Salt of the Earth: Faith in a Post-Christian World
In Times of Turmoil
Nov 08, 2020
For this week’s Events and Happenings at Reservoir, click “Download PDF.”
To watch this week’s online worship service, click the YouTube link above.
For this weeks’ spiritual practice Ivy Anthony led called “Child of Light,” click HERE.
Last week, I finally brought my car to a mechanic to address a slowly but constantly leaking tire. We found the bit of a nail that had made its way into the side of the tire and caused the problem, so I was going to need two new tires. OK. But when they get the car elevated and remove the tires, lo and behold, they discover that my rear brakes are just about shot. So they check the front brakes too, which turn out to be just as bad. What started as a one tire, small dollar car repair, once they got under it and really started looking around, became a 2-tire, all the brakes, rather large bill for car repair. Bummer. We’re gonna be alright, but bummer.
As that happened, I thought: you know, this is a pretty good metaphor for life in America these days. We see a problem, and then we open it up and look around a little, and we’re like: gah, it’s worse than I thought.
We get a super-virus come our way, the pandemic we were all fearing would come one day, and not only are we not ready for it, but the longer it goes on, the more we see how poorly our country can respond to a health crisis, and it’s like: oo, we have a lot of problems here. This is not going away quickly.
And then there’s the state of our democracy, or what’s going on in our local schools and how resilient we are in how we raise and educate kids. There’s the state of racial justice and equity in America. The health of the Christian faith and witness in this country, and hey, throughout the world.
Yesterday a good bit of greater Boston was cheering, and I wondered if the vibe of this sermon I had been getting ready to give was all off now, but I still feel like not. We’ve had a lot of sighing to do this past week, this past year really. There’s been a lot to be disheartened about, still a lot of things to worry about, a lot that fills us with anger or despair.
So in these times of turmoil, how do we be? How do we be with ourselves? How do we be with each other? How do we be with God?
Two psalms have been speaking to me, and I want to share them and share a few words with you. They’re easy to remember if you want to keep going back and reading them yourself, because they’re the number 100 apart. Psalm 146 and Psalm 46. Psalm 146 first.
Psalm 146 (NRSV)
1 Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
2 I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
3 Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortals, in whom there is no help.
4 When their breath departs, they return to the earth;
on that very day their plans perish.
5 Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord their God,
6 who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them;
who keeps faith forever;
7 who executes justice for the oppressed;
who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
8 the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
9 The Lord watches over the strangers;
he upholds the orphan and the widow,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
10 The Lord will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, for all generations.
Praise the Lord!
This psalm has been helping me manage my expectations for our leaders and our elections.
Our leaders of course matter. Our leaders can participate in what God is doing on earth or not. They can cooperate in the work of God in this world or not, and that has real consequence.
The scriptures give us lots of ways to understand what God is doing on earth, and here’s one of them. The psalmist sings that God made all people and all things and God wants to help us all, and especially those of us who could use a little more help right now through no fault of our own, especially those of us who have been set back or disempowered.
God gives the oppressed justice. God feeds those who are hungry. God sets prisoners free. God helps the blind see. God restores dignity and strength to those who have been discouraged and disheartened. God has a special place in God’s heart for refugees, immigrants, outsiders, and those whose lives have left them vulnerable to economic or social harm.
And when people really dig in against what is good and decent, when people hard-core resist the ways of God in the world – that’s what “the wicked” means in the Psalms, God stands against them out of love, to urge them to repent, and to call for protection for all that they harm. This is what God is doing.
So when our leaders prioritize these kinds of things, when they are these kinds of people, they help advance the work of God in the world. And when they neglect these things or do the opposite, then they impede the work of God in the world.
Our leaders matter. We are right to care.
But we can also seriously overestimate the power of our leaders, and we can seriously underestimate what God can do without them.
The psalm tells us not to put our trust in princes, or we might say, in presidents. Why? They are mortals. They’re going to quit or be voted out or they’re going to die having not fulfilled most of their promises. That’s just the truth. And not only are they mortals but for the most part, the psalm says, “in them there is no help.” Most or our leaders, most of the time, are out for their own interests. They don’t care that much about us, and even when they do, they’re not all that good at making things better.
Part of our stress is because we think that our leaders are coming to save us, when they are not. And maybe part of it is a uniquely American thing. Our country is a child of the optimism of the Enlightenment, and we tend to expect a lot of our country. We tend to naively expect a lot of us as a people and tend to expect a lot of our government. But a lot of those expectations go unfulfilled.
I heard some people looking at the division reflected in this election and wondering how will this nation find some kind of unity or common ground? Frankly, I have no idea. I heard others looking at the legacy of our outgoing president, wondering what we do with his legacy of serial lying, of white supermacist race-baiting, and all the other bad behavior he’s brought back to the center of American life. And the fact that he’s got a lot of fans still. What do we do with that? Again, I have no idea.
This week, though, I heard my Muslim colleague Shaykh Yasir Fahmy asking a different question, asking us to consider how we might disentangle ourselves from how tied up we are in presidential politics. How can we release some of what we can’t control, and free our consciousness, free our energy to participate in the work of God in and around us?
The psalmist tells us what God is doing. What does it feel to be part of it?
I’d be curious if you want to put ideas right now in the chat on Zoom. It’s open so everyone can see, so keep it clean and keep it constructive. But how, this week, can you participate in the work of God? How can you become love? How can you participate in God’s work of kindness, justice, mercy, and liberation? Opening eyes, feeding hungry, encouraging the discouraged?
Here’s what I experienced this past week.
I got a message out of the blue from a student intern at an immigration law clinic. He reached out because he knew a little bit about Reservoir, had visited before and had a sense of this church as a kind and compassionate church that cared about justice, which was really nice to hear.
And he was like: listen, there’s this person in ICE detention that we can free. There’s a good legal case. But we have to guarantee safe, quarantined housing for two weeks and then some longer term temporary housing after that. Can you all help with that?
And I was like: thank you so much for thinking of us, and I will try, but um, probably not.
Have you tried to find someone free housing in the Boston area before? I have, and frankly, you all in this congregation have stepped up before. You are amazingly generous people. But during a COVID pandemic? That’s a whole nother challenge.
So I put a kind of Hail Mary out by just posting something on my facebook page, and an old colleague of mine I hadn’t talked to in years reaches out and it like yeah, I moved but I still have my place in the area that’s free for a couple of months. All yours. And then I reach out to some contacts in an interfaith immigration justice network I’m a part of about the two week quarantine, and they say they’d raised money already for this very purpose and can get a hotel room for two weeks.
So with all this housing in place, I let the law clinic know and suddenly we hear, this person is being set free. Amazing. The generosity of good people teams up to participate in the work of God, setting a prisoner free.
And then I reach out to one of my community groups, and I reach out to our church Faith into Action group, and people donate short term cash assistance, we get food deliveries set up. Person after person participating in the work of God.
I’ve been speechless with joy as I’ve seen the love pour out. So has the person on the receiving end of it. It feels so good.
Let’s read some of what’s coming in in the chat….
How do we save America? Again, I have no idea. But Psalm 146 tells me maybe that’s God’s job, not mine. My job, and each of yours, is to put our hope in the goodness of God, and to save ourselves and one another by participating in that goodness of God.
So in times of turmoil, first, do the work of God. And secondly, find the river, and drink deep. I give you Psalm 46.
Psalm 46 (NRSV)
1 God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3 though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
5 God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;
God will help it when the morning dawns.
6 The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
8 Come, behold the works of the Lord;
see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
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.
This psalm also affirms what God is up to, over and against our nations and our leaders. God’s desolation is to end war, to break bows, to shatter spears and burn shields, the power of God is for peace. America has never had a president like this, friends. I don’t know that we ever will.
But this is the will of God, that people of power stop putting us all into turmoil.
Meanwhile, though, there’s a promise for all of us in times of turmoil, that God is our refuge when the world is shaking. That God is an ever present help, when trouble is at our doors.
If we can only be still, and drink from the river. Beautiful idea, but what does it feel like when it happens?
How can a God that looks like Jesus renew us and give us energy? How can a good God interrupt our doomscrolling to help us be still and to give us life and hope?
It helps if we can find the river. I want to talk about the river before we close but let’s get each other going. While I talk, if you have a river whose stream makes you glad, if there’s something in your life that God uses to bring you stillness or joy even in trouble, write what that is in the chat.
We need to find God’s river for us.
See, the river in this psalm is a bit of a mystery. Because the city of God here is Jerusalem. And unlike most ancient cities, there is no river there. This is a city that has had problems with fresh water for thousands of years now. There’s some irony that everyone has been fighting over Jerusalem all these years, as it is a city that geographically has no river to make it glad, just an underground spring.
But for the psalmist, what they found to be the particular presence of God in that city was the river. The river that made them glad was how God showed up there, again and again.
If you believe, as I do, as a follower of Jesus, that God lives with you, that God is always with us, then you are part of God’s heaven. You are a person God loves, and you are a place God is glad to be.
What helps you remember that? What helps you drink from that love?
Let’s read what’s showing up in the chat.
For me, it’s a spiritual practice in the morning. On my good days, I sit quietly for a few minutes with my cup of coffee, undistracted by screens, and remember God loves me and I have good work ahead of me today. Lately, I’ve been reading a meditating on a different scripture about God’s love each morning. Some days, not so much happens. Other days, it’s a river.
God works through other means too, though. Yesterday, the bagel sandwiches a member of our Saturday morning community group bought for us all were part of the river. Listening to the love between a young couple that asked me to officiate their wedding this week, that was part of the river. Hugs from my family, good books, food and exercise I love, walks outdoors an balmy fall days, all part of how the river of Godo makes me glad.
Friends, wherever and however God helps you be still again and know that God is God, wherever and whenever God loves you and makes you glad, that is part of God’s river for you. Wherever and whenever God brings us collective relief and joy and hope in public life, that too is the river.
Friends, the river of God is always here for us. It is up to us to find the river and to keep drinking from it.
That’s what I’ve got today. Times of turmoil are no fun. They shake us to our knees. That’s real. But even there, even here, we can find the river and drink deep. We can be still and know God is with us. And we can join God in the loving, liberating work of God in the world.
Be part of the work, drink from the river.
Friends, hear the word of the Lord as we close:
Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I am.
Be still and know.
Drink deep from the river of life, and find the joy of the Lord in the loving, liberating work of God.