April 26, 2020
Over the next few weeks and as part of our new sermon series, we'll be reflecting on the Book of Psalms. Together, the Book of Psalms functions as a prayer book of sorts for God's people and helps center us around the things that matter most in life - who God is, what God has done, who we are, and what we're called to do. There are 150 Psalms in total and together they cover the gamut of emotions and the highs and lows of the human experience. And even more, the Psalms were collected and first read by God’s people when they were in exile – a disorienting and troubling time for God’s people, a time where they eagerly awaited and hoped for a day when things would return to life as they knew it – so yes, now might be as good of time as any to read the Psalms. All that said, each week we’ll look at a different Psalm - first up is Psalm 46.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; 3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. 5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. 6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. 7 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
8 Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth. 9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. 10 “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” 11 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
This is the word of the Lord.
I imagine that very few of us have been on a plane these past few weeks, yet I’m sure many of us can still nod our heads in agreement when hearing that the biggest source of anxiety when it comes to flying, is, turbulence. Turbulence has a way of making even the strongest of people a bit uneasy, and yet from the pilot’s perspective, turbulence isn’t really all that big of deal, according to one commercial pilot. After all, planes are designed to withstand turbulence and for all intents and purposes, a plane cannot be flipped upside-down or otherwise flung from the sky by even the strongest gust. Truth is, the pilots aren't worried about the wings falling off; they're trying to keep their customers relaxed and everybody's coffee where it belongs. I imagine in the worst turbulence we assume the pilots are sweating profusely, the captain barking orders, hands tight on the wheel. Apparently, nothing could be further from the truth.Turns out, while we passengers are fretting about the turbulence, the pilots are having a casual conversation about their morning orange juice.
So there you go, maybe just maybe, that’ll will quiet your fears next time you fly, but of course, that’s not really the point, at least not for this morning.
Instead, I wonder if that might be a helpful analogy for when we experience turbulence, or rather, trying times in our own lives. Where we may have a tendency to panic, or doubt, worry or fear, and yet up ahead in the cockpit, God’s got it all under control. He’s been here before, he knows what he’s doing. Even if we can’t see all the details, he’s knows how to navigate through the chaos and land this plane.
And that’s the picture of God we get in our Psalm today.
The Psalmist says,
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
As our refuge, it’s a reminder that in God we find safety and security, where we are protected from danger and distress. That just in the same way that we find shelter to protect us in a storm, God provides us with the safety and security to carry us through. Now, it doesn’t mean that danger and harm will never come our way. Of course not. After all, the fact that God is a very present help in trouble suggests that we will experience trouble. Rather, it’s a reminder that God loves us and that he is with us, even when everything is not okay.
When we ourselves or a loved one are facing sickness or death, God is our refuge and strength,a very present help in trouble.
When we’re experiencing rejection or feeling failure, God is our refuge and strength,a very present help in trouble.
When finances are tight and money is low, God is our refuge and strength,a very present help in trouble.
When we’re at odds with our spouse or our kids, and both are demanding every ounce of patience we have, God is our refuge and strength,a very present help in trouble.
No matter what we’re going through, God will carry us through. though the earth should change,though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;3 though its waters roar and foam,we shall not fear. Though our present circumstances and realities change before us, that even should things be falling apart right around us, God will carry us through.
God is our refuge and strength,a very present help in trouble.
Now this word for refuge, can also be translated as fortress and the image of a fortress is a powerful one – that though outside forces may try to overtake and defeat us, we reminded that when we find our safety and security in God, nothing can ultimately destroy us.
Martin Luther, the famous theologian who wrote the song we just sung – A Mighty Fortress is Our God – wrote it during the most trying time of his life, where coincidentally, he wrote it during a time when a plague of all things was ravaging through his hometown.
He knew, just as it said in our catechism today - Our only comfort in life and in death is that we are not our own,but belong — body and soul, in life and in death —to our faithful Savior Jesus Christ.
God is our refuge and strength,a very present help in trouble.
And in light of this truth about who God is, here’s what we’re told to do –
It says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’
‘Be still, and know that I am God.’
Pretty straightforward on one hand, yet I’ll admit, I also find it pretty frustrating as well. After all, in light of our stay at home order and as we now enter Phase 1 of the reopening process, being still is the very last thing I want to do. I’m ready to let loose, I’m ready to be set free, I’m ready to hit the open road. The last thing I want to do is be still, and I’m sure many of you feel the same way.
For what it’s worth though, truth is, this was a hard word for the original hearers of this Psalm too. They themselves were in trouble, exiles in a foreign land, and I’m sure being still was the last thing they wanted to do as well.
Now, that said, being still doesn’t necessarily, literally mean that we need to be physically still. The command isn’t to sit still or stand still, but rather to be still, which is really about our mind and heart being right with God.
When the Psalmist says, ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’ He’s saying,‘Rest and relax in who God is. Release and let go of your worries and fears and give them to God.’
You can do this through prayer as you sit on the couch, as you work on a sowing project, as you go for a walk or a jog or a drive. For some of us,physical movement helps us foster a greater stillness of mind.
And as you do, I would encourage you to reflect on what’s not in your control and focus on what is.
One of things that’s been the most challenging for me in this season is that the part of my personality that loves to plan feels like it’s being put to death. I so badly want to know when this is all going to be over, or when we’re going to have church in the sanctuary again, or simply be able to map out and schedule upcoming events or trips. I’m realizing just how little control I have in this season, and that’s probably a good thing and it’s forcing me, in a good way, to be still and know that he is God.
And yet even in that, I can focus on what is in my control. Creating quality time with my wife and son, guarding how much time I allot to watching TV or checking social media, devoting time to bible reading and prayer, eating well, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly. I don’t know about you, but for whatever reason, I have found that I need more sleep in this season than I normally do. And maybe that’s just the way God wants it, for you and I to slow down, be still, reflect on what’s not in our control and focus on what is.
Back in March, when things surrounding COVID-19 were really starting to ramp up, I was talking to one of our church members, Eric Hammer, who was reminding me that this whole thing was going to be marathon and not a sprint, so pace yourself. And I didn’t want to believe him. I thought we could kind of just power our way through this one. Turns out he was right, this is a marathon. I should have believed him, after all, his wife is a doctor.
So how necessary are these words, 10 “Be still, and know that I am God!’
Even more, how might be we able to help one another and those around us, when it comes to living this out and helping them 10 “Be still, and know that I am God!’ This psalm was given corporately to God’s people, where not only were they individually encouraged to ‘be still,’ but also that the nations and those across the entire earth would be as well. So how might we encourage those around us to ‘Be still, and know that He is God.’?
I think one of the ways we can do this is by inviting people to embrace the mess and process what they are experiencing and feeling with them. I think I’ve mentioned her before, but one of my hospitality heroes, if that’s even a thing, is a woman by the name of Rosaria Butterfield, and she recently wrote a book called ‘The Gospel Comes With a House Key.’ And her and her family practice what they call radically ordinary hospitality, where they invite people, neighbors and strangers into their homes, share a meal together, pray together, read scripture together. And they often embrace hard conversations and moments of crises in their community and their world, whether it was trying to process the before and after of the 2016 election or learning that one of their neighbors across the street was running a meth lab in their basement. And together, they try to make sense of how the bible might help inform how they think about these things, how the bible can answer some questions and leave others unanswered. And together they ask, ‘What might God be up to in this, what might be want to teach us through this? Together, the Butterfield’s invite people into their home, and wrestle through the hard stuff with one another, process their anxieties, fears, doubts and concerns, to‘Be still, and know that I am God.’
And friends, you may be thinking, but wait, this is worst time to invite people into your home, and that may be true. But encourage you to get creative, don’t underestimate the power of a phone call or card or Zoom call or email or should you feel comfortable, invite a small handful of people over for a BBQ or bonfire in your backyard, 6ft apart of course. Friday’s ‘Cruisin in Seclusion’ event created by our very own Mel and Sandy Rice was great example of how we can reach out and be together while still being somewhat apart.
Winston Churchill said, ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste.’ So how might we be able, with God’s help, to use this crisis for good?
The Psalmist says,
10 “Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” 11 The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.