God Is My Refuge -- Sermon for Lent 1C (Psalm 91)

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16

Last Sunday we accompanied Jesus up the mountain so he could pray. This Sunday we join Jesus as he goes into the wilderness to fast and pray. During his time in the wilderness, Jesus faces three temptations. Each time he says no to the tempter. 

Jesus’ forty-day sojourn in the wilderness serves as the foundation for our Lenten journey. During this season we have the opportunity to look inward and reflect on our relationship with God and one another. I’m drawing my Lenten sermons from the Psalms, which provide us with prayers and songs that speak to our deepest concerns and greatest joys. So whether it’s a song of praise or lament, the Psalms invite us to sing to God from the heart. With this in mind Walter Brueggemann speaks of why we sing as the people of God:  

We sing because life is God-given, God-sustained, and God-claimed. Our singing is our glad assent to that God-givenness and refusal to have our lives be less than, more than, or other than that  [A Glad Obedience, p. 2]. 

We’ve already sung Martin Luther’s hymn “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” which is based on Psalm 46. The word we hear from Psalm 91, like the word in Psalm 46, declares that God is our refuge and our strength. Therefore, we can put our trust in God, even when the world is experiencing deep trauma.

We’ve spent the past two years navigating one of the worst pandemics to hit our world in decades. While the worst of that pandemic appears to be over, now we face the reality of a destructive and deadly war in Ukraine. We might not live in the war zone, but we are feeling the effects. So we pray, putting our trust in God our refuge.

Sometimes it looks as if evil will have the final say, but the Psalmist promises that “if you make the Lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, no evil will conquer you; no plague will come near your home. For he will order his angels to protect you wherever you go.” (Ps. 91:9-12 NLT). 

Now, that’s some kind of promise to take hold of, but there’s a caveat. God isn’t promising to give us a magic amulet or spell that we can use like Harry Potter’s Patronus to protect us from disaster or trauma. However, God’s promise reminds us that no matter what happens in life, God is with us, ready to strengthen us and comfort us so can pursue justice and mercy in this world. We may not see God’s realm come in its fulness in our lifetimes, but we can commit ourselves to that calling from God. 

Now in the reading from the Gospel of Luke, the tempter uses this passage of Scripture against Jesus. Satan suggests that Jesus jump off the pinnacle of the temple so the people down below can watch the angels come to his rescue. Now that would be quite a spectacle, but Jesus told the tempter not to put God to the test (Lk 4:9-12).

I can’t promise you that God will rescue us from every disaster. Nevertheless, we can put our trust in God because God works with us through the Holy Spirit to bring healing and hope to the world. You might call this a divinely empowered alliance against evil. God, who is love, works with us to bring healing and wholeness to the world. So, when we think in ultimate terms, Paul offers us this truth in the Letter to the Romans: 

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom 8:38-39). 

We may be living in a world in disarray, but we don’t have to live in fear. We can put our trust in God our refuge because God is love and is committed to our well-being. Tom Oord makes this clear by defining love as “act[ing] intentionally, in relational response to God and others, to promote overall well-being." [Pluriform Love, p. 28]. 

If what Tom suggests is true, we participate in God’s love by joining together in promoting well-being in this world of ours. If we do this, then justice and peace will reign among us. We might not be there yet, but that shouldn’t deter us from pursuing this God-given mission. All we need to do is call on the name of God, the Most High, the Almighty, and the LORD of all, and God will answer our prayers. Just remember that God’s answer involves our participation.

This call to put our trust in God is rooted in the covenants God has made with creation beginning with Noah and then Abraham and then at Sinai with the people of Israel. We read in Deuteronomy 26 that Moses instructed the people to bring the first fruits of the harvest to God once they crossed the river and settled in the Promised Land. Moses gave them a confession of faith to recite as a reminder of who they were before they crossed the river. It begins with the words “A wandering Aramean was my ancestor.” Yes, Moses roots their future in the covenant God made with Abraham. While they had been on a long journey that involved a lot of wandering in the wilderness, now they were about to see this promise fulfilled. This migrant people had become a great nation. Pharaoh may have enslaved them, but God heard their cries and sent them a deliverer in Moses. Now they would get to cross the river and experience true freedom.

There is a monument on the Detroit riverfront that points across the river to a land of freedom. This monument marks the end of the Underground Railroad. Like the people of Israel, along with many migrants and refugees today, including those fleeing from the war in Ukraine, the women, men, and children who reached this point in their journey trusted that freedom and refuge lay on the other side of the river. 

Moses tells the people to mark the end of their journey by bringing a thank offering of firstfruits to share with the priests and with the “aliens who reside among you,” so that together they might “celebrate with all the bounty that the LORD your God has given to you and to your house.” (Deut. 26:1-11). 

As we begin this Lenten journey, let us find strength in God’s promise to be with us in our times of trouble. May we put our trust in God our shelter and refuge, knowing that “The body they may kill, God’s truth abideth still, God’s reign endures forever” [“A Mighty Fortress”]. 

So, why do we sing? We sing because the hymns and songs of faith, are the scripts that give voice to the life of faith. As a beloved hymn reminds us, “I sing because I’m happy, I sing because I’m free, for his eye is on the sparrow, and I know he watches me.” Walter Brueggemann comments on the message of this simple: 

In the end it comes to a simple conclusion: God cares for every modest creature. How much more does God care for me, us, the suffering, and the left behind!? [A Glad Obedience, p. 155].  

May the promise embedded in Psalm 91 serve as a word of comfort and encouragement that enables each of us to break forth in songs of praise and thanksgiving. Let us also remember that God not only welcomes songs of praise but also our songs of lament. Therefore, we “who dwell in the shelter of the Lord, who abide in God’s shadow for life, say to the Lord: ‘My refuge, my rock in whom I trust!’” [Michael Joncas, “On Eagle’s Wings,” Glory to God, 43].

Preached by:

Dr. Robert D. Cornwall

Pulpit Supply

First Presbyterian Church

Troy, Michigan

Lent 1C

March 6, 2022  


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