Sermon for Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, June 23, 2013
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Psalm 71
Sermon Theme: “Be for Me a Rock of Refuge”
(Sources: Daniel Habben, SermonCentral.com online; Kenneth Sauer, SermonCentral.com online; original ideas and examples)
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
People of all ages need a rock of refuge, a mighty fortress! Perhaps that’s why Luther’s hymn has remained so popular all these years, — it expresses fulfillment of all our needs for a powerful bulwark! I heard a country song the other day about Grandpa’s funeral, and to the person who wrote the song, Grandpa had been a girder of steel for the family, a person and place to go for comfort and strength and renewal. Whether I talk to teenagers or senior citizens, I am aware of their need for a Rock of Ages.
Pastor Kenneth Sauer tells the touching story about an eighteen year old whose path crossed his one night.
The boy had hitched-hiked from Mississippi to Virginia to move into an apartment with a friend, but the friend who was a drug abuser threw him out soon afterward. He had to work that day, so he hid his belongings. When he returned to find his belongings, they were gone. So, desperate, with no place to go, he ended up walking into a church at 10 o’clock at night. He had no relatives in the area, no friends, no possessions and no where to sleep, — and it was freezing cold outside!
Pastor Sauer invited him into his office, and asked him a whole series of questions. “Can you return to Mississippi?” he asked.
“No,” he said, sadly. “my family don’t want me.”
Pastor Sauer could see that he was a good kid, and also that he needed a refuge, a protection and support from the cruel world around him.
Pastor asked him what happened between him and his mother, and his only response was that she drinks. He asked about the kid’s father and the reply was that his mom and dad split up.
Then Pastor asked could we get in touch with the father, and can he help you out?
“Naw,” came the reply, “he does drugs and stuff.”
This sad kid, looking for a rock of refuge. Well, Pastor Sauer by the grace of God did manage to get him out of the cold and into a shelter so that he wouldn’t freeze to death.
It was sad, but even sadder, thought Pastor Sauer, the boy’s dire situation seemed to be the norm for a growing number of young people all over the country.
How did we get ourselves into such a mess? You can’t help but wonder how in the world can parents, adults young and old, families, fellow members of the human race, treat each other like human waste.
This boy, this boy’s parents, this boy’s friend . . . and millions upon millions of others, — in fact, the entire human race cannot survive in this cruel and hate-filled world without the support and protection of God.
God’s love for us doesn’t falter, — no matter how many bad turns we have made in life, no matter how resistant we have been to the change which comes through a personal relationship with God through faith in Christ.
As this story suggests, often people who may or may not be “religious,” seek out a church as a rock of refuge, or a pastor. It’s not unusual for troubled children to find in their Sunday School teacher, or in a public school teacher, a rock of refuge. And this can be very good as long as that “rock” (Jesus said Peter was the rock on which he would build His church) – as long as that rock leads the children to Jesus.
“Here I am!” declares Jesus Christ in Revelation Chapter 3. “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” You see, God is right here with us at all times. He has a call on each of our lives. But we still have an enemy, who wants to ruin us, and this enemy, Satan, is crafty. He is armed with cruel hate, and we can’t overcome him on our own. The good news is that Jesus has won the victory over sin, death, and the devil.
Those of us who work with young people and are around young people a lot know how often they are desperately seeking a rock of refuge, and, serving as a temporary rock for them, we point them to Jesus, the only permanent rock.
But it is also obvious that older people need a rock of refuge, too, and we know that Jesus is standing at their door, too. In fact, the person who has written this powerful psalm is a very old man. David, in his older years1
At the time he writes the psalm, his strength is failing as his enemies are rising against him. And he knows who has helped him throughout the trials and tribulations of his entire life, because his faith journey with Almighty God has been lifelong. As he says in the Psalm, our Introit for today, God has rescued him in his past, and God will rescue him now, — in his old age!
It is great to know, isn’t it, that no matter how old and feeble we may get, we have refuge in our God. But is that enough? I mean we’ve all been to nursing homes where many people have found refuge, but you wonder if their life is worth living anymore. In regard to that fear, David, in a section of the psalm not included in our Introit, assures us that even when our hair goes gray, believers have purpose. David says, in verses 15 through 18: “My mouth will tell of your righteousness, of your salvation all day long, though I know not its measure. I will come and proclaim our mighty acts, O Sovereign Lord; I will proclaim your righteousness; yours alone . . . . Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, till I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who are to come.”
What do Ralph Klein (premier of Alberta), Andre Agassi (pro tennis player), and Cassie Campbell (Canadian gold medalist in hockey) have in common? They are famous people who recently retired. What do you suppose their retirement speech or “swan song” was about? Not surprisingly each spoke about their accomplishments and thanked their fans for supporting them.
What will your swan song like? Will you spend the final years of your life trumpeting your accomplishments? Or will you, perhaps, speak about how hard life has been? What tone does God want our swan song to take? Well, Psalm 71 seems to be the swan song of King David. David’s song is filled with hope.
As we plan our retirement, we worry whether our retirement income will pay for our prescriptions as well as our groceries; we fear that inflations might soon send us to stand in front of the Post Office with a little tin cup full of pencils.
While Klein, Agassi, and Campbell seem assured of a comfortable retirement income, King David’s experience tells us that even rich and powerful people often face their life’s greatest struggles in what is supposed to be their “golden” years. David is faced with the awful reality that his son, Adonijah, is trying to steal the hearts of the people so that he could take the throne away from his father and become King.
David reminds us in our psalm that even when our hair goes gray, we have refuge. True, we may not have the strength to fight or think as quickly on our feet as we did in our youth, but what does it matter? The God who has been with us since before birth remains our fortress in our old age.
David was convinced that just as God had been there for him when he fought the lion and bear to save his father’s sheep; just as God had been there when he toppled Goliath; and just as God had been there through all the battles he had fought; he would be there now as Adonijah threatened.
God remains our fortress, our rock of refuge, today, too. Just as God provided for us when we raised a family even though we didn’t always know where the money would come from to put food on the table, or pay the dentist bill, God will provide for us now, even if our doctor doubles the number of prescriptions we have to take, or arthritis forces us to use a cane, or medical problems interfere with our travels.
No, having God as our fortress, our rock of refuge, doesn’t mean we won’t face troubles. But with God as our fortress we are certain that our troubles won’t be the final word in our life. As our psalm says, “You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again, from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again.”
“Be to me a rock of refuge, to which I may continually come.” The key word here is “continually.” Whether we are a teenager kicked out of house and home, or a senior citizen hoping to avoid rehab centers and nursing homes, where do we get our confidence to go on through times of trouble. – or just through the everyday, ordinary obstacles that this often cruel and hateful world puts in our path? From the Lord our God, the Lord of hope, our rock of refuge, our fortress, every second of every minute of every day! Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.