Be Still, And Know!

November 20, 2016
Colossians 1:11-20; Psalm 46

The Psalm has many familiar, reassuring cadences.
Some of us may know it by memory.

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;
“Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations,
I am exalted in the earth.”
I remember the day this Psalm riveted itself in my memory.
It was at an urgently called university-wide chapel at EMU the afternoon of September 11, 2001.
Everyone was shaken and afraid.
Of course I’d heard the psalm many times before.
But on that day it came vividly alive.
If felt like a sturdy pillar to hold onto when we’d been knocked off balance.
There is ancient wisdom here that has helped to steady countless distraught communities over many generations.
This isn’t the first time the world has been shaken.

And here we are again, in need of steadying.

The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;
he utters his voice, the earth melts.

And the response:
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah

Many biblical stories, and psalms can be associated with a particular time in Israel’s history.
Not so with this psalm.
The language transcends any known historical event, or time period.
Its main conviction is that God is present with God’s people.
And that God the Creator is mightier than all the elements of chaos.
The city’s defense is the ever-present Lord of hosts,
rather than massive walls or fortifications;
The Lord of hosts, and the glad river running through the city
bringing joy and blessing.

It’s been a rough, rough week. Chaos appears to be breaking out big time.
Accounts of vandalism, threats, intimidation spurred by the rhetoric surrounding the election are rolling in.
Alarm is ricocheting throughout news cycles and media about picks for the new cabinet.
No doubt the juxtaposition of these harsh developments with the reassuring
Psalm sets off some level of internal dissonance.

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.”
Yet it is precisely within that tension, that dissonance, that we are called to stand as people of faith.
When the mountains shake in the heart of the sea…
(And what is more stable and enduring than the mountains);
When the mountains tremble with the roaring waters’ tumult….
Be still and know that I am God.
Be still and know that I rule over all the cosmic forces;
Be still and know that I am mightier than all the elements of chaos.
I am exalted among the nations.
I am exalted among the earth.

Wisdom and mystical traditions teach us that it is from that still point we will come to know again who we are and what we are called to do.
It is from a place of humble acknowledgement about where we stand in the whole scheme of things, and who God is, that we regain a sense of true security and joy.
It is from a place of stillness that the deep conviction required of us in these days, is reborn.
It is when we take the time to be still and know;
know what our point of orientation is;
know where our north star is,
that we find the courage to face into the chaos—and get to work.

I had several months of sabbatical last year—
and was able to do a little extra reading.
Among other topics, I chose books on beauty; at least a half dozen of them.

Why choose books on beauty?

It’s not surprising perhaps—a longing to focus on Beauty.
I’m not talking about beauty as superficial glamour, or gloss;
(grew up on steady diet from mother of “beauty is as beauty does”)
but Beauty that is much more complex, mysterious;
breathtaking yes,
but often most evident in the midst of suffering.

One of the books I read is called: on beauty and being just, by Elaine Scarry.
At the moment one comes into the presence of something beautiful, she writes, it greets you: perhaps in nature, an achingly beautiful melody of lament, an unexpected act of kindness or mercy; Psalm 46.
At the moment one comes into the presence of something beautiful, it greets you.
In that greeting, that ah ha, our breath is taken away,
tears well up; we may fall on our knees.
We give up our position as the center and find that we are standing in a
different relation to the world than we were a moment before;
and standing on a fragment of sturdy ground. 89

It is that quickening, that adrenalizing that awakens a longing for truth;
a longing to be in league with what is true and good;
It is that longing which is the source of conviction.
And ever afterward, we labor to locate enduring sources of conviction—
to locate what is true and beautiful.

An encounter with Beauty, far from damaging our capacity to attend to
          problems of injustice,
intensifies the pressure we feel to repair existing injuries. 57
An experience of the Beautiful seems to compel us to enter into its
protection. 90

(Summarize: decenters us, gives a fragment of sturdy ground, conviction, protect)

After the shake-up of the last week, I find myself,
longing for new encounters of beauty.
Those “be still” moments that give us “a fragment of sturdy ground to stand on.”
Those ah ha encounters that deepen the conviction
to protect what is good and true and beautiful.

Three places I’m guessing all of us here encounter beauty:

Nature (one of the “books” revealing God’s beauty)
Scriptures (another book of beauty, especially the beautiful story of Jesus)
And in communities of love and resistance;
kingdom communities that embody hospitality and justice are beautiful.

The beauty of the natural world.
Captured by many poets.
Take Mary Oliver’s poetic acclamation in “Good morning”:
The multiplicity of forms! The hummingbird,
the fox, the raven, the sparrow hawk, the
otter, the dragonfly, the water lily! And
on and on. It must be a great disappointment
to God if we are not dazzled at least ten
times a day.
And how does being dazzled by that beauty, move us toward conviction;
intensifying our desire to repair and restore.
We are in the midst of the largest social movement in human history,
writes Diana Butler Bass, a scholar of American religion & culture
(Grounded; finding God in the world: a spiritual revolution)
with tens of millions of people involved in grassroots communities trying to
address issues of climate change.
It is an organic movement to “restore grace, justice, and beauty to the world.” 25
Beauty of nature calling us to be still and know….

Another place we encounter beauty is in the Scriptures:
Like the magnificent lectionary text from Colossians 1:11-20

Known as the Christ hymn;
whose poetic quality seems more suitable for use in liturgy and worship than logical analysis.
Stepping into this section of Colossians, someone wrote,
is like stepping into a different room in a house.
This scripture stands “as a beautiful piece of art” said another.
Listen again to some of the phenomenal claims:

11May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

Hear the sweeping assertions about the cosmic dimensions
of Christ’s supremacy over all things.
And yet, it doesn’t leave us only in the stratosphere
The cosmic claims are coupled with the down-to-earth experience of
the invisible God made visible in JC.

Jesus Christ who faced into the forces of chaos unleashed against him, with nonviolent love.
Jesus Christ who stripped those thrones, dominions, rulers, authorities
of their power by his willingness to die
rather than vengefully inflict harm on those who hated him.
JC in whom all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell
And through whom God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things,
by making peace through the blood of his cross.
This beautiful text provides a stunning window into the heart of God’s desire:
to reconcile all things;
yes, folks, the scope of the reconciliation is all things.
And yet that reconciliation comes with a great cost; suffering and death.

Be still and know.
Be still and ground yourself on this magnificent confession of faith.
Be still and know that it is on this sturdy ground we will regain the courage to
continue to live as beautiful communities of love and resistance.

Last week, when I felt mute with despair, Janna Hunter-Bowman,
AMBS professor of peace studies sent me an email.
Janna has been a frontline peacemaker in the midst of Columbia’s interminable
violent struggle for many years; and its recent heartbreaking reversal.
If anyone has cause to be cynical and bitter, not only about recent developments
in Columbia, but as a mother of two young daughters in light of this week’s
election outcome, it would be Janna.
Instead she wrote to me:
“We are still here, living and cultivating the community that loves amidst fear, that stands with the marginalized
amidst hate, that does not rely on the government to be the new world on its way.
We are not reliant on the winds of electoral politics to be a people.
In the past Anabaptists have been willing to sacrifice and suffer in Jesus’ name when their own freedoms (of religion) were violated. May this generation be prepared to extend itself for the many who woke up this week alarmed and scared by looming threats.”

Yes, we are still here, loving amidst fear, standing with the marginalized amidst hate; standing on the sturdy ground of the beautiful good news of Jesus Christ.
Be still and know that I am God.
The Lord of hosts is with us.

Even though we may feel abandoned, God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Even though this election may have knocked us seriously off balance,
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Even though this nation is horribly divided,
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Even though our Mennonite church family is in conflict, God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.

Leonard Cohen died last week.
The New York Times described him as “a Canadian poet and novelist who abandoned a promising literary career to become one of the foremost songwriters of the contemporary era.”
His most famous song “Hallelujah” burned itself into my mind when I was in despair about a dear family member whose life was on the brink because of severe depression.
At that time, Cohen’s aching “cold and broken Hallelujah” threw me a lifeline.

It may be that a “cold and broken Hallelujah” is all we can manage today as well.
But tomorrow we must unite as a church standing with moral conviction
on the sturdy ground of this beautiful good news:
“Alleluia! Gracious Jesus! Yours the scepter, yours the throne! Alleluia! Yours the triumph, yours the victory along! Hark! The songs of peaceful Zion thunder like a mighty flood; Jesus, out of every nation has redeemed us as his own.”