Sermon: "Psalm 46: A Very Present Help," June 2, 2019

God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult. Selah

4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

8 Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
10 “Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
— Psalm 46

by Keith Kovacs

So are you asking yourself “what’s going on at St. George’s”? The lead minister has left us for three months, the minister that has stepped into his shoes in his absence is no where to be found today and some guy from the property committee is standing in the pulpit on the verge of preaching the sermon.  Well as most of you know our lead minister Rev Ryan Slifka has just begun a three month, well deserved  sabbatical. During this time let us continually pray that Ryan has a time of rest and relaxation. Ministry is not a 9-5 Mon to Fri job. Let us also pray for safe travels as he and his family make their way across Canada visiting with other family and friends along the way. Our minster of Children, Youth and Families and Weird Church Rev Ingrid Brown who has stepped up to be lead minister is in Langley attending the inaugural general meeting of the newly created Pacific Mountain Region formally the BC. Conference of the United Church. So let us pray for Ingrid as well as she takes on new duties over the next three months, on top of everything she already does.  I was asked to attend the meeting in Langley but when I said that I had a previous commitment that prevented me from attending Ingrid asked if I would preach and now that I think about it maybe that was an ultimatum. At any rate, as many of you know, it’s hard to say no to Ingrid so here I am. For those of you that don’t know who I am, my name is Keith Kovacs and my wife Laura and I are fairly new members of St. George’s but in many ways we feel like we have been members of this church family for much longer.

 

A minister once told me that God will speak through those who are willing. I am willing but before I begin let’s have a word of prayer.

 

 Gracious God.  As willing as I am may the words on these pages be your words, not mine. May the message I give here today be your message, not mine and let it all be to your glory. Amen.

 

Today is the seventh and last Sunday of Easter. It is also known as Ascension Sunday following this past Thursday, which some people call Holy Thursday, being the 40th day after Easter. Scripture tells us that 40 days from the day that Christ rose from the grave He ascended into heaven. Perhaps I should have prepared a sermon about Jesus’ ascension into heaven but when I was asked to preach today I was given the freedom to choose something that, as a lay person, I felt comfortable enough to craft into a sermon. So just for this week we’ll leave the book of Acts and the sermon series “Surprise” that Ryan and Ingrid have been doing a wonderful job of presenting to us each week and we’ll spend some time in the Old Testament in the Psalms, Psalm 46 to be exact.

 

Psalm 46 was the favourite Psalm of Martin Luther, — the psalm that inspired him to write “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.” God is a stronghold and a tower, a bulwark never failing!  It’s a psalm that tells you what to do when trouble comes.  And it's also my favourite Psalm and I'll tell you why. When I was seven years old my Dad died. He was what they called a stationary engineer and he tended the boiler at a pulp and paper mill. For whatever reason, and I'll never know why, one day there was a problem with the boiler and he was badly burned. They called my mother to tell her to be ready to be picked up by the ambulance on the way to the hospital. I was home from school that day so there I was when the ambulance came. I saw my Dad briefly and he said 'I'll be all right son' but I never saw him again. He died four days later. I'm not telling you this looking for sympathy and I'm sure many of you have similar stories about sudden and tragic loss in your lives. At seven years old, as much as my world was turned upside down, I had no idea what a profound impact it would have on the rest of my life. A few years later I began attending an evangelical Christian summer camp that was all about Jesus and there's certainly nothing wrong with that, and eventually, as often happens at these camps, I asked Jesus into my heart to be my Lord and Saviour. That was something else that I had no idea of what a profound influence it would have on the rest of my life. At that camp we sang a chorus everyday after breakfast during a time of devotion and the words were 'God is my refuge and my strength, a very present help in times of trouble'. The words of that chorus always spoke to me and so Psalm 46 became a cherished and reassuring passage of scripture that has helped me through times of trouble over the years.  I would be remiss at this point if I didn’t mention something else that happened at that camp that has also had a profound but in a different sort of way influence on my life. That is where I met my dear wife Laura. I’ll save that story for another sermon or perhaps Laura should write that sermon!

And there is one other event that really cemented my love for Jesus and that was attending a Billy Graham crusade in my early teens. I sang in the mass choir lead by Cliff Barrows and the words of Blessed Assurance, and watching all those people come forward as we sang 'Just As I Am' are as fresh in my mind today as it was those many years ago.

Some people seem to lead charmed lives … trouble rarely comes their way. When it does come, they’re the kind of people who can pass it off quite easily. But for most of us trouble does come from time to time and it’s important that we be prepared when it does and like me, may the words of Psalm 46 be a blessing to you and offer some guidance in dealing with times of trouble.

 

In poetic language, the psalmist describes the way trouble can come. He talks about the earth being changed, and the mountains shaking in the heart of the sea. That is a picture of an earthquake. Sometimes trouble comes just like that with the sheer finality of an earthquake. All of a sudden it’s there, and there’s nothing you can do. I think that was what happened the day my Dad died but I didn't even realize it. People who have gone through earthquakes say they don’t know of anything else that makes a human being feel quite so helpless. Have any of you experienced an earthquake and that sort of helplessness? The only time I know of that I felt the tremor of an earthquake was sitting in a truck stopped at a traffic light in Richmond. The truck began to rocking back and forth but I had no idea what was happening. It was only later on the news that I heard that a small earthquake had been felt in the lower mainland. Sometimes trouble comes to people without any warning, with no way of resisting it, with total finality, and suddenly they find that every thing has dropped right out of the bottom of their life.

The psalmist uses a second poetic expression after he talked about the earthquake. In the first part of verse 3, he says, “though it’s waters roar and foam.” Here he’s talking about the trouble which comes with the sheer fury of a storm. We've all been caught in storms whether it be wind and rain, snow or even dust storms. Have you seen on the news coverage the devastation caused by a record number of tornados and twisters in parts of the United States? For some people that’s how trouble comes with a shrill, shrieking violence and the irresistible force and fury of a storm.

 

I like this story of a fellow in the Old Testament called Benaiah. He was one of David’s mighty men. He got up one morning, and was going out to battle. Unfortunately, they had a snow storm. ( 2nd Samuel 23:20)  We all know what happens when we have a snow storm. If we want an excuse, we have a perfect excuse when the snow storm comes — we cancel everything! But Benaiah didn’t cancel anything, he kept going. As he was going along in his snow storm suddenly he fell into a pit. Imagine him lying in the bottom of this pit, having struggled through the snow storm, wondering how he would ever get out. Then he heard a noise behind him, and looked and there was a lion. Some translations say he chased the lion into the pit but either way he probably said to himself, “This just isn’t my day!” I start off with a snow storm, I fall into a pit that I can’t get out of, and down in the bottom of this pit, there’s a lion. I quit! I give up!
What do you do when trouble comes with the fury of a storm from every angle?  The beautiful thing about this mighty man of David is that he slew the lion, in the pit, on a stormy day, and lived to tell the tale. And that’s what we need to do when trouble comes! Face it head on knowing that God is on our side.


And then sometimes trouble comes with the force of a flood. If we read all of verse 3 it says this: “Though the waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with it’s tumult.” Here you have the picture of everything shaking, with the swelling of the flood and everything being absolutely overwhelmed. When I was thinking of this, I thought of Job. Have you read Job recently? I know those that are in Ryan's small group study are up to date on the adventures of Job.  It’s a fascinating story. Job was a remarkable man! He was a success. He had a large family and large everything. You name it, he had it! He was the greatest! Satan was a bit worried about him, and he wondered if he could knock him on his nose! So he had a word with God about Job. God gave him permission to do certain things. The philosophy of Job is vital to the understanding of trouble. There is a Satan. There is a power of evil in the world. Things do happen, but they always happen under the jurisdiction of God. In other words, God never allows anything to happen to His children outside of what He believes they can cope with — remember that! Satan was given permission by God to do certain things in order that Satan might be an instrument of blessing under God’s overwhelming grace in Job’s life. He took everything — all his sons, all his daughters, all his lands, all his buildings, all his camels, all his donkeys, all his oxen. Then in the end he even took his health. We now see Job sitting on the trash heap outside the city scratching himself with a shard because he had developed a chronic disease and was about driven out of his mind.
Trouble does come — sometimes with the force of a flood like it did to Job. But again remember: “God Is Our Refuge and Strength, a Very Present Help In Trouble.”

 

So what can we do when trouble comes?

Three things are outlined for us in Psalm 46.


First, realize when trouble comes that God is a Refuge for His people. Secondly, realize, according to verse five, that God is Resident among His people. Thirdly, realize that, according to verse four, God sends a River of blessing to His people. It is the understanding of these three things that equip people to cope with the trouble that either will come, or has come, or is still here.


We must never forget that God is continually available. This Psalm is an Old Testament passage, but the New Testament amplifies it even further. In Matthew Chapter 11 verse 28 the Lord Jesus Himself said that we must come unto Him, all of us who are weary, and heavy laden, and He will give us rest. So the simple message as to what to do in time of trouble is this: admit that God is your Refuge, and you need His help. Christ is the One who opens His arms to you and says, “Come to Me with all your burdens, roll them upon Me, give Me the problem, and I promise to be what you need.”


And we must also remember that God our Refuge is not only continually available, but He is thoroughly adequate. Not only is God our refuge and our strength, He is “a very present help” in trouble. This is the message of what to do in trouble. Recognize that God is your Refuge, and turn to Him.


And then verse 4 tells us God is resident among His people: “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God”. God is very much alive in the fellowship of His people. In the fellowship of His people there is support; in the fellowship of His people there is concern and compassion; not because they are special people — they’re not, they’re just like everybody else except God is resident in those people. He's resident here at St. George's. God is alive through the Holy Spirit. It is so evident in this congregation. We had friends visiting last Sunday and they attended worship here. They are both retired Presbyterian church ministers although still very active in both the Presbyterian and the United Church. The one thing that really stood out to them, beyond Ryan and Ingrid’s awesome leadership, was the number of people in this congregation willing to step forward and participate in worship. I think that is very evident here this morning. We told them that was only the tip of the iceberg. Every day of the week you will find members of this congregation engaged in, as it says in the bulletin, being ministers of the gospel.


What do I do in time of trouble? I turn to God as my Refuge and I come to Christ, who opens His arms, and who says, “Come unto Me all ye who are weary and heavy laden” and at the same time relate to Christ who by His Holy Spirit is in all of us. God is resident within me and He is resident in each one of you!


 What an exciting thing it is to be a Christian today. It doesn’t mean that we are immune from trouble. It doesn’t mean that we won’t have problems but the exciting thing about it is in the midst of trouble we know what it is to have a God alive and alert within us, who is seated on the Throne of the Most High. He is a God of overflowing grace and overruling serenity, and He is therefore a God of power and purpose alive within us. If you really believe that, when trouble comes your attitude toward trouble is going to be different. You realize that the God who is resident in your life is the God of power and purpose. He is the Most High! Reading again the words of  verse 4:“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God.” There’s no question about it, the picture of the river, according to the interpretation of the New Testament, is a picture of the activity of the Spirit of God. If you’re in trouble today, there is a glorious river that is nothing less than the flow of the Holy Spirit straight from the Throne of God. The lovely thing about this river is that it brings refreshment wherever it flows because it is a river that makes glad the people of God. It is a vast river with many tributaries. If you want to explore those tributaries as the work of the Holy Spirit in your life, you’ll discover that wherever the river flows it has a reviving effect.


And finally there’s one more thing we should do in time of trouble? Relax! Psalm 46:10, which surely is a great favourite with a lot of people says: “Be still, and know that I am God!” The words, “Be still” mean literally “relax.” To relax in the Lord, first of all, means that you are going to have to resist the natural impulses. Be Still! Easier said then done...right? In this spinning world of ours today, in its rapid pace, it’s difficult to “Be Still! But it’s not talking about physical stillness. It’s talking about stillness of the heart, simply relaxing in the Lord Jesus. That means there has to be a resisting of every natural impulse that you have, to hit that trouble as hard as you can. It doesn’t mean ignore trouble and hope it just goes away but resist that impulse to fight it on your own. Trust in the Lord and relax in Him.


Restore the spiritual relationship which comes through Knowing who He really is. What do you do when trouble comes? You realize certain things, you respond to certain things, and then you relax in your relationship with Him, and you will begin to discover the God of the Old Testament and the Christ of the New Testament and the Spirit of God, who has offered it all combined on your behalf. And you will begin to discover “Victory” in times of trouble.

 

Amen!