God in the Midst of the Mess
The Psalm assigned for this morning, is the one that inspired Deacon Scott’s composition that you just heard. It is also the one that inspired Luther to write, A Mighty Fortress. The hymn, which according to Ulrich Leupold, "epitomizes Luther's thought and personal experience more than any other.” 1
Psalm 46 is a text synonymous with Reformation Sunday. In the spirit of a people of faith and church called to be ever re-forming, I am drawn to the concrete language of how the law and gospel unfold in the tumult of creation and the steadfastness of the Lord remains constant.
The language of re-form is not just language for this Sunday or for only Lutheran’s. It’s not meant to be language of triumph but humility. The language of being reformed is inherent in our baptismal call; to be renewed and even re-formed into the faith life God gifts us. To be re-formed by Christ’s life, death and resurrection; and as empowered by the spirit. It’s a daily invitation and promise.
So, I ask: What does the psalm teach us about lives re-formed? What can we garner as learners along the way.
For me, this psalm is extremely relevant for today. We are assured of God’s presence and strength, throughout the psalm at the beginning, middle and end. We know God is faithful. Showing up. A present help in times of trouble. Our stronghold. Our refuge and strength. Let’s face it, we need to be reminded because life isn’t easy. We need the waves of God’s grace to wash over our lives continually with an unending rhythm. Our communities and the world, need God’s inexhaustible grace to make order out of chaos.
When the earth moves and the mountain shake in the depths of the sea,
when the waters rage and foam, the mountains tremble with tumult,
there is God. Speaking words of calm to our fears.
What might be surprising is that God of does not take away the chaos but invites us to be in the midst of it so that we may experience the grace that brings order. With such poignant words to suggest to us that even in the midst of the tumult the possibility to “be still and know God” remains.
When life swirls around, God invites us to be still, and know the refuge and strength of the Lord. It’s a good image to hold onto. Imagine yourself in the midst of the tumult, planting your feet, digging in your heals, experiencing God’s undying love. In the midst of the mess, God is there. Undaunted. Steady. Working order through God’s inexhaustible grace.
When I think of this text in light of today, Reformation Sunday, I am left thinking about order and chaos. In my opinion, part of the task of re-forming as people of faith, as a church has to do with embracing the chaos, the mess, learning from the mess and even knowing that we are blessed even in the mess.
There’s a quote I read this week that has stuck,
The invitation for people of faith is to bring the mess that we’re in, even, the mess that we are. To show up as our true selves, fears and regrets and doubts and all. God can handle it. The communion of saints—that is, us, the people of God—can handle it. You are loved. You are forgiven. You are free. 2
And this is where the texts challenge me. I prefer order and appreciating mess, or being okay with it is a growing edge. In life there will be mess. Maybe God calls us into the mess and away from our perfect and less flexible selves and structures to discover the certainty of God in the uncertainty of life.
Exposing the Mess
If you’ve ever watch an organizational show or done your own home organizing, one key take away and game changer is that you take everything out of the room you are trying to re-create. When you take everything out, the room becomes an open canvas.
I know some of you have thought about taking inventory here at St. Matthews, as we talk about Sustainability and Redevelopment. Begin to imagine: Taking out everything in the youth room, Sunday school, kitchen and balcony in the fellowship hall. Laying it in the parking lots and organizing it into piles for garbage, give away, and keep. A simultaneously, overwhelming and freeing process perhaps symbolic of much more.
For some reason, this process of taking inventory of the mess reminds of a function of God’s law. When I think of this, I am reminded that the law does not conceal what’s boxed or out of site in a dark corner. The law makes visible so we can live fruitfully in community with God and each other. Laying visible and bare, all of who we are because God loves the humanity of who we are and asks us to embrace it.
The law makes visible the blemishes of humanity but the blemishes are made visible, not to shame, ridicule, tarnish or ostracize but to heal. The function of the law then might be heal or tidy the mess. And even to open our eyes to the mess, so that the Gospel may speaks grace to those hurting parts.
For me, house cleaning, church cleaning reminds us of how the law lays visible what has been hidden for the purpose of healing and wholeness of all creation. And ask of to show up with our whole selves, even the mess.
Humanity in it's Fullness
Have you ever thought of the pictures we share with each other. Most often the pictures we share in our cards, Facebook and Instagram are the picture perfect shots. We put our best foot forward with the the family Christmas photos with the matching outfits in front of the well decorated tree. There is nothing wrong with these. They are lovely of course. I have many family photos just like these and they bring me joy. But there is an other side that we don’t share as often. One of my favourite family photos was taken one Christmas afternoon and I share this story with permission. Sebastian and I had finished leading worship and we were both tired. I sitting in one corner of the room. The kiddos were happily playing on the floor in the midst of tornado of wrapping paper and far too many toys. On the floor is my barely visible husband having a nap. This is one of my favourite photo memories and it makes me smile deeply because it’s a more realistic picture of Christmas in our household. It communicates to me the full story of what it took to get to that moment. The stress, long hours, balancing of little ones, sickness and health, expectations, joys and sorrows. To me, this photo lays it all out there.
While the psalm speaks to us concretely of an image of the chaos and order of a re-forming creation, the Gospel says, The truth will set you free. Let’s face it. The truth can be messy. It gets at the nitty gritty of who we are and goes beyond the picture perfect snapshot. It also uncovers the not so pretty blemishes of our humanity like the ongoing trauma of systemic racism for our Indigenous brothers and sisters. Even being land barons can be a blemish if not stewarded wisely.
Like the messiness in the psalmody, lives can be messy, even the church has a messy side. There is no perfect person or community or church. And yet we continually strive to present this picture perfect presentation.
And for good reason. We want to inspire and be inspired to move beyond the mess of the world, to grasp onto something beyond us; to glimpse of something whole and beautiful. To be a part of a God breathed possibility in the midst of us.
God does not shame us for the messes, or take away our worth or status as children of God. Instead, God grants us the grace and forgiveness we need in the midst of messes, to learn and grow from the messes, to enter into the messes and even bear fruit.
As people and as a church, I think it would serve us well to embrace the messes. Now, I don’t mean create mess but embrace the mess when they happen. With redevelopment there are likely to be a few messes that invite us to venture out of our comfort zones.
This pandemic has put us into a bit of a mess and yet there in the midst God calls us to be still. There is the midst of the mess God will be, forever and always, a refuge and strength, leading us to where God calls. To a place where we can stand steady and still in the knowledge that God is God and we are human. And that’s just the way it’s suppose to be.
1. Jacobson, Rolf. Commentary on Psalm 46. Working Preacher. 2020
2. Sundays and Seasons