Sermon by Rev. Todd Weir
July 9, 2017
Its summer time, and we hope for a more relaxed pace. We try to get a little vacation, whether in Maine or the Cape or even just a good stay-cation. Some of you may even venture to Niagara Falls. How many have been there, maybe taken a ride on the Maid of the Mist, with your raincoat on, to get near the powerful torrents. The Falls became a huge destination in the summer of 1859, when a circus tight rope walker named Charles Blondin crossed the Falls on June 30, 1859. Not content with braving the thundering torrents, Blondin upped the ante with increasingly theatrical performances. He crossed the tightrope in a sack, then he did it backwards, the next day blindfolded, he rode a bike across the Falls, he walked on stilts, and then he carried a camp stove on his back and stopped cooked an omelet hovering 160 feet above certain death.
One day Blondin crossed the tightrope to Canada, then came back pushing a wheelbarrow blindfolded. The awed crowd erupted with shouts and applause. Blondin acknowledged the praise and then raised his hand for quiet and he shouted, “Do you believe in me?” “Yes” everyone shouted. “Then who will get in the wheelbarrow and go with me?” There is a line in our scripture passage that says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Well, this crowd was still, and despite all Blondin’s mighty deeds; on stilts, blindfolded or backwards; none would heed his call. All they could see was the mighty torrent and their certain doom. Their faith in Blondin was immense, but it stopped at the tightrope’s edge, it failed when any risk was required of them. Watching and doing are not the same thing.
It is a very human failing, one that I confess. Let’s hear the beginning of Psalm 46 again, through the experience of the crowd that watched Blondin:
God is our refuge and strength, (And the church says, “Amen!”)
a very present[a] help in trouble. (That’s right!)
2 Therefore we will not fear, (no fear here Lord) though the earth should change, (change happens)
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; (well?)
3 though its waters roar and foam, (WELL??)
though the mountains tremble with its tumult. (Lord help us!)
When we hear “God is our refuge and strength,” we might think of a safe place away from the turmoil, of peace of mind, being untouched by the worldly tumult. Is the Psalm suggesting God will take care of everything? Or is written for a people who are willing to get into the wheelbarrow, and we will not fear despite the roar of the crashing waters? If all we pray for is a good parking spot, (nobody really does that, right?) or a little piece of mind and something to reduce the stress, if all we ask from church is community and friends, a haven where things stay the same, what would that say about our view of God? It’s important to not sweat the small stuff, but what about the earth-shaking stuff, do we think God has anything to do with our journey through the hardest challenges of our day? Is are faith in God deep enough to say, “I’m going to get in the wheelbarrow.” Do we trust that God is on the move and bringing about the good, even in the chaos?
The Psalm accurately describes the three kinds of real world chaos that we face. Creation itself is in pandemonium. Mountains shake in the heart of the sea, as a massive iceberg, 2000 square miles, the size of the state of Delaware, is about to break off the Antarctic continental shelf, evidence of further destabilization at the earth’s poles. “We will now fear, the Psalmist says, “though the earth changes.” Last week it was 128 degrees Fahrenheit in the Baluchistan region of Pakistan, where water shortages are becoming critical. Airports closed in Phoenix due to heat jeopardizing take-off safety. The waters roar with tumult as the hurricane season rushes in, and yet petroleum companies are determined to do more offshore drilling, exposing coastal people to immense consequences.
Whoever is not afraid of this, is not paying attention. I’m glad to see the church get into the wheelbarrow for God’s creation and our own future. At General Synod, we passed an emergency resolution on climate change (key word: Emergency!) Jim Antal, our Conference Minister, wrote the resolution entitled “The Earth is the Lord’s, Not Ours to Wreck.” Resolutions are not always worth the paper they are printed on. It can just be a “feel good” thing. But what caught my attention, is that the North Dakota Conference, where fossil fuel is the largest dominant economic force, co-sponsored this resolution. That is the moral equivalent of getting in the wheelbarrow and crossing Niagara Falls, and this is the moral task of the church.
The Psalm also describes political chaos. The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter.” Anarchy extends in belt from Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia and Yemen, as famine due to war and drought threatens 20 million people with starvation. The mass migration of people is creating political crisis throughout Europe. Thousands of people pour out from Syria and through Libya in tiny boats hoping to find refuge.
These times call for great leadership as we face a global crisis that will require our very best. Where will that come from? Will it come from the Republican party, who are unable to pass health care legislation they have fomented about for 7 years? Will it come from Democrats, who have lost over a thousand seats in national, state and local elections during the last decade?
“God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved.” For that to be a reality, many more of us are going to have to get into God’s wheelbarrow, cross the divide. Some days, I would rather cross Niagara Falls on a tightrope than have dialog with some of our Conservative Evangelical siblings. But if the future is in the balance, it might take some long and painful conversations. We must find a workable coalition of people who believe that we are all in this together.
The alternative is a world at war with each other. It won’t simply be a war fought by armies of nations, or like our civil war between the states. It will be much more internal with unclear lines, fought by police in the streets, by border guards, ICE agents, with the wealthy having private security guards and gated communities, it will tear apart families, it will often be fought with dollars and lawyers instead of bullets, but it is still war by other means.
I don’t accept violence war and division as the only answer, and I reject giving in to a dystopian future. I do so because the Psalmist says,
God makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
she breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; (sounds like God’s version of gun control!)
she burns the shields with fire.
Peace is possible. I heard the first-hand reports from our missionary in Columbia, and the work of the churches, documenting over 10,000 human rights violations from all sides. The former FARC rebels called for the churches to be the cease-fire monitors, and have turned in 3792 rifles so far, which artists will turn into monuments. Columbia is attempting a process like the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa and working to reintegrate former rebel soldiers, many of them children, back into society. In one village, where FARC massacred 62 civilians in an attack, the rebels are building a new rode to the village, and participated in a dedication ceremony that included a memorial to the 62 people killed in the attack.
If Columbians can make peace and heal, can we not heal our divisions in our churches and our nation? We once fought horrendous wars with Germany and Japan, but now see them as allies. It did not happen by accident or coincidence, but because people tired of bloodshed said we must build a new future. That is why Christians started the Heifer Project after WW2 to replenish the dairy herds of Europe, is why we gave our tax dollars to rebuild our former enemies, to ensure a lasting peace. That was a great America. Can we be that America again, for each other, across partisan divides?
Here is what it will take, spiritually and theologically. The Psalmist tells us “Be Still and know that I am God.” I wonder what voice the writer imagined. Was it the still, small voice calming us, “Be still.” Or was it a commanding voice, like my Grandmother:
“Be still and know I am God.”
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord of hosts is with us;
This is often misunderstood. To quote the Rev. Traci Blackmon, preaching at our General Synod:
“When we here God is with us, we may presume our enemies are God’s enemies. What if God is not on our side, but God is simply with us, all of us, even when we are not with one another. What does it mean if we truly believe that God is for all people? It means no longer claiming God just for ourselves. God is bigger and safer and stronger than the things that seek to divide us.”
This is how God is our refuge and strength. It may just be enough to get me in the wheelbarrow, how about you!?