Encounters with Jesus: Refuge and Strength
These unsettled and unsettling days continue to turn me toward the assuring words of Psalm 46: God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble. (A modern translation of that phrase, by Benjamin Segal, gives that sentence an interesting ambiguity: God is our refuge and strength, an aid in trouble, ever-present. In that translation, is it God who is ever-present, or trouble? The answer, I suppose, would have to be “yes”!)
I am taken by the two dimensions of that promise: God as refuge, and God as strength. Refuge suggests safety, haven, a hiding place. It is where we go for protection from the storms of life, from terror, from trouble. “Come to me, all of you who are weary, and I will give you rest,” says Jesus. His very words feel like sanctuary (Matthew 11:28).
Strength suggests a source of power and purpose beyond ourselves upon which we can draw to meet life’s “trouble, ever-present,” but also to move beyond it with unnatural boldness. Jesus promised his disciples that “you shall receive power . . ” (dunamis in Greek, from which comes our word “dynamic”). And then he charged them to draw upon that power for the impossibly daunting mission of bringing good news to both the nearby neighbor and the unknown world (Acts 1:8).
Refuge—we stay safe. Strength—we stay engaged. Refuge—we take precautions. Strength—we find ways, by God’s grace, to bring light into darkness, assurance into places of fear, and heartfelt concern to those who are vulnerable on our block and far beyond.
This past Sunday, you reminded me of what it means to live our lives in the blended assurance that God is our refuge, but also our strength. We gathered for public worship, something we may not do again for a time. From a prescribed distance we greeted and blessed one another in Jesus’ name. While on site many of us gave blood (in record-breaking numbers, actually!) to meet a different but equally pressing community need. Shelter. Strength. This campus was on that day what it is every day—a place to be enfolded in God’s love, and a sending station from which to carry God’s love into the world.
In this unprecedented Lenten season, may we continue to encounter Jesus in ways that bring both comfort and courage for the living of these days.
Grace and peace.
Rev. Paul L. Escamilla, Senior Pastor