Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Text: Psalm 91
We didn't read it earlier. We sang it. The hymn On Eagle's Wings is a musical rendition of Psalm 91. Although the part about Eagles Wings is from other parts of the Bible... like our Old Testament reading from last week from Exodus 19:4 “You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I bore You on Eagle's Wings and brought you to myself.”
Psalm 91 also reminds me of another song we sang already today...
“A Mighty Fortress Is Our God”, that great Lutheran hymn written by Martin Luther himself.
We usually only sing that hymn once a year, on Reformation Sunday, as it depicts, on the one hand, the onslaught of the devil the world, and our sinful flesh; and on the other hand God’s provision and care through it all… particularly His provision and care in providing for us a Savior, Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of sins, and life, and salvation.
Now the text for a Mighty Fortress is Psalm 46, a Psalm that was written in thanksgiving and praise for a victorious military battle that the Jews had won. Actually, I should say for a victorious military battle that God had won for the Jews.
Maybe you’ll recall how, in the morning, when the Jewish soldiers under King Jehosephat went out to take their battle positions, they found that their enemies had slaughtered each other during the night.
And so Psalm 46 begins, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble.”
And likewise, our Psalm for today, Psalm 91 calls God in verse 2, “My refuge and my fortress, my God in whom I trust.”
And verse 4 says, “His faithfulness is a shield and a buckler.”
A buckler is a kind of a shield, warn on the arm. That’s good to think of God like that, as a shield… protecting you from your enemies punches and blows.
But as I was studying for this sermon, I noticed that in the NIV version of the Bible, the word was translated as “Rampart”. A rampart is a wall… a wall built specifically to protect the people behind it from their enemies.
This is a good Psalm to study at times of uncertainty, times when people might have a tendency to fear; for in verse 5 the Psalmist says:
You will not fear the terror of the night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
And in verse 6:
nor the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
nor the destruction that wastes at noonday.
There’s no need to fear… no need to be afraid of any sort of terror, arrow, pestilence, or destruction. God promises here to take care of you. Day or night He promises to come to your rescue.
What kind of terror comes in the night? What kind of pestilence is there when it’s dark? There are any number of things. Night time; darkness… just the sound of these words might conjure up thoughts of evil things. Tom Osborne says he always told his players, “Nothing good ever happens after midnight.” There’s no reason to be out and about in the night, in the darkness.
But maybe you’re not out and about. Maybe you’re home, snug in your bed, and the wind is really howling out there. Could that wind cause destruction? Could it blow down branches and whole trees, crashing them down on vehicles, and houses, and people? Maybe a tornado could come crashing through town, destroying our town… as has been known to happen in Nebraska.
Those are a couple of examples of the terror of the night. What about the arrow that flies by day? What could that be in reference to?
We talked about, already, how Psalm 46 was written after a battle. Surely the Psalmist here, of Psalm 91 is familiar with battle too; struggling, fighting, killing… WAR!
Are you familiar with war? The horrors of actually fighting in war? Some of you might be. Most of us only know about war from what we see in the movies… or on the news!
But all of us have got to be aware of the war that is being waged all around us by Satan and his minions; a war that affects us right here, at Zion Lutheran Church. In Ephesians 6 we read:
12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.
St. Paul then encourages the Ephesians (and us) to put on the full armor of God. The belt of truth. The breastplate of righteousness, the Gospel of peace for shoes. The shield of faith. The helmet of salvation. The sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.
And in a similar way, Psalm 91 encourages us to receive protection from God as well:
Shelter; Abiding in His shadow; Refuge; Fortress; My God in whom I trust…
The things we need protection from come in various forms; things that cause us concern. There are a number of things that might cause us concern, aren’t there? We’ve touched on a couple already, haven’t we?
We talked about war, and the horrors of war. We’ve talked about the weather, and how devastating adverse weather can be. What else is cause for concern? How about excruciating back pain; shoulder pain?
How about alcoholism, drug addiction, brain tumors, heart attacks, biopsies, surgery, and complications following surgery?
How about the prospect of changing jobs, or the notion that there might not be enough money in the bank account to make ends meet?
How about a church that just ran a successful capital campaign… that raised $100,000! But still must report that we might not meet payroll next month?
How about church that once had 200 in worship on a weekend… and now we’re lucky if we get 100?
How about a school, in continuous operation for 117 years… struggling now to recruit students, and employ staff?
These are causes for concern, aren’t they? And they’re very real parts of our lives today; along with all kinds of other cares and concerns.
So what are we going to do about these things? What are we going to do so that they are no longer cares and concerns… things for us to fret and worry about?
I’ll tell you exactly what we’re going to do about these things. We’re going to put them in the hands of the Lord, and recognize that He’s got our best interest in mind. We’re going to recognize that best thing we can do is flee to Him for refuge! For: (vv. 1-2)
He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
That’s you and me, recognizing God as our refuge; finding shelter in Him. We began our service of worship with some Scriptural versicles, one of which is from Psalm 84:
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.
But you’re not just a doorkeeper. You are a member of the congregation. You are a recipient of the good things God has for you here. You are the guest of honor!
3 For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence.
A fowler is someone who catches birds in a trap. We often have the tendency to fall into traps too, don’t we? Traps of temptation and sin.
You see, traps are hidden. They’re not out in the open so that you can see them and avoid them. The fowler, Satan, hides the traps in things that seem kinda good.
And so here we are doing our Christian duty… marching as to war against all that is evil… vanquishing our enemy… only to learn sometimes, that it’s not our enemy, Satan, who we’re trying to vanquish. It’s our fellow Christian brother, our fellow Christian sister, our fellow human being… whom Jesus suffered for… and died for… on the cross.
One of the worst traps we tend to fall into is pride. I’ll never forget, shortly after we moved here, we bought a washing machine. And me, being the handy person that I am, decided to save some money by installing it myself. And after I got it installed, I turned it on, and there was water pouring out all over the floor. So I get on the phone with the store we bought the machine from. I’m telling her how they sold be a faulty piece of machinery and I want my money back. And do you know what she had the audacity to suggest? She suggested that maybe I installed it wrong! Are you kidding me?! You sold me a defective piece of merchandise and I want my money back! And… I want someone to come here and get this piece of junk out of my basement! After I slammed the phone down, I went down to check things out … just for fun. And guess what I discovered. I discovered I had installed it wrong. There was a hose that I didn’t clamp down tight enough, and it came loose. I had to apologize to that clerk. I went to the store and told her I was sorry. And not only that, I said, but even if I was right, I had no business talking to you like that.
Just like a bird, I got caught in a trap, the trap of pride. But Jesus says in our Gospel lesson from Matthew 10:
29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31 Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
When we get caught in the fowler’s trap… thanks be to God! He delivers us! He comes to our rescue!
He will cover you with his pinions,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler.
The Psalmist continues his bird theme. Pinions are feathers. And so we have here a great illustration of how God works… like a mother hen covering and protecting here baby chicks.
Jesus used that same illustration when he lamented over Jerusalem saying,
“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, How I longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings… but you would not.”
Are we any different than the children of Jerusalem? Are we any different than the Jews of Jesus’ time… actually in the very presence of Jesus Christ Himself, but not recognizing what he has to offer us?
As He offered protection for the children of Jerusalem, He offers protection for us… here… in the church.
There’s a reason they call this building a sanctuary, because it’s here, as we gather together around the Word of God, that He provides us with the protection we need from the onslaught of the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. He covers us here with His wings, and protects us with His Word… and with His Sacraments.
And so God protects us from anything that can harm us, day or night. Protection from anything that can kill; (verse 7) thousands on one side; 10,000 on the other side. You are sheltered from that. It will not come near you.
You will only look with your eyes
and see the recompense of the wicked.
Once again, the NIV version has a different word for what’s translated here as recompense. It says: punishment. You will see the wicked punished.
I loved it when I shared this passage with the residents of Providence Place the other day. And I asked the group, “Do you know what this means?” And one little old lady replied, “They’re gonna get theirs!”
That’s right! They’re gonna get theirs. Their gonna get what they’ve got coming to them. So, you don’t have to worry about it. You don’t have to worry about taking out revenge, making evil doers get their just desserts. God will take care of all that.
Your only concern is to take refuge… refuge for yourself, in the goodness of God; to receive from Him the good gifts that He has for you.
Those good gifts, of course, are centered in His love for you in Christ Jesus, who took upon himself your sinful nature; who suffered and died on the cross to bring about for you the forgiveness of your sins; who rose from the dead, assuring you of your own resurrection from the dead, so that you may live with him in righteousness and purity forever.
Please note that as I encourage you to put your trust in God for his protection here on earth, I’m not saying you will not have any sort of trouble. And neither is the Psalmist.
I’m not saying you won’t get hurt, or sick, or even die.
What I am saying is that when these things do happen… they’re not going to harm you. For you are baptized. You are marked. You are washed clean by water and the word.
You have washed your robes and made them white in the blood of the lamb. And you are destined to spend eternity with God forever in heaven.
Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place—
the Most High, who is my refuge—
10 no evil shall be allowed to befall you,
no plague come near your tent.
A tent is a temporary dwelling isn't it? And this body of yours (and mine) is temporary too… a body that will die one day.
But keep in mind that when I say this body is going to die one day, I’m also saying that it will rise from the dead… to everlasting life! Sown perishable; raised imperishable. Sown in dishonor, raised in honor. Sown in weakness; raised in power!
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways.
12 On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.
Those are great words aren't they? Giving credence to that prayer we pray every night: let your Holy Angel be with me that the evil foe may have no power over me.
But where else is that passage quoted in the Bible? Oh yeah... At Jesus’ Temptation in the wilderness. The old evil foe himself tempted Jesus with this verse:
Prove it! Throw yourself off his building. Let's just see if He will command his angels concerning you! But what did Jesus reply? Do not put the Lord your God to the test. Be gone Satan!
You will tread on the lion and the adder;
the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.
And that's what Jesus did isn't it? He crushed the head of Satan, fulfilling God’s own prophecy in the Garden of Eden, “He will crush your head, and you will bruise His heel.”
And what a joy to know that the lion is trampled underfoot as well… your enemy, the devil, described by Peter as a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. He’s judged! The deed is done!
And now God is talking about you verses 14-16.
“Because he holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him;
I will protect him, because he knows my name.
15 When he calls to me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and honor him.
16 With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”
Salvation… is what it’s all about. And the salvation God has for you is eternal life with him forever. The life we now live pales in comparison. But still, we live this life now, with all it’s ups and downs.
May God grant, as we live this life and find here trouble, sorrow, and pain… may God grant that we would find the refuge he’s provided for us, in the shelter of the Most High, in his church, where he feeds and nourishes us with forgiveness, life, and salvation. Amen.
And the peace of God which passes all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.