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Sermon Archives

Readings and Reflections

Rev. Daniel A. Smith and others
Sun, Mar 15

Carlyle, Lexi. Sarah and I will now share a few readings and brief reflections.  

We begin with a reading from Psalm 46. 

 God is our refuge and strength,

    a very present[a] 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;[b] it shall not be moved;

    God will help it when the morning dawns.

The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;

    God utters God’s voice, the earth melts.

7     The Lord of hosts is with us;

    the God of Jacob is our refuge.Selah

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.

 

God is our refuge and our strength!

 

Wherever you are this morning, go ahead and say that out loud. 

 

 God is our refuge…

 God is our strength...

 

Since December 1st, several of us at First Church have been reading the psalms together as a daily practice. We’ve also been gathering weekly, early on Thursday mornings to share our reflection.  We’ve learned that there are at least three different kinds of psalms. There are psalms of orientation - like Psalm 23 - You lead me beside the still waters.  Some are psalms of disorientation - like Psalm 22 - My, my God why have you forsaken me.  And there are psalms of new orientation - like Psalm 118. Out of my distress I called and you set me in a broad place!”   .

 

This a helpful frame for reading not only the Psalms but our human experience as well.  If this week has been anything for me, it has been a week of profound disorientation! We can’t see and don’t know what’s coming next.  We can look at countless charts and maps that begin to tell us where we are but we don’t really know. Public health officials have become our orienteers, our park rangers in a great forest of data and information, offering the guidance we all need as all try to navigate this new and unknown terrain. 

 

Well, Psalm 46 speaks right into the midst of our disruption and disorientation! 

 

“Though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea”  In the midst of all that and more, God is our refuge and strength, a very present[a] help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear

 

Many of us may feel like we are being asked to take refuge now, strongly encouraged, even by public officials, schools and even your church, to stay home. How much more disorienting are these instructions for people without homes that are safe, for working families, for people whose jobs require them to show up, especially health care workers!  

 

The dictionary defines “refuge” as a “condition of being safe or sheltered from pursuit, danger, or trouble.”  Whether we know it or not, my guess we are each seeking refuge these days, and the orientation it provides, in different ways. 

 

 Our anxiety can lead us to seek refuge in knowledge, and in the news, right? “The more we know, the safer we and others will be, right”  Right!  

 

 Given the deluge of information, some may need, for a time, a refuge from all media and coverage! Amen!  

 

We can seek refuge in family, in nature, in community. Even online, we hope First Church and this virtual community offers a place of refuge for you.

 

The kind of refuge and orientation about which the Psalmist writes in Psalm 46 is deeper still.

 

The Psalmist offers not only orientation of knowing that God is our Refuge and Strength, but also an invitation to every heart that is troubled, disquieted or afraid. 

 

Be Still. And Know!

 

This moment has kicked me and most of us into high gear of learning new ways of being and being together. In the midst of it all, the simplicity and clarity of the psalmist advice is a balm. It’s a simple practice with the strength and power to see us through whatever comes next.

 

There will be time to learn Zoom.Time for us to reach out and learn how each of you are holding up and how we can help each other. Time to learn how you will manage your household and kids at home. Time to keep checking for updates.

 

 In addition to all things we have to do, I suggest we each find a simple practice or two to see us through.

 

One that doesn’t feel like yet another demand!

One that requires no preparation or special knowledge!

One that bring calm our hearts, and helps to be present

 

A simple practice like…

    breathing

    walking around the block.

    sitting outside for 5 minutes.

    lighting a candle and sitting quietly in front of it.

Noticing your body

Reading a psalm.

Being still

And Knowing. 

 

In the midst of all that we don’t know, let’s practice what we do know.  Know in your soul that is God is your refuge and strength. Know that your very relationship with God, no matter how rocky it may have been over the years, that relationship itself is a condition of being safe when we are in trouble. Know that God is once again making a way through the wilderness and making a way out of no way. Know that God is already reaching for you, already there within and ail around, ready to hold you when you let go, ready to meet you where you are, ready to be your refuge and strength.  

 

In the coming days, I pray we can all find some very present help, a sense of orientation here.  

 

Be still and know

 God is our strength and our refuge!

 a very present[a] help in trouble.

2  Therefore we will not fear.

 

Lexi Boudreaux Reflection 


A reading from Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation*adjusted for inclusive language

 

"mere living alone does not isolate [someone], mere living together does not bring [people] into communion. The common life can either make one more of a person or less of a person, depending on whether it is truly common life or merely life in a crowd. To live in communion, in genuine dialogue with others is absolutely necessary if [one] is to remain human. But to live in the midst of others, sharing nothing with them but the common noise and the general distraction, isolates [a person] in the worst way, separates [them] from reality in a way that is almost painless. It divides [them] off and separates [them] from other [people] and from [their] true self....Solitude is not separation. God does not give us graces or talents or virtues for ourselves alone. We are members one of another and everything that is given to one member is given for the whole body."

--

Siblings in Christ, "solitude is not separation," indeed. Since practicing social distancing I have been reading Thomas Merton’s book New Seeds of Contemplation for a class on contemplative prayer.  Escaping for a moment into the world of this book has given me a much desired break from the constant barrage of information and the chaos of mixed emotions that come with change and loss as my classes move to virtual instruction for the rest of the semester. This particular passage has helped me center myself in how to attend to where God is in all of this. Merton wrote this book in the midst of the Cold War, a time when the air was heavy with fear and uncertainty. Merton knows much about living in a time where there doesn’t seem to be a definite way forward and the future is unknown. He knows that community is much more than being in the physical presence of one another and going about business as usual. Living in communion and staving off spiritual separation is about sharing the gift of our support and virtues with one another because we are fundamentally connected to each other as the body of Christ no matter the distance. As Merton says, “we are members one of another.” That does not change with solitude even if we are feeling as if everything is turned upside down. This awareness of belonging to one another is what makes us fully human, this awareness helps us make a way when there seems to be no way, a way back to each other and to God.

 

Let us not forget that we can find a way to gather in spirit and that God is surely present in that too: In the Gospel of Matthew it says, "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matthew 18:20). In moments between work and school, I have been grateful for the time I’ve spent the past week talking over the phone daily with loved ones, and praying with my prayer partner over video chat and feeling that God was really present with us in our virtual prayers. I’ve seen the kindness and generosity of people who have jumped at the opportunity to drop off groceries for their neighborhood’s most vulnerable. I’ve been thinking about what it means to create space for what really matters. This is truly a time of holding all of our fear and uncertainty and all of our gratitude and love together. Maybe you’ve been seeing these glimpses of grace filtering in through this anxiety inducing new reality too.

 

We are walking a path that is strange and new and unknown, but we can draw on our tradition to guide us. We are walking in the footsteps of our earliest siblings in Christ. Paul’s letters were considered new technology in his day and I’m sure that the earliest Christ followers were wondering if the physical distance would separate them too. We are figuring out how to do church in new ways, having faith that God is doing a new thing in and through us, even now. My prayers are with us all in this unexpected Lenten journey. We are the church and will continue to be the church as we navigate this new wilderness together with God’s help.

 

Carlyle Stewart Reflection

A reading from 2 Corinthians 12:6-10         

Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, 7 or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me.8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

This is surely a time when the illness of so many is having profound effects on the entire world. None of us are left untouched by the coronavirus. In this season of Lent, which already is a time of spiritual wandering, each one of us must look for ways to stay grounded, connected, and dependent on God. Throughout the past few days we have felt the anxiety and uncertainty in the air. The shock that life may change has taken its toll. But the apostle Paul reminds us that in our weakness, we are reminded of our need for God. For it is only God’s grace and loving presence that can fill the voids we cannot fill ourselves. We are reminded of our need for the power of Christ to guide us and strengthen us through moments of uncertainty. In times of crisis, as a community we must move closer to God. Even though this may seem difficult in the midst of recent developments; the endless news reports, updates, theories, and projections adds to the ever-present static that fights for our attention. This week we have been reminded of our mortality, and the fragility of life, but also how important social connection is for our well-being. The coming weeks may be a lonely time, and a time of drudgery, but we as a faith community will stand in solidarity, even if it is virtual, to ensure that our bonds with each other and God will never be broken. Let us be aware, watchful, and mindful, but let us not be afraid, because perfect love casts out fear. Even weakness and sickness can be transfigured, and become the means by which we experience personally the reality of the Lord’s assurance.  May the Spirit of Life and God’s protective hand rest upon you always.

 

Sarah Higginbotham Reflection

 

A Poem by Lynn Ungar:

 

Pandemic

 

What if you thought of it

as the Jews consider the Sabbath—

the most sacred of times?

Cease from travel.

Cease from buying and selling.

Give up, just for now,

on trying to make the world

different than it is.

Sing. Pray. Touch only those

to whom you commit your life.

Center down.

And when your body has become still,

reach out with your heart.

Know that we are connected

in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.

(You could hardly deny it now.)

Know that our lives

are in one another’s hands.

(Surely, that has come clear.)

Do not reach out your hands.

Reach out your heart.

Reach out your words.

Reach out all the tendrils

of compassion that move, invisibly,

where we cannot touch.

Promise this world your love--

for better or for worse,

in sickness and in health,

so long as we all shall live.

 

- Lynn Ungar (3/11/2020)

I first read this poem on Thursday afternoon, one day after it was written. 

 

By Thursday evening, it had been shared by half a dozen of my friends on social media. 

 

On Friday morning, Parker Palmer, a prolific writer and public speaker on issues of spirituality and social change, had posted it in fancy font with a lovely image above it, guaranteeing that thousands more would read it and share it as well. 

 

What a heart-warming example of “going viral” at a time when that phrase is no joke. 

 

While all of us are navigating a new way of being, those of us with school-aged kids are facing the added challenge of structuring our children’s days with enriching activities, educational experiences, and not too much screen time. Some parents are jumping in with both feet, setting up online learning, planning outdoor field trips, and stacking books next to the couch. Others are freaking out with feelings of inadequacy, scrolling through their media feeds where “perfect” parents are posting all their suggestions for temporary homeschooling. Still others are panicking about how their children with specialized education plans are going to maintain their achievements or make any progress while school is suspended. 

 

What to do? Ungar suggests:

 

Center down. And when your body has become still, reach out with your heart. 

 

Center.

Be still.

 

Start with your heart. 

 

Sounds like exactly the advice I need right now. Maybe you do, too. We don’t know what the near future will look like or feel like. We’re scared. We’re confused. We don’t feel in control. But we’re not alone. We’re in this together, and God is with us. 

 

So, breathe. Find your center. 

 

And parents, whatever you find yourselves doing with your children, let it come from your heart. 

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