BE STILL AND KNOW
TEXT: Psalm 46:10
In our Daily Walk readings we go through the Psalms twice across the year, so this is our second pass, and before we leave it for good, I want to pause at Psalm 46. This is a relatively famous Psalm. It’s the one Martin Luther used as the inspiration for his hymn “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” There’s also a bit of Bible trivia associated with it, so I’m going to give you a fun homework assignment for next week to see who can find the answer. If you’ve been with Bible studies with me before and know the answer, just keep it to yourself until next week.
When the Bible is translated, it has been common practice to find not only a good translator, but a good poet to help make the Biblical poetry not just accurate but beautiful. We turn back to the Psalms in the King James version of the Bible again and again, not because it’s easier to understand…it isn’t. It represents the English spoken in Britain in 1611 and it can be very difficult. But we go back to it because it is beautiful.
Some claim that the poet who made the Psalms of the King James version so memorable coded his name into the book…here in Psalm 46. You will have to find a copy of the King James version to make this work, but if you take the King James, turn to Psalm 46. Skipping the instructions and beginning with the first word of the first verse, count 46 words down from the top. Now go to the end. Again, skipping the “selah” at the end, count backwards 46 words. Put the two words together and you have the name of the poet. So…only the KJV, skip the extra material that’s not part of the Psalm itself. Psalm 46…46 words from the top and 46 words from the bottom. Who is it? I’ll ask for the answer next week.
There’s a lot of comfort in this Psalm as we think about God as our refuge and strength…our mighty fortress. But there is also a great piece of wisdom, down in verse 10. “Be still, and know that I am God.” In many ways our culture is much more still than it used to be. Many of us sit at desks all day and then spend hours sitting in a car or on a plane. We sit in front of computer and television screens…I even have a TV that comes up on my computer screen, so I can do both at once! Many of us are so still that it is causing us health problems.
But the word used in Psalm 46 doesn’t mean to sit. It means to still the mind as well as the body. It means to relax, to let things drop, to abandon, to withdraw, to refrain. Most of us don’t do that kind of stillness at all. We have simply swapped out physical labor for mental labor and traded the still, small voice within for voices from without…the music from our ipods, the opinions on the radio, the diversions on the tv, and the information on the internet.
Many people actually fear being still…to really stop doing things and just be. Someone once pointed out that we are meant to be human beings not human doings. But we often find it hard to truly stop and see what might await us in the silence.
According to the Psalmist, it is God who waits in the stillness. Remember when we read the stories about Elijah? He got depressed and felt he was all alone doing God’s work. He went up a mountain and waited for God. There was an earthquake, but God wasn’t in the earthquake. There was a fire, but God wasn’t in the fire. There was a great wind, but God wasn’t in the wind. But then came “the sound of sheer silence.” And that’s when God spoke and ministered to Elijah.
Be still and know that I am God. In order to really connect with God, we need that stillness…not just sitting down, not just muting the TV, but a real time of withdrawal from all the things of the world. A time when we let go of work, refrain from taking up some nervous activity, abandon the efforts to think or talk our way into God’s presence…a time when everything about us is still, like a lake on a calm day when you can see the surrounding landscape like a mirror.
It takes practice. When you’ve been used to constant activity and sound, sometimes being still for even 60 seconds is hard. That’s okay. Try it, and increase the time by increments. Let go. It’s a kind of fasting…to give our full attention to God and let God run the world for a few minutes while we are still.
One of the reasons I have trouble sleeping at night is that I don’t have enough truly still time during the day. When I have finally decided that I’ve done enough for the day, shut everything off, and prepare for bed, everything that God has been waiting to share with me comes pouring out at once. If you’re looking at the parsonage bedroom windows at night…which I sincerely hope you aren’t…often the light goes on and off, on and off. I’ll lie down and be still and 30 seconds later there’s a sermon idea. I get up, write it down, turn off the light again and lie down. Then comes a nudge to be in contact with someone. Sometimes I get up, go downstairs and send an e-mail. Other times I turn on the light again, make a note, shut off the light…and so on for quite some time.
Other times I am not still because I don’t want to hear what I think God is going to say, and my business is the equivalent of putting my fingers in my ears and singing “la la la la…don’t tell me, God…I don’t want to know.” At still other times I don’t want to face the grief or emptiness that I know is inside but that I keep stuffing back in. But God can’t heal it until I am still…until I let go of the fear of falling apart, until I abandon the diversions and let the pain rise to the surface where God can tend it.
It isn’t hard for me to be in silence. I’ll drive for eight hours without once turning on the radio or putting in a CD. I can easily sit for an hour without a sound. But that silence is not always true stillness. Usually during those times my brain is in high gear…composing sermons, running scenarios through my mind to solve a problem, planning for the next event or season.
But the Psalmist advises that we be still so that we can truly know who God is and what God wants from us. It is a spiritual discipline, just as much as worship, giving, prayer and Bible study. In order for God to fill us, we must first be empty. A full cup has no room for the wine of God.
During our prayer time this morning we’ll practice being still, and I’ll tell you about that when we get there. But the point of the stillness is to let enough drop away that there is room for God to fill us from the Table of God’s love that is set before us. God is surely our refuge and strength, but we’ll never be aware of that or know its benefits until we can learn to be still and know the God who loved us enough to live and die as one of us. Come, share the Lord…first in the stillness, then at the table. Amen.
Sermon © 2006, Anne Robertson
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