Psalm 31: 1-5, 15-16
May 10, 2020
Lincoln Street UMC, Portland, Oregon
Be a rock of refuge for me.
In a desert land, where the psalmist first sang these words, rocks were plentiful. I like that. I like that the psalmist felt God was ubiquitous. In areas of Israel the landscape is stark and yellow. And it appears that rock upon rock upon rock is what has formed that land. I like that the psalmist in thinking about his trouble turned to what was just outside his door, or just outside his cave, and sang out to God to be like that. Be a rock, a rock of shelter.
In a land where there was so much rock, I’m sure that sometimes there is too muchrock. In fact, when preparing land for planting I’m sure that moving one more rock from the furrow was a tedious job. Or trekking from one lonely town to another I’m sure that stumbling over yet another rocky impediment was tiresome.
So I appreciate that this psalmist turns to what is all around her and claims it as solace in her time of anguish and trial. In a land where rocks perhaps were too many at times, the psalmist shapes the rock from struggle into refuge.
How often we are in similar situations. Where, from the same event or situation, we are faced with an opportunity to be mired in strife or to claim faith to center us. This is not to say that we do not or should not be honest about when life is hard. But the psalmist this morning reminds us that we can take what is before us and use it as fodder for discouragement and complaint or as image of trust and faith.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer lived in Germany during the first decades of the twentieth century and died an early death in a German concentration camp just before the end of World War II. He was put there because of his unwillingness to be silent - silent against Hitler and the Third Reich. Often claimed as one of the most influential theologians of the twentieth century, Bonhoeffer understood that his faith in God meant that he could do no other than speak out against the atrocities being done by his nation’s government. Slowly his freedoms were taken from him until he was closed in, imprisoned, by rock walls and iron gates.
And yet he continued to speak out, speak out in the name of Christ, speak out a word of love and hope in a time of trial and great suffering. Speak out against the acceptance of cruelty and oppression in the name of German nationalism.
Bonhoeffer did not shy away from the evil and sin of the empire that was slowly conquering Europe. He used his great intellect and resources to support all those who continued to speak a word of God’s justice in a time of great injustice. He founded an illegal, underground seminary, Finkenwalde, to support other pastors who were resisting the Third Reich.
Bonhoeffer wrote, “God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility... this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.”
That is the rock behind which Bonhoeffer found refuge. A God who would not run from the realities of the sin of war, greed, racism and pride. Rather than allowing the walls of the prison which held him for 18 months to be a stumbling block to his faith, Bonhoeffer instead found the strength of God within those walls. The strength to keep his calm, to keep his center, to keep his focus on the love and justice of God. After his last sermon that he preached in the Flossenburg extermination camp, just before he is taken away to his short trial and hanging, he is remembered as smiling with serenity and praying with confidence.
I pray that none of us ever, for any reason whatsoever, is faced in life with the kinds of questions and decisions that Bonhoeffer had to make in his – like so many of his time. And yet, even in far less extreme circumstances, we can be reminded of the choices we are offered each day as to how we are going to frame our faith. Are these rocks and stones we face impediments and sources of pain? Or can we see the refuge of God behind, among, and within them?
I don’t know about you, but I am very humbled by the prospect. What can it mean for me to be asked to find, in even the most difficult situations of my life, find the strength within to turn to God for refuge. It is so much easier for me to succumb to fatigue and despair, hopelessness and discouragement.
And yet, our greatest saints are remembered for just the opposite. For turning their hardship into a source of confidence and faith.
I can promise you that I will not be remembered as any saint, nor do I think I really want that label ascribed to me. But I wouldn’t mind feeling encouraged, even prodded, by some who have gone before me, to dig my well a little deeper, knowing the deeper one digs the more likely the well will stay full.
O God, I pray that the rocks before me in this time of anxiety and quarantine – and in any time – might become a source of refuge in You. My times are in your hands. Save me with love. Amen.
This sermon was written by Elizabeth Winslea and delivered on May 10, 2020, via Zoom to the Lincoln Street United Methodist Church. It is published here with the permission of the author. Please link back to this post and credit the author if you reprint or use any portion of it.