Sunday, June 9, 2013

To Flee To

To Flee To
A sermon delivered by Rev. Peter T. Atkinson
June 9, 2013
at Gordonsville Presbyterian Church, Gordonsville, Virginia
Romans 4: 13-25

Let us pray,
Help us to see despite our eyes
Help us to think outside of our minds
Help us to be more than our lives      
For your eyes show the way
            Your mind knows the truth
            Your being is the life.

13 For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation.
16 For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us, 17 as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”)—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18 Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20 No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.” 23 Now the words, “it was reckoned to him,” were written not for his sake alone, 24 but for ours also. It will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification. [1]  

We are so thankful this morning to have Harp with us. What an amazing message they have been sharing with us of joy and praise, both in their song and in their presence. There is nothing like music to communicate the vastness of God's infinite love and glory. Words never can do enough, and so music takes us further, closer, showing us deeper the truth of beauty and grace.
Early this week as I was putting together the parts of the service I asked Erick to send me the words to their Mendelssohn anthem. I decided immediately after looking at it that I wanted it to be the center piece of this morning's message. Take a look at the words as they are printed in your bulletin insert:

Lord, I flee to Thee for refuge; bow Thine ear unto my pray’r.
If my sins Thou shouldst remember, evermore must I despair.

But my trust is in Thy mercy: all my hope in Thee I place.
I will sing Thy loving kindness and the wonder of Thy grace.

 I was struck immediately by the idea of fleeing, and especially as it said to flee to, because I was sure that fleeing meant running away from. I even looked it up in the dictionary just to make sure, it said "to run away from, as if from danger" or "to run away from a person, place or a thing." Its synonyms are "evade, escape, avoid, shun, elude." Nothing about the word suggests the idea of fleeing to something, rather everything has to do with running away. Now there are plenty Biblical examples of fleeing from God, the most famous is Jonah, but there really are so many, our world is full of the phenomenon, it is kinda the nature of being fallen, so we have fleeing from down, but what does it mean to flee to something, and more importantly what does it mean to flee to God, does it always mean that we are escaping, evading, avoiding, shunning, and eluding when we flee to God, or is there more to it? What does it mean to flee to God? What is it for and what is it like? These are the questions of this morning.
Since fleeing means to run way from, what are the things we are running from most often when we flee to God? Pain, worry, doubt, and fear. . . these are some of the things, sure. Think for a minute about each of these. . . What are things that cause you pain? What are the things that cause you to worry? What are the things that cause you to doubt? What are you most afraid of?  What would it mean to run away from those and into the arms of God? Is it just an empty metaphor, something that existed in the Old Testament but not anymore? In Sunday School this month we are working through the Psalms. We've read the first 40 some of them this week, already there are many times where David, just like in this morning's anthem, describes God as his refuge. Most of the time he is referring to being protected from real physical enemies, political adversaries, foreign invaders, scoffers, and God offers him real tangible protection, absolute deliverance, and total security. Do we often think of God as a refuge in that way? Or do we instead see it as a mindset, and fleeing to God is fleeing in our minds to a better existence, looking at the world differently, is the truth about God simply defined by the way that we see things, and fleeing to God then would be seeing things in God's control, so we need not worry, need not doubt, and need not fear? Is that what faith is? Faith offers hope, and hope makes us think differently about the struggles that we face.
Some time back I downloaded on my kindle, G.K. Chesterton's book, All Things Considered, mostly because I had read some of his other books and liked them, and this one was a free download, being old enough to be outside of copyright restrictions. I was shuffling through my Kindle this week, looking for something to read, and decided to check it out.  It's basically a collection of essays, with his cleverly written thoughts on various subjects. One of the chapters/essays is called "Chasing Hats." It is about the way that we see things, challenging us to be romantics, Chesterton often does that being a harsh critic of the modern sense that everything can be explained scientifically. He talks about how the things that give us stress are usually things that can be changed if our mindset is different. He uses three illustrations: trying to push in a drawer that is stuck, trying to catch your hat when it has been blown off by the wind, and waiting at a train station for a train that is running late. The drawer  being stuck is a nuisance only because we don't see it as a challenge that we can rise to, a formative man versus the drawer struggle for dominance, seeing it like that makes it not a waste of time, but important. Next, the hat, how frustrated and silly a man looks chasing after his hat, bending down to pick it up, just as it blows further away. We feel foolish, he says because our mindset is wrong, it is not that much different from a spectator sport, a past time, he says it could rival the fox chase, and would be much better for the foxes. For the trains he tries to remind us of being kids, never stressed about waiting, because the adventure of being at a train station was interesting enough, that the difference is in mindset. What we think about the situation determines how it affects us. He tries to paint the picture that we are in control of our thoughts, and that if we could just think a certain way we would escape so much of the frustration, stress, doubt, and fear of our lives.
Is that what we do when we go to God? Is that our fleeing to God? When trouble rears its ugly head we think try to think that it is part of a larger plan, all for a purpose, evil being transformed into good. Yes, I think so. So often you hear that at funerals, so often we say that when someone gets sick, so often we think that when we have trouble with our jobs, or after 911, or when tragedy strikes, or catastrophe looms. We flee to a place where we can put the issue into some type of perspective. Is that what fleeing to God is, fleeing far enough away from it that we can see back to it with greater perspective and realize that when seen through God's eyes, from infinity, from the rest of the story, that it then would make sense. God gives existence a purpose, and we come into contact with that purpose by fleeing to him, mentally, viewing life from that lens of perspective, and it somehow lessens the effect of the struggle.
This may be true, and I think it is, but it is so only part of the story. It's the outsiders look at faith, isn't it? It is the glance at faith that says, "Oh religion is just the opiate of the masses," or "Christianity is an empty philosophy, just a world view to provide hope and a sense of security to the weak minded gullible fools of the world," or as Comedian Bill Maher put it, "We are a nation that is unenlightened because of religion. I do believe that. I think religion stops people from thinking." These are outside opinions of religion, and they may have a leg to stand on if fleeing to God only meant changing the way you think, looking at the world through God colored glasses. Sure it includes that, but it is also more. It must be because faith doesn't mean thinking something is true because it will help your perspective, to help you get through hard times, faith is believing that it actually is true, that fleeing to God is more than an act of the mind, but a physical fleeing into the arms of the creator, redeemer, and sustainer of this world.
I chose the text from Romans 4 this morning because it deals with the story of Abraham, not just telling the story, but Paul using it as an example of faith. Abraham leaves behind all that he knows, the safety of community and friends and the life he had always known because God told him to, told him to go out into the land that I promise you, and you will father a nation, forget that you are old, forget that you have no children, forget that  your wife Sarah has been unable to have children at this point, go, and I will bless you, and every one shall come to be blessed through you. Abraham goes, and his life is changed, not because he saw things in a different way, but because God made things happen. The Israelites in slavery, didn't just think about God, and become freed from slavery in their mind, able to take their minds off the sting of the task master's whip, no God delivered his people out of Egypt. Pharoah's army got drownded, Oh Mary don't you weep. Jesus didn't say, think of me when times get hard, no he said come take up your cross and follow me, I am the way the truth and the life, leave all that you had behind, do not be afraid, follow me, but low I'll be with you until the end of the age, and wonders befell the disciples. We can look back through history and see the workings of God.
Christianity is not a worldview and philosophy for the weak-minded and it is not solely based on a blind leap of faith. It is based in experience, both of the cloud of witnesses throughout the ages, but also our own. Look back at your own life you will see God at work. You have come to know and recognize God's work in your life, and he will continue to work, so fleeing to God isn't just a trick of the mind, but a step into the arms of truth, as much today as it was for Abraham, and Moses, and David, and the Disciples. It's not a philosophy it is a reality.
So how do we flee into reality, into the arms of God, our refuge and strength. Do we do so just by stepping into these walls week to week. I've heard that about Church, that going to church is fuel for the rest of the week. That you go to hear about God to escape and try to bottle enough escape up to go back into your week and get through it all. I've often wondered, if that is fleeing to God, why we wouldn't do it more often, why we wouldn't constantly do that, why we would only partially escape, once a week, rather than all the way flee. And that's really the point of using the word flee, fleeing must be all the way fleeing, when you flee you don't tend to go back, if  you do then you might use the word leave instead, fleeing suggests that back isn't an option. So All the way fleeing is it, and all the way fleeing is not a once a week thing, it's not a 21st century compartmentalized deal, it does not come ala carte. It also cannot be bottled up in a building or an hour timeslot, nor given labels and denominations because God isn't all those things. Instead God is everywhere. Look at the prayer of preparation poem:

If there had anywhere appeared in space
Another place of refuge where to flee,
Our hearts had taken refuge in that place,
And not with thee.

For we against creation's bars had beat
Like prisoned eagles, through great worlds had sought
Though but a foot of ground to plant our feet,
Where thou wert not

And only when we found in earth and air,
In heaven or hell, that such might nowhere be−
That we could not flee from thee anywhere,
We fled to thee.

Fleeing to God then is deciding to stop fleeing from God. It's to stop fleeing and to be, simply be what God made you to be, what God wants you to be, what you are. Then the rest is just a simple equation. If God is, If God is good, If God is omnipotent, then what more refuge can you need. Though the rains pour, though sickness threatens, though death looms, though wars rage, though security we build around us is fleeting, God holds you in the palm of his steadfast loving all powerful hand, and God's presence is everywhere, therefore To Flee To God is simply to be still and know. Amen.


[1]The Holy Bible : New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Ro 4:13-25). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.