Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister

 

 

 

Living in a Dangerous World: Three Biblical Views

Sunday, May 29, 2005

 

 

Psalm 46

Genesis 6: 11-22

Genesis 7: 24

Genesis 8: 14-19

Matthew 7:  21-29

 

 

 Rev. Dean Snyder

Dean Snyder, Senior Minister, is a preacher, writer and activist who coordinates a talented ministerial and lay staff. He has previously served congregations in Philadelphia as well as a director of communications, editor, specialist in congregational development and new church starts, campus minister and college instructor. A graduate of Boston University School of Theology and Albright College, his articles have appeared in dozens of publications.

 

Last Sunday I had the opportunity to speak to the graduating class of the college that I attended where I was a freshman 40 years ago this fall. It was a special and poignant experience for me.

 

As I was preparing to speak to the students, it occurred to me that most of the students in the graduating class of 2005 would have begun their college education in September, 2001, just days before September 11. I was moved to think how dangerous the world must feel to young people who began their lives and who are living their lives in the shadow of 9/11.

 

When I entered college 40 years ago, the war in Viet Nam was far away. It came closer, but it was far away. So I’ve been brooding about how much closer 9/11 must bring these young people to a sense that they are living in a dangerous world. Really, if we are honest, the world feels more dangerous to all of us since 9/11.

 

A number of months ago I became a blogger. I blog. I have a blog site that is called “Untied Methodist.” If you want to find it, do a Google on “Untied Methodist” and it will take you to my blog site. I have written something on my blog that caused a young man from Georgia to email me and say what it was like to feel that there might be some dangerous act going to happen again at any moment. He said in his email, “Aren’t you ever nervous about another act of terrorism?” I emailed him back and said: “I live three blocks from the U.S. Capitol. Don’t you suppose that, in the back of my mind, I am often thinking that I am in a targeted zone?” 

 

Really, I think sometimes living in Washington there is a feeling in the air as though we are waiting for the other shoe to drop. I think that the world feels like a more dangerous place for all of us these past years. And then, of course, life itself is dangerous. None of us can really feel all that safe, even at a personal level.

 

I was very moved this week at Annual Conference when the bishop called on a young woman who was a lay delegate from one of our churches to give the closing prayer at the end of one of the sessions. When she came up front, she was wearing a baseball cap which she took off to show us her bald head. She spoke about what it was like to be a young woman with cancer. She spoke about how important prayer had become to her.

 

Well, life itself is dangerous. The world is a dangerous place. Living itself is a dangerous experience. I suspect that we as a church of Jesus Christ probably ought to be talking and thinking more than we seem to do about what it means to live these days in a dangerous world. The Bible talks about it a lot. In the Bible, the primary symbol for danger is the flood. People lived in fear of floods. Of course, floods were also symbolic of the other dangers of life – the dangers of chaos of any kind, the danger of war, the danger of societal breakdown. The flood was symbolic of the fear of being overwhelmed and overtaken and drowned by the demands and the requirements of life. So the Bible often talks about how to live in a world where there are dangers and there are floods.

 

It seems to me that there are three primary ways that the Bible thinks about living in a dangerous world, in a world where we could be overcome by floods and tsunamis at any time. And because these three ways of thinking about how to live in a dangerous world are biblical, they are also human because the Bible includes the deepest expressions of our human hopes and longings.

 

The first biblical way to think about how to live in a dangerous world is expressed in the familiar story of Noah and the ark. Here our human hope and longing is that, when life gets dangerous, God will just pick us up and rescue us and keep us out of the flood, keep us safe in the ark until the world becomes a safe place again.

 

The ark is a very powerful image of our hope that God will rescue and save us from danger. Many cathedrals and churches have been built in the shape of a ship – the shape of an ark – as a symbol that this is a safe place to ride out the storms of life. This part of the church has been historically called a “nave.” A nave is a part of a ship. It is where you ride out the storm in a ship. It’s the same word that is used as the base for “navy” or “naval.” As a matter of fact, I was looking at the church this week, our church. If you were to put the stern at one end and the keel at the other, this could be an ark.

 

When I was a conference staff member, I consulted with many churches. One of the things I heard from church people over and over again was that they wanted their church to be a place that felt safe, where they could come from the stresses and dangers of the world and just feel safe. Their church would be an ark.

 

I have noticed that, over the last several years, especially since 9/11, as new independent churches have been created, a significant number of them are using the term ark in their name – Ark of Safety, Ark of the Promise, Ark of the Rainbow. One of the biblical hopes is that God in the face of danger will rescue us out of the flood, will keep us safe and dry until the storm is over.

 

A second biblical viewpoint is one that is expressed in a number of places in the Bible, but the example that I have lifted up for us this morning is Psalm 46:

 

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in time of trouble. Therefore, even though the mountains shake and the waters roar and foam, even though the flood threatens to overwhelm and overtake us, God is a very present help in time of trouble. God is in the midst of the city, even when it is in danger; the city shall not be moved.”

 

The image here is a God who is with us in the midst of the storm. God doesn’t necessarily remove us from danger but is present to help us, to walk with us, to be with us in the midst of the storms and floods and dangers of life. Psalm 46, of course, originally was a hymn. It was sung by Israelite choirs with drums and tambourines and trumpets. They would sing: “God is our refuge, a very present help in time of trouble. Though the waters threaten to overcome us, yet God will be with us in the midst of it all.”

 

Psalm 46 is the reflection of an understanding on the part of Israel that we are not always rescued from danger, but that the divine, the holy presence of God is with us in the midst of danger. The Apostle Paul expressed this in the beloved 8th Chapter of Romans when he talked about nothing being able to separate us from the love of God no matter what – that nothing in all of creation, nothing past or present, principalities or powers will be able to separate us from God’s love.

 

The third biblical expression of how to live in the dangerous world is the one that we heard Jesus teach in the Sermon on the Mount. This is the image of the foolish one who builds his house on the sand. When the flood comes, the house is just washed away. This is compared to the wise one who builds her house on rock, so that when the flood comes, her house is able to stand. Here what Jesus is suggesting is that what God does is to prepare us and teach us how to live. God helps develop our character, our perseverance and our strength so that in the midst of storm and danger we are able to live wisely and well and consistently with our deepest beliefs and values.

 

These three biblical understandings of how to live in a world that is dangerous are, of course, not mutually exclusive. We need as the people of God to attend to them all. They ought to shape our life together as a people who live out biblical history in our own time. 

 

The church does need to be an ark. The church needs to be a place where we can be lifted out of the dangers of life, where we can find refuge from the floods outside of us and inside ourselves that threaten to overwhelm us. The church needs to be a place where we touch one another, where we have healing ministry, where we have Stephen ministry, where we care for each other in the midst of the crisis, where we help rescue one another. There used to be a time at Foundry when there was an intercessory prayer team that was in the chapel. They prayed every Sunday before worship. Then, after worship, anyone who wanted to have a personal prayer could go to the chapel and someone would take your hand and pray for your needs. I wonder why we don’t do that for one another any more. The church needs to be an ark where we can find safety.

 

The church also needs to be a school, a school of the soul where we can learn how to experience the presence of God in our lives. Then we will know the presence of the Spirit of God when the floods of life threaten to overwhelm us. We go on retreat with one another. We learn how to be spiritual, to attend to the divine presence in our lives. The divine presence is like anything else. If you don’t pay attention to it, you don’t learn much about it. We need to flex our spiritual muscles as well as our physical muscles. So the spiritual life of the church is the process of learning to discern and be attuned to the divine presence in our lives so that when we are going through the floods of life, we will know that God is our present strength and refuge who will help us.

 

The church also needs to be the place where, as Jesus suggested, we sink our foundations deep into the teachings that we have inherited in scripture, where we learn so we can develop our character. We will know what we believe and why we believe it so that when life gets difficult and stormy, we will have a foundation that holds. This is why we do Bible study and why we teach our children the faith. This is why we ourselves engage in adult education so that we will have a solid foundation that will be able to sustain us during the dangerous times of life.

 

These are our three biblical heritages that we inherit. We need to be a place a safety where we can get out of the flood and where we can float above it for a time. We need to be a place where we learn to experience God’s presence so that we can know God is with us in the storms and floods of life. We also need to be a place where we learn so that we sink our foundation deep and can walk with faith when faith is hard to find. May we be this kind of a biblical people.  

 

 

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