“Be Still and Know” – Psalm 46
Kirkin’ of the Tartan – October 25, 2020
Before I read our scripture for today, I want to share a story about an unexpected gift.
Back in August, a friend was on the way to the beach with her two teenagers.
She and her daughters were going to travel from St. Louis to Pensacola,
where they would meet her sister for a brief vacation.
The backstory is that for the prior ten months, this friend had been the primary caregiver for her father.
Her father had multiple physical illnesses as well as increasing dementia,
and had moved in with her and her family last October, almost a year ago.
After living with them for the first six weeks,
everyone realized that he needed the full time care of a nursing facility.
So, with anxious prayer and thoughtful consideration, they found an acceptable place nearby
for her father to receive the care he needed.
Anyone who has been the primary “go to” person for a loved one in the midst of physical
and mental decline can relate to the constant stress and anxiety of that situation.
Then, the pandemic hits and they were no longer able to visit him in person,
except perhaps through a closed window.
Then, as many of you have experienced, there were issues in the nursing facility
and they had to change to a different facility in the midst of the pandemic.
It had been a long, difficult ten months, and our friend was looking forward to a getaway at the beach,
even if only for several days.
She was excited about a chance for some rest and relaxation,
even with the typical questions of two teenagers ringing in her ears:
What are we going to do there? What am I supposed to wear? Do they have good wi-fi?
At such times in life, when we are caught up with exhausting responsibilities
and stress-filled anxieties, God can seem far, far away.
It can be easy to fall out of any practice of daily prayer or weekly worship.
Life can be challenging enough on its own, without one more thing to do or one more place to be.
Then, as happens, just when we feel like we have all that we can handle, something else goes wrong.
On the way to the beach, our friend’s car completely died after they had pulled off at a rest stop.
The tow truck came for the car, but our friend found herself and her two teenage daughters
and all their beach luggage, chairs, coolers, etcetera, stranded at a rest stop.
A nice family who was towing a boat offered them a ride,
allowing them to tossed all their beach luggage in the back of the boat.
The only problem was that, once they came to the next interstate,
the family with the boat was going in a different direction,
so our friend with her two daughters, and all her luggage, and coolers, and beach chairs
ended up at a McDonald’s drive through, waiting for her sister to come pick them up.
As you can imagine, everyone who came to the drive thru asked them if they were Ok
and if they needed any help.
Finally, after her sister arrived and they loaded up the car, they were off to the beach,
more exhausted than they had been before.
The next morning, and I am getting to the point of the story,
our friend woke up earlier than usual and she said just happened to feel like going outside.
She didn’t always get up quite so early, but that day, she got up and felt led to go to the beach.
There at the beach, with her toes in the sand, she was gifted with an extraordinary sight.
In the midst of all the chaos going on in her life,
she witnessed probably the most beautiful sunrise she had ever seen.
In the east, huge cumulonimbus clouds appeared to be exploding in slow motion in front of the rising sun.
A rainbow of color emerged and streaks of “God light” emanated from the horizon.
It was an extraordinary sight and our friend must have taken 25 pictures on her phone
trying to capture what, ultimately, could not be captured on camera.
She said that the amazing sight was an unexpected gift for her, a gift reminding her
of how we human beings have such a small place in this world.
When we witness something in nature so dramatic, so beautiful, it can be humbling.
We remember the awesomeness of God and the vastness of God’s creation.
We may feel overwhelmed by our problems, but somehow, in the face of such wonder,
our challenges don’t quite seem so insurmountable anymore.
We can even gain a sense of peace and calm in the midst of whatever chaos we may be facing.
Such a dramatic show of nature has a way of encouraging us to “be still and know”,
to be still and know that God is God, and we are not,
to be still and know that God is ultimately in control, and we are not,
to be still and know that God is present for us, even though we may have forgotten or drifted away,
to be still and know that God is our refuge and our strength, a very present help for us,
even if we had not realized how much we needed help or needed a refuge from the storm.
Hear the Word of God from Psalm 46:
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved; God will help it when the morning dawns.
The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Come, behold the works of the Lord; see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire. ‘Be still, and know that I am God!
I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.’
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
I don’t know about you, but my family is tired of talking about politics and the pandemic.
Even back in the spring, when Hall, Mac, and Luke were living with us,
our youngest, Luke, a college student, would say,
all y’all want to talk about is work or politics or the pandemic.
Isn’t there anything else we can talk about?
Lately, when we’ve gotten together as a family, all of us have found ourselves in Luke’s mindset.
Let’s set a few ground rules, we say.
For the next hour, at least while we eat dinner, no conversations about the pandemic or politics.
This can actually be hard to do, but it’s worth the trouble.
Don’t get me wrong. We like to talk about things that are important in our family.
We talk about things that are difficult to talk about.
We try to listen carefully to one another and respond thoughtfully.
But lately, we have all needed a rest from the anxieties of the pandemic and the frustrations of the politics.
What little things do you do to find rest for your soul these days?
What enables you to “be still and know that God is God”?
Many of you formally had a commute to and from work.
You would use that time to find peace and stillness,
listening to music or podcasts or books on tape.
What do you former commuters now do to find your center?
Many of you formerly had time at home without the rest of the family,
and you had opportunities for stillness and quiet.
What do you now do to intentional quiet the mental buzz in your own brain
and the constant buzz of activity in your home?
One of the ways many of us enjoy a “rest for our souls” is to go for a walk or jog.
Even if it’s only a 20 minute walk or jog through a local park or a stroll through your own backyard,
something about the energy of the trees and the sound of the birds
and the feel of the ground under your feet can bring a sense of peace and calm in the midst of chaos.
The turning of leaves and the change of seasons remind us that this season of pandemic
too shall ultimately pass.
Another way that I have found rest for my soul during this pandemic
has been to watch our church’s worship services on YouTube.
The flow of worship reminds me that God is good, that God is with us and for us.
The music of worship soothes my soul and encourages my heart.
The Word of God in worship seems to always give me a fresh perspective
on the challenges of the coming week.
For me, worship is a place where my heart and mind is stilled
and I am reminded that God is my refuge and my strength.
Today we “Kirk (or bless) the Tartans.”
This has been an enjoyable and meaningful tradition in the life of this congregation.
Of course, this year is quite different, but we are carrying on,
doing what we can to worship together and keep our traditions alive.
The origin of the Kirkin’ rests in a bold act of rebellion.
In the 18th century, after the Scottish clans were soundly defeated in the horrific Battle of Culloden,
the King of England forbade the bearing of arms and the wearing of kilts,
or tartans, or any plaid which represented Scottish heritage.
British troops were even commanded to kill on sight anyone who wore Highland garb
or displayed their family tartan.
Though this prohibition lasted for almost fifty years, the proud Scots would wear a piece of tartan
under their clothes when they went to church, to the Kirk.
During worship, the minister would slip a blessing of the tartans into one of the prayers,
and the Scots would reach beneath their clothes and rub their family plaid.
During such challenging days of cruel violence and of great suffering,
the Scots must have wondered if God had abandoned them.
From the Scots perspective, the English treated them callously, cold-heartedly,
with unnecessary violence and oppression.
The Scots must have turned to the psalms and read those familiar verses,
“How long, O Lord? Will you hide yourself forever?” (Psalm 79)
“Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10)
“How long, O Lord, shall the wicked prosper? They crush your people and afflict your heritage.
They kill the widow and the stranger, they murder the orphan.” (Psalm 94)
Rubbing those tartans under their clothes was not simply an act of defiance against the king of England,
it was an act of hopeful prayer, a prayer that one day, justice would come and liberty would be restored.
Kirkin’ the tartans was a reminder that God was their god and not the king of England.
God was in charge of this world and would ultimately prevail.
Kirkin’ the tartans reaffirmed their commitment that God would be first in their lives,
their family and clan would be second,
and any king or political affiliation would be further down the line of their priorities.
In the midst of whatever questions you may be asking about God’s providence,
in the midst of whatever chaotic challenges or continuing frustrations you may be facing,
in the midst of any fearful dreams that may be waking you up at night,
in the midst of ongoing uncertainties and anxieties about this pandemic,
in the midst of stress-filled days and not enough rest at night, be still and know.
Be still and know that God is God,
that God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, even though the earth should change,
even though the mountains may shake in the heart of the sea.
The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge
Despite whatever your current circumstances may communicate,
we worship a God who has not forgotten us, but who knows our every tear.
We worship a God who remembers covenant with us and intends for us a future with hope.
We worship a God who is a very present help in trouble, a safe refuge from the storms we face.
My parents enjoy pithy quotes and have a number of them hanging around their home,
on the refrigerator and in other various places around the house.
One of my favorites came from the pulpit exchange they enjoyed in Scotland.
A member of the Scottish kirk gave them a little framed prayer that I see
every time I wash my hands in their guest bathroom.
The prayer goes like this: “Holy God, I am going to be verie busy this day, and I may forget Thee;
please do not Thou forget me.”
Holy God, please do not Thou forget us.
Yes, we may often forget God in the midst of our busy or challenging days.
We may often stray from God in our thoughts and in our actions.
But God does not stray far from us. God does not forget us or leave us to our own devices.
And occasionally, we just may be given some unexpected gift
to remind us that God’s good intentions remain – for us and for all whom we love.
Be still and know. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church