The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
February 9, 2020
We recycle at this church. We use a device that crushes soda pop cans. You’d think flattening soda cans would be fun, but it’s soda pressing.
I can’t help but make puns. I have to find reasons to laugh because I’m almost always aware how hard life is!
Life can be so fearsomely hard, that even the faithful fear what it can do. Yet, their faith enables them to be fine despite their fears. For, though they feel fear, they are not overpowered by their feelings; and though some hardships scare them, they are not thrown into a panic by them. For they walk with God in obedience, and His grace gives them steady hearts and serene hope through all the troubles of this world.
They are in fact happy in the face of trouble!
“Happy,” begins Psalm 112, “are those who fear the Lord, who greatly delight in his commandments.” Their happiness reverberates down the generations to lift the spirits of their descendants. In their own generation, their emotional stability from the Lord makes them brave enough to open their hearts with merciful compassion to the needy and to share what they have with gracious generosity. Their connection with a God constant in His care and concern gives them the confidence to remain firmly “secure” before “evil tidings” and expectant of “triumph” over their “foes”. While realistic about life’s harshness, they rejoice in the assurance of where they will end up.
Catherine Marshall shares a perspective that came to a friend named Marge as she sat aboard a plane bound for Cleveland. While she felt the plane rumble down the runway for takeoff and heard the revving of the engines to thrust them all into thin air, Marge looked out the window to her left and saw a sunset illuminating the sky with glorious color. She looked out the window to her right and saw pitch-black storm clouds darkening the sky and threatening tumult and turbulence for their aircraft. Marge suddenly realized God was giving her a picture to encourage peace of heart. Life has both a happy and beautiful side and a glowering and frightening side. We can lock our gaze on the one and pretend life is nothing but a joy ride to heaven, or we can lock it in on the other and become dour and downcast in spirit – or we can look forward, catch sight of the pilot at the controls, and trust that, whatever we have to pass through, we are still going to get to Cleveland. We can rest at ease in the faith that the pilot has the capability to see us through any kind of terrible weather and bring us to our destination. And all we have to do is keep faithful in our faith: that is, keep our heads, act in defiance of our fears, refuse to bail out, and stay buckled in for the journey.
Peace of heart does not derive from the absence of threat but from the presence of the God who can handle any threat. If we’re present to His presence and bear in mind His capabilities, we can inhale the Spirit’s gift of peace and be happy in our trust of the Lord.
In that trust of the Lord, we fear Him and obey His commandments. The Lord’s first and foremost commandment is that we love Him and others with everything we’ve got. That means that to feel fine, especially in life’s fiercest moments, we have to be all about living out God’s love.
Two Sundays ago, the church’s Movie Goers group went to see the film Just Mercy. The film, based on a book of the same name, is about a real life hero, a Christian named Bryan Stevenson.
Though the movie downplays Stevenson’s Christian faith, as Hollywood usually does with heroes who are heroic by virtue of their Christian faith, Stevenson feared and loved God. After he graduated from Harvard Law School, he moved into the Deep South to fight the evil of racism, starting a legal aid organization to release those unjustly convicted of crimes.
The movie depicts his long, hard battle to reopen the case of an innocent black man who had been wrongly found guilty of murdering a white teenage girl and who had been sentenced to execution in the electric chair.
The movie stays true to the basic events of actual history. One happening, recorded in the book but left out of the movie, involves an elderly woman named Mrs. Williams. When the judge finally allowed African-American witnesses to give their testimonies in court, Mrs. Williams had important evidence to bring forth.
When she arrived at the court to give her testimony, she was shocked to find a giant German shepherd standing guard outside the courtroom. When Mrs. Williams, who was deathly afraid of dogs, saw that fierce beast, she froze, and her body began to shake. Tears of fear streamed down her face, until she gave up and retreated from her perceived danger.
Stevenson and Mrs. Williams spoke later. She confessed, “I feel so badly. I let you down today. I was meant to be in that courtroom. I should have been in that courtroom.” Then she once more broke down into tears, and Stevenson couldn’t console her. When she finally composed herself enough to speak again, she said, “I wanted to be there so bad. But when I saw that dog, all I could think about was Selma, 1965. I remember how they beat us, and I remember the dogs. I wanted to move forward, and I tried to move, but I just couldn’t.” Then with sad, tear-filled eyes, she excused herself and left the room.
The next morning, Mrs. Williams’ sister got ahold of Stevenson and told him that his potential witness hadn’t eaten or talked to anybody all night. She stayed by herself in her room from dusk to dawn. They could hear her praying in there, and how she kept saying, “Lord, I can’t be scared of no dog. Lord, I can’t be scared of no dog.”
Shortly after her sister and Stevenson concluded their conversation, Mrs. Williams strode up to him and declared: “I ain’t scared of no dog.” Then she turned and marched right past that giant German Shepherd into the courtroom.
The chambers were packed when the judge walked in, and everyone rose and then sat down – except Mrs. Williams. She remained on her feet and announced to the entire courtroom in a loud, firm voice: “I’m here!”
Later Stevenson wrote, “What she was saying wasn’t that she was physically present. She was saying I may be old, I may be poor, I may be black; but I am here because I got a vision of justice that compels me to stand up to injustice. And that,” Stevenson says, “was when the tide for the case turned.”
We all have got somewhere to go for the Lord and a witness to give. We can lock our eyes on the darkness that threatens us, or we can lock them on the Lord, who is both the creator and the perfector of our faith, and trust Him to take us to our destination and to enable us there to fulfill our destiny.
“Happy are those who fear the Lord, who greatly delight in His commandments.” Happy and powerful and world-changing! Let us pray.