The following sermon, "Fortress," was preached on Reformation Sunday, October 26th, 2014.
In C.S. Lewis’s book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, a war is mounting. The White Witch is gaining momentum. Good is yielding to evil. The four children of the story are fearful about what will happen. It is at this point that Aslan the mighty lion, and the Christ-like figure, speaks. He says to the trembling girl named Susan, “You have too many fears, my child.”
You have too many fears. Why? You know God. You know of his love for you. You call on his name. Do you ever wonder why it is that while you have faith in God, you’re still so often afraid? At times you feel so insecure or discouraged. You often return to self-doubt and self-pity. You still get overwhelmed by uncertainty and worry. You trust the eternal God, but still . . . “You have too many fears, my child.”
Psalm 46 is a Psalm for a people susceptible to fear. It paints a picture of a fortress - great walled dwelling that provides security and safety from outside forces. Psalm 46 was the source of inspiration for Martin Luther’s great reformation hymn, “A Mighty Fortress.” Luther could identify with the need for a fortress amidst the chaos and crisis of the world. In 1521, Luther was declared an enemy of the state by the emperor. He took refuge in a fortress called The Wartburg Castle.
The Psalmist imagines the most extreme chaos and crisis imaginable in verses 2 and 3, “Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling.” He picks the firmest and most immutable things in all creation – the earth and mountains. What if they crumbled? What if these unmovable things moved? In the Bible, the sea is often symbolic of chaos. What if the ocean started swallowing up the earth and mountains? The Psalmist presents the worst possible chaos and crisis imaginable.
Verse six goes on, “The nations rage, the kingdoms totter . . .” There is the chaos of creation, and then there’s the chaos of man. The Psalmist describes the rage of nations, the shaking up of the world order. There is plotting, politicking, scheming. Wars, genocide, slavery, brutality, biochemical invasion, nuclear disaster, WWIII unleashed.
The Psalm is based on this image – a fortress surrounded by the worst possible chaos and crisis. While it’s not yet the apocalypse, our current times hint at it. Politicians flood our TV’s with negativity. Sports heroes lie, cheat, and go to jail. ISIS rages on. Ebola spreads. There's a spike in the homicide rate. Even within the boundaries of your own heart, you feel chaos and crisis. Anger rages within you. You suffer annoyance and frustration with your life. Your heart is frantic, hectic, and spastic. All this chaos and crisis produces fear inside of you. Aslan was right when he said, “You have too many fears, my child.”
In all of the chaos and fear, the Psalmist declares a solution in the form of a fortress. I want you to see a unique feature of a fortress that tells us something important about God. A fortress is two things at one time. Let me show you. Verse one says, “God is our refuge and strength . . . (46:1).” As a refuge a fortress provides safety, security, and care. As a strength, it is like a fighter, a defender and bodyguard. So you see, a fortress is two things at one time. It is both mercy and muscle. Refuge and Strength.
There is a line repeated in verses 7 and 11. “The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” It uses two names for God that each reflect a different side of him. First there is the “LORD of hosts.” A “host” is an army, and so this is God the mighty General. He leads heaven’s infantry. The holy battalions. This is God the Fighter, the Defender, the Warrior. And then there is a second name used in the same line, the “God of Jacob.” Jacob is a personal name for God’s people. It is Jacob who wrestled with God and God touched him, renamed him, and blessed him. It shows that God chose his people and calls them by a personal name. “The God of Jacob” is spoken with a tender warmth, and a loving care. God is two things at one time - "the LORD of Hosts" and "the God of Jacob."
Verse 10 states, “Be still and know that I am God . . .” “Be still” can be said in two ways. We often think of it as a gentle comfort. “Be still, it’s going to be OK. Know that I’m God, I’ve got you.” But it also is a pointed rebuke. Like when Jesus subdued the stormy sea – the wind and the waves - by saying, “BE STILL!" (Mark 4:39). "Stop your roaring! Stop your foaming!" By a word, he controls creation.
The fortress is two things at one time, as God is two things at the same time. He is:
Refuge and Strength
Peace and Force
Tender and Dominant
Mercy and Might
Grace and Truth
Love and Justice
Gospel and Law
The cross of Christ is two things at one time. It is the place of God’s wrath and anger. Someone has to pay for sin. So Jesus goes like a warrior to battle sin, death, and the Devil. But at the same time, the cross is the place of refuge and release. By a death, God says, “Be still, your sins are forgiven.”
The end result of the whole Psalm is in verse two, "Therefore we will not fear." Fearless faith is the outcome of residing in the fortress. With the Psalm we declare, “We will not fear.” Without the Fortress, we are scared as hell. But with Him, hell cannot advance against us.
The Lion, Aslan comes to Susan. She’s shaking like a leaf. Insecure. Fearful. I only gave you the first part of the quote earlier. Alsan said, “You have too many fears, my child. Let me breathe on you, and be brave again.” Your God is a Fortress. He is mercy and might, tender and dominant, peaceful and forceful. With fearless faith, be brave again.