Sunday, June 08, 2008

A Postscript to "Parental Failure"

For what it's worth, Daniel seemed to be very excited that Obama has clinched the nomination. I'm not sure who he'll eventually support, but I must say that I am rather glad he is only 11 and will therefore not be able to vote. At least we have a few more years to educate him on how to make the best choice...!

Be Still and Know...

Today I was honored to preach and lead worship at Midway Presbyterian Church. It was a wonderful experience, and allowed me to realize how far I have come, how much I have grown, in my pastoral life these past few years, thanks in large part to my role as pastor's wife, not pastor.

The congregation was made up of 31 older white congregants, probably only slightly more women than men. The youngest person there, aside from myself, was probably early to mid-50's. Most of the men wore American flag lapel pens, and those who had served in the armed forces wore their appropriate pins as well. The pew Bible was the NIV, and the hymnbook was not the PCUSA one. The assurance of pardon made some reference to "all who confess their sins will be saved," rather than forgiven. And the comments after my sermon were about 50/50. Half of the folks (men and women) thanked me for the wonderful message. The other half told me just how cute I was. A few people combined those two comments. I was thrilled to hear them all, not because I particularly like to be called "cute" after I preach the Good News, but because each of the comments, whether about my sermon or my looks, were genuine and sincere. I felt very warmly received, and everyone there showed me the love of Christ in the way he or she best knew how.

Had I preached there three years ago, prior to Rehoboth, prior to living with and walking alongside my husband, who has taught me much, these past three years, I would have cringed. Cringed at the overt patriotism in a house of worship, cringed at the choices of worship resources (translation and hymnbook), cringed at the men who called me cute, and been equally offended and put off with the women who did. I would not have hung around and mingled with folks after worship, nor would I have been excited at the prospect of returning, as many encouraged me to do. But thankfully, over the past three years, God has shown me a love for her people that is more open and accepting. She has shown me a love that is less judgmental and more eager to share the love that I have come to know in her with those whom I encounter.

For all of these things, I am grateful. My prayer is that all of God's people will come closer and closer to a love for others that more closely resembles the love Christ has for us. Not just for those that are like we are, but for all of his beloved.

The Sermon: "Be Still and Know"

Psalm 46:1-11

1God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
4There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.
5God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.
6The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
8Come, behold the works of the LORD; see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
9He 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."
11The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Date: September 11, 2001:

A hijacked passenger jet out of Boston crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center, tearing a gaping hole in the building and setting it afire.

Minutes later, a second hijacked airliner from Boston, crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center and exploded.

An hour later, yet another airliner crashed into the Pentagon, sending up a huge plume of smoke. Evacuation began immediately.

Less than three hours after the first attack, a fourth hijacked jet crashed in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, southeast of Pittsburgh.

“Be STILL, and know that I am God.”

Date: March 19, 2003, quoting George W. Bush:

“My fellow citizens, at this hour American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger. On my orders, coalition forces have begun striking selected targets of military importance to undermine Saddam Hussein's ability to wage war. These are opening stages of what will be a broad and concerted campaign.”

“Be still, and know that I am God!”

Date: January 15, 2004

They had recently picked up and moved from their home to a new job for him. It was a hard time to move—the boys were 1 and 3, and she was just beginning to feel like she had her body back after giving birth. And then one day, seemingly out of nowhere, and tells her that he is leaving them. Apparently he “no longer wants to be married.” So she finds herself in a new city, among new friends--away from home and family, with no way to pay rent or buy food. It’s as if the earth changed right under her feet, and it was terrifying. What was she going to do?

“Be still, and know that I am God.”

Date: July 11, 2005

The storm was already beginning to move in, so she wasn’t surprised when their children wanted her to sleep downstairs with them. She let John know that she would join him as soon as they were asleep, and she crawled in bed with their daughter. It had been a long day, and she fell asleep, but was soon awoken by the loudest noise and most jarring feeling of her life. The rafters shook and she trembled as the debris continued to fall. Then all was quiet. Deathly quiet. She ran upstairs and found that the old tree—the one that they had been meaning to cut—had fallen right on their house, right onto their bed where her husband lay. The reality of what had happened hit her like a ton of bricks, and she knew that her life and the lives of their children were forever changed. Her foundation had been shaken to its core. Would she…could she recover?

“Be still, and know that I am God.”

Date: December 8, 2007

Her dad was doing better after the surgery to clear the arterial blockages. It was really scary for a while there. Aneurysm on top of emphysema made for a very delicate health situation. But then her brother Bill was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and the prognosis was not good. It seemed that avoiding the doctor all of these years might have caught up with him. And on top of all that, another brother has been diagnosed with yet another form of cancer. Amidst already difficult family relationships, health issues compound the delicate balance. The waters seem to just continue to roar and foam around her…

“Be still, and know that I am God.”

Date: January 8, 2008

She didn’t mind hiking alone, and perhaps her green belt in judo gave her parents a bit of peace when she struck out with only her beloved dog at her side. But when she didn’t return that day, and there was no word from her for the next few days, we all began to suspect the worst. Investigators concluded that hiker Meredith Emerson was abducted by Gary Michael Hilton while hiking with her dog in the mountains of North Georgia. Her body was found less than a week later, and Hilton has been sentenced to life in prison for her death. Later findings revealed he was connected to several other murders in the southeast.

“Be still, and know that I am God.”

Date: March 15, 2008

A tornado hit downtown Atlanta at approximately 9:40 PM, while basketball fans gathered in the Georgia Dome watching the Alabama / Mississippi State playoff game. Thousands were out and about downtown on this Friday night.

Waves of severe thunderstorms streaked through hours after the tornado left a trail of destruction through the heart of the city. Yet in the midst of the city, thousands felt God’s presence. As the morning dawned, we began to realize that while there were many injuries, there were no reported fatalities in downtown Atlanta.

“Be still, and know that I am God!”

Date: May 2nd, 2008

A cyclone tore through Myanmar (Burma) with unexpected fury, causing a tidal surge that swept inland and devastated Myanmar's most populated regions, leaving homes and businesses flattened and families forever changed.

Knocked over by a six-metre wave, a young Burmese woman climbed a tree backwards to protect her eight-month fetus. She held onto a branch for 12 hours, praying to God, until the sunrise shed light on her dead husband, 1-year old child, and dozens of relatives.[1]

“Be still, and know that I am God.”

Date: May 13, 2008

A powerful earthquake toppled buildings, schools and chemical plants today in central China, killing about 10,000 people and trapping untold numbers in mounds of concrete, steel and earth in the country's worst quake in three decades.

Five days after the earthquake, a group of rescue workers found the body of a young woman inside rubble. She was in the kneeling position. Her back hunched over supporting the crumbled ceiling, her arms stretched forward, her hands thrust firmly into the muddy earth. There was no life in her. [2]

“Be still, and know that I am God. “

Cancerous tumors, failed marriages, falling trees, and human pain. Raining bullets, lost lives, nations in uproar, and human loss. Tidal surges, flattened structures, toppled buildings, and human loss. Nations in uproar, kingdoms that totter, a melting earth, and abounding wars.

“Be still, and know that I am God.”

It’s often far too easy to remove ourselves from the natural disasters, the human atrocities, and the individual pain that many have endured and are enduring. And so…while we understand the need for the lesson found in these particular verses, we might even experience a twinge of guilt because maybe we have been UNaffected by such tragedies.

Or maybe we understand all too well the need for the lesson found in these verses, and we don’t want to hear it because its message hits too close to home. There may be, right now, foundation-shaking things that are happening within the lives of some of us. Perhaps you feel as if you are being overpowered by roaring, foaming waters. Maybe someone you love feels like the rug has just been pulled out from under her.

If your life is smooth sailing right now, or if your life waters are tossing you to and fro, there is a word for us to be found in today’s psalm.

The response of many, when bad things happen, is to question God. Why is God doing this to me, to her, to us? And that’s a question with which I continue to struggle. But I have found comfort in the words of the late Shirley Guthrie, theologian and professor at Columbia Seminary. He tells us in his book Christian Doctrine that God does not cause bad things to happen. Rather, when bad things do happen, “we look for and expect God’s presence (to) work indirectly in and through—and sometimes despite—the natural processes that affect our lives.”

There are times when it does seem that our world is falling apart all around us. Maybe we’re not touched directly by the chaos, but each of us is, in some way, affected. Much may fall apart around us, but we are not finally in jeopardy. The Lord God is sovereign. God is faithful. God is with us. God will not fail us.

God is, indeed, our refuge and strength, our help in times of trouble. This does not mean that bad things will NOT happen to us—they likely will if we live long enough. But it does mean that God will be with us during those difficult times, working in and through those moments of crisis and pain, to somehow bring good out of chaos. As the scholar writes, this text is “a profound assurance when life becomes unglued!”[3]

Let’s go back to China. Remember the body of the young woman found kneeling and hunched over? I’d like to share with you the rest of the story.

“As the rescue workers walked away (from her body), suddenly, the team leader seemed to understand something. He hurried back to the woman’s side and reached underneath her body. There, in the tiny shelter that the young woman created by using her body as protective shield, was a baby, about 3 months old, alive, unhurt and sleeping soundly still. Inside baby’s clothing, he found also a cell phone. On it was a message. “My dear baby: if you’re alive, remember, I love you.” People soon gathered about them and there was not a dry eye in the crowd.[4]

The closest thing to understanding God’s love of and care for us is the love of parent for child. It has been said that “the unconditional love of a parent is the greatest thing a child ever receives.” Sadly, many children never experience such love from their parents. Even for those that are fortunate enough to experience it, the unconditional love of God is greater still.

“In a time, when the world (seems to) crumble(s) all around (us), when the earth (seems to) swallow everything in sight, when all the hope seems to fade, God holds up the falling sky and says to us. ‘Be still, and know that I am God. I am here. Everything will be all right.’” [5]

To God be all the glory, and honor, and power. Now & forevermore. Amen.

[1] (Toronto, Canada)
[3] Brueggemann, Walter in Text for Preaching, Year A, p. 348-9.