A Sermon Preached at The Bellbrook Presbyterian Church
August 13, 2017
Rev. Diane Ziegler
Texts: Psalm 46
Psalm 46 proclaims, “Be still and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations. I am exalted in the earth. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our strength.”
“Be still and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations. I am exalted in the earth.”
This beautiful Psalm proclaims the power and sovereignty of God, of God’s power in all the earth, of God as our refuge and strength. It resonates within us. It is welcome, isn’t it?
Somewhere within us as human beings it seems there is something that has some level of innate recognition that we are under One who is much larger and wiser and more powerful than we. That sense of “Be still and know that I am God!” is somewhere within us from our earliest beginnings. But at the same time also within us is a little voice, a little hope even, that we are powerful. Think about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden thinking that with just a little bit of forbidden fruit they would know the same as God! Human beings just seem to be wired for this internal struggle over who is at the top; that struggle permeates our world.
That struggle gets harder because of what we take in, too. I often hear the little phrase, “You are what you eat.” In many cases that is amazingly true. But as our health and wellbeing is connected to the food choices we make, so it our sense of who we are and where we stand in the universe connected to what we hear and take in, to how we choose to orient ourselves in this world.
The average American youth spends 1,500 hours each year watching television and sees an average of 20,000 commercials per year. The average adult will spend nine years of their life watching TV! Most commercials seek to sell something. Food, makeup, medicine, an experience, a gadget, a service, whatever it may be. Message after message speaks to watchers that happiness can be purchased, found, experienced when one drinks a particular soda, has the whitest teeth, or owns the greatest and latest gadget. There aren’t commercials that tell us to “Be still, and know that I am God.” And compared to the resources of commercial culture - - TV being only one of them - - even the best religious education programs are likely to be drowned out.
In his book on Christian Worship, Ronald P. Byars presents the problem like this. “We are socializing our children into a small universe with small purposes. Technology awes us with each new product, but the awe doesn’t last. The schools teach us about the age of the universe and subatomic physics, but that universe feels like a lonely place. The possibility has been ruled out that beyond it all there is a Reality before which (or whom) we must cry “Holy!” The contemporary world leave little room for taking such a possibility seriously.”
But as people of faith, we are not just residents of and participants in the contemporary world. We aren’t just anyone. We are followers of Jesus Christ. We are the baptized. And by the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through ordinary water, by the cross, and the amazing grace of God, we are changed. Our world as the baptized is not a see, want, buy, consume world. Our world as the baptized is not one grounded in who we are or what we have. Our world as the baptized is not one where we live in confidence that we are all that we need - - that we are wise enough, powerful enough, strong enough to not need anything or anyone else. Our world as the baptized is none of these things.
Rather it is a world framed by the call from a voice that shakes us to our very core, “Be still and know that I am God. I am exalted among the nations. I am exalted in the earth. Be still and know that I am God.” In the waters of baptism by grace and Spirit we are returned to that innate knowledge within us that there is One greater than ourselves. And as the baptized, each and every day our lives are directed toward living in and through and to the glory of that One who is our refuge and strength.
Baptism begins with a choice of sorts, but even that notion of choice challenges our basic sense of how things work. An individual seeking to be baptized or parents bringing a child to be baptized make a choice, an intentional decision to do so. Baptism in our faith tradition only occurs in the context of the faith community - - in worship. It is something that takes preparation and understanding. It is not a fly-by-the-seat-of-one’s-pants type of experience. It is a decision, a planned happening, a prepared for event. But even with all of that it is something that we believe we do not choose, but that God chooses for us. We may “choose” God in being baptized and in coming to worship. We made decisions that brought us here this morning. We made preparations to be here. But behind our choosing is God’s choosing us. “You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you that you should go and bear fruit.” God chooses us and in God’s choice brings us to the water to be baptized.
We see this clearly in the passage from Acts. Our reading begins with a change in heart, a deep change in heart, by those who had been listening to Peter. If you look back to where chapter two begins and read forward, you will see that these folks who Peter is talking to here in verse 37 are the same folks who sneered at him in verse 13, accusing Peter and the others of being drunk at the coming of the Spirit of Pentecost. Between their accusation of Peter and the others in verse 13 and their fundamental reorientation in verse 37 is Peter’s testimony to what has happened and what it means. He explains to those sneering folks exactly what has transpired in the context of scripture; he explains to them who Jesus was and that they themselves played a role in his crucifixion; and proclaims Jesus as Lord. These hearers are “cut to the heart”. They are convicted. They have been moved from a world-view where everything is under them, to a keen awareness that they are under God. They have heard the “Be still and know that I am God” words loud and clear. What do we do, then? They ask? “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ.” Repent means to turn around, literally, to change one’s ways completely. Repent and be baptized. By the power of the Holy Spirit, through the grace of God, these people were changed that day and in their change they were brought to the water - - ordinary water - - of baptism to wash away their old selves and put on their new selves. God turned their hearts. God made them willing. God brought them to thirst for the water of baptism. And they heeded those words, “Be still” and listened and did as the Spirit prompted them to and they were baptized. Acts tells us that those who welcomed Peter’s message were baptized and three thousand were added that day. Baptism is literally dying to our old selves under the water of baptism and rising out of the water into our new selves, ourselves who have had our hearts cut with the truth of our reality apart from Almighty God and who are responding to God’s choosing us to be baptized, to be changed and to live for Him.
And the lives of those whom Peter baptized that day were changed. They didn’t go back to business as usual. Head home and turn on the TV. But they devoted themselves to the apostles teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and prayer. They were baptized. They lived differently.
But living differently, living as the baptized, isn’t instantaneous. And once baptized does not mean that we do not struggle, we do. We will our whole life long struggle with ourselves over that fundamental sense of who is bigger, who is stronger, who us wiser - - us or God. And every day we have to choose who we will serve. God has chosen you. God has chosen us. God has called you and washed you in the water of baptism. You have been saved and set free.
Will you heed those powerful words of Psalm 46 this day and “Be still and know that God is God?”
But even knowing that God has chosen us, even heeding the words of Psalm 46, living as the baptized doesn’t always seem such a simple thing.
In the movie that we will be watching as part of Movies that Matter this afternoon – Tender Mercies – a man and a boy are baptized. And after they are baptized the boy asks the man if he has changed yet, wondering when this powerful post-water happening, will radically alter who he is and how he lives. Sometimes we wonder too, when it is going to set in. Maybe we even wonder if we need a re-do!
Our baptism is not a meaningless gesture by any means; it is God choosing us in water and Word and community and Spirit. And God is at work in us through that water and Word our whole lives long. And our baptism becomes evident when we choose back the God who has already chosen us, when our lives look different and are different because of what God has done for us, because of the grace poured out upon us. But that is not always, an instantaneous thing. We don’t need to repeat our baptisms; once done one baptism is all that we need for an entire life. But we do benefit from being reminded of it. From sticking our fingers into water. From hearing the words, “Remember your baptism and be thankful.” From being reminded that God chose us. And so I invite you this day to remember that you are baptized. In invite you to be still and know God. I invite you to let go of the messages of the television and the world, to let go of that inner struggle over who is really in charge, to be reminded deeply of Peter’s words to “repent and be baptized,” and to soak fully and deeply in the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ - - the grace and good news of a God who is over all the earth. Be still, just for a moment, and know that God is God.
The messages that dominate our culture are going to keep coming at us. Keep tempting us with false truths, and messages that make us fear, and questions about who we are and what this life means. We not only need to “Be Still!” in humility, but to “Be Still!” in the comfort of God who is our refuge and strength, no matter what comes.
May God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, grant us the presence and peace this morning to be able to hear the words of Psalm 46 and take them in fully as God’s truth. May God, by the power of the Holy Spirit remind us of our baptism, of our new life in Jesus Christ, of our being chosen by Almighty God, of our being called to live as those who have died and are risen.
Be still and know that God is God this day. Remember your baptism and be thankful.