By talking about grief within our community of faith, we begin to realize that “when we bring space and warmth to our painful emotions, they are free to arise, do their little dance, and move on. We also know that by bringing space and warmth to our painful emotions, we are also creating room for the presence of God in our midst.” We are opening ourselves up to the possibilities of new life. We are inviting the light and love of God to bring healing and wholeness to our hurts.
November 5, 2023
God, Will You Help?
Rev. Dr. Heather W. McColl
God is our refuge and strength, a help always near in times of great trouble. That’s why we won’t be afraid when the world falls apart, when the mountains crumble into the center of the sea, when its waters roar and rage, when the mountains shake because of its surging waves. There is a river whose streams gladden God’s city, the holiest dwelling of the Most High. God is in that city. It will never crumble. God will help it when morning dawns. Nations roar; kingdoms crumble. God utters his voice; the earth melts.
The Lord of heavenly forces is with us! The God of Jacob is our place of safety. Selah Come, see the Lord’s deeds, what devastation he has imposed on the earth—bringing wars to an end in every corner of the world, breaking the bow and shattering the spear, burning chariots with fire. “That’s enough! Now know that I am God! I am exalted among all nations; I am exalted throughout the world!” The Lord of heavenly forces is with us! The God of Jacob is our place of safety.
God, Will You Help? Psalm 46
Today, we wrap up our conversation on Good Grief. As I have said from the beginning of this series, it was not my hope or expectation that we would reach this end point and all that our grief would go away or instantly end. However it was and continues to be my hope, that by talking about grief within our community of faith, we begin to realize that “when we bring space and warmth to our painful emotions, they are free to arise, do their little dance, and move on. We also know that by bringing space and warmth to our painful emotions, we are also creating room for the presence of God in our midst.” We are opening ourselves to the possibilities of new life. We are inviting the light and love of God to bring healing and wholeness to our hurts.
With all this in mind, we approach our text for this Sunday, Psalm 48. We hear these words within the context of All Saints Day, a day when we lift up those who have passed away this past year, a day when we hear once again the promises of God which remind us that one day, death and mourning will be no more, a day when we take comfort in the knowledge that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses whose legacy is one of love and hope.
We hear all of this within the very first line of Psalm 46 as it proclaims from the very beginning, “God is our refuge and strength, a help always near in times of great trouble.”
Very much like our world now, when the psalmist writes these words, there is an understanding of chaos, whether that be present or past natural disasters and national disasters. Psalm 46 acknowledges all that but instead of these moments being opportunities for fear to be the overarching narrative, the psalmists takes a moment to pause and praise. The psalmist takes a moment to center himself and his community in the presence and promise of God, to celebrate God, to celebrate God’s strength and help.
Again this is not a naive viewpoint which denies bad things happening. Rather it is an invitation to be still… to “be still for a while, to regain confidence in the goodness of God and then move back into the world to do what we as people of faith can to stop the chaos, to heal the grief, to help work to bring about God’s Shalom for all of God’s people.
Or let me say it this way…as a community of faith, we have had a rough year, communally and individually. We have had a lot on our plates: surgeries, deaths, retirements, frustrations, worries about jobs, worries about money, and uncertainty. Some of us have lost loved ones and their names have been added to the list of saints who have gone on before us while others of us have lost loved ones in a different way. Our loved ones are still here physically but mentally they have been lost to us for years. There is also the fact that some of us still grieve deeply our losses because the loss is still so new while others have had months, weeks, and years to ease the pain. Yet we know that the pain of loss never really goes away.
And it is just not the loss of loved ones that we have faced this year. There are other losses that we have experienced as well. We have watched our bodies age and break down and we have wondered when the warranty expired. We have mourned the loss of the perception that our parents will always be there to care for us, will always be strong, and will always be our caretakers. That is a rough spot to be in when we realize that the roles have reversed. The grief in this type of situation can be overwhelming at times.
And these are just to name a few. Among the other losses we may have experienced in our lives, we are also mourning and continue to mourn the loss of security. We recognize that we are entering into a brave new world, where the rules are different, where things that we counted on to be there forever are no longer proving to be timeless, and in this new reality, we are treading new, sometimes scary waters.
We have had and continue to have a lot on our plates both as a community of faith and as individuals. And I know it seems a little too sweet, a little too false to stand up here and boil the Gospel message down to a) God loves us more than we could ever imagine, and b) God is our refuge and strength in our times of trouble. I also know that in light of all the losses we have faced this past year, it seems insufficient to be standing up here, saying, be still and know that God is God. But that’s all I’ve got. I say these things not as a preacher but as a person of faith.
Because that’s exactly what I have experienced in my own faith, experienced along my own faith journey. The bad never stays bad for long and somehow, someway, we make it out of the dark valley, and then we realize all the good stuff in our lives. We begin to understand that this world does not have the last word. God does. As people of faith, we know that one day, we will see our God face to face, that one day, death will be no more, that tears will be wiped away, and that all will be light and love. We have always had this promise. We will always have this promise. It is timeless and it never changes.
No matter how simplistic it may sound, no matter how seemingly naive it may be, sometimes the best I’ve got is God loves us, and God will be there to help us, to guide us. Because there truly is power in those words. There is umph in those words. These promises let us know that we are not alone, that God is with us, holding us in the palm of God’s hand. These words let us know we are surrounded by a community who loves us, who walks with us, who cries with us, who laughs with us, who hopes with us.
They let us know that our community doesn’t just end with those gathered here in this place. We know that this promise of God’s love is timeless. It has been a comfort and hope for people throughout the generations of the world. What the psalmist knows, what the psalmist is telling people of faith for all time, is that when we hear that God loves us, when we hear God will always be there to help us, we also hear the voices of the saints reassuring us that everything will be okay. Because that’s what they have already experienced upon the completion of their own faith journeys. They are experiencing the Kingdom of God to the fullest. They are experiencing the love of God to the fullest. They are experiencing the grace of God to the fullest. They are experiencing the peace of God to the fullest.
So today, as we come, remembering and naming our losses over the past year, we find strength, we find comfort, we find hope in the knowledge that God is with us, walking beside us, and holding us in the palm of God’s hand. We also know that we are surrounded by friends, family, and a communion of saints who watch over us, love us, guide us, and share with us. Like the psalmist and the generations which came before us, we know that everything is going to be okay. We may not know when or how or where but we can hold onto the knowledge that the promise is real. Because we have been given a gift: the gift of hope which is grounded in God’s steadfast love and tenderness. We have been given a gift: the knowledge that God loves us more than we could imagine. We have been given a gift: the promise which reminds us over and over again that though nations roar and kingdoms crumble, though mountains shake and waters roar and rage, this world does not have the last word. God does because God is our refuge and strength, a help always near in times of great trouble.
May we always remember this timeless message and believe in its unchanging, unwavering presence in our lives. May it be so.
See also: Theology Tuesday for Sunday, November 5, 2023 – God, Will You Help? Psalm 46.