses, diseases and effects of old age.  “The Lord Almighty is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress”, he will lead us through all our tears, through pain. Even in the face of death we will still hear our Saviour-God say to us,  “Be still, and know that I am your God.”

Today, this last Sunday of the Church Year is an excellent time to praise God for the excellent way he has been our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble in the past and brought us to this point.  We can look forward to the Lord Almighty being with us in the future wherever our journey will take us.  We look forward to the day when he will say, “Today is the day you will be with me in Paradise”.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

20th November 2022

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