Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
August 23, 2015
Psalm 46: 1-11
“Can You Be Still?”
“Hear now these ancient words as written in Psalm 46 verses 1 thru 11.”
1 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.
“Allow these ancient words, spoken so long ago, to open your heart and your mind to God’s presence in your life.”
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It was a typical cool September morning. As was my routine, I walked our little dog named Lucy. After which I did the usual things. Around nine AM I got a call from a friend who wanted me to do a memorial service for his wife at the funeral parlor there on Main Street in Middletown. During our call the phone had beeped, telling me someone had tried to call me. After hanging up the phone I checked for messages, I had one. As I picked up the message I heard Lois’ frantic voice “Turn on the TV!” is all she said. The tone of her voice startled me. I quickly turned on the television set in the den. Stunned, I watched trying to comprehend what I was seeing. The first of the two World Trade Center Towers was in flames and there was a voice screaming as a second passenger airliner flew straight into the second tower. I was traumatized, dumbfounded. I don’t think I moved a muscle for what seemed like eternity. As I watched, apparently for over an hour, I saw both towers totally collapse. The only thing I could think to do was drive over to the church, I think it was a Tuesday.
When I arrived at the church the Director of the Head Start program that rented our expansive church facility during the week, came in and asked me… Pastor, please open up the sanctuary, my staff is in shock and they need a sacred place. I responded yes, and then added I would open the inner and outer doors, ring the bells and have a service at noon. I later learned that the vast majority of pastors in and around New York City did something similar. Our church was only an hour or so from the outskirts of New York City. As I opened the front doors of the church I stepped outside. The church stands on the highest point in that community. I looked up and I could see the flumes of smoke pouring up into the sky from what was once the World Trade Center. One of my head deacons had come in. I quickly told him what I was planning to do. He knew how to ring the steeple bells and quickly began to do so.
While watching the news I had heard a pastor reading Psalm 46. I turned to it and realized it made great sense to use it as I walked into the sanctuary to read some scripture, offer a message, a prayer and some hymnody – thanks to a musician that made it into the church as well. I don’t know what exactly I said that morning, but a larger crowd gathered than I had seen in quite some time. The old sheriff, Roger, apologized to me later saying that in all his years in law enforcement, it was the first time he had ever come into church with his weapon on him. Another man, Clint, spoke of how he had been on his way to visit a client at the towers that morning, but his client had canceled at the last moment and just at the outskirts of the city, Clint decided to head back and visit a different customer – back in Middletown. A fireman from our community died alongside many others trying to save lives that day. Final count recorded 2,996 died; including 343 fireman and 72 law enforcement officers.
In the aftermath, I remember reflecting on how our tenants, the forty plus Head Start Teachers and the 75 children under their care, a government sponsored program, prior to that day, had been forced to ask us to take down our religious items, such as crosses, and no prayers were allowed – because of the harsh enforcement of separation of church and state. It was indeed a big deal that the Director had asked me to open up the sanctuary for her staff and allowed them to come to that spontaneous worship service. For several weeks those barriers remained down as our greater community, our country and the world, came to understand how major an event of enormous tragedy and consequence – had occurred. History has begun to record the shifts in our society because of this one event.
The psalmist calls out to us “God is our refuge and strength a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.”
/Psalm 46:1-3/ I hung onto those words that day and so did countless other pastors. As the days then weeks came and went, a great number of the clergy I knew in the community, we met regularly to talk. We began to realize we needed to help our congregations move from this tragic time and begin the process of living once more. We didn’t want to forget, nor could we, but the day in and day out replaying of those tragic moments had to stop. We tried to bring people together to celebrate our faith, that ‘indeed’ “God was our strength, a very present help in trouble.” /Psalm 46:1/
Recently, I spoke about needing to stop the chatter and noise in my head, as I tried to touch the love of God in my own life. Knowing this about myself, I realize how hard it will be to express to you as ‘a community’ the importance of trusting God and believing that God is always there for us; especially in light of some of the horrific moments in life that we are all aware of; some personally and others of us second hand. We started hearing the stories of heroism that came out of that September 11th event. The miracles of those that did survive. Pastors have strived to talk about the presence of God in the midst of such a tragedy. Still more stories have arisen about mystical moments in the midst of chaos and unrelenting horror. More importantly for us today, we need to talk about God’s presence now in our still ‘very real’ and ‘very frail’ lives. We are the survivors, we are the ones that must continue to move forward in life. The same rules still apply. We still need to accept life on life’s terms. Certainly not all that easy to do, as every day the noise of life screams at us and tries to pull us away from the love of God. Every day we are offered two choices at every corner of our lives. We must choose from good and evil, just or unjust practices, defeat or resurrection. We must decide how to use our God given talents and all the things that life often brings our way.
The Psalmist surely knew of the human condition and the plight of humankind. That is why the Psalms were written, to help people to acknowledge the real world around them and yet still reach out to God in the midst of it all. The Psalmist strived to put into the hands of the religious leaders the words necessary to bring the people into worshiping God, in the midst of the good times, as-well-as the hard and difficult times in their journeys through life. Verse ten speaks to the quick of it all: “Be still, and know that I am God!” The prophetic voice of the Psalmist speaking for God: “Be still, and know that I am God!” Now we all know what we are to do, but how are we to calm the chatter, the fear and doubt from our hearts and minds?
One scholar says it this way: “For we know that, much as we might wish it, the fortress of God, does not make us (invulnerable) indestructible.” /Paul Bellan-Boyer/ Dr. Joel M. LeMon, Associate Professor of Old Testament, puts forth this point for our reflection: “This psalm (exhorts) presses its earliest audience – not to base its confidence on high, thick walls and expert soldiers (archers) manning the fortifications (balustrades). It is only God’s presence that promotes security.” /Joel LeMon/
Ultimately, theologians and faith leaders of all persuasions seek to motivate those under their charge, and care, to revert back to basic principles of faith. Professor Dale Fletcher puts it in simple terms. “Have Faith, God Is Our Strength in Times of Trouble.” The Psalmist however puts across a more profound message I believe. Speaking prophetically for God the Psalmist puts forth this insightful statement for us to ponder. “Be still, and know that I am God!” Perhaps we simply need to stay with this for a bit longer. God is present in our lives. Most of us, at least know someone who actively, professes that God is with them! This is so easy to express and witness to in good times, but in hard times… it is just harder; there is no denying this! But, logic ought to express to our intelligence that if this divine being, whom we trust in, is with us in good times, why wouldn’t our God be with us in the hardest of times?
The phrase “be still” infers that we ought to take time to be in meditation and prayer. In times of horrific lose all we simply need to do is seek time to be in prayer, be in meditation with God. We need to encourage ourselves to be still in the presence of God. I consider God my closest friend. Isn’t it logical to seek out your friends in times of need? I have friends that, when I am with them, I can empty myself of anything that I am carrying in my heart. Surely, we ought to be able to do that with our God. At least we can attempt to give up our afflictions and fears, as-well-as, share all of our joys and sorrows, with the ‘One’ in whom we trust to guide us each day.
Branden Kreft speaks to us saying “To stand strong in a world that rushes by, is the hardest thing we’ll ever do. So if you’re asking yourself why; remember, others are asking too.”
Have the courage to ask God for help.
Christine V. Mitchell shares with poetic word: “I love you, my child in the morning. My love is not quelled by the night. I love you when you’re in the valley, or scaling the highest of heights.”
Take the liberty to simply quiet yourself, be still and allow God to be God in your life. Really, you can be still, God will do the rest.