Selah

Selah

Psalm 46

November 22, 2015

Union University Church

Reverend Laurie DeMott

For the past six weeks, I have led an adult study on Methods of Biblical Interpretation, and when I began my study, I told the class that each week on the following Sunday, I would preach a sermon using the approach we had discussed in class.  Accordingly, unbeknownst to all of you except for the members of that Bible study, for the past five sermons I have used different methods of interpreting the scripture.  One week in October, I used the historical-critical method, and another week I looked at the scripture allegorically.  On November 1st, I preached a sermon using the narrative method; on the 8th, I preached from a liberation viewpoint, and last week I looked at the Bible through the lens of what is called a feminist hermeneutic.

Now, don’t worry if you didn’t notice that I was doing that, because the fact is the biblical interpretation I do every week forms the skeleton of the sermon which I then flesh out by applying that biblical interpretation to our lives.  Frankly, if you can see the bones of the skeleton, I haven’t done a very good job of preaching.

This past week, however, in our final Bible study, we learned about a method of interpreting the Bible that is fundamentally different from all the others.  It’s called Lectio Divina, or Sacred Reading.  It’s an approach to the Bible that has been used for thousands of years, and in this approach, my job as the preacher is not to interpret the Bible for you but instead, my job is to create the space for you to find your own place in that scripture.  The Bible passage is read slowly and is repeated several times, and as you listen, you reflect on how the words of that scripture apply to your life.  In essence, we pray the Bible together, slowly, thoughtfully, and in conversation with God as we go.

And so today, instead of a standard sermon, we are going to do a form of Lectio Divina.  For the members of the Bible Study, this is a 3 fold form used in communal settings that begins in listening, adds a little preaching the second time through, and ends with praying the passage.

We will look together at Psalm 46.  We did an abbreviated version of this Psalm in Bible Study but this morning we will listen to the entire Psalm.  I have chosen Psalm 46 because I think it is particularly meaningful in light of world events, and I think it leads naturally into an attitude of Thanksgiving which is appropriate for Harvest Sunday.

This is how it will work.  I am going to begin with a prayer, after which I will slowly read the entire psalm.  As I read, listen carefully, and notice if any particular phrases speak to you. Really think about the words.

I will then read the Psalm a second time, and as I read, I will add some preaching — some background on the text, connections to other parts of the scriptures, and connections to today’s world for you to consider in your meditation.

After that, I will read it through a third time and as I read, I will invite you to engage God in prayer.

If you are reading this on the web, find a place where you can be comfortable and will not be disturbed.  Read the text out loud and slowly in order to get the full effect of the Psalm.

Let us begin in prayer.

Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.  Our hearts are open to your presence so that you may speak to us in the quiet.  God of steadfast love, send your spirit upon us as we listen to your Word for our lives.  Amen.
The words of Psalm 46:

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;

God speaks, the earth melts.

The Lord of hosts is with us;

the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Selah

Come, behold the works of the Lord;

see what desolations God has brought on the earth.

God makes wars cease to the end of the earth;

God breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;

God 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.

Selah

[Pause for reflection and meditation]
God is our refuge and strength:

The Hebrew word for refuge that the psalmist uses means a place where small animals find safety.  It is a place where a rabbit might safely hide from the fox, or where a grouse protects her chicks from the storm.

God is our refuge and strength,

a very present help in trouble.

God is not just present, but very present, a well-proven trusted presence.  God has been time-tested and has shown over and over again that God will stand by us in our darkest hour.  God led the people in the wilderness, God strengthened David against the giant, God walked with Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego in the furnace, God rolled the stone away from the mouth of the tomb to raise his son from the dead.  Nothing, Paul said, can separate us from the love of God in Christ.  Time tested, well proven:  no matter what happens and no matter where you are, you have a God who will be very present with you.

Therefore we will not fear,

How often the Bible tells us not to be afraid.  God knows that our worst enemy is often not something outside of us but the fear that takes up residence in our heart.  Fear clouds our judgment and makes us suspicious of one another.  Fear keeps us from living to our fullest.  What would our lives — our world — look like, if we could just stop being afraid of everything and everyone?

Dr. E. Stanley Jones reminded himself, “I am inwardly fashioned for faith, not for fear. Fear is not my native land; faith is…. We are inwardly constructed in nerve and tissue, brain cell and soul, for faith and not for fear.  God made us that way.”

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

The Psalms were originally sung and the selah a sort of musical notation.  It probably meant something like, “The singer should take a break while there is an instrumental interlude.”  In other words, take a moment to stop what you are doing and just listen to the beauty.

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;

God speaks, the earth melts.

Here all of the powers are struggling with one another, shouting, and clashing their swords, and the earth is filled with the noise of war, but God’s voice rises above it all.  Their voices shout hatred, but God’s voice speaks peace.  They stoke the flames of fear but God’s voice proclaims assurance, confidence, and faith.  God’s voice melts the earthly powers of war, terror, bigotry, and violence and dissolves the foundation of hatred upon which they are built.  Their kingdoms topple, falling like a child’s tower of blocks.

Selah

Come, behold the works of the Lord;

see what desolations God has brought on the earth,

God makes wars cease to the end of the earth;

God breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;

God burns the shields with fire.

Violence thought that it would lay waste to the earth but instead, God turns it around:  God’s peace lays waste to the violence.

Be still and know that I am God.

Or, in Hebrew, “Cease and desist, stop what you are doing to one another, and know that I am God.”  Not the powers that terrorize, not the paralyzing fear that drives you apart, but I, the God who loves and resurrects and makes all things possible…

Know that I am God!

I am exalted among the nations,

I am exalted in the earth.”

Last week, after the Paris bombings, a French journalist interviewed a father and his four year old son as they placed flowers outside the Theater where terrorists killed over 100 people. The journalist asked the little boy, “Do you understand what happened?  Do you understand why the people did that?”

The boy said, “Yes, because they are really really mean.  Bad guys are not very nice. And we have to be really careful because we have to change houses.”

His father hugged him and said, “Oh no, don’t worry.  We don’t have to move out.  France is our home.”

“But there are bad guys, Daddy,” the boy said.

“Yes,” his father admitted, “but there are bad guys everywhere.”

The boy persisted, “They have guns.  They can shoot us because they’re really really mean, Daddy.”

His father smiled and said, “It’s ok.  They might have guns but we have flowers.”

The boy looked at the flowers along the road with a puzzled expression.  “But flowers don’t do anything,” he said to his father.

“Of course they do” the father said to him.  “Look, everyone is putting flowers.  It’s to fight against guns.”

“It’s to protect?,” the boy asked.

“Exactly,” the father said.

The boy looked around one more time.

“And the candles too?” he asked his father.

The father smiled, “It’s to remember the people who are gone yesterday.”

The boy’s worried expression melted away and a smile came across his face.  “The flowers and the candles are here to protect us,” he said. “I feel better now.”[1]

They have guns, but we have flowers and candles and the love of our God who insists on waging peace, and promises to be ever present in the struggle.

The Lord of hosts is with us;

the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Selah

(Pause for reflection and meditation)

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

What is this Psalm saying to you, today?  Take a moment in silence to hear its words speak to you.

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;

God speaks, the earth melts.

The Lord of hosts is with us;

the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Selah

What does this Psalm make you want to say to God?  Take a moment to silently offer those words, those questions, and those thoughts to God in prayer.

Come, behold the works of the Lord;

see what desolations God has brought on the earth.

God makes wars cease to the end of the earth;

God breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;

God 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.

Selah.

What does this Psalm move you toward in your own life?  Take a moment in silence to consider how you can respond to this psalm and live it out when you leave here today, and offer that commitment in prayer.

Let us finish with prayer together:

God of compassion and peace, may we hear the assurances of this Psalm and be ourselves people not of war but of peace, not of hatred but of compassion, not of fear but of faith.  We thank you for your transforming presence in our life and offer you praise and thanksgiving everywhere and always.  Selah, and Amen.

[1] Le Petit Journal, November 16, 2015