Psalm 46 is the great Reformation Psalm, on which Luther based his popular hymn 'A Mighty Fortress Is Our God'. It depicts God's ancient people, Israel under attack in their fortified city of Jerusalem, where they take refuge inside the city walls, where God himself is present in the holy temple to protect them.
Luther also spent time in a fortress (The 'Wartburg' in the mountains of Thuringia) hiding from his enemies who wanted to arrest and kill him, in 1521-1522. Inside the walls of that Fortress God was present too, as he worked in and through the heart and mind of Luther who spent his months in hiding translating the New Testament from Latin into the common language of his countrymen, German, making it accessible to everyone who could read the language. This translation was published in September, 1522, and is called the 'September Testament'. This year we have just had the 500th anniversary of this important event.
Just as the true fortress of Israel was not any stronghold built by human hands, but God himself and his presence with them, so Luther's true rock and refuge was not the Wartburg, but God's powerful word and its promises. So for us today, as we pray Psalm 46, we take refuge in God who is present with at every moment of threat and danger and in every trial, speaking his word of grace and promise to us.
There are 8,000 million of us! We share creation with 1,500 million cattle, 4 thousand rhinos, 70,000 million chickens, 3 thousand tigers, 200 million cats and 171 million dogs. And no Tasmanian tigers. Are there any rules on how we should get along? Do we need to think animal rights? Some say animals are a natural resource for us to use as we see fit. Only humans created in the image of God have rights. Others say only animals that we like have rights. Others say that we are all just animals.
Christians begin with God and the rainbow covenant God made not just with humans but with all animals. Jesus expressed this - born with animals, going into Jerusalem with a donkey companion, freeing sacrificial pigeons and treasuring sparrows. Animals don’t need our patronising love. They need respect and honouring for who they are. And we need to listen to the Gospel of God they share. Listen to our animal friends to learn about forgiveness and love and unconditional acceptance.
Jabez has one mention in the Bible - 1000 years before Jesus he prayed “Bless me, God, and give me much land. Be with me and keep me from anything evil that might cause me pain.” And God gave him what he prayed for. We still pray it. “Bless me Lord and give me property, security, comfort, status, and lots of new stuff. And God has blessed us materially more than any people in the history of the world. And now we are being forced to face the cost of the way we have claimed this blessing. Creation is paying and hurting for us. We are being forced to pray the second phrase “Protect me from anything evil that might cause me pain” Like floods and fires, pollution and extinctions. We all try to care for creation by recycling and composting. But the little I do makes no difference. I am trapped by the way I am caught up in the economy. It’s easy to end up despairing. Where does hope come from, and peace?
Our world is wonderful and amazing! Aussies love the great outdoors - gardening and bushwalking, fishing and camping. People will say nature is where I recognise the mystery and wonder of God, where I feel closest to God. This week we are beginning a 3-week Season of Creation reflecting on the mystery and wonder of God the Creator and the world he has entrusted to us.
This week’s emphasis thought comes from Psalm 104 “May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works”. We would expect it to say, “May we rejoice in God’s works - appreciate creation, delight in it, use it”. There is truth in this - and there can be peril if I start thinking of creation as a great gift of God just for me and the whole world is there for me to use and enjoy. I think this has become the great sin of our world - to see nature as something to be used and exploited to the maximum. I can do whatever I want to do with trees and oil, rivers and oceans, fishes and koalas. Nature is mine and I am accountable to no one. But the Psalm says “May the Lord (not me) rejoice in his works". This is the starting point for how we celebrate creation!
Many of us would remember clearly our Confirmation Day. It was a significant step in our faith journey. I’m sure that not many of us felt up to the job. But the good news is that God’s promises to us are the starting point. He has given us grace, mercy and peace. His Holy Spirit lives in us, keeping us on track, fanning into flames his gifts, and enabling us to live in faith and love.
Probably not many people achieve contentment in their life. And maybe godliness is even rarer. But then to find a person with both of these qualities – how can this come about? Both of these qualities are gifts from God. So how can I have these gifts in my life?
In today’s text (John 16:12-15) we are given a sneak peek into this idea of the Trinity. The word Trinity is not found in the New Testament, and in fact it was Tertullian an early church father who coined the phrase. But the idea of Father, Son and Holy Spirit was present in Jesus’ life. In today’s gospel reading we get a glimpse of Jesus speaking about the Father and the Spirit and a relationship which the three of them share. Jesus does not describe what they are but rather, how they are. Jesus explains that the trinity is in complete relationship. It is an ongoing dance, and we are all invited to join in with the divine dance. Everything that the Father has is Jesus’. All that Jesus has is shared to the Spirit and declared upon us. We now have a place on the floor and can join in with the dance of the Holy Trinity this is all made available to us through Christ.
We know this as a childhood saying: Losers weepers, finders keepers. But these words ring true about the God who has dedicated himself to find those who were lost-all human beings who have lost their way through sin. God turned his compassion into action. His Son, Jesus Christ, is God’s living, breathing, search and rescue mission. Jesus continues to welcome us week by week to his table, where we celebrate how we’ve been found, fed and forgiven through his body and blood in bread and wine. He calls us to participate in this same mission, to seek out the lost and the lonely, and welcome them in love and grace.
There’s something comforting about hearing the voice of someone we love. It’s immediately soothing, even if it on the end of a phone. Psalm 1 is the gateway into the psalms. It encourages us to listen closely to God as he speaks to us through his word. It is our father’s voice of love, wisdom and encouragement. Listening to him provides security and stability for the journey through life. Thanks to LCANZ Bishop, Paul Smith for bringing God’s word to us this Sunday.