Thoughts Between Sundays

Some of what crosses my mind between Sundays

Sermon: “In The Waters”

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Psalm 46
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. Selah
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. Selah
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. Selah

Isaiah 43:1-7
43But now thus says the LORD, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. 2When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. 3For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Ethiopia and Seba in exchange for you. 4Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you, I give people in return for you, nations in exchange for your life. 5Do not fear, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you; 6I will say to the north, “Give them up,” and to the south, “Do not withhold; bring my sons from far away and my daughters from the end of the earth— 7everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”

NJ beach

“In the Waters”
Rev. Julie Jensen
FPC Cartersville, GA
August 17. 2014
As a friend of mine used to say, “this week’s been so rough it should count as two.” She worked in the journalism field and this comment often surfaced after weeks where there were many major stories all unfolding all at once on multiple fronts. A local story might need extensive coverage while national news broke overnight, and then a major international incident would get folded into the mix. We have lost touch over the years but I often think of her in weeks like this week. There has been a lot of upheaval in our community, nation, and in the world. When we learn on the same day that people in Gaza are tweeting people in Ferguson, Missouri to offer advice on how to survive in riots, that less than three miles from where we are sitting a shooting rampage ended with a suicide and car crashing into a construction trailer, we might feel a little unsettled. The death of a celebrity that brings issues of mental health and depression front and center might make us feel all sorts of feelings. Added into the mix is all the other news we are exposed to and everything happening in our personal lives. Kids here are back in school, while college students made and are making their journeys back to dorm rooms and classrooms. I could go on and on – illnesses, divorces, job changes, financial stresses, care and concern for those we love, situations we cannot control – each of us deals with that every day.

It is in times like these that I come back to these two scriptures. Over and over again they show me the sovereignty of God, God’s grace and mercy, and remind me that I don’t have to fix it all, that I can’t fix it all. These seemed like words that we may need to hear today, and so I offer them to you.
We spent a good amount of time this summer focusing on the idea of being still. Ted preached a sermon series that led off with this reading. For me, being still is just one facet of this psalm that speaks to me. In 2001, Psalm 46 was the lectionary Psalm for the Sunday after the attack on the Twin Towers in New York. The first time I ventured alone to Manhattan to explore I felt a little lost. The City is bustling. It is crowded. It is tall. Yet, in the midst of what we may remember from movies, from photos we have seen of Tomes Square, there are pockets of quiet. There are neighborhoods. There are tree lined streets with trash cans at the curbs just like we put out the trash here. There are churches and schools and everyday life. I happened to wander into a church that day and saw the words of verses 5-7 of this Psalm on a banner: 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.”

We all need a place to find refuge. A place to turn down the din that constantly surrounds us. In conversation with colleagues this week we noted that it is hard to find a place to be quiet. You used to be able to sit in a waiting room surrounded by the sounds of a receptionist working and the Muzak in the background. Now folks are on their phones – despite what the signs say, and there are usually multiple TVS showing either commercials disguised as news touting the latest health advances, or a news program at a really loud volume. It’s no wonder my blood pressure goes up in the waiting room. Airports are just as bad. When I was traveling from Minneapolis to Philadelphia this summer to meet the mission trip team, there was some weather that caused enough upheaval in my travel schedule to make me cry. After learning that my luggage was on the standby flight that I wasn’t, being rebooked 3 times, and learning that there were no empty hotel rooms in the city (thanks to the All Star Baseball Game) I was at my wits end. I needed a quiet place to think and figure out what to do next. And there was none. Even the chapel had music playing and a couple had taken refuge in there to have a yelling match about who knows what – I didn’t stay to find out. And in the loudness of the day, all I could do was stop and say a prayer that something would get figured out. And it was. God showed up in ways I did not expect – a text from friends that they had a bed in their room given that they were staying an extra night. A text from the mission trip in the van saying I was in their prayers. I got on the tram and for the first time all day was able to be still and see God in the midst. God in the midst of the chaos, God in the midst of it all. Even here, where we talk about The City and the County, about going into Atlanta for a big event, or for work, we can resonate with these words too. They can be read as “God is in the midst of the places where we think we are safe or secure, places that we think cannot be moved or shaken. God is in the midst of wherever we are, and that cannot be changed.” When it feels as if the nations are in an uproar, or our plans are in an uproar, we remember that God is present.

I was asked this week what we should do about the violence against Christians in Iraq. My immediate response was to pray. God is in the midst of the city. God will help it when the morning dawns. When the rivers of life overwhelm us, as we hear in our reading from Isiah, when the waters rise, God promises to be with us. So I have to believe that for those who are in places where the physical or metaphorical waters are rising, that God is with them. God does not cause the violence, God does not cause the suffering and pain, God does not want that for us. We, as flawed people are the source, we has humans with free will are right in the middle of it. Yet God does not leave us. God does not leave those suffering. So we pray. We pray that we will remember that it is God who is sovereign. We find the silence and stop trying to “do”, to “fix”, or to “solve” and instead pray that God will reign over all.

That sovereignty part is the hinge upon which both of these texts hinge. Neither the prophet or Psalmist denies that the rivers will rise, or that the earth shall not shake or the waves come up from the sea. Neither offers promises of calm, of everything going right. But both affirm that God is the one who takes the lead in providing refuge, in calming the upheaval, and walking with us through the waters. The message of both of these texts is that we can’t do it on our own. We are called as followers of Christ to work for the Kingdom of God, to serve in ways that promote peace and justice, to love kindness and walk humbly with God. But nowhere does God say “you be in charge now and do it yourselves.” We believe that God’s got this, whatever “this” is, and we are called to discern how God calls us to be part of that work.

11 of us answered God’s call this summer to go be part of the work done in rebuilding place where these passages have scary significance. There are families in Point Pleasant, NJ who lost friends and loved ones when the Towers fell. The entire community was devastated when the waters rose. Point Pleasant is surrounded by water – the bay, river, and ocean. Most f the damage done by the superstorm – hurricane – was not from wind, but from rising waters on all sides. During our last night the worship team had a communion service on the beach. I would like to share the words I spoke to them with you:
Whether we realized it or not, the water has played a major role in our trip this week. Each time I stand in the ocean and feel the power of the waves, I feel the power of God. The pull of the tide, the crash of the waves. It makes me feel so small to stand by the edge of what feels infinite. Yet these waves also contain in them the promises of God to each of us – that when we pass through the waters, we are God’s. It is not up to us anymore, but it is up to God. These words can offer comfort to us as we think about the power of water on this part of the country. The damage here from Hurricane Sandy was not from wind, but from the rising water. The ocean and the bay met, the seas rose, and people’s lives were forever turned upside down overnight.

And yet, God is in the midst of this. God is in the midst of the power of the storm, and the power of those who have reached out to rebuild. When we baptize, we promise to love, nurture, care for, and support in the faith the children of God. Those promises were made at our baptisms for us, and we make them each time we sprinkle, dunk or pour and proclaim the work that God has done for each of us in our lives.

The command in the mist of chaos is this – be still. Remember that God is God and we are not God. We cannot control the universe, the world, or one another. We are not in charge – God is. In the stillness we recognize that reality. In the stillness we cry out to God from our hearts and ask that God will impart God’s stillness in us. When we eat the bread and drink the cup, we come to God confessing that there are times when we have tried to be God, or be like God. That there are times when we forget God’s promises to be with us, and God’s promises to not overwhelm us. And then we remember that God welcomes us anyway.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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