Today we celebrate Christ the King Sunday. It was established in 1925 by Pope Pius xi in an attempt to counter an increasingly secular society. When we celebrate Christ as King what does that mean in a world where some countries are rejecting the monarchy? Some have figurehead monarchs and there are some countries that do not have a king but have heads of state that have absolute or even ruthless power over their citizens.
The Bible promises that God’s power and majesty differ radically from the reign of human monarchs. When we celebrate Christ the King Sunday perhaps we should instead use the term “Reign of Christ” to stress his activity rather than status.
Today I would rather preach on our psalm. Psalm 46. This is a psalm of great comfort and well beloved. And was probably sung in a liturgical setting.
This is the second time recently that we have used psalm 46 in our worship. It was the psalm appointed for Reformation Sunday.
Does anyone know why?
Martin Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God” is based on this psalm. This hymn has been called the battle hymn of the Reformation. Luther’s hymn was sung by his followers as they squared off against the Roman Catholic Church. Under this image - a mighty fortress - of divine might.
Fun fact! Martin Luther sung this hymn to a single lute. Not a full on organ with all the stops! What was he thinking in his interpretation of this psalm?
However, the idea of a military fortress for the faithful against the chaos of the world has prevailed over the centuries.
The psalm begins with the themes of divine refuge and help. And so addresses a theological problem that challenges every generation.
Where is God in times of real trouble?
The answer from the Psalmist is that God is an ever present help in trouble. The problem is that this does not really jive with our human experiences. From our perspective it seems that God is NOT our help. Bad things happen, suffering does not end.
So where is the good news in this? How can the Psalmist say this? What if we think about it like this - God is not a refuge FROM the world, God is a refuge IN IT!
God’s present help is that sort that undoes self-delusion. And this alters the meaning of refuge entirely. Therefore refuge has nothing to go with protection.
Psalm 46 is a song of confidence - nothing in this world can overcome God. The psalmist chose to repeat the promises of refuge and presence after every stanza. There must have been a reason!
The psalmist is not saying that God will insulate the faithful from the bad things that can happen. Calvin suggested the psalm was about having courage over what fear creates. That no matter what happens the people can gather strength and courage that will help them with their fears.
Strength and courage because of the presence of God.
The psalm proclaims God’s presence and protection even while being very realistic about the way things actually are in the world. It is a psalm of trust in God even in the midst of the bad things that happen.
Psalm 46 has been turned to in times of personal and national and international tragedies. We turn to in times of grief in our funeral liturgies. It has lasted and there must be a reason why. It does bring comfort, it does encourage us to believe in God’s presence - even when bad things happen. Because we know as well as the psalmist, as well as all those who have sung this psalm or heard this psalm or read this psalm that bad things do happen. That there is nowhere to hide in this world and protection is a myth.
Near the end of the psalm, the psalmist writes “Be still and know that I am God”. This is often taken in a meditative tone - be still, contemplate God but it’s not really the message of the psalm.
It is more of a command - stop what you are doing - listen up & pay attention to God!
Psalm 46 asks us to believe that God is indeed with us. God is with us in the midst of all that frightens us - real or imagined.
“God is our refuge and our strength in times of trouble” that is good news every day.