God promises that His presence is our refuge and strength, no matter what.
No matter what is going on around us or in us, no matter what might be falling apart because of us, God’s presence is our refuge and strength. In our third Mass Event, we explored what it means to have God as our refuge and we saw from His Word just where God promises to be present for us.
We began with Pastor Jake and AJ, but not Emilie. As Pastor Jake attempted to get things started, AJ and Emilie (who eventually FaceTimed in) showed how easily we are distracted by the world around us and not present with the people with us.
“Have you ever felt that way?” Pastor Jake asked. “You’re with other people–like your friends–but still you’re…by yourself? …I wonder what life would be like if we were fully present.”
We watched a drama illustrate the point, as four people attended a party and spent the entire time looking at their phones, completely missing everything that happened around them.
Jason Seaman took the stage and shared his story. As a high school athlete with a promising future in college football, an injury during his junior year nearly put an end to his dreams. He had been on top of the world, and then it all began to crumble.
But he realized he had been looking at things the wrong way. He wasn’t alone, and he never had been. God is always by his side.
“I am a child of God, and through my Baptism I always will be.”
He went on to play college football…and to receive more injuries. There were lows, and there were highs, and God was with him through it all.
“He doesn’t show up and then leave. He is with you through the troubling times and when you’re on top of the world.”
Then his greatest challenge came. On May 25th, 2018, as he was teaching at a middle school in Noblesville, Indiana, one of his students entered his classroom with the intent to kill as many people as he could. Jason was shot three times, in the hip, the forearm, and the abdomen.
“My own student came in the door and began firing one of the two pistols he brought directly at me. I can’t describe the moment where I looked down and my white polo was quickly turning red. Instinctively, I tackled the shooter. I held him down until our school police officer got to the scene.”
“Immediately after asking myself, ‘Am I going to die?’ I was overcome with a feeling of calm and clarity where I knew I was going to be alright. That same God who had lifted me from the depths in high school and was with me the day I married my beautiful wife was still with me in that classroom. Protecting me and giving me strength…. Jesus was pierced three times on the cross. And was forsaken by God so that we would never be alone. He would be our strength and our refuge no matter what. “
AJ and Emilie spoke about the places we try to find refuge…Netflix, food, music, entertainment, other people. “There are a lot of things we run to for refuge,” Emilie said.
“There are a lot of things we use to protect ourselves,” AJ added. “That’s what makes what we’re talking about so important. Jesus is the safest place to hide.”
Sitting under an image of the cross, they began singing “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” and around the stadium, the voices of the audience could be heard joining in.
Pastor Jake showed us how God is at work around the world, and the places He is present be “zooming in” on where God can be seen in the midst of hardship, suffering, and storms.
“We can’t always zoom in on God’s work and see what He’s up to, but we can pinpoint His work in our suffering to very specific places…. God is at work everywhere working all things for our good, and He also locates Himself consistently in specific places for us. He is always in His Word.… Jesus is on every page as your refuge and strength, speaking His promises to you. He spoke a promise to you in your Baptism and He promises to be in His Supper. …Every time you celebrate the Lord’s Supper, Jesus drops a pin on the altar. He is there, forgiving you, strengthening you, and keeping you in Him. No matter what, we know for certain where God is present for us.”
Dancers then page a performance that showed the places Jesus is present–showing His birth, life, death and resurrection, as well as people gathered in Bible study, a Baptism, Holy Communion, and a family gathered together.
Then we heard from Pastor Dawit Bokre. Dawit grew up in Eritrea in East Africa. He described the way his family would eat together, “Unlike in the United States or the western world, we don’t eat off of individual plates, we eat off of one gigantic plate. I know it’s kinda weird and a bit messy, but we share a lot of love, a lot of laughter, and even awkward silence at times! Even though we were relatively poor, we shared an intimate and giving life! …We found hope and joy together in Jesus.”
Then his dad was killed in a car accident when Dawit was 11. His mother was diagnosed with cancer when he was 14. After the death of his mom, his older brothers and sisters sent him to the United States so he could pursue a better life and future. He boarded a plane to Boston. Two days after arriving, he began attending school, and a week later got a job. He spoke no English. It was cold, dark, and lonely, but he found the presence of God in the community of God.
He began attending First Lutheran Church in Boston.
“I didn’t know 80% of what they were saying, but I knew Jesus was proclaimed and was in the midst of these people. I knew I had a family in Jesus with those who didn’t look like me but were baptized into the same name of Jesus. We are family in Jesus. We were baptized in His name together. And Jesus promised us to be present in His table when His people are gathered together.”
Today Dawit is pastor at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in the San Francisco Bay Area in California. When he came to the church, the congregation was predominantly Caucasian and older. They didn’t look like the community around them. Over 100 languages are spoken in their neighborhood. It’s not only ethnically diverse, but also economically diverse. Near the church live people who are homeless and people who are executives of Facebook and Google. But the church wanted to be the real presence of God to the people who lived around them.
“Now, as all these people from all those backgrounds gather together, we’re together around the very real presence of God. He’s present in His Word. We’re gathered together, around God Himself as Christ comes to us in the Supper. We are experiencing the unifying presence of God as His grace is made tangible and concrete among us, just as He’s promised. “
Pastor Jake wrapped up the night, saying:
“God is present through His body, His Church. He is present through you. And as a member of the body of Christ, we get to share the peace that comes from being safe in Jesus no matter what. We have that peace because Jesus is our refuge and our strength, our very present help in trouble.”
The night ended with the sharing of the peace and a time of prayer.