Sermon audio here.
We live in anxious times. People point to the potential of a Trump or a Clinton presidency as a sure sign of the apocalypse. That, or the possibility of the Cubs winning the World Series. We live in strange times, indeed.
But anxiety about the future is actually just another form of unbelief. And, like all sin, worry only makes a bad situation worse. But God is merciful. He speaks His Word into our distress as we celebrate the Reformation and invites us to repent and to reform our hearts that we might have peace.
Psalm 46 says, God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. The psalm is a cry of confident faith in the midst of mass chaos. We worry about elections and championships, but the psalmist couldn’t even count on the ground beneath his feet.
“Therefore we will not fear,” he writes, “though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea.” Imagine witnessing something as terrifying as that. Given the choice between dealing with that or the 2016 election, I’d take my chances with a President Trump or a President Clinton any day.
There’s always a worst-case scenario out there that we could worry about, but that would be to miss the psalmist’s point. The doomsday scenario the psalmist envisions is prefaced by those 5 all-important words that are so easy for us to gloss over: therefore we will not fear. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth gives way.
Therefore we will not fear, regardless of who wins the presidency. That’s exactly what another psalm, Psalm 146, teaches. Here’s another cry of confident faith in the midst of chaos and darkness. But the way the Psalm begins, you never would have known there was a problem.
Praise the Lord! begins the psalm. Doesn’t matter what else is going on: praise the Lord. And then to drive the point home, the psalmist says it again for good measure, “Praise the Lord, O my soul.”
He continues, “I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.” Every day will I praise Thee, the psalmist says. Not just on the good days. Every single day that the Lord grants me life and breath, with all that is within me, I will praise the Lord while I have my being.
So let’s say the worst happens. For most of Chicago right now, that would be a Cubs loss. What should we do? How should we respond? Well, what does the psalm say? Praise the Lord. What if the Cubs win? Proof that miracles do happen. Praise the Lord. Win or lose, praise the Lord. Sick or well, praise the Lord. Rich or poor, praise the Lord. Life or death, praise the Lord.
Worry is unbelief. Faith is trusting that God isn’t lying when He promises to work all things together for your good, not just the pleasant things. Faith is trusting that God intends everything to bless you, even when the worst happens.
And that’s why the psalm promises God’s help “when morning dawns.” The worst often does happen. Until morning dawns, the night continues to abide. Even the Kingdom of God suffers violence, our Lord says. The Church is not exempt from the way of the cross. John, the long awaited Elijah, is beheaded. Jesus, the long awaited Messiah, is crucified.
The flesh looks scoffs at the notion that an all-powerful God would allow His Kingdom to suffer violence. A Messiah who puts His enemies in their place we can understand. But a Messiah who suffers and dies at the hands of His enemies is, by any human standard, a spectacular failure.
Why should God permit the world to be engulfed by such darkness?
That’s one question the Reformation couldn’t answer, and that’s because the Bible doesn’t answer it, either. None of the psalms—not the great reformation psalm, Psalm 46, nor the beloved Good Shepherd psalm, Psalm 23—explain why God permits the darkness and the chaos. There is no attempt to explain why there is a valley of the death shadow; only that Christ walks with us through it.
We have a tendency of getting hung up on the “why” question, but knowing why something bad happened doesn’t make the problem go away. Christ is more interested in solutions than He is in explanations. We can leave the endless dialogue about why things are so bad with no solutions to Washington, D.C.
But it can be hard, especially when you have a mess that’s so bad that you can’t muster the energy to start cleaning it up. You couldn’t have blamed Christ if He took one look at this mess we’ve created and did just that. But He didn’t. He loves us so much that He became one of us and entered into this broken world so He could go about setting it right again.
Our Lord is more interested in fixing things than analyzing and explaining them. Why you hate God so much that you would actually sin against Him—and not just once or twice, but daily, in thought, in word, and in deed—is less important than the fact that Christ loves you anyway.
Knowing why you’re sinful does nothing to remove your sin. What matters is that Christ bore your sin on the cross. Explanations don’t cure the sick; medicine does. Christ is your medicine.
And so we cling to God’s promises, even in the midst of darkness and suffering. Weeping may last through the night, but joy will come in the morning. Pharaoh and his army chased the Israelites into the sea at night, but God brought the water back over the Egyptians in the morning.
Into the chaos comes the invitation: “Be still, and know that I am God.” God will not disappoint. Morning always comes for God’s people.
Until then, we cling to God’s promises by faith—not because we have a good feeling that God’ll come through, or not because our candidate or our team won. Faith is a quiet, joyful confidence that God will come through even when the mountains are crumbling into the heart of the sea.
As we celebrate this 499th anniversary of the Reformation, we ought to consider a very obvious truth that hasn’t been so obvious to us. The Reformation has always been about reform. It’s not about the fact that we’ve been reformed, it’s about our daily need for reformation. There can be no reformation without repentance.
There’s hardly a better example of sin on a mass scale today than the political anxiety that’s utterly consumed our nation. The psalm says, “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.” God works through means, as He always does, and He will work through the electoral process of these United States to give us the leader of His choosing.
Scripture couldn’t be any clearer on this point: our authorities have been given us by God. We ought to pray for them—no exceptions, even if we don’t like them, and even if they don’t share our values.
Remember, St. Paul wrote, “whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed” about pagan leaders who were actively persecuting the Church. There is no authority except from God. This was true even of Pilate. As Christ told him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.”
Political panic is misplaced hope in politicians. Whoever wins, Christ is still in charge. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God. Therefore we will not fear, whether we end up with a President Trump or a President Clinton.
But our tendency is to turn everything we touch into an idol, be it a politician or a sports team. It could be the Cubs or anyone else. How easily do we tie our fortunes to theirs? When they’re winning, life is good. When they’re losing, so are we.
I remember rooting for the Los Angeles Lakers back in 1991 when the Bulls beat them for their first NBA title. I was crushed. Their loss sent me into weeks of mourning.
Like our political leaders, sports are a gift of God. We ought to enjoy them. But, like all of God’s good gifts, we have this really bad habit of turning them into idols. And as much as we love to hate the opposition, we ought to thank God for them—even the Packers, the Red Wings, and the Cleveland Indians. Without an opponent, there’d be no game. And while it might be fun to watch a few games if they rigged them all in the Cubs’ favor, that would get really old, really fast.
Our hope, our joy, and our peace is not found in the outcome of an election or a championship, not in a job promotion or in our accomplishments, and not even in our loved ones—though we certainly give thanks to God for these blessings. But when they become the source of our joy and delight, they become our god; they become an idol. The moment they fail us—and they will—we crumble right along with them.
Our peace is found in somewhere much more durable. Our peace is found in the holy wounds of our Lord, into which you are baptized. Christ suffered and died that you might have a firm and lasting ground for confidence, that you might have the assurance of God’s favor, given with no less a seal of His love than the precious Body and Blood of Christ here at His Table.
Therefore we will not fear. We will not fear because Christ is risen. We will not fear because there’s no enemy that Christ hasn’t overcome. We will not fear because Christ is for us.
Though devils all the world should fill, all eager to devour us, we tremble not, we fear no ill; they shall not overpower us. For us fights the Valiant One. Our victory has been won; the Kingdom ours remaineth.
Soli Deo Gloria