1) Like concrete (for your salvation)
2) Like a ferris wheel (for living your life)
“Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
We human beings so often get things backwards. Like the things we are afraid of. We human beings tend to be afraid of all the wrong things. The fact is, there are only two things you need to be afraid of: death, and everything else. Fear drains our energy like certain apps drain your data plan. So our God has a way of dealing with our fears; he says, deal with your fears by“being still.” “Be still and know that I am God.” But what you need to understand is that there are two kinds of stillness. One kind is being still like concrete; the other kind is being still like a ferris wheel.
1—BEING STILL CONCRETE (for your salvation)
The first kind of “being still” is the kind to be used when you start thinking of death and start getting afraid. This first kind of “being still” is like what that super-duper good guy says, after he chases the bad guy, jumps across roofs, survives an explosion, cracks a joke, and finally tackles the bad guy and pulls his gun and says, “Stay still. Don’t move a muscle”—that’s the kind of “being still” we want to learn when it comes to dealing with our fear of death. The don’t-move-a-muscle kind of being still. Because God has told us that in Christ he has done everything, EVERYTHING, for our salvation. So, “be still,” the “don’t-move-a-muscle kind of being still.
Because if the bad guy does move, well you know what’s going to happen. Same thing that will happen to you or me if we move our muscles trying to somehow make God love us and save us from death. You try to do things to earn God’s favor and salvation, it will be like that bad guy trying to get up and get away from the good guy who has a gun aimed right at his heart. It’s a death sentence. And I’m not talking just about physical death, but the eternal death that is so horrible the Bible simply calls it hell.
Are you aware of how many unchurched people are convinced that, if there is a God, he is OK with them and will take them to heaven because, well, they’re doing their best? Doing? What is that but trying to earn God’s favor and salvation? The opposite of being still, like concrete. Such people will receive an eternal death sentence from God and it is not going to be pleasant.
But you know what is even scarier? Are you aware of how many churches teach that you must DO something to get heaven—like help with social justice, or do penance, or make your decision for Christ? What are those but just different ways of saying that you have to DO something, at least a little something, to earn God’s favor and salvation.
Now, is that what you think? If it is, then you should be afraid of death, terrified of it. Because this kind of church-going person is on a collision course with a horrible surprise. Jesus told us, “Many will say to me on that day (Last Day), ‘Lord, Lord, did we not preach in your name and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers.’” (Matt. 7:22-23) What evil thing were these active church-going people doing? They were trying to earn God’s favor and salvation by what they did. Imagine how that would feel, to have Jesus look at you with blank eyes and a hard stare and say, “I never knew you.” And to have him call you an evildoer. And tell you get away from him, forever. Is that what is waiting for you?
Not if you are one of those sinners who says, “Lord God, heavenly Father, I confess to that I am by nature sinful”…which is to say, “I am not good enough to earn my salvation because I am rotten to the core.” “…and I deserve your punishment now and in eternity.” Which is to say, “I deserve every day of my life to be a living hell and then to be locked into actual hell for eternity.”
Is that what you are willing to admit? And to plead God for mercy? Then to you God says, “You have no reason to be afraid of death. I don’t want you to waste one bit of energy being afraid of death.” He says in this psalm, “Be still.” Like concrete. Don’t move a muscle to try to make God like you or save you. “Be still (like concrete)…and know that I am God.” Know that it is his job to get a sinner like you to repent and come to faith and stay in the faith and get into heaven. That’s his job. And he loves his job.
In fact he more than loves it. He glories in it. That’s Jesus’ great glory—that he earned our salvation for us: that he was humiliated, crucified, and buried to pay for our sin and earn our salvation—and rose again. As the psalmist put it, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Ironic, isn’t it—when God talks about being exalted, he’s not usually referring to how shiny and bright he’s going to look. When God talks about his glory, he usually means he is going to look ordinary, humble, weak even. Like Jesus did when he earned our salvation when he was visibly on this earth—didn’t Jesus look ordinary, humble, weak? Fast forward to today, to this very moment, as God is coming to your heart through his Word and Sacraments—but do they seem very glorious? They seem ordinary, humble, boring even. Yet God says this is his greatest glory.
Which we need to be reminded of. That’s why this liturgy begins with that simple statement of fact, “(CW p.38), “We have come into the presence of God…” Reminds us of what’s really happening here. That even though there’s nothing too shiny or bright in here, there is God’s Word and Sacraments here. And so God is here to serve us. And that’s his greatest glory, serving us.
There are only two things we human beings need to be afraid of: death, and everything else. God’s way of dealing with our fear of death is to have us be still, like concrete, because he will take care of everything. And in point of fact, in Christ, he already has. And gave that all to you at your baptism. So, I guess we don’t need to be afraid of death, then, do we.
Well, what about the second thing we need to be afraid of? The “everthing else” category? God’s way of dealing with our fear of everything else is also to have us be still. But not like concrete. But still like a ferris wheel. “Be still and know that I am God.”
2—BEING STILL LIKE A FERRIS WHEEL (for living your life)
A ferris wheel is very active and busy on the outside, with its spinning arms and cars going round and riders laughing and waving—very busy and active on the outside. But at its center, there is very little movement; it is, by comparison, rather calm. Which is, in fact, what the Hebrew word for “be still” suggests. The Hebrew word for “be still” literally means “drooping”. “Be still (be drooping / be relaxed) and know that I am God.”
Now what does that mean for your life? It means be relaxed in your center but busy and active with your hands and feet and brain.
Think of how this psalm starts. It starts with describing a terrible scene, “Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its water roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.” That is a poetic way of describing when your world is falling down around you: the market plunges; you discover your husband has porn addiction; you are at work one day and suddenly realize that you are still in the same deadend job after four years. And what roars and foams is the stuff inside of you, a thing we call anxiety. We all experience anxiety, along with its kissing cousin, “worry.” Here’s what to do–don’t ignore it. Don’t live with it. Instead use it to drive the devil crazy.
How? Remember that anxiety is trying to tell you something. It’s telling you, “Hey, you’re trying to control something you can’t control.” Like what? Like trying to control you husband’s addiction, trying to control how much your friend drinks, trying to control how your investments turn out, trying to control whether your child has any friends, trying to control when exactly I’ll get a better job. These are things you cannot control. Anxiety is God’s way of disciplining you; he’s saying, “You are trying to do my job instead of yours! Repent!” Because trying to control things that only God can control is a huge insult to him and a sin against the very First Commandment.
And this is precisely where you can drive Satan crazy. He means for our anxiety to make move away from God and his Word. But when your anxiety makes you pause and think of God and what he says in his Word, it drives Satan crazy. And it drives our anxiety downward. Because in turning your thoughts to God and his Word, telling yourself, “God has promised to love me always and take care of me always! If he has given his Son to die on the cross to help me in my need, surely he will help me with this problem, too!”–it creates a kind of a calm, in our center, like there is at the center of a ferris wheel.
But at the same time, like a ferris wheel, our arms and legs and brain are to be very busy. Because while you cannot control your husband’s porn addition or how your investments will do or when you will get a new job, you can INFLUENCE those things, can’t you. Because while God does not want us doing his job, he does want us to do ours. Which is what? Doing something about the things we CAN control. So while you can’t control your husband’s porn addiction or friend’s drinking—you can show them some tough love. While you can’t control whether your child has friends, you can teach your child how to be a friend. While you can’t control the job market, you can network, send out resumes, pound the pavement. And pray. And pray. And pray. Because when Jesus said, “Then the Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.” (John 15:16), he meant it. And so whatever you ask him in Jesus’ name, he will answer you in just the best way, at just the right time. For he, like every good father, loves to give needed gifts and good gifts and just plan ol’ fun gifts to his children.
There are only two things you need to be afraid of: death, and everything else. Except we don’t need to, not we who trust in Christ and his Word and Sacraments. For God’s way of dealing with our fear is to have us be still. “Be still and know that I am God.” When it comes to your fear of death, be still like concrete because Christ did everything for your salvation, the Christ who says, “Stay close to me your whole life by staying close to my Word/Sacraments.” When it comes to every other fear, be still like a ferris wheel, calm at your center as you call to mind God’s promises, trusting God to do his job, as you get busy on the outside doing yours. So that instead of wasting energy on fear, we can use our energy to live a life that is truly life. Amen.