Monday, August 20, 2012

The Jesus Song-Book: Don't Panic

Preached on Sunday, August 19, 2012

Scripture readings:  Psalm 11:1-7; Matthew 7:24-27 

There is a saying that goes like this: “When you get to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on!” This came to mind while I was thinking about this psalm. ‘In the Lord I take refuge. How can you say to me, “Flee like a bird to your mountain”?’ “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:1-3)

There were people around David telling him to give up. But it was much more dramatic than that. It was a warning. It was urgent. Run for your life. Let go of the rope. Fly away! It was all in the spirit of panic.
Stormy Summer Sky, Washtucna WA

There are no clues in this Psalm telling us the situation behind the fears and the warnings. The truth is that David did a lot of running in his life.

David became a successful king of his people, but he was a very unsuccessful father of his own children. He seemed not to know what to do with them. He ignored horrible things done by his children to each other when they grew older, including rape and murder.

His failure as a father created some monsters, like his son Absalom. Absalom grew up in the chaos, and grew bitter, and staged a coup that brought down the government for a while. He essentially out maneuvered his father, and David had to go on the run. He had to run for his life.

The foundations of his life and everything he had built seemed on the verge of destruction. And David ran away.

He ran away in order to fight back. This was a hard battle for him to face, but he decided to resist and fight; if not for himself, at least to resist and fight for those who had served him; for those who had befriended him along the way, for those whose lives depended on him.

Here David was not the one who wanted to tie a knot at the end of his rope and hold on. It was his friends who were telling him not to fly away (at least not too far); and not to run but to stand his ground.

It was earlier in his life that David had learned to be a strategic runner. As a teenager, with a slingshot, he had killed the gigantic enemy soldier named Goliath, in a duel to the death. It was a duel fought to decide a stalemated battle.

David’s victory was a victory for his people. Because of his surprising success, he became a favorite warrior of King Saul.

He won Saul’s heart. He won the hand of the King’s daughter in marriage. He won a high commission in the army. He won the friendship of the Crown Prince Jonathan, the heir to the throne. He won the affection of his people.
My Garden "Early Girl" (Variety) Tomato

David seemed to live a charmed life, a blessed life. He was a good man who came out of nowhere and was given life’s gifts on a silver platter.

Then he won the suspicion of the king. He won the status of being marked for death. In spite of David’s loyalty, Saul saw him as a dangerous rival.

David had to become a runner; a strategic runner. He actually continued to serve the king and his people. He continued to fight against their enemies. He defended the frontier. More than once, he protected the king’s life who continued to mark him for death.

But David did this on the run. He often just barely escaped the king’s raids and traps. Those who wanted the king’s favor would report to him on David’s movements and whereabouts. David survived by making himself a moving target; a running target.

David seemed to live a charmed life in reverse. He was a good man who was marked as a bad man. The hand that had given him everything now took everything away. David’s gifts as a commander in the king’s army now made him a chief of the outlaws.

His good motives where not honored. His good work was not rewarded. His family ties betrayed him. The way his country was supposed to work, didn’t work for him. This went on for years; for years. The foundations of his good life had been destroyed, and what could the righteous do?

Apparently David had friends who advised him to give it all up and walk away from a bad game. Just walk off the field; or else run. Fly away as fast and as far as you can.

David did not follow their advice. He was a disciplined and strategic runner. He worked his running into the game. He might run and run, but he would never leave the field. He refused to go away.

During the American Revolution, our army was never a match for the British army. We lost most of our major battles against the British. General George Washington learned, the hard way, not to fight the British on their terms. Washington really won the war by effectively running away, but also (most importantly) by never going away. He never stopped.

My Garden "Cubanelle" (Variety) Pepper
I remember, one time after I had grown up, arguing with my dad. I feel foolish telling you what the argument was about. It wasn’t about anything important. It was this. My dad believed that the pyramids of Egypt were built by aliens from outer space. I politely disagreed.

Every now and then he would bring this up. One day he did it again, and something snapped, and I couldn’t take it any more. So I argued with him.

We just went on, and on, and on, and on, and on. Finally, my dad said, “You don’t know when to stop.” If he had only thought about this, he would realize that I had learned this from him. Once my dad made up his mind about something, he would never give it up. He would never stop.

There is a great power that comes from not having enough sense to stop. Sometimes we can call this faith.

David had friends who wanted him to stop. They had arguments that made perfect sense. David was in an impossible situation. His position was completely unwinnable. David was completely outmatched, but he tied a knot on the end of his rope and he held on.

Actually it was a knot that was there all along. It was God. There is a saying that goes like this: “When you get to your wit’s end you will find God lives there.”

For a long time the question in this psalm has fascinated me: “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” The answer, as I see it, comes at the end of the psalm: “The Lord is righteous, he loves justice; the upright will see his face.”

David knew that he had a choice. It was a choice of either looking at the crumbling foundations or looking at God. Righteousness, here, is about doing what is right, saying what is right, thinking what is right, believing what is right, and never stopping.

David’s friends were looking at the foundations being destroyed and they were dismayed. They were on the verge of panic, and they wanted to involve David in their panic.

David was looking at something completely different. He was looking at who the Lord is, and what the Lord loves. David saw the Lord’s face, and he saw nothing there to dismay him; and he saw no reason there for panic.

David and his friends had different foundations. David’s foundation was the Lord.
My Garden: A Cucumber

David had the gift of making friends, and he was often very good at choosing good friends. David’s friends were just as much God’s people as he was, but these friends seemed to live in a different mental world.

They had so much in common with our own world today. They lived, and we live, in a world of a contagious selective amnesia. We forget that the Lord is our way: “the way, and the truth, and the life”. And we forget that the Lord is the real foundation of everything.

After all, the Lord made the heavens, and the earth, and all things visible and invisible. God still makes everything. The Lord still is King. The Lord rules!

The mental world we live in exists in a continual state of crisis and panic; and it is contagious. Even God’s people catch the contagion and spread it among themselves. Election time is the worst time for this.

A Praying Mantis on the Church Door
If we look at the politics of our own nation we can see the contagion of panic. Both sides seem to tell us that this November will either bring the salvation or the doom of the nation.

When we look at the culture and the spiritual state of our nation, we also see the crumbling of the foundations. As God’s people, we think that one of the most important foundations of our heritage is faith, and we see the decline of the value and the unity of faith.

But faith is not our foundation. Faith was not the foundation of the colonists who came to the original colonies, even when they came here for the freedom of living their faith. Their foundation was not their faith. Their foundation was God.

Faith was not their heritage. Faith was the gift of God who was the ground that fed their roots. God was the rock that supported them as their real foundation. Their faith was created by God, and they trusted in God to continually recreate and renew their faith.

If they and their communities lost their faith, they trusted God to bring them to faith again, in his own time. They would be concerned for this. They would work for this. They would pray for this. But they would not panic over this, because they remembered to focus on the foundation that never changes. They remembered to see the face of the Lord who does not know when to stop.

This is true of everything we hold dear: in our church, in our small communities, in our nation. This is true of every relationship we treasure and value; our loved ones, our work, our way of life, and everything that shapes us.

It is true that everything is a potential source of panic if it goes wrong. Everything we know could come crashing down, and bring us down with it. This is true.

A Rabbit on my Driveway
But Jesus is the Lord who came down to us with a faithfulness that does not stop. This is where we can see his face. Nothing is more foundational to God than his own faithfulness.

His faithfulness is wrapped up in his holiness. His faithfulness goes hand in hand with his love of righteousness and justice. His faithfulness is a thing that refuses to stop, even in the face of death itself. His faithfulness is a foundation that never stops, even on a cross.

God’s faithfulness is the foundation that cannot be destroyed. Those who truly build upon that foundation will not panic.

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