This the journal entry for my quiet time of earlier today. I met God in Psalm 46.
Look: “There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells.” (Psalm 46:4)
According to The Lutheran Study Bible, the phrase “the city of God” only appears in the Korah psalms. Psalm 46, as its superscription indicates, is one of these: “To the choirmaster. Of the Sons of Korah. According to Alamonth. A Song.” The phrase, city of God, refers to Jerusalem. While God is omnipresent, He chose to dwell in an intimate way with His people at the temple in Jerusalem, “the city of God.”
But Jerusalem doesn’t have a river, only springs. Clearly, the psalmist is speaking more figuratively when he says this.
I think the takeaway for us today is this: Wherever God dwells and wherever God is welcomed, that place is holy, meaning set apart for God, God’s work, God’s purposes, God’s glory, God’s grace, and is glad.
Listen: In the prologue to John’s Gospel, John says that before anything was created “the Word” existed. Pointing to the Christian’s understanding of God as one Being in three Persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), John says that the Word was God and was with God. The Word was the agent by Whom creation happened. And then, John says: “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling [literally, pitched His tent or tabernacled] among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
Jesus came to dwell with any who will welcome Him with trusting faith. “Here I am!” the risen and ascended Jesus says to His Church and to all who will listen. “I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” (Revelation 3:20)
Jesus is the River Whose streams make glad those who welcome Him. And our call is to welcome Him with faith each day. He says: “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:17-18)
Jesus spoke of Himself as the River of living water, who could enliven those who, whether they know it or not, are parched and thirsty for God, forgiveness, and new life. (Interestingly, the most common Old Testament Hebrew word for soul is nephesh, literally throat.)
To a woman at a well in the Samaritan village of Sychar, Jesus said, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” (John 410)
To a great festival crowd in Jerusalem, Jesus once said, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” (John 7:37-38)
Revelation 22:1-3, says that in the heavenly city, where God the Father and the Lamb (Jesus) will dwell among their people, there will be a river, issuing from God, bringing life and peace to all who dwell with God.
And, I don’t believe that it’s a stretch to say that this River has made more than a few appearances in our dying world.
When Jesus died on a cross, a Roman soldier sought to confirm His death. And so: “...one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.” (John 19:34) Forming an inclusio within John’s gospel with the first act of Jesus’ public ministry according to John, turning water into wine at the wedding at Cana, we see that John’s entire gospel is informed by means of grace by which God comes to dwell with us in Christ, Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. In Holy Baptism, the living waters, the River--Jesus Himself, God incarnate--comes to live with us.
When we willingly, by faith, allow this River to flow into our lives, refusing to dam it off by our heedlessness toward God, we dwell with God. We live in glad fellowship with God.
This is why daily repentance and renewal is an essential part of the Christian life. Someone told me this past week, “I went through a time when I didn’t go to worship and I never prayed. I don’t know why. But that happened for about three months. I was miserable. But when I came back to God, worshiping every Sunday and praying, including confessing my sins, I was happier.”
That person’s problems didn’t go away. But God made her glad because she had invited this God revealed in Christ to dwell with her, standing with her every day and refreshing her with His grace.
The psalmist in Psalm 46 acknowledges the violence and insanity of the world in which he lived. (It’s not too different from our world.) The nations, he said, were in an uproar. But in the midst of it all, the River who dwelt with Him, God, told him, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” (Psalm 46:10)
God told him, “Be still! I’m God!”
With that assurance, he could say, “The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” (Psalm 46:11)
God still is God! And He can be our refuge and fortress!
Respond: God, when I’m tempted to feel intimidated by the world or by my own fearfulness or by the fearful people who effectively deny that You dwell among Your people or who want to steal the joy I have in You, help me to remember that You are my fortress, my refuge, my strength, a very present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1, 11).
And when I’m inclined to roam off on my own, chasing some wild hare rather than following You, call me back. Help me to be still and let You fill me with hope and gladness.
And when I’ve become parched from living for myself and to myself, when I’ve forgotten that day to surrender to You, to seek forgiveness for my sins in the name of Jesus, to read Your Word, or to honor You as God, all while being stupidly mystified that things just aren’t right, call me back to You. Bellow at me, using other people, circumstances, and, most of all, Your Word and sacraments, to call me back to the River of life, to Jesus. Scream at me, God. as insistently as whistles, bagpipes, and trombones until, thick-header, thick-hearted, and sinful though I am, I hear Your insistent knock and welcome Your Son and His lordship and leadership over my life again...and again. And I can live in your peace, I can be still and revel in the assurance that not only are You God, but through Jesus, You are my God.
In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen
[I'm the pastor of Living Water Lutheran Church in Centerville, Ohio.]