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Sermon: Psalm 91
Lent 1 – March 10, 2019 – Rev. Steven J. Radunzel

There are a lot of beautiful psalms in the Bible. Some of you have your favorite. Whether Psalm 91 is your favorite or not, it still has to be one of the most comforting psalms among all the psalms. It tells us about God’s protecting care. He even sends his angels to guard us in all our ways. “No disaster will come near your tent.” And if I asked you the question how often does God send his angels to protect you and keep disaster away from your home, you’d probably answer all the time.

This past week on the news we heard about the horrible tornado that ripped through Alabama. It was about a mile wide with winds up to 170 miles per hour. The destruction was unspeakable, and, worst of all, we know that at least 23 people died. And what’s so terribly tragic about that number is that 10 of those people were from one family. One story is told of a little boy torn from his father’s arms by the wind. It would be interesting to ask those people in Alabama how often does God send his angels to protect you and keep disaster away from your home.

That question to those who have experienced disaster is really the question of the skeptic, the unbeliever, who wants to challenge the Christian’s confidence in God’s faithfulness and protecting hand. I have a feeling that many of those people who felt the wrath of that tornado today would still say that the words of Psalm 91 are true and that God is always faithful. He is always wise and always good.

I’m not exactly sure how you answer that question of the skeptic, but I do know that God is always wise, always faithful, and always good. Bad things happen to people because we live in a sinful world where nature itself has been cursed by sin and itself looks forward to the day of Jesus’ return to be set free from the destructive results of man’s sin.
And the other thing I know for sure is that we do live in a dangerous world with both physical and spiritual dangers. And Psalm 91 remains a wonderful testimony and promise to the protecting care of God.

On this 1st Sunday of Lent we’re going to consider the promise from this psalm:

NO DISASTER WILL COME NEAR YOUR TENT

Do you feel like you’re in danger in this world? Each day as you live your life do you sense danger? I suppose our experiences are different, but my guess is that most of us don’t think too much about being in danger. We sleep safely in our warm homes on these cold winter nights. In the 22 years that I’ve been in Waukegan I think I only remember one time when one of our members had a house break in. We can drive in our cars without incident. We can walk along the street and go into stores with little fear of trouble.

And when I hear about natural disasters in other parts of the country or the world, I’m always reminded that we don’t have tornados here likely because we’re too close to Lake Michigan. We don’t have earthquakes, we don’t have volcanos, we don’t have landslides or avalanches, we don’t have hurricanes. Civil war is not raging around us. Maybe a little flooding sometimes, some cold weather and snow, but we seldom have to feel like we’re in danger.

So are we just lucky? Well, part of our good fortune is that we do live in an area where there are few natural disasters. But we need to give credit where credit is due for the goodness of our lives. We must give praise and glory to God just like the writer of Psalm 91 for his enduring faithfulness and protection. The 1st verse is beautiful and sets the tone and theme of the whole psalm: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” Just picture that. Each one of us can think of living our lives always with the shadow of God himself over us. Or think of the shadow of God’s wings protecting us all the time: “He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge.”

I don’t know about you, but the older I get the more vulnerable I sometimes feel to danger and the more I feel the need for God’s protection. I am wiser and have learned to be more attentive to all the dangers that are in the world. For example, I grew up in northwest Wisconsin in a place and at a time when it often got much colder than it’s been here this winter. I remember driving in my car to high school activities, or when I was in college, on horribly cold nights, no cell phone, a small jacket and maybe some gloves somewhere in the car. I didn’t think about it at the time, but God protected me from the cold and from my own foolishness. Today I have a much wiser respect for cold weather and how quickly you can freeze.

Or there are any number of examples of threats and dangers that you can mention. We live in a community where we know there are gangs in certain areas. Sometimes there’s gunfire. Sometimes there are thefts and break-ins. We are wise to be aware of the physical dangers of our surroundings and our world. We are wise to take care.

And we are wisest of all to take comfort in God’s protecting care. Then, as the psalmist writes, “You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.” God watches over us and everything around us. Nothing escapes his attention.

“A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but [danger and plague] will not come near you.” Many of you will remember one of our members who passed away a number of years ago – Julius Pfeiffer. I think of him when I read this verse. He served in the Navy in World War II. He served on a ship that was bombed by the enemy. It was a terrible disaster in which many, many sailors died. But Mr. Pfeiffer survived. He literally saw a thousand fall at his side, but disaster did not come near him.

Our lives are hardly that dramatic, but we live in a world where there is danger going on all around us, and sometimes many do die like they did in Alabama or a bomb blast kills hundreds in some Mideastern nation. Most of us remember the terror of 9/11 in New York City and Washington, D.C. Nearly 3000 died that day. God has spared us personally of these horrors.

“If you make the Most High your dwelling – even the LORD, who is my refuge – then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent.” There’s very comforting imagery in the picture of God’s dwelling, God’s tent. Among the Israelites as they lived in the wilderness, as well as other desert dwellers, the large tent was your house. And when a man married or a new family joined the clan the tent was extended and made larger to include them. That’s what God has done for us. When we were baptized he washed away our sins and made us a part of his family. He extended the walls of his tent to surround us with his protection. “If you make the Most High your dwelling – even the LORD, who is my refuge – then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent.”

“For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” That verse should sound familiar to you. That verse about the angels lifting you up so you don’t strike your foot against a stone is the reason this psalm was chosen for this 1st Sunday of Lent. The traditional gospel for the 1st Sunday of Lent involves Satan’s temptation of Jesus. In one of the temptations the devil stands with Jesus on the highest point of the temple in Jerusalem and tells him to jump down. After all, as the devil told Jesus by quoting this very verse, God would send angels to protect him and catch him so he wouldn’t so much as hurt one of his feet as he came to the ground.

The devil’s use of this passage of course is rather repulsive. God does not say these wonderful words about sending his angels to protect us, or any of the powerfully protective words of this psalm, so that we can be careless, that we can live dangerously, that we can test the limits of God’s faithfulness and protection. We have the responsibility to live our lives wisely and soberly and to simply trust that God will care for us.

Jesus knew better than Satan. He was not outwitted by him. Jesus answered Satan, “It says (God’s word says): ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’” We don’t need to test God to see if he’s faithful, to see if he’ll really protect us. Nor do we even need to wonder.

The devil’s temptation of Jesus is a good reminder to us of the greatest danger we face in this life. Like the unseen dangers that may in fact lurk outside our door at night or the dangers far away that we don’t experience, the devil is the unseen danger that always lurks around us. The Apostle Peter wrote in his 1st letter, “Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

The devil, sin, and death are the worst dangers that we face in this life. They are the most powerful and destructive dangers we face. They are eternal dangers. That’s why Jesus’ victory over Satan’s temptations is such a source of joy and reassurance to us. The writer of the book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was tempted in every way that we were and yet he was without sin. The Apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans, “Just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”

Jesus perfectly obeyed God the Father and withstood all the temptations of the devil. His righteousness has been credited to us. It covers us like the tent of God, the dwelling of the Most High.

I don’t know why so many people in Alabama last week had to endure the wrath of such a destructive tornado. The reasons lie in the wisdom of God. We still trust him. And that’s why the psalmist ends this beautifully comforting psalm with these very words of God: “‘Because he loves me,’ says the LORD, ‘I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name. He will call upon me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honor him. With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation.’” Amen.