The following is a transcript of my homily preached Friday, November 12th during morning prayer at Shepherd's Heart Fellowship in Pittsburgh, PA. The office readings for Friday were as follows: Psalms 88, 91, 92; Joel 2:28-3:8; James 1:16-27; Luke 16:1-9. The homily is based on Psalm 91.
Our Psalm today, Psalm 91, is a famous psalm, known for its promise of God’s protection from harm. Many people have memorized it, recited it, and have been comforted by the reassurance it provides. Men and women in the dire straits of poverty, sickness, war and disaster have been strengthened and encouraged by its images. It paints an awesome picture: God delivers, covers, sends angels, protects and rescues. It is a powerful litany of salvation.
Salvation, we find here, depends on how we relate to God. Only God can save, and we must turn to him in order to know this for ourselves. “You who live in the shelter of the Most High,” begins the psalm, “who abide in the shadow of the Almighty, will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.’” So it’s those who live in God’s shelter who know the powerful salvation of God. In ancient times God made a home for himself, the temple, and those who worshiped there and were part of his covenant people received the benefits of his saving power. They knew victory over their enemies, prosperity and the beauty of holy worship.
Jesus came as the living embodiment of God, and replaced the temple as God’s shelter. “The word became flesh and dwelled among us.” Jesus came, and what happened at the cross? The veil of the temple was torn right down the middle. The barrier between men and the holy of holies—God’s shelter—was removed when Jesus died as the final perfect sacrifice for sin. With arms wide open, he invites all who will call on his name to possess the salvation of God. “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved… For ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”
Do you live in the shelter of the Most High? Do you know what it means to stand in the presence of God? If you know Jesus, you do. We who confess Jesus as Lord and believe in the power of his resurrection hope and wait for the glorious day when God will judge evil men and rescue his people from the struggles and suffering of this life. We who live in the shelter of the Most High have a promise from God: “He will deliver you… he will cover you… he will command his angels concerning you…”
Yes, we’re waiting for the last day, but today we can believe that God will seek our best for us. It’s not yet fulfilled, but already God is willing and able to watch over and protect us. Sufferings and testings will and do come. Jesus said, “In this world you will have tribulation…” The gospel does not pretend suffering and pain do not exist, but it’s good news precisely because it proclaims salvation from those things! Therefore we’ve got gospel all over the place in Psalm 91, the effects of God’s good and powerful reign extended to his people. Jesus said, “In this world you will have tribulation,” but then he adds, “but be of good cheer—I have overcome the world!”
I am not suggesting that the Christian life is a cake walk. I am not under any delusions that when we follow Christ it’s all sunshine and happy days. But I have seen the Lord move in my life and in the lives of others and I have to say, “You will not fear the terror of the night, or the arrow that flies by day.” You will not fear the dark things and people lurking around corners on cold winter nights. You will not fear the weapons carried by thugs and criminals roaming the streets. Because God himself is your fortress! He is your shield and your deliverer! And if he is for you, who can be against you?
I knew, in my teenage years, the terror of uncertainty and doubt. I didn’t believe in God and had no hope in my life. And the Lord spoke to me and pulled me out of the miry pit. He rescued me and gave me the conviction that I need not fear. And he wants to do the same for you. He’s longing to show favor and grace to you.
Who lives in the shelter of the Most High? Who abides in the shadow of the Almighty? The ones who acknowledge and call on Jesus as Lord. That’s not just a one time thing. Not that you become Christian again, but that part of salvation is calling on the name of our Lord over and over again. Jesus! Jesus, save us! The darkness is great, and we are weak! Call on the Lord Jesus and know what it means to say, “The Lord is my fortress.” Call on the Lord Jesus, and he will satisfy you with long life and show you his salvation. Amen.