A Very Present Help

A Very Present Help

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.
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.
Come, behold the works of the Lord ; see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire.
“Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.”
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.        ~Psalm 46

As yesterday unfolded, many of us were transfixed by the images on our screens, as we watched actions not seen since the British entered and burned the White House and Library of Congress during the War of 1812. Two improvised explosive devices were found on the Capitol grounds, as those carrying the flag of the Confederacy and sporting shirts that said “Camp Auschwitz” and “Civil War, January 6, 2021” roamed the halls of Congress, broke into both the House and Senate chambers, vandalized offices, and enjoyed taking selfies. For hours.

There are all kinds of things that could be and will be said about this over the months and years to come. But we need to go into those difficult discussions prepared. While the analysis of the situation might be technically correct, we won’t come to a place of healing if we enter with rage or fear, even though both of those responses are fully justified. Those emotions produce poor decisions; we experienced the consequences of them yesterday. We need to quiet the waters for the deep wisdom of our hearts to emerge.

Last night, as the events of the day were swarming my mind and heart, I decided to take a shower to settle my thoughts. Almost immediately, Martin Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress,” was playing in my head. But as I recalled the verses, I became uncomfortable. The day had already been too war-like; I wasn’t up for singing, “Were not the right man on our side” and all the verses about winning battles. As I sang it in my head, I remembered that some of those who stormed the Capitol yesterday carried signs that said “Jesus saves” or carried large Bibles. Would that hymn bring them any pangs of conscience? or would it reinforce their misguided mission? I put the hymn aside.

But then I remembered that Luther based “A Mighty Fortress” on Psalm 46. I have quoted it in full above, and every verse speaks to this moment. God does not boast here of winning battles but of ending wars entirely–breaking the bow, shattering the spear, melting the shields–so that the day envisioned by Isaiah might come to pass when “they will not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain.” (Is. 11:9)

Throughout the Psalm we are pointed to the turmoil and danger of the world but also God’s presence in it. God is not far off pulling the strings; God is a “very present help.” God is “in the midst of the city.” We are told not to fear, not because our fears are unfounded–the very earth itself might be changing and the mountains shaking in the heart of the sea. We are told not to fear because God is in the midst of the city; because the Lord of hosts is with us as a very present help in trouble.

The way to access that refuge is down in verse 10: “Be still” so that you may know with your mind what you already know in your heart. You may not have the luxury of being still for long. When we’re living through multiple crises at once, the demands are relentless. Everything is harder and more stressful; the waters roar and foam in both our inner and outer lives. But as the storms rage around us; though the “nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter” we are assured of a refuge nearby–a very present help in our trouble.

So as you watch and rage; as you find yourself anxious and afraid; as you wonder with increasing desperation, “But what can we do?” know that I’m right there with you. All of those feelings and more are normal in times like these. But at least once during each day, however briefly, stop. Be still. Take a deep breath and know that God is present, and a refuge is as near as your breathing. God is right there in the midst of the tottering, besieged city. If we are still, even if only for the length of a shower, we can find that refuge and enter.

Hold onto each other; pray for each other; love each other.

Pastor Anne

Transformation

Transformation

To celebrate the last week of Advent this coming Sunday, the sermon and children’s message have been combined into one. I’m still preaching, but there will be guest appearances by some very special Crawfordites—both human and non—to help get the point across. And if you’re watching, don’t just click off after the sermon. The special music toward the end is a carol written by Rev. John Grenfell, performed and turned into a beautiful video by Tallessyn Grenfell-Lee. And don’t click off after that either, so you can see the Crawford Christmas Card and my Christmas message to you all, mixed in with some photos of the church all lit up.

While we’re at it, don’t skip the beginning either. Helena’s preludes are not to be missed, and if you’re with us live on Zoom worship at 10:00 am, you might want to shut off your webcam during the opening video if you don’t want people to see you cry. So, yeah, watch the whole thing! And if you can join us at 10:00 am on Zoom, it would be great to see you. Invite your family from around the country; invite friends; bring the kids. It’s Christmas Sunday—and you can do it all without leaving the house.

The Shepherd Channel

The Shepherd Channel

Chester, Bananabell, and Laaaaaambert were my three sheep. I’m not sure if having just three qualifies me to be a shepherdess, but across time you’ll hear the things I learned about biblical references to sheep and shepherding from my years with them. This Sunday I am turning my sheepishness toward some shepherds abiding in a field near Jerusalem on a night filled with angelic music and stars. Why did God choose shepherds for an audience? Join us Sunday at 10 am to find out.

Bending Low

Bending Low

It Came Upon the Midnight Clear was written by Unitarian Minister Edmund Sears in 1849 while serving a parish in Wayland, MA. Both angels and people do a lot of bending in that carol. Why? And why did they cut out the third stanza back in 1935? What did it say, and what might we gain if we put it back?

Join us Sunday for the first Sunday of Advent and we’ll talk about the carol and what it might have to say to us today. And if you want to join in lighting the first candle of the Advent Wreath at home, have it ready and we can light it together. It’s the candle of Hope—one of the purple ones. Don’t have a wreath? That’s not a problem. Just grab a candle and lighter or a battery-powered candle and be ready to flip on the switch. The weary world needs the hope your light can bring.

Royal Thanks

Royal Thanks

This Sunday brings us the intersection of a secular holiday (Thanksgiving) and a Christian Holy Day (Christ the King or the Reign of Christ). The first celebrates gratitude and the second the day when human power will give way to the rule of Christ in the realm of God.

Viewed separately, each has its pitfalls. Counting our blessings might make us think that they are an indication of God’s favor instead of tools for the work set before us. We might think ourselves more righteous—more deserving—than those who have less. And thinking of Christ’s ultimate reign of glory might leave us daydreaming about streets paved with gold and mansions on a hilltop instead of remembering that we are meant to build a world right now that is ready and willing to let justice reign.

But when we look at the two days together—the holiday and the Holy Day—the key to protecting ourselves from both errors comes into view. Join us Sunday to learn about the humble mind of Christ.

Courage

Courage

Veteran’s Day is a time we often think about courage. We almost never talk about the men and women in uniform without adding the word “brave.” But military service is not the only place we find bravery, and courage comes in many forms. There are those who run into physical danger to save another without batting an eye but who buckle when trying to summon the courage to ask for help themselves.

It takes deep wells of courage to face a life-altering disease, to admit we were wrong, to leave home, to speak truth to power, to become vulnerable enough for real relationship, to live with grief, to turn the other cheek. For many it takes enormous courage just to get out of bed and face a new day.

The call to courage comes to all of us in many forms throughout our lives. But how do we get there? How do we actually develop the courage to face what a life of faith asks of us? That’s what we’ll talk about on Sunday. Join us!

Blessings, Anne