“I have an affection for a great city. I feel safe in the neighborhood of man, and enjoy the sweet security of the streets." -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16

The Psalms, you see, are songs that expressed the emotions of the Hebrew people. The hard, burdened, and often-difficult life of God’s chosen people. These were songs often joyfully and occasionally woefully sung during worship. And like our ancestors in the faith, these are words that Christans have been sung for 2,000 years to praise the Almighty God. So we join with this great tradition this morning and remember the words of Psalm 91 that have brought comfort and peace to generation after generation. “Those who dwell in the shelter of the most high” are words that bring us assurance.

Imagine a dark room, full of men who have dedicated their lives to the Lord. Their one mission in life is to serve the church and the world. This group of Trapist monks in central Kentucky serves the world through prayer. They pray and worship eight times a day. Other than their vocal prayer and worship, they live a lift of silence, meditating on the Lords interaction with the world. In their monastery, there are a few rooms dedicated to talking, rarely are these used unless an outsiders comes with questions about their life of faith. When asked they share openly. . One even remarks, “we pray for those who do not know how to pray for themselves.” They pray for us. They pray for the world. Eight times a day they pray for you and for me.

I, personally, find it comforting that there is a group of individuals who have dedicated their lives to praying for me, even when I often forget to pray for myself. It find it comforting that in the unsure world in which we live, where war is a constant threat, financial markets are unsure, and faith in governments is wavering, there are people who pray. There are people who pray for the “arrow that flies by night,” be it a real arrow or an emptiness and loneliness that some feel in the dark and dim hours of the night. The prayers of these men comfort me like this Psalm comforts many of us.

This Psalm 91 reminds us of God’s constant presence. God will not leave us nor forsake us and the words to this ancient prayer remind us of God’s existence in our lives. We are people who “dwell in the shelter of the Most High.” All too often we have forgotten about God’s shelter and have relied on our own wit and strength for protection. Many of you have heard stories about my experience living in the Bahamas and serving five churches on Eleuthrea Island. A few summers ago I was granted the opportunity to live in a very rural part of the Bahamas through a program at Emory. I packed my bags, boarded a plane to Nassau, then boarded a six passenger plane to Eleuthera. I did not know what to expect. I arrived at my one room cinder block home. The doors to my home did not lock, coming from Atlanta this was quite unusual and a bit scary. As I learned more and more about the community, I realized that a 20 something female minister with no spouse was not the norm…imagine that. On my arrival, no one knew who I was or what I was there to do. I would frequently get “cat calls,” from men in the area making me even more uncomfortable and nervous. After my first Sunday of leading worship, the whistles and remarks ceased. I began to feel more comfortable. That was, until, one specific day. It was a normal day when I woke up. I visited some of the homebound individuals in the community. I worked on my sermon around lunch. I met some of the children in the playground and visited with them in the afternoon. Around 4:00 I decided to go for a run. I had to drive to the neighboring town to lead a bible study that evening and thought this would be a great way to clear my head. I started my run down the frequently traveled road. When I got to my turn around point, I turned and continued on my way. As a approached a few houses I noticed a group of men sitting in the yard. Lets just say they had started their evening activities a bit early and as I ran in front of the house they began to yell at me. Then follow me. I kept running occasionally looking back just to see them still behind me, following me to my home. I went to a friend’s house and her husband told them to leave, or he would call the police. Eventually I went back to my home, placing all the furniture in front of the doors I found myself in scared, alone, and in a foreign country.

As evening fell, the arrow that flies by night started to terrify me. “What if they know where I live,” I thought. “What if the come to find me.” I panicked, called my mother, e-mailed my friends, made plans to have actual locks placed on the doors and then when none of that gave me peace, I finally began to pray. Why is it that during time of unrest, God is often a last resort? One in every four U.S. homes has a home security alarm. Each and every evening the news tells us how unsafe our world is becoming. Even our local news is covered with stories of homicides, burglaries, and car wrecks… here in the River Region. A few weeks ago I was visiting a member of our church at her retirement home and she was remarking about how much the world has changed during her 90 years of life. It seems that fear is all around us. But even though, we still try to find peace and rest on our own. We install more locks, more security systems, and we talk about the way that life is changing. Often prayer is our last resort. We fail to remember that we live in the shelter of the Most High. We forget that our refuge is God the Almighty. We do not recall the manner that God covers us, protects us, and shields us. But even when we forget the manner that God protects us, when we fail to remember the manner that God loves us, God continues to comfort us and give us peace.

During the times in our life when we feel most alone, we can be assured that God is with us. The arrow is not so troublesome, and that we do live in the shelter of the Most High. God is our refuge. God is our fortress. God is our strength. God does not leave us.

God says to us, the children of the Almighty, “Those who love me, I will deliver.” Our Lord’s promises are sure and we are reminded of them when our God says, “When they call to me, I will answer them.”
 We are assured of God’s continual presence with us, and our Lord says “I will be with them in trouble.”
 We can be assured that we are loved when our Lord proclaims, “I will rescue them and honor them. 
With long life I will satisfy them, and show , my salvation.” Psalms 91 is a song written to remind the Hebrew people of God’s steadfast love. It was written to remind the Hebrew people that in places where there seems to be no peace, no safety, no security…God is a refuge. God is a fountain of strength.

God is WITH all of us. Even in times when the arrow seems to be pressing, God is with us. Even in places where there is darkness, God is with us. In even the deepest night, even the most frightening time, even the most terrifying moments, God is with us. God is always with all of us. We do not need to fear because God has covered us. God is with us.

At 3:15 in the morning in a small monastery in central Kentucky a bell tolls, awakening the brothers to a time of prayer. Sleepily they meander to the small sanctuary in the modest building that they call home. They begin to pray. They pray for the world while we sleep. One monk remarks that this is the time when people are most vulnerable. Deep in the middle of the night while the world sleeps they pray for the resting world. They pray that the arrow will not fly, they pray that the pestilence will remain far away. Deep in the night’s cool dark air almost anything can happen, so they pray. They recite the words to Psalm 91.

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,* 
will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress; my God, in whom I trust.’ 
For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence; he will cover you with his pinions, 
and under his wings you will find refuge; 
his faithfulness is a shield and buckler. You will not fear the terror of the night, 
or the arrow that flies by day, 
or the pestilence that stalks in darkness,
or the destruction that wastes at noonday. Those who love me, I will deliver;
I will protect those who know my name. 
When they call to me, I will answer them;
 I will be with them in trouble,
 I will rescue them and honour them. 
With long life I will satisfy them,
 and show them my salvation.

This is their calling, they pray for the world. The worlds to this Psalm remind them, they remind all of us that God protects us; that God is with us. They pray for safety, they pray for God’s presence. They pray. This is their calling. This is our calling.

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