Our Rock of Refuge

                                                         
Psalm 71                                                                             
Elizabeth M. Deibert                                                      
3 February 2013

What I love about the Psalms is the way life is always seen in relationship to God.   If life is a struggle, if trials, hardships and adversaries are all around, the psalmist pleads with God about it, lamenting to God, expecting God to do something about it.   If life is good, the psalmist is full of praise for God.   And many of the psalms combine the joys and the pains of life, which is the way it for us most of the time.    There is struggle and there is triumph.    Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann classifies all the psalms as being prayers of orientation – all is right with the world, disorientation – when in crisis mode, and re-orientation – the adjustment to trusting in God again after trouble.   While the psalms do not neatly fall into categories always, this psalm is generally thought to be one of disorientation.   But notice that even when struggling, the psalmist keeps remembering that God is a rock of refuge, a mighty fortress, the one in whom we hope, we trust, the One whom we always praise and count on for our deliverance.

Let us pray again, as we did last week, using the song, Sanctuary, to invite God to dwell in us.

Psalm 71:1-24 

In you, O LORD, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame.

2 In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me; incline your ear to me and save me.

3 Be to me a rock of refuge, a strong fortress, to save me, for you are my rock and my fortress.

4 Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and cruel.

5 For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O LORD, from my youth.

6 Upon you I have leaned from my birth; it was you who took me from my mother's womb.

My praise is continually of you.

7 I have been like a portent to many, but you are my strong refuge.

8 My mouth is filled with your praise, and with your glory all day long.

9 Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength is spent.

10 For my enemies speak concerning me, and those who watch for my life consult together.

11 They say, "Pursue and seize that person whom God has forsaken,

for there is no one to deliver."

12 O God, do not be far from me; O my God, make haste to help me!

13 Let my accusers be put to shame and consumed;

 let those who seek to hurt me be covered with scorn and disgrace.

14 But I will hope continually, and will praise you yet more and more.

15 My mouth will tell of your righteous acts, of your deeds of salvation all day long,

though their number is past my knowledge.

16 I will come praising the mighty deeds of the Lord GOD,

will praise your righteousness, yours alone.

17 O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.

18 So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me,

until I proclaim your might to all the generations to come.

Your power19 and your righteousness, O God, reach the high heavens.

You who have done great things, O God, who is like you?

20 You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again;

from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again.

21 You will increase my honor, and comfort me once again.

22 I will also praise you with the harp for your faithfulness, O my God;

 I will sing praises to you with the lyre, O Holy One of Israel.

23 My lips will shout for joy when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have rescued.

24 All day long my tongue will talk of your righteous help,

for those who tried to do me harm have been put to shame, and disgraced.

(NRSV)

I don’t know how people get through life without leaning on God for help.   I thought about this when Richard’s father was dying – how hard it would be if we were not reassured that Irv had faith in Jesus Christ, that we knew beyond a  shadow of doubt, he would rest in God’s peace in the end, and we all would find comfort in the Lord our Shepherd as we walked through the valley of the shadow of death with him.   

I don’t know how people get through the stresses and anxieties of life without turning to God.   I am so thankful for the God who has brought Peace through hardships and doubts these last seven years, the God who has given us much joy and comfort and peace.

There have been times when we have had a few adversarial relationships.   The psalmist calls them enemies, but that language is a little too harsh for these examples:  Some of you will remember a certain security guard at State College of Florida, who would absolutely not unlock the door for us to bring in and set up until the last minute, who wrote up complaints about Peace because (surprise, surprise) sometimes our children would run from the sanctuary door to the snack table.   Thank you, God, for delivering us from the watch of over-zealous security guards.

Some of you know that we have battled SMR, developer of Lakewood Ranch, for years regarding more permanent signage, so people could actually find our church, during the week, as well as on Sundays.    Thank you, God, for the gift of a property that is not controlled by SMR where we can have a sign out front all week long.

Some of you know that we thought the bank would require us to have individual sister churches, in addition to our presbytery, serving as guarantors of our loan.  The trouble was, even among the five wealthiest churches in Sarasota and Manatee Counties, we were finding it difficult to find enough churches willing to stick their neck out for us.   Thank you, God, for providing for us so generously with gifts from Peace members that Sabal Palm Bank doesn’t need other churches guaranteeing the loan.

God has truly been our rock of refuge.    Many of you know the insecurity we felt when, despite a three year lease of this property, the Manatee Association of Realtors felt a need to list the building, making it impossible for us to stay here for the two one-year options, making us nervous we might not stay even to the end of our three year lease.    What a joy it was Friday when the Realtors showed the building to an interested buyer.   This time  Gia and I were all smiles, as we said, “Come on in, and look around.”  And quietly to ourselves, we said, “We don’t care.   Sell the place.  We have other plans.  We don’t need you anymore.”    All day long our tongues were singing God’s praise, because what can they do to us.   Nothing.   Not one thing, because God has so marvelously provided for us.

God has placed in a signed contract in our hands for 25 acres plus a functional building for our worship, education, fellowship, and mission.   So we will come praising the might deeds of the Lord.  We will tell the coming generation about all God has done for us.     

You who have done great things, O God, who is like you?   You who have made [us] see many troubles with endless setting up and breaking down, trying to please our master.   You, God, who have seen us struggle with broken table wheels, alarms accidently set off, walls gashed, doors broken, wax spills on carpet, sound systems left on (oops), and so many fears of the potentially homeless tenant.   Now you are reviving us again.   You are providing the comfort of a home that is ours.    Now you are providing a place where all our energy can be spent serving you, one another, and our community without fear, without restriction.  

God, your power and your righteousness reach the highest heaven, because apart from you we would not exist as a congregation.   Apart from you, we would have never had the strength to endure when some friends from various reasons needed to peel off.   Apart from you, we would have never been so gifted with blessings that we could give generously our time, our talent, our energy, our courage, our faith, and our financial support to keep this church reaching out with the good news of Christ’s love, growing strong in the service of God and neighbor, and sending one another out with the joy of the Holy Spirit.  

What a joy it is to tell all of you, whether you have been with us through several moves, or whether you have recently joined the family of Peace, what a joy it is to tell you that we have a signed contract and on Easter week-end the property should be ours!   We have a verbal agreement on a loan, to be sealed by the board of Sabal Palm Bank on Feb 18.   We have assurance from the Realtors, to be confirmed on Thursday, that we can be out of this building when the time is right, without penalty or fee!

And this is why we, like the Psalmist, can say that God is to be trusted – from the moment God takes us from our mother’s womb, through the challenges and temptations of our youth, and even to the struggles and griefs of grey hairs, God will never let us down.   God is our rock, and we know that very well, because we have been carrying gratitude rocks in our pockets for more than four years to remind us to give thanks to God in all times and all ways. 

Remember that God is your rock,  whatever struggle you may be having with a troubling and chronic disease, a persistent fear or difficult relationship, an exhausting trial which makes you wonder if you’ll have the energy to get through.   Join the psalmist in reminding God (and yourself) that you are trusting, that you are tired and anxious, and that you need some help for the storms of life.  Cling to the rock in your storm.

God is our refuge, our safe place.   In these seven years of moving the tabernacle in and out, God has taught us that Christian sanctuary is what we give one another by the peaceful, nurturing way we relate to one another.   But now God is also gifting us with a home.   We can now celebrate the joy of being faithful stewards/good managers of a physical building, which by our Christian existence in it, becomes a sanctuary, a refuge for all people searching for Peace.  

That’s why I am so glad to call our building a sanctuary of Peace.   Sanctuary doesn’t mean chandeliers and stained glass windows and white or wooden pews.   Sanctuary means a safe place, a refuge for people seeking peace by the worship of God.  And we know that the peace that passes all understanding comes from our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives among us as Holy Spirit, the One who has journeyed with us, and will go before us always.   O for a thousand tongues to sing our great redeemer’s praise, the glories of our God and King, the triumphs of God’s grace.