Sermon for 6 Pentecost Yr B

6 Pentecost Yr B, 4/07/2021

Ps 48

Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

“God, our true security” 

Today I’d like to begin by asking you a question. You may have to think about your answer. You may not be able to answer it right now. Rather, it might be homework for you. So, here’s the question: Where in the world do you feel the most secure? (I hazard to guess that some of you might answer “home.” However, I think we realize that for some people, “home” is, tragically, nota place where they feel secure because they have been abused). Perhaps as you think about the question, you might have two or more answers. For example, you might have an answer to where you felt most secure in the past, and where you feel most secure in the present. Perhaps there were several places you felt secure in your past. Maybe there is more than one place you feel secure in the present. 

As I prepared this sermon, I asked myself this question, and I also asked Pastor Julianna. Both of us had to think for a while before we answered it. For Pastor Julianna, the first place that came to mind was the Rocky Mountains, close to where she grew up in Hinton. For me, the first place I thought of was the church where I was confirmed. (I hazard to guess that some of you might also answer “church.” However, again I think we realize that for some people, “church” is, tragically, not a place where they feel secure because they have been abused). I was blessed because my church was a loving community of faith, where I felt accepted in our Luther League youth group, and where Pastor Archie Morck, who confirmed me, was very supportive and encouraged me in my faith. 

However, as I kept thinking about the question, other places came to mind. In our travels over the years, we have visited several churches in Israel, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Ireland, Scotland and France. As we visited these churches, art and architecture of these churches evoked in me a sense of security. One of my favourite churches that we visited was Viborg Cathedral in Denmark. The original cathedral was built in the 12th century. It was restored in the original Norman (Romanesque) architectural style between 1864 and 1876. The paintings in Viborg Cathedral are awe-inspiring. They were done by artist Joakim Skovgaard. There are many biblical scenes. At the very front of the cathedral, behind the altar is my favourite fresco. It depicts Christ sitting on the throne, with a multitude of the citizens of heaven all robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. The painting is based on Revelation 7:9-10: After this I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!” In this beautiful fresco, Christ has his hands and arms stretched wide open, welcoming everyone as the Saviour of the world. 

Another place that I found awe-inspiring was at the Western (Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem. People from all over the world make their pilgrimage there and pray. I was impressed at how huge the rocks of the wall were—reminding me that in many of the Psalms, God is referred to as Israel’s Rock, which was a symbol of Israel’s sense of security. 

Speaking of the Psalms and Jerusalem, that brings me to our Psalm for today. Psalm 48 is a Zion psalm, and a hymn of praise. My NRSV Lutheran Study Bible gives it two titles: “A Song. A Psalm of the Korahites,” and “The Glory and Strength of Zion.” The Good News Bible has this title: “Zion, the City of God.” 

The Korahites were a Levite family of the clan of Kohath, and one of the major guilds of temple musicians. They are mentioned in superscriptions of Psalms 42; 43-49; 84-85; and 87-88. 

Turning to Psalm 48 then, Mount Zion is referred to as “the city of our God.” It is synonymous with Jerusalem, the political, economic, cultural and especially the spiritual centre of the Israelites. According to Jewish theologian, Michael Wyschogrod: “There is a place where God dwells and that place is Jerusalem. He dwells in Number One Har Habayet [= Mount of the House/Jerusalem] Street. It is a real dwelling and for every Jew, the sanctity of the land of Israel derives from the sanctity of Jerusalem, and the sanctity of Jerusalem derives from the sanctity of the temple, and the sanctity of the Temple derives from the sanctity of the Holy of Holies where God dwells.”1

So, Jerusalem, Zion, and especially the temple, was for the ancient Israelites regarded in this psalm as the dwelling place of God. Indeed, as time went on, many of God’s people came to believe that Zion, Jerusalem is the spiritual centre or capital of the world and of the whole universe—and people from all the corners of the earth would journey there, as is the case even today. 

Psalm 48 speaks of the security that the people of Jerusalem felt because of its impressive architecture. As the Good News Bible puts it in verse 3: “God has shown that there is safety with him inside the fortresses of the city.” And verse 8 of the Good News Bible confidently declares: “he (i.e. God) will keep the city safe forever.” In the closing verses of the psalm, the people tour the city of God and feel secure because of its towers, ramparts, and citadels. Indeed, earlier in verses 5-7, the psalm describes the response of Jerusalem’s enemies, in the rendering of the Good News Bible: “The kings gathered together and came to attack Mount Zion. But when they saw it, they were amazed; they were afraid and ran away.” So Jerusalem was a secure city and because of its architecture, it was a military stronghold—although that was true only because, as the Israelites believed, God was present in a special way there, and: “he (i.e. God) will keep the city safe forever.” However, there came times in its long history when Jerusalem was captured by Jerusalem’s enemies, and because they had turned away from God and his covenant, God allowed them to be taken away into exile. 

As Christians, down through the centuries, we have regarded Jerusalem, Zion as an important spiritual centre too. That is why, Christian musicians have also written hymns about it. For example, Lutheran theologian, Johann M. Meyfart, who lived from 1590 to 1642, may have based his hymn in part on Psalm 48, when he wrote the following words: “Jerusalem, whose towers touch the skies, I yearn to come to you! Your shining streets have drawn my longing eyes my lifelong journey through.” And in the final stanza, he may have had the New Jerusalem described in Revelation in mind when he wrote: “Saints robed in white before the shining throne. Their joyful anthems raise, Till heaven’s arches echo with the tone of that great hymn of praise, and all its host rejoices, and all its blessed throng unite their myriad voices in one eternal song.” (#348 Lutheran Book of Worship)

Regarded by many as “the father of English hymnody,” Isaac Watts also wrote the following words, which evoke a sense of security, and the deep longing for Zion: “The hill of Zion yields a thousand sacred sweets before we reach the heav’nly fields, before we reach the heav’nly fields, or walk the golden streets, or walk the golden streets. We’re marching to Zion, beautiful, beautiful Zion: we’re marching upward to Zion, the beautiful city of God.” (#625 Evangelical Lutheran Worship)

So, such hymns as these, along with Psalm 48, and passages from Revelation all point us to our true security in God. We long for that New, Heavenly Jerusalem, where we will one day meet, face to face with God our true security forever. That is our hope and the Good News for today. For that, thanks be to God! 

1 Cited from: <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-9b-2/?type=the_lectionary_psalms&gt;.

About dimlamp
I am, among other things, a sojourner, a sinner-saint, a baptized, life-long learner and follower of Jesus, and Lutheran pastor. Dim Lamp: dimlamp.wordpress.com gwh photos: gwhphotos.wordpress.com

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