Be Still and Know That I Am God

Rebecca Sheridan
Sunday, October 30, 2022
Psalm 46

    Last year for Lent, my spiritual director encouraged me to try a prayer practice called “centering prayer.”  The idea is that you take 10-15 minutes to sit in silence without doing anything, without saying anything, even trying not to think anything other than focusing on a “centering” word or phrase like “Come, Holy Spirit.”  People who practice centering prayer on a regular basis are able to work their way up to thirty minutes of sitting in silent prayer.  It’s similar to meditation but grounded in Christian faith.  Now, I know I’m a pastor and I’m supposed to be good at this prayer stuff. And I also know I come across as a pretty chill, calm person for whom it might seem sitting in silence for ten minutes would be easier than for most people.  Yeah, no.  Ten minutes isn’t a long time, until you really try to be quiet. Thirty SECONDS seems like a long time for most of us.  I had to work my way up to fifteen minutes for the forty days of Lent. I think the first week I could only sit for five minutes as hard as I tried to sit longer.  I like to pray actively – with a group, out loud, walking, biking or running.  Sitting in silence is not my jam.  But it was a really good thing for me to try, during what is probably the busiest time of year for both moms and pastors, because it forced me to really stop and remember what’s most important – not the dirty dishes, not the agenda for the next council meeting or the next worship service to plan, but my relationship with God.
    Our psalm for this Reformation Sunday is Psalm 46, where we hear this verse: “Be still, then, and know that I am God.”  We are not very good at sitting still.  We are also not very good at letting God be God; at knowing that God is God and we are not.  Today is the day where we commemorate that Martin Luther in 1517 nailed 95 theses or arguments he had with the church at the time to the doors of the Wittenberg chapel, sparking the Protestant Reformation movement.  Martin Luther was a busy guy – a monk, university professor, and eventually a married priest with six children. He wrote prolifically, taking advantage of the newly developed Gutenberg printing press to get his ideas out to the masses.  He was pretty famous, social guy and probably had a hard time finding a moment’s peace to himself.  But he also was known to pray at least two hours a day, and on busier days, he said he had so much to do he needed to first spend at least three hours in prayer. I have a feeling Luther also had a hard time being still with God, but he was passionate about putting God first, and his life and writings bear testimony to his faith.  His main concern was that the church at the time was taking advantage of uneducated, illiterate people by telling them they needed to pay money, called indulgences, to ensure their salvation as well as the salvation of their loved ones.  Luther went back to the scripture, advocated for better education for all people including children so that they might know the gospel.  He argued that the gospel of Jesus Christ tells us that we are not saved by what we do or how much money we give, but by faith in Christ alone; that it is God who saves us and not the other way around.  “Be still, then, and know that I am God,” as Psalm 46 puts it.  Or as we hear in the gospel from John this morning, Jesus wants us to know the truth that will set us free – that we can’t be God, and thank God, we don’t have to be; it is our faith that Christ saves that sets us free.
    In addition to all the other stuff he was doing, Martin Luther was also a composer! He wrote what we jokingly call the Lutheran national anthem, A Mighty Fortress, based on Psalm 46.  Certainly, many of the things that we worry about today are different than the concerns of Luther and the people of his time. We’ve moved beyond printing press books being a novelty to TikTok, Twitter, Instagram and the Metaverse.  The fortresses of medieval Europe as state-of-the-art security systems that the hymn describes we now experience as lockdown drills and locked doors with keycard access.  I don’t know that a hymn rewrite would be that catchy: “A Mighty Security Guard behind a Metal Detector Is Our God?” But the truth God reveals to us through scripture rings true for us still today.  Just as the people of Luther’s day were shaken by wars and the bubonic plague, we have been shaken by COVID, the war in Ukraine, concerns about climate change and political and economic instability.  We’ve learned there are a lot of people and things we used to trust that we can’t rely on anymore, but God can be trusted.  Just as people paid money to save themselves from eternal damnation, we try to buy the best house in the best school districts, wear the most fashionable brands and get the best degrees and titles before and after our names to prove somehow that we’re of value to others, but inevitably we come up short at times.  With Halloween tomorrow, that means that Thanksgiving is just around the corner which means it’s time to get those decorations out and really not too early to think about Christmas shopping, who’s hosting family dinners this year, the kids’ homework and after school activities and oh my, who could possibly have time to stop and be still and know that God is God for ten minutes or even five!  Better to put things on our to do list and trust that we can take care of it than to give it up to God – if there’s a God; don’t you think?  Which brings us today still to the point of NEEDING to “Be still, then, and know that I am God.”
    The disciples in the gospel protest that they’re already free. “What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free?” they ask Jesus, indignantly.  Today, we celebrated the baptism of Luke and celebrate that in Christ, he is free. We are free.  We are free to let God be God because we know we’re not.  We won’t always do our best or be THE best.  We welcome Luke officially in to the family of faith, the church, so that he might know that God is God, and that there is always a place for him here, where he is of infinite worth and value no matter if he grows up to be the top of his class, a star athlete, class clown, master video gamer, proud dad himself or something else we can’t imagine yet, only God knows.  Child of God, marked with the cross of Christ forever. That is the truth about who we are that Jesus wants us to know.  And with that knowledge, we are truly free. Thanks be to God!  Amen.