I almost never write out my sermons, but I did this time. Here is the sermon I'll be sharing in about 1/2 hour.
God’s Defence of His City and People
To the leader. Of the Korahites. According to Alamoth.
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. Selah
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns. The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah
My Momma used to say: “Be still. Sit still. Stop wiggling. Stop talking. Rebecca Louise Rees just sit still—and now you know why I don’t like to be called Rebecca. It probably isn’t shocking to many of you that keeping still has always been a great challenge for me. Long before there was a thing called ADD or ADHD I had a strong case of the wiggle-worms. I could make straight A’s except for the one little grade in conduct, because I was a talker. If you ever wondered if God had a sense of humor just remember the great irony of me being a Quaker pastor, required to sit in stillness, required to listen more than talk and you’ll know for sure that God is chuckling all the time.
Our passage today is one of my favorites. We will sing Martin Luther’s adaptation of it when we sing our closing hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” Psalm 46 is a song of affirmation of a belief in God, a belief that our God was and is trustworthy. In faith communities, we speak of Trinitarian beliefs, or Father, Son, Spirit, but note the beginning of this Psalm has a differing trinity: God is refuge, strength, and help.
A familiar theme in Psalms is to take refuge in God, or to trust. This concept is built on the idea that God is in control and is sovereign or ruler of the world. But the Psalmist also points us to the concept that not only is God in ruler, and in control, but that God uses all of it as a help to us and for us.
To illustrate this concept the Psalmist points us to the things under God’s control. In antiquity, it was believed that the mountains were the foundations of the earth. They held the seas in place and held the skies in place. They were the pillars of the sky. So when the Psalmist uses words like “earth changing,” “mountains shake into the heart of the sea,” and seas foam he is saying worst case scenario if there’s an earthquake, and a tsunami we can still rest in the refuge of God. That in the midst of whatever turmoil you find yourself in God is a point of stability. Stake your tent in the city of God because God will not be moved, and provides us with a sanctuary.
The Lord of Host is with us could be used as military terminology. It could be interpreted to mean God is a warrior, but notice within these words is the idea that God brings not war, but peace. God was a god who broke bows and spears, and burned shields. You see in antiquity it was expected that rulers would bring peace, a concept I wish our leaders adopt. This ruler, our powerful God could speak and the earth would melt.
When I was in Divinity School I realized that I was a Biblical lightweight in terms of memorization. While I freely admit that I’m a Bible nerd, please don’t ask me for chapter and verse—I’m awful at it. But those Baptist friends of mine were amazing. You see they had “sword drills,” far too militaristic terminology for Quakers, but Ephesians 6:17 tells us that the sword of the spirit is the word of God. So Baptist kids had competitions and memorized scripture—and I’m envious. I’m envious not because it was so incredibly helpful to them in Div School, but because in the truly hard times of life these words surface. The more words, verses you have inscribed upon your memory and heart the more you can count on during the mountain top experiences or within your deepest, darkest valleys.
As most all of you know, I can now proudly say that I am a breast cancer survivor. However, I just want to tell you a part of my journey, because cancer is one of those words that crumbles the foundations of your life. It is a word that spoken, even if you have been prepared every step of the way to hear that final diagnosis brings tears to your eyes. It is a life-changing word.
One of the many challenges of cancer is that you literally place your life in the hands of the medical community. They say you are scheduled for surgery on Tuesday September 13 at 3:40 and that’s when you show up. It doesn’t matter if your husband goes to work the next day for 7 days. They schedule every aspect of your treatment from appointments for radiation to oncology appointments and you go. Now of course you can question and argue, but the point is that during all of this I had to trust that God was in the midst of all these schedules, that God was in control—this isn’t always easy for those of us with type A personalities. But when I could surrender it I could see the numerous places that God was at work, from every nurse, doctor, to every appointment with technicians.
I sailed through surgery—it honestly wasn’t the hardest thing I’d ever done. I sailed through the insertion of a balloon catheter for radiation. I sailed through the first 2 ½ days of radiation and then hit the wall. The fatigue kicked in and it felt as if someone had drained off a quart of my blood, by Friday it felt as if they had drained 2 quarts. You may not know this about me, but when I’m tired I get weepy and I hate it. My Daddy always says: he’s sick and tired of feeling sick and tired. The apple didn’t fall far from that tree.
Two times a day for 5 days they took a cat scan and then moved me to the HDR room or the high dosage rate room and hooked my catheter to the radiation machine. Just as an aside I hate, hate being tied down, and being tethered to a machine felt like being tied down. Then like rats off a sinking ship everyone left the room and I was alone. I was alone fighting the urge to pull out the electrodes and run as far and as fast as I could from cancer, from machines, being stuck, and bandaged. By Friday I was too weak to run, all I could do was weep when they left the room. I was left alone with classical piano music that was overlaid with the beep, beep, beep of radiation, and the flashing red light that radiation was flowing. I tried to pray as I had during every other treatment, but honestly I just didn’t have the strength. In the midst of all that weakness, weepiness, flashing red lights and beeping or radiation, I heard God say: “Shhh…just be still Becky, just rest, let me hold you for awhile.”
While cancer shook the foundations of my world and caused a flood of epic proportions in my life, my refuge, strength, and help was God. Without a shadow of a doubt, I believe God led me through this journey. Every appointment was a divine appointment. When I was weak God was still strong, bringing me peace when my emotions were at war. I even like the imagery of God speaking and my cancer and it melting away by being irradiated. When I wanted to run, God said: Shhh…just be still. Rest and let me hold you for a little while.
Hold these words with you. Memorize them if you can. Etch them upon your hearts, so that on your darkest days you can call them forth. God is your refuge, your strength, and your help. Quakers as a whole don’t like militaristic language, but there are times when we want our God to fight for us: cancer is one of those battles—make no mistake, I’m not passively resisting cancer. But in surrendering this battle to God, I find that God is a God who breaks weaponry and brings us peace, the peace that surpasses all understanding.
I offer you my rewriting of Psalm 46
God is my refuge, my rock. When I’m in trouble God is present with me and I need not be afraid, even when my world crumbles and I’m awash with tears.
God provides me a sanctuary and won’t be moved. When I wake up, God is there. When the world seems a bit off God is there. God can utter a word and melt my greatest fears. God fights my battles for me. God breaks the spears and daggers that come my way. By surrendering to God I find peace. All I need to do is to be still and bask in the powerful presence of God.