How do we create security for ourselves?
We do lots of things. I imagine many of you are just like me:
I have a savings account. I have investments to pay for Jackson and Carter to go to college. I have a pension. Dana has a pension. We have retirement savings on top of that. Because we live in a parsonage, we’re saving to purchase a vacation house so that we’ll have a paid-for house when we retire and to derive rental income. We have plans to protect our future.
I also have life insurance, just in case something were to happen to any of the four of us. We have disability policies on the both of us. The UMC provides great protection for pastors from a variety of troublesome things that happen in life. And I own renter’s insurance to cover personal belongings in the parsonage.
I’ve also made a habit of watching my diet and exercise because I see the benefits it reaps for me today and I see in those older than me the benefits of life long exercise and eating habits.
In sum, I’m protecting myself, and my family, against financial downturns, against entering retirement without enough money, against death and disaster, and against health maladies. I’m creating security for myself, my family, and our future.
And this is how we create security for ourselves.
For these are all wise things. And my guess is many of you are doing, or have done, many of the same things. Or if you haven’t, you’re reminding yourself right now to go and do those things. Whether we’ve begun or not, we create security for ourselves by purchasing insurances of various kinds, saving our money, and choosing healthy habits.
And in these actions, we feel secure.
Security is a word we hear often, usually in reference to protecting life and property. Several months ago, an emergency procedures manual was posted in strategic locations across the church. After consultation with church members who have a law enforcement background, I put together that manual so we’d know what to do if there’s everything from a tornado to an active shooter on the premises. We moved to create a plan so we could be more secure as a church. And today, we are more secure.
We’re also more secure at our schools, courthouses, airports, and the like all across our country. Security gets advertised all the time on TV through new technologies that turn your doorbell into a camera and can alert your phone if there’s a problem. We’re very focused on security so that we can, like with insurance, do our best to prevent the destruction wrought by violence from impacting us.
And in those actions, we feel secure.
My guess is most days we don’t often think about our security. We simply feel secure. Like many car insurance commercials, if we do think about issues like death or destruction, we think to ourselves, “I’m covered.”
I’m covered, protected, secure. David, in whose memory this morning’s Psalm was written, says the same thing. He says, “As for me, I said in my prosperity, ‘I shall never be moved.’” David could rest secure because he was prosperous or, as other translations put it, resting at peace and untroubled. He’d done what he needed to to do secure himself against trouble.
A fact shared with us in Psalm 30, the Psalm we read this morning as we continue our series on the Psalms and the cycle of faith.
“I said in my prosperity (or peace or untroubled time), ‘I shall never be moved.’ By your favor, O God, you had established me as a strong mountain; you hid your face, I was dismayed. To you, O LORD, I cried…’What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit?’”
David’s had a downturn, to say the least. His prosperity amounted to nothing when God hid his face, dismaying David and his life. All he can do when this downturn comes is cry out to God, embracing the darkness, just as we described in the previous sermon.
The security David felt from his prosperity turned out to amount to nothing. It couldn’t save himself from trouble when it came. Prosperity couldn’t provide for him when life turned nasty. David has apparently done nothing to deserve this either. The cause of David’s trouble is God hiding his face. God has turned away from David, which is just another way of saying that evil is having its way with David for the moment. Something has happened to dismay, or other translations say, to terrify, David.
He’s terrified. God seems absent and far away. He’s in a moment of disorientation.
This is where we’ve been during this sermon series. We ended the last time talking about the disorienting moments in life: times where the darkness settles in and God seems far away. Times where there are no answers and we can’t seem to find our way back to the old ways, the past, the times of orientation, where things were good. During those times of orientation, the world seems like it’s orderly. Disorientation reveals the chaos of the world. During those times of orientation, we stand in awe of God. Disorientation leaves us wondering where God is. During times of orientation, we’re hopeful and life is good. Disorientation causes us to despair, saying woe is me.
In those times of disorientation, we wonder to ourselves if we can ever experience life as good, hopeful, and orderly again. Most of all, perhaps, our sense of security evaporates. During times of orientation, we thought we were secure against the threats of the world. Disorientation reveals just how vulnerable we are. And we don’t like being vulnerable. So we ask:
How do we create security for ourselves?
After all, insurance only goes so far. If one of the four of us in my family dies, life insurance will pay for costs and provide financial security, but it can’t resurrect my loved one. There’s still tremendous loss. If fire destroys the parsonage, renter’s insurance will buy me a new TV but can’t replace Dana’s grandparents’ dining room set that we cherish as a family heirloom. If a tragedy hits me and I’m forced onto disability, insurance can replace my income but can’t replace the sense of purpose and satisfaction I derive from my profession.
Insurance can only go so far.
So, too, cameras and metal detectors and emergency preparedness plans. Even among the best laid plans, mass shootings still happen. Drug and human trafficking still happens. Gangs organize. Guerrilla organizations still commit acts of terrorism. Hurricanes destroy. Tornadoes wreak havoc.
We do our best to be prepared, but our preparation can only go so far.
There’s always the threat of the event that will undo all of our best planning. There’s always the fear of that thing that we can’t control happening. Our best security preparations, no matter how prosperous we are as individuals or as a country, can only go so far.
We can only go so far because, if we’re honest with ourselves, we can only control so much. That’s not something we readily admit to because we like to be in control.
In short, we will continue to experience evil in the world. David knew it well. It made him cry out in verse 10, “Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me! O LORD, be my helper!”
Indeed, the Psalms as a book know this reality well. Suddenly the darkness comes and overwhelms because evil has wrought its destruction. Suddenly our sense of security evaporates. Suddenly evil seems to be winning.
How can we create security for ourselves?
Many of you know I am a big fan of the Taize community in France. There’s a monastery there that inspires me in many ways. But perhaps the most inspirational story for me is what they did when they lost security; when their founder was brutally murdered.
Brother Roger was leading worship just as he always did three times a day. A woman walked into the chapel, down the center aisle, and stabbed him brutally in front of the congregation. She then ran out and was quickly apprehended by the police.
The monks response is what continues to inspire me. The monastery was founded on the principle of reconciliation. They desire to see all Christians from around the world reconciled together, into unity. They believe in fostering love and harmony through forgiveness and the restoration of relationship. As such, they highly value being an open community that anyone can attend.
When violence happened, those values come under direct threat. Could they remain open when their founder was murdered?
Their answer was a resounding yes. In response to the murder, the monastery changed none of its security measures; in that, they continued to have none. They then went and offered the murderer their forgiveness as she sat in her jail cell. The monks visited the parents of the murderer saying to them that they desired to grieve together, for they knew that her parents didn’t desire their child to grow up and commit such a heinous act.
They acted out of their values for reconciliation and openness. They could do so because they have this fundamental Christian conviction: evil will happen until Christ comes in final victory. We can’t control that. We can’t stop that. But we can be faithful through it because we know, when evil strikes, God will redeem.
How can we create security for ourselves?
Ultimately, we can’t.
David is highly aware of this. After reporting how he cried out during his disaster, he remarks to us, “You, God, have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.” That’s where he ends: it was God who restored, God who provided, God who moved in power. It was God who restored security.
And, indeed, it is only God ultimately who can offer us that sense of security.
Insurance, preparedness plans, and security measures all have their place. I will continue to pay my insurance premiums and encourage preparedness because that’s common sense.
But we can’t control everything. In fact, the more I live life on this earth, the less I think I can control. There remains that cosmic battle between good and evil, one in which I get caught up at times. Why God allows evil to happen to us, no one can fully answer. But the fact remains that evil will occur, orientation will give way to disorientation, but the truth of our lives is that, because God is with us, disorientation will always give way to reorientation.
The promise of reorientation is the promise that there will be a surprising newness birthed into our lives. We will be, as Walter Brueggemann notes, “surprised by grace.” It’s God’s good pleasure to provide for us, to suddenly bring us to a new and surprising place of security. And in that place, just like David, our hearts turn to praise. In that place of reorientation, we can see how God has been with us all along, moving and working to turn our vulnerability into security. Our faith is deepened and our relationship with God made more meaningful because we have seen how God has restored us. In the midst of evil, God will redeem in surprising ways; ways that we can see.
And there’s absolutely nothing we can do to make reorientation happen. It is God’s gift to us, out of God’s grace, to bring us back to a place of security, to restore us. And just like all things with grace we can’t earn it, we can’t create it; it just comes to us.
So what hope do we have when we feel vulnerable, insecure, when we’re experiencing the darkness of disorientation?
The hope that reorientation is coming.
I’m sure you can look back in the memory of your relationship with God and see how God has brought you through tough times to a place of restoration, healing, and security. In those moments, life looks different, your relationship with God is different, better, because you can see how God has moved in tremendous ways. We all have these stories.
For me, the most surprising and wonderful gift I have received is that I am loved by God unconditionally. I spent most of my life not knowing that. Living life believing that you’re only worthy of love if you are a certain person, or do certain things, is a terrible, oppressive, way to live life. I ultimately hated myself. I didn’t trust my perceptions. I was constantly worried and fearful about what others thought of me and if I was living up to their expectations because I needed their love, so I thought I could earn it.
But God moved powerfully to show me that I am loved unconditionally by him. I came to realize that through experiencing the unconditional love of people in my life, most especially my wife. And that changed my heart and my sense of self forever. I rest secure in myself today because God reoriented me, God restored me, God provided.
It was a surprising gift, but that’s what God does. That’s the power of reorientation. It always comes. And we know that it does because we can look behind us and see how God has shone the light and brought us out of the darkness in the past.
Which means, in the darkest nights of our lives, we can believe that light will shine again, just as it has done in past darknesses. And, after all, that’s what faith is: “believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.”
So this morning, if you’re feeling insecure, whether because life has thrown some curveballs lately or you’re walking in the darkness or just because this sermon has left you feeling insecure, believe in advance what will only make sense in reverse: that God will surprise you with grace that will redeem, restore, and secure.
For only in God can we rest secure. Only through faith in God can we truly know security in this life. For as Psalm 118 says, “The LORD is with me, I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me anyway?”
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; Amen.