1 Chronicles 9:17-19; Psalm 46
Beacon Heights COB, May 31, 2015
In a classic episode of the Simpsons, Homer Simpson pledges $10,000 to PBS to end a pledge drive so that he can continue to watch a British comedy. This gets him into trouble because he obviously doesn’t have the money. He is chased through the streets of Springfield by a mob of PBS personalities.
He seeks refuge at the church building, bursting through the doors shouting, “Sanctuary! Sanctuary!” Reverend Lovejoy remarks to himself, “I knew I shouldn’t have taught him that word.”
Homer’s bumbling stupidity and blatant irreverence provide a satirical picture of white middle class privilege. He seeks refuge in his church for clearly selfish, first world problems.
Refuge is something taken for granted in white middle class privileged existence, but many people all around the world lack this basic human need. We were reminded during the Sunday school hour today of the situation in Nigeria in which Brethren in Nigeria have been forced out of their homes and safe spaces and have become refugees.
People displaced from their homes are forced to make perilous journeys across borders, both natural and artificial, in search of refuge, in search of shelter. The threats to safety and life that displace people are diverse, from terrorist organizations, drug cartels, dictatorships, famine and disease, and even natural disasters. And these are just the ones we typically think of as “refugees.”
As these people cross borders they are met with new hardships as they join the homeless and impoverished, people seeking refuge in their own land.
Even as we proclaim God as our refuge, there is a real need for shelter, a real need for safe space, that is not met for many in our neighborhoods, our country, and in our world. Even those of us privileged with adequate shelter and access to basic services can encounter threats to our safety, our livelihoods, and even our lives.
Sabbath can be a time of seeking refuge from these threats, both for ourselves and for our world, and to call upon God as the source of all refuge.
Ideally a church or other place of worship can provide space for such sabbath time to happen, a safe place that keeps peace in, that keeps threats and violence out, that provides shelter from storms; a place to truly be still and know God in an intimate way.
This is to be desired in individual and family dwellings as well. Yet, there is always a felt need for community sabbath space.
Beacon Heights is a church body with a church building and an expressed commitment to welcome and minister to all people. An open and affirming sabbath space is sought in this place, with an eye toward the welcoming and inclusive love of God. But such a vision is not without limitation and not without difficulty.
Homer Simpson might struggle to feel entirely welcome here. An average blue collar Joe, who is mostly concerned about what is for dinner and what is on TV, might not get social justice work. A person oblivious to his own privilege and social responsibility might not fit in here and might feel shamed if these things are pointed out. Homer would probably not return after visiting this church. Of course, Homer Simpson is a caricature used for satirical purposes and not a real person.
Real people are more complicated than race, socio-economic status, vocation, political affiliation, gender, sexual orientation, ability, disability, or any other distinction. These things should not matter in true sabbath time and sabbath space and they do not matter in God’s ultimate will for all things. Yet, we cannot seem to get away from them on this side of eternity.
This congregation does have a culture that is distinct in its own way. It is certainly a safe space for progressive white collar folks, highly educated professionals who also care about social justice. This is not such a bad thing. We are all naturally social creatures and want to be around those who share things in common. This is just part of the reality of seeking sabbath space together.
All that we can do, is do the best that we can with the best that we have and trust in God’s forgiveness and mercy; that even when we come up short, we still manage to live God’s will.
There is much good that comes from this gathering that seeks to make a place of refuge for all people and a body that works for peace and justice in this world. This is the lens through which we read and understand the ancient song that we know as Psalm 46. It speaks to us and informs us as people who value peacemaking.
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present[a] 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.Selah
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;[b] 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.[c]Selah
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.[d]Selah
As I reflect on the words of this psalm that speaks of God as refuge, I think of the courage that it takes to leave places of refuge and work for peace in places of hostility. I am reminded of people like Ted Studebaker, who was killed in Vietnam while working with the people there, while using a shovel instead of a gun.
God’s refuge may not necessarily be in places where we are safe and comfortable and seeking God’s refuge might come at great personal cost. Homer Simpson finds this out as his refuge from his obligation to PBS is found in a mission trip thousands of miles away from home.
We are people that value the difficult and sometimes dangerous work of discipleship. Yet, the work of building community where we are relatively safe and comfortable is also important. Good sabbath spaces provide solid grounding and loving support for those who seek to do God’s work in this often uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous world.
Building and maintaining these spaces is also an important role filled by committed disciples. In ancient Israel, it was the Levites who filled this important role. Among the Levites were the Korahites, sons of Korah, son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi. Psalm 46 is part of a collection of psalms attributed to the sons of Korah.
Korah appears in Numbers 16, where he leads an uprising against Moses and Aaron, an uprising in which he and his followers and their households are swallowed up by the earth. Later, in Numbers 26:11, is a short note that the sons of Korah did not die as a result of the uprising. These sons of Korah are given special mention in the genealogies of 1 Chronicles. They are named as guardians of the thresholds of the tent.
These are some quite obscure details from parts of the Bible that we do not read much, if at all, but they do give us some context for the psalm we are focusing on in worship today. I imagine the gatekeepers of the temple singing this song, familiar to them from childhood, as worshipers enter for prayer or for a special service, seeking sabbath time and refuge. These words serve to remind them that they are entering into sacred space, into the presence of God, the one who brings an end to war, the one who establishes peace, who wills sabbath rest for all of creation.
This speaks to the basic human need to name sabbath space and to mark out holy ground. In our culture, church buildings almost automatically have an air of being sacred. This particular building has a unique feature that speaks to what kind of sacred space this is. The rainbow bench reflects that this is a place of welcome for the LGBTQ community. This welcoming commitment does draw lines that will attract, but will also turn some people away. And this is part of seeking a sabbath space that is safe for LGBTQ folks.
It is all part of doing the best that we can with the best that we have in being true to our calling as people of God. Part of this calling involves building, maintaining, and protecting sabbath space.
Of course, the building cannot replace God and cannot contain God’s presence, but it can be a place of safety, a place to seek God’s welcoming and inclusive Love.
In Psalms for Praying: an Invitation to Wholeness, Nan C. Merrill reenvisions the language of the Psalms in a more inclusive way. This is her version of Psalm 46:
The Beloved is our refuge and our strength,
a Loving Presence in times of trouble.
Therefore we need 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
There is a river whose streams
make glad the Holy City,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
The Beloved is in the midst of it,
it shall not be moved;
Our loving Creator is an
The nations may be at war,
countries left in ruins,
yet is the Voice of the Almighty
heard, slowly breaking through
hearts of stone.
The Beloved is ever with us
the infinite Heart of Love.
Come, behold the works of the Beloved,
how love does reign ever in
For the Beloved yearns for wars to cease,
shining light into fearful hearts; loving
even those who oppress the weak,
refining hearts of steel!
“Be still and know that I am Love,
Awaken! Befriend justice and mercy
Do you not know you bear my Love?
Who among you will respond?”
O Blessed One, You know all hearts,
You are ever with us;
may Love ever guide our lives!
This is how we experience God as we worship in this space, the God who is Love present to us in Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, God with us, who welcomes all God’s children.
We are all stewards and guardians of this sabbath space and all places that are sacred to us. We do the best that we can with the best that we have in service to God and neighbor. We may not always get it right and some may be convinced that we are wrong, but let us not be discouraged for God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help in trouble.