Nov 22, 2009
Rev. George Miller
Greetings and good morning. I give honor to God, thanks for this church, your pastor and the members of the search committee for inviting me here.
I want to begin our message with a song. The Psalms invites us to make a joyful noise to the Lord, and since I can’t sing, a joyful noise is exactly what I make. But guess what: you’re going to help me.
It’s a song I assume most of you know, perhaps having sung it as a child: "The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock." We’re not just going to sing it, we’re going to act it out. Here are the words and movement, and let’s hear how much joyful noise we can make.
The wise man built his house upon the rock(3x)
And the rains came tumbling down
The rains came down and the floods came up(3x)
And the house on the rock stood strong
The foolish man built his house upon the sand(3x)
And the rains came tumbling down
The rains came down and the floods came up(3x)
And the house on the sand went splat!
Ok, now let’s all join in singing. (Repeat song)
A joyful noise indeed. Join me for a moment of centering prayer. (Pray)
Two weeks ago in MI the Grand Rapids Press ran an article honoring women who were making a difference in the community. One such person was Leslie Curry, director of Legal Aid.
Leslie was asked to share her life lesson, and she replied "Life is fragile and unfair, but achingly beautiful. Be appreciative."
Life is fragile and unfair, but achingly beautiful.
That statement fits so well with today’s reading. Here we have a Psalm that balances two realities: God is the Lord of the world, and yet waters thunder, roar and break upon the shore.
As someone who’s originally from LI, I feel a special connection to the water. I think anyone who grows up near the ocean does. And I’ve come to realize that swimming in the ocean is an art form. Unlike a pool or a calm lake you can’t just swim in the ocean, you have to learn how to swim with the ocean.
You have to gage the waves, knowing which ones to jump over, which ones to dive under, which ones to bodysurf in to the shore.
You have to keep your eyes on the blanket, to make sure the current hasn’t pulled you far away, while at the same time being aware of the waves behind you.
In other words, the ocean is a force that can be unfair. When stepping into liquid you become the one who’s fragile. But at the same time the ocean is achingly beautiful and worthy of appreciation.
Now, I have to be honest with you, as much as I love the ocean I’m also scared by it. I blame some of my fear upon movies like "Jaws." But it also stems from an incident that happened years ago.
My family was at Smith Point Beach and I was playing in the water when I stepped into the surf and felt a big bite or tug on my leg.
I immediately screamed out, my imagination running wild. Was it a crab? A shark? The pain in my foot was intense. My father raced into the water, pulling me out.
The culprit was discovered: a mass of tar, stones and long, sharp spiky that jutted out. One of the spikes had pierced the sole of my foot.
My father carried me to the 1st Aid center, then to the hospital where under a bright light they scraped away the remains of the rock.
Though the pain has gone away, the memory has not. Nor the sense of fragility and unfairness of that experience. Causing me, even to this day, to carefully step into water.
The sea is a place of wonder and life. But as beautiful as it can be, the sea is also destructively dangerous with tsunamis, hurricanes, and monsters from the deep.
This is one way the Biblical writers approached the concept of water. They didn’t view the sea as a place for recreation or a spot to build your summer home. The sea was a thing to be feared.
Especially in the OT, water was used to represent death, the unknown, and chaos.
When Ps 93 makes references to waves it’s not to be read as an invitation to go grab your surfboard, but as a warning to be afraid and seek refuge.
The Jewish community knew all about chaotic fragility. After all, they were once slaves who were pursued to the Red Sea. In the Promised Land they had to deal with poor leadership, threats from outside nations, and an exile in which their homes and Temple were destroyed.
In short, their existence was fragile and unfair, with wave after wave trying to wipe them away and loosen their faith in God.
Hence today’s Scripture. It’s purpose is to make the stunning assertion that even in the storms of life, God is ultimately in control.
Reread Psalm 93 and you’ll experience just how powerful it is in getting its point across. Only five verses long, the first two verses focus on God, the mighty king who is strong and majestic.
But the next two verses poetically introduce the chaos of life. Hear how the NRSV puts it:
"The floods have lifted up...
The floods have lifted up their voice;
The floods lift up their roaring."
Repetition is used to create a sense of movement as the waves crash upon the shore, as they rise, get louder, sounding like a lion. It seems as if there is no pause from the chaos they bring.
If you’ve been to the ocean on a windy day, you know what that’s like. Who here has heard the sound of angry waves?
Who also knows what it’s like to experience those waves in your own life? I’m talking about those times when chaos seems to rule supreme.
Maybe, if you’re like me, you just wrote out your bills for the month and have no idea where the money for next month will come from. That’s a financial storm that can quickly pull you out to sea and drown you if you’re not careful.
Maybe you’ve watched, feeling helpless, as the waves have come and washed away something that meant very much to you, be it a relationship or a job, and it’s gone forever, out to sea.
Maybe you feel as if you’re sitting on the shore and the sun has set on that aspect of your life and you have no idea when the next sunrise will come and what the current will do next.
Will it bring a better situation then the one you just left, or a situation that is much worse?
If you step into the water will you be able to play and have fun, or will you step upon something that will send pain throughout your soul?
Maybe you’re worried about current events: the government, the economy, our children’s future.
The waves have eroded away things that once were so familiar. And they keep thundering down, changing your surroundings into something unfamiliar and unsure.
Anyone who lives in a coastal town knows about dunes disappearing and houses being swept into the sea.
Is that what’s happening to society around us? To our local communities? To our churches?
What’s going to ultimately happen? Will chaos have the final say? How scared should we be?
With wave after wave thundering down, is life nothing but fragile unfairness? (Pause)
Psalm 93 boldly says no. Why? Because as the final verse tells us, God is ultimately in control, God’s ways are sure, and God is majestic. Not just today, not just tomorrow, but forevermore.
God is the great constant in our lives. And this statement, as simple as it sounds, is astoundingly powerful. Because it makes the promise that no matter what, no matter who, no matter where you are on life’s journey, God is your strength, your rock, and your everlasting.
As Psalm 93 proclaims God is Lord of all, so much so that even the waters have no choice but to give their honor and respect.
And that is the foundation and testimony of God’s people. Yes, life is fragile and unfair. But if that’s all you focus on, that’s all you will see.
The Biblical writers instead placed their emphasis on the moments when God broke through the raging waters to do something marvelously new.
For example, when the Israelites find theirs backs against the Red Sea, what happens? God parts the waters for them and they pass through the chaos, into freedom.
Don’t forget about the Gospels. Matthew and Mark tell us of a time when the disciples climbed into a boat and sailed to the other side of the sea.
Night falls and there’s a terrible storm that batters the boat, throwing it violently side to side. The waves are crashing down and the scared disciples are straining at the oars.
But as the sun begins to rise, they look out into the horizon and see Jesus, coming towards them, walking on the water, saying "Don’t be afraid."
He joins them in the boat, the wind stops, the waves cease, and they are saved. (PAUSE)
Jesus’ walking on the water shows his majesty over chaos. And Jesus does that for us as well.
When we are facing our own life storms, the waves barreling down upon us, we can look towards Christ. And we do not need to be afraid.
Because God through Christ will speak to us and say "Take my hand. This wave is not as bad as you think. Let’s jump over it."
Or Christ says "Don’t let yourself get knocked down, let’s jump through this one."
And there will be some waves in which Jesus will say "Let’s not fight this one, but let’s swim with it to the shore, and trust me when I say that you’ll emerge from the wave just fine."
And sometimes Jesus says "The waves have taken you too far away from your parent’s blanket. Let’s swim closer to safety."
Yes, God through the works of the Spirit and the presence of Christ finds ways to quiet the rough waters in our lives, giving us the chance to face and even re-imagine our situations.
Last week I came to a realization. My story about stepping on the sharp rocks in the ocean? The pain and fear I experienced may be how I recalled the event, but that wasn’t the true story at all. Do you know what the real story is?
That my father saved me.
When I screamed out in pain, it was my father who came to my aid. Without hesitation he was by my side. What if it had been a shark or there were other rocks he could have stepped on?
My father’s love was so great that he rushed into the waves, pulling me out of the water and carrying me in his arms. He was by my side the whole time the doctor scraped away at my foot.
For too long I viewed that day from the viewpoint of pain and chaos. But the true story is not about the rocks, but it’s about the actions of my loving parent who heard my cry and rushed to my aid.
In conclusion, it doesn’t matter if you are wise or foolish, if you live upon a rock or a sandy dune, the rains of life will come down, the floods will go up , bringing with them crashing waves. That is a given.
But the greater given is that God hears our cries and comes to our salvation.
Be it economics, major life changes or current affairs, the floods of life will thunder. But like waves upon the shore they last but a moment before being swept back out to sea.
For today, let’s not give any more power to the frail unfairness of life. Instead let us recall all the ways God hears and acts in our lives.
Let’s celebrate that when the waters rise, we can depend upon God, because it is God who is real. It is God who is the great constant.
And it is God that even the waters of life must submit too, for their unfair fragility can not compare to the beautiful presence of our Lord.
All thanks be to the Spirit that first moved upon the waters of Creation, for Jesus who walked upon a raging a sea and for God who has established the world so that it will never be moved.
Amen and amen.