Sunday, June 1, 2014

Love Lifted Me

Psalm 93

The foothills of Texas are regularly pounded by cruel rays of a merciless sun providing little relief for the creatures that call this desert home.
An unrestrained wind races across the landscape obliterating any sign of moisture and leaving only dust.
Folks in West Texas regularly pray for rain, begging for sanctuary from the very fires of hell. They plead for a deluge, forgetting the consequences of so desperate a petition.
Then it does rain. The sky, turning darker than a Louisiana swamp, voids its bladder upon that lifeless hardpan which pretends to be topsoil.
A cold, chilling rain descends upon the both the good and the evil as chaos crashes through the hills, forming columns of destruction which have no remorse or regret.
Those waters of life, so desperately desired, become the Horses of the Apocalypse, charging through the land with little respect for anything living or dead.
Prayers of the faithful turn to cries of desperation. Then when all seems lost, as suddenly as the storm began, the skies clear, the raging rivers disperse, and within days, the desert blooms.
To quote Psalm 93, “The floods lift up their voice and cry, “Majestic on high is the Lord. Yahweh is King.”
An e-mailer this week, on discovering I was preaching on Psalm 93, raised the question of referring to God with the ancient and perhaps not so useful title of King. It is a good question. Is God some distant power that coerces us, crashing into our lives when we are most vulnerable, wielding the forces of nature as a sword of justice and vengeance? Does God sit in some remote fortress, eyeing us from afar, waiting for the right moment to interrupt our lives with destruction or deliverance?
        Perhaps a better question might be, how did the Psalmist understand God? The writer of this poem lived in a world defined by violence. He looked, perhaps wistfully, upon the one sitting on the throne as a possible source of peace and harmony.  Unfortunately studies of the history of Israel have taught us that the writer’s faith in a human champion was probably misplaced. So like an occupant of the parched Southwestern Desert, the Psalmist prayed for God to sweep through the land, taking control of the pretender that disguised himself as a benevolent ruler.
        I have often thought, do we really want to witness, “The glory of the coming of the Lord?” Do we really want to watch God, “Trample out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored?” Are any of us ready for God to, “Loose the faithful lightning of his terrible swift sword?” I suspect the marching of God’s truth is far more dangerous than a West Texas thunderstorm. And the collateral damage could be a lot more permanent. Yet, don’t we still desire God to rescue us from our own brand of chaos? Perhaps through the centuries our understanding of God has changed enough to embrace a God who is not necessarily entrenched on a throne.
        Last week Deb visited the grandchildren in Columbia, South Carolina. She goes down for a few days and somehow endures the chaos that can only be created by three children under the age of seven. Deb is gracious enough to send pictures. I love pictures. They are …….. quiet.
        Among the pictures were a couple taken of my granddaughter. It was Siddalee’s initial trip to a swimming pool. Imagine the scenario. For nine months before birth the child safely swam in a sack surrounded by warm embryonic fluids. On experiencing birth she was wrapped in a variety of warm blankets and more often than not was embraced in the affectionate arms of a parent or grandparent. Then, without warning, she was stripped down to a cute little bathing suit and submerged into the chaotic cold waters that hardly resemble the tepid temperatures endured at bath time. She must have felt she was being dipped into those swirling waters of chaos described in the Gospels when Peter tried to walk on water. One photo exposes a child experiencing sheer terror. Under the picture Deb typed, “Granddaddy, come save me!”
        Fortunately, there was a second picture. This time, instead of dangling above hell like a spider in a Jonathan Edward’s sermon, my granddaughter was slowly being submerged into the waters surrounded by the loving arms of her father. The water was still cold. But the warmth of her father’s love radiates the assurance that she is safe.
        Our imagery of God has never remained constant. To our most primitive ancestor, God was depicted as thunder and lightning. To the Psalmist, God resembled a beneficial King willing to take the battle field against any foe who challenged the existence of God’s people.  For the New Testament community, God was a savior capable of turning the very image of death into a symbol of hope. Perhaps for many of us, God is best understood as a parent embracing a child against the chilly experiences of life.  Regardless how we envision God, be it creator, savior, or comforter each image hinges on the presupposition of God’s love.
        My father had a church in Greensboro, North Carolina in the 1950’s. It was a small congregation and many of the folks worked at Cone Cotton Mill. They had a hard, no nonsense life working “for the man.” Perhaps this allowed them to understand the kingly imagery of God a bit better than I.  Regardless, on Sunday Morning they would drag themselves into that sanctuary and with a commitment that would rival any NFL fan they would gloriously sing,
        I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore,
        Very deeply stained within, sinking to rise no more.
        But the Master of the sea, heard my despairing cry,
        From the waters lifted me, now safe am I.

        Love lifted me! Love lifted me!
        When nothing else could help, Love Lifted Me.

Each of us battles with our own flood waters. Those waters are very real, yet the power of chaos has never been able to drown out the praise of God’s people who in humble yet bold voices defiantly sing, Love Lifted Me. That was true yesterday, it is true today and it will be true forever more.
To God be the Glory, Amen.

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