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Robert John Andrews specializes in human interest columns with a spiritual twist, where local issues and neighborhood topics provide a window to the universal.  It is so average.  So incredibly special.  Give me my ordinary everyday, neat.

Here is my reflection on the current state and possible future of today's church:  "Morning is Wiser than Night."

See Columns under Projects for my newest column, Leap Day: "Bad, Romans, bad."

I was privileged to preach at Presbytery on Saturday --  I include here the message:

Reflection Presbytery Psalm 46

25 January, 2020

 

Once again, as with so many Psalms reflecting the songwriter’s personal agony, life sure hasn’t turned out the way this Psalmist thought it would.  It’s frighteningly hopeful to try to enter the mind and heartache of the author and see the tumultuous world through his eyes.   What hurt, emotions, fears, worries, gave rise to these lyrics?

 

Psalm 46 is sung in three strophes each with a refrain (those Hebrews were fond of their triads):

 

First Strophe: The Trauma of Nature

 

1God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble 2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;

3though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

 

Locusts, earthquakes, ice, fires, virus, cancer, Global warming, nature’s capricious indifference – enough said…

 

Second Strophe:  Trauma of Society

 

4There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,  

the holy habitation of the Most High.

{the mysterious spring fed Gihon, Jerusalem’s water source during sieges}

5God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;  God will help it when the morning dawns. 6The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.

7The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

 

Forgive us the sin of pride in race and place.  We Evangelicals these days are being given a bad name by a noisier, retrograde branch of evangelicalism, the one that wants us all to wake up again in white America, 1958.[1]  How are you today, Mrs. Lot’s Wife?

 

Odd.  Many of these evangelicals don’t participate in “robust church communities.”[2] As Timothy Carney argues in his book, Alienated America, they inhabit alienated areas of our nation, largely rural and small towns – areas that are economically deprived, emotionally denied, plagued with overdose deaths and addictions, younger mortality rates, firearm suicides, “deaths of despair.”  They suffer the local collapse of the “social capital” of strong institutions of society.  Family collapsing. Church collapsing.  Unions collapsing.  Civic organizations collapsing. Satisfying work collapsing.  Trust and respect of authority tested, stretched, broken. 

 

Add to this mix other factors of social change.  Gender roles confusing.  Fear at the browning of the United States. Tribalism.  Population shifts, the young (who can) migrating from home towns.  Increased mobility.  Me:  one in Oakland, two in Fort Collins.  Young people turned off by scriptural pabulum and theological certitude.  Young men reacting to wives and girl-friends as the bread winners.  Older middle-aged men unemployed without prospect of hire.  Housing prices out of reach.  Healthcare bills unpaid.  College too expensive for our kids.  Grandmas raising grand-daughters.  The debasement of speech.  The debasement of truth.  The debasement of moral integrity.  Dreams on the ash heap.   The rich brag a rising tide floats all boats.  That’s true if you own a boat or at least wear a life preserver.  Otherwise, you drown. 

 

We peer into this cauldron of social trauma and instability, this witch’s brew of uncertainty and anxiety.  And where is the church, where are we?  God help us, we are our mission field!

 

The health of a church, furthermore, is linked, indexed to the health of its community.  Demographic, economic, technological, sociological changes affect us, especially those of us who refuse to adapt and evolve, those of us who resist how to best fit our changing landscape and climate.  If the church is called to transform culture, surely our Godhead uses culture to transform church.

 

Jesus is present tense

Now that makes perfect sense

 

The trick?  God is God and we ain’t.  Whenever we put anything else before God’s will as revealed in the person of Jesus – tribe, race, rules, institutions, success, crusades, traditions, family, church, church buildings, work, Dow Jones, alcohol, nation – we commit idolatry.  We become what we praise.  Forswear thy foolish ways… 

 

Jesus doesn’t offer an idea, a cause, or religion

Jesus offers himself to us, that’s what’s given

 

Hey!  How come we omitted the Third Strophe? The Source of Hope.  We need to add it. 

 

Once upon a time I heard this Psalm when we’d sing “A Mighty Fortress is our God.”  Martin Luther and all that jazz.  Blare of organ pipes resounding, triumphant verve redounding, kettle drums and marching bands abounding.  But a little research reveals that this is not how this Psalm was sung.  As the musical instructions dictate:   To the choirmaster.  A Psalm of the Sons of Korah.  According to Alamoth.

 

Alamoth: scholarship suggests it means ‘according to the voices of young women,’ ‘flutingly,’  ‘in the style of a maiden.’  Psalm 46 is delicate, lilting, sung in high tones.  It is a soft song sung by girls, a song of promise and hope.   Amidst an unreliable, ruthless, pounding, noisy, world of harsh nature and inhumanity, God alone is gentle.  Psalm 46 is not some militant Psalm.  It is a lullaby. 

 

8Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth.

9He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. 10“Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.” 

11The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.

 

[1] Brian McLaren, Boxcast of Sessions 1 and 2 from the Thriving Church Even 10/25/19

[2] Timothy Carney, Alienated America

Glad for visitors to my site.  That's why I tossed everything into the pot.  There's the full draft of This Land and you can even find my Beyond the Third Grade Bible Primer under articles.  

Soundcloud:

Reflection from July 21, Martha My Dear, about Mary and listening

Reflection from June 16, Free For, about being freed for rather than freed from

Reflection from March 17, 2019.  I play with Jesus' attitude toward Jerusalem with an introduction about Alienated America book. 

 

Our ‘Susquehanna Meditations’ is now available on SoundCloud along with Cameo Conversations.  Go to search and enter RJAndrews.  Or go to Cameo Conversations and SoundCloud under Projects and click on.  This piece is a series of reflections, meditations, love poems on seasonal curiosities of the Susquehanna Valley (such falling leaves, shad run, west branch, onion snow, young bucks, mockingbirds, eels, rattlesnakes).  We thank local musicians Van Wagner and Woody Wolf for their accompanying songs.

SoundCloud hosts my reflection from 16 December, 2018:  "Home," where I recount the story of Joseph and Mary and why, thanks to the gifts of the Magi (panic and terror) they became refugees twice.

SoundCloud hosts my message from 18 November, 2018:  "Ourstory."  Freddie Mercury meets Jesus meets FDR.

 

Also you will find on SoundCloud my reflection from Sunday, 21 October, 2018:  Job's Opera, delivered at Grove Presbyterian Church.

We also are pleased to invite you, via SoundCloud, to enjoy our dramatic reading in November of "Our Town" as well as our December presentation of  "The Gift of the Magi" and "A Child's Christmas in Wales."

UPCOMING SPEAKING EVENTS

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