Within Our Darkness Night, God Kindles a Fire

How do we create security for ourselves? 

We do lots of things. I imagine many of you are just like me:

I have a savings account. I have investments to pay for Jackson and Carter to go to college. I have a pension. Dana has a pension. We have retirement savings on top of that. We are set to pay off our house in time for Dana to retire, giving me the option to retire at the same time should I want to or should my health demand it. We have plans to protect our future. 

I also have life insurance, just in case something were to happen to any of the four of us. We have disability policies on the both of us. The UMC provides great protection for pastors from a variety of troublesome things that happen in life. And we have homeowner’s insurance and a home warranty for the first two years of ownership of our new house in Macon. 

I’ve also made a habit of watching my diet and exercise because I see the benefits it reaps for me today and I see in those older than me the benefits of life-long exercise and eating habits. 

In sum, I’m protecting myself, and my family, against financial downturns, against entering retirement without enough money, against death and disaster, and against health maladies. I’m creating security for myself, my family, and our future. 

And this is how we create security for ourselves. For these are all wise things. And my guess is many of you are doing, or have done, many of the same things. Or if you haven’t, you’re reminding yourself right now to go and do those things. Whether we’ve begun or not, we create security for ourselves by purchasing insurances of various kinds, saving our money, and choosing healthy habits. 

And in those actions, we feel secure. 

My guess is most days we don’t often think about our security. We simply feel secure. Like many car insurance commercials, if we do think about issues like death or destruction, we think to ourselves, “I’m covered.” 

I’m covered, protected, secure. David, in whose memory this morning’s Psalm was written, says the same thing. He says, “As for me, I said in my prosperity, ‘I shall never be moved.’” David could rest secure because he was prosperous or, as other translations put it, resting at peace and untroubled. He’d done what he needed to do to secure himself against trouble.

A fact shared with us in Psalm 30, the Psalm we read this morning as we continue our series on the Psalms and the cycle of faith. 

Scripture

How do we create security for ourselves?

David said, “I said in my prosperity, ‘I shall never be moved.’” David is enjoying peace, tranquility, an untroubled time; security. All is well. And aren’t those times great?! That’s what we talked about when we discussed orientation; when life is good, we find ourselves in awe of God, all is well, things are stable, we feel secure.

But, suddenly, the darkness comes. That’s what we looked at last week, and it’s where David turns. Right after saying God had established him “as a strong mountain,” he says, “you hid your face, I was dismayed. To you, O LORD, I cried…’What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit?’” 

David’s had a downturn, to say the least. His prosperity amounted to nothing when God hid his face, dismaying David and his life. All he can do when this downturn comes is cry out to God, praying the darkness back to God, just as we described in the previous sermon.

The security David felt from his prosperity turned out to amount to nothing. It couldn’t save him from trouble when it came. Prosperity couldn’t provide for him when life turned nasty. David has apparently done nothing to deserve this either. The cause of David’s trouble is God hiding his face. God has turned away from David, which is just another way of saying that evil is having its way with David for the moment. Something has happened to dismay, or other translations say, to terrify, David. 

In those kinds of moments, we might ask that question: how do we create security for ourselves?

Think of a time in your life when your security was rocked or even evaporated. We’ve all known moments like that, where suddenly the things we thought brought us security seem to not matter. Sometimes, like the day I did our budget more than a decade ago and discovered we had way overspent and didn’t have savings to cover it, there are things we can fix on our own. We rectified our budget issue and have been much wiser with our spending ever since. But sometimes, there are things we can’t control, and those are the things that bring chaos into our lives. 

Last week, I described my experience working at a college as a chaplain. What happened there was way outside of my control, it happened seemingly suddenly, and my sense of security in life was rocked. Insurance wasn’t going to pay my salary if I quit my job, as they were pressuring me to do. Our savings wouldn’t cover all that lost income. But I also recall my sense of security being rocked at other times in life when we felt the sting of broken relationship, when family relations were strained, and when we experienced a surprising and close death. There have been times where stability in life, security, was rocked by an onset of chaos. 

And most of all, as I was growing up, I felt insecure in myself. As I noted in my story, published on Realm earlier this week, I wrestled with insecurity much of my life born of not being able to love myself unconditionally. That’s a tough place to be because everything rocks that sense of security: do they like me, did I say the wrong thing, am I acceptable in their sight, will I be loved and valued next time I see them? Insecurity inside myself felt often like chaos, leaving me to ask:

How do I create security for myself? 

We do our best to be prepared for the chaos in life, but in light of the many ways we can suddenly experience the onset of chaos, our preparation can only go so far.

After all, insurance only goes so far. If one of the four of us in my family dies, life insurance will pay for costs and provide financial security, but it can’t resurrect my loved one. There’s still tremendous loss. If fire destroys our home, insurance will buy me a new TV and build the home back but it can’t replace Dana’s grandparents’ dining room set that we cherish as a family heirloom. If a tragedy hits me and I’m forced onto disability, insurance can replace my income but it can’t replace the sense of purpose and satisfaction I derive from my profession. 

There’s always the threat of the event that will undo all of our best planning. There’s always the fear of that thing that we can’t control happening. Our best security preparations, no matter how prosperous we are as individuals, can only go so far. 

We can only go so far because, if we’re honest with ourselves, we can only control so much. That’s not something we readily admit to because we like to be in control. David also liked to be in control. But he finds himself in the same position: his security suddenly rocked, finding himself embroiled in chaos.

How can we create security for ourselves? 

I am a big fan of the Taize community in France. There’s a monastery there that inspires me in many ways. One particularly inspirational story is what they did when they lost security; when their founder was brutally murdered.

Brother Roger was leading worship just as he always did three times a day. A woman walked into the chapel one day, down the center aisle, and stabbed him brutally in front of the congregation. She then ran out and was quickly apprehended by the police. 

The monks’ response is what continues to inspire me. The monastery was founded on the principle of reconciliation. They desire to see all Christians from around the world reconciled together, into unity. They believe in fostering love and harmony through forgiveness and the restoration of relationship. As such, they highly value being an open community that anyone can attend. 

When violence happened, those values come under direct threat. Could they remain open when their founder was murdered?

Their answer was a resounding yes. In response to the murder, the monastery changed none of its security measures. They then went and offered the murderer their forgiveness as she sat in her jail cell. The monks visited the parents of the murderer saying to them that they desired to grieve together, for they knew that her parents didn’t desire their child to grow up and commit such a heinous act. 

They acted out of their values for reconciliation and openness. They could do so because they have this fundamental Christian conviction: evil will happen until Christ comes in final victory. We can’t control that. We can’t stop that. But we can be faithful through it because we know, when evil strikes, God will redeem. 

How do we create security for ourselves? 

Ultimately, we can’t. 

David is highly aware of this. After reporting how he cried out during his disaster, he remarks to us, “You, God, have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.” That’s where he ends: it was God who restored, God who provided, God who moved in power. It was God who restored security. 

And, indeed, it is only God ultimately who can offer us that sense of security. 

Insurance, preparedness plans, and security measures all have their place. I will continue to pay my insurance premiums and encourage preparedness because that’s common sense. 

But we can’t control everything. In fact, the more I live life on this earth, the less I think I can control. There remains that cosmic battle between good and evil, one in which I get caught up at times. Why God allows evil to happen to us, no one can fully answer. But the fact remains that evil will occur, orientation will give way to disorientation, the darkness will settle in our lives from time to time, but the truth of our faith is that, because God is with us, disorientation will always give way to reorientation; put another way, just as I said last week, the light will always break into the darkness.

The promise of reorientation is the promise that there will be a surprising newness birthed into our lives. We will be, “surprised by grace.” It’s God’s good pleasure to provide for us, to suddenly bring us to a new and surprising place of security. And in that place, just like David, our hearts turn to praise. In that place of reorientation, we can see how God has been with us all along, moving and working to turn our vulnerability into security. Our faith is deepened and our relationship with God made more meaningful because we have seen how God has restored us. In the midst of evil, God will redeem in surprising ways; ways that we can see. The light will break into our darkness, and we, like David, will find ourselves again set up as a strong mountain. 

So what hope do we have when we feel vulnerable, insecure, when we’re experiencing the darkness of disorientation? 

The hope that reorientation is coming. God will redeem the evil we experience and turn it into good. The light will break into the darkness.

Go back in your memory and think of how God has brought you through tough times, times of chaos, before. We have known the restoration and reconciliation of broken relationships, and healing after a close death. We have seen God redeem and seen how God is with us. God will provide because God has provided. The light has broken into the darkness for us. And I wonder, where have you seen God break into the darkness, shining the light? When have you known restoration? When have you experienced redemption? 

We all have such stories. For me, the most surprising and wonderful gift I have received is that I am loved by God unconditionally. I spent much of my life not knowing that, as I noted earlier. God moved powerfully to show me that I am loved unconditionally by him. I came to realize that through experiencing God’s love through the unconditional love of people in my life, most especially my wife, and through the church. And that changed my heart and my sense of self forever. I rest secure in myself today because God reoriented me, God restored me, God provided, the light broke into my darkness.

It was a surprising gift, but that’s what God does. That’s the power of reorientation. It always comes. And we know that it does because we can look behind us and see how God has shone the light and brought us out of the darkness in the past. 

So this morning, wherever you are, whatever darkness you might know or have known, go forth with the confidence of knowing God is moving, God is active, God will take care, God will redeem; the light will break into the darkness. As the Taize community sings, “Within our darkness night, you [God] kindle a fire that never dies away.” 

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Amen.

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