Morning worship: God comes to us when our hands are limp

As long as God has disclosed God’s self, God’s oldest name has been refuge,” said the Rev. Joel C. Gregory at the 9:15 a.m. Monday morning worship service. His sermon title was “It’s About Time: Last Minute Help,” and his text was Psalm 46.

There was an oil rig on the North Sea, built to withstand 100-foot waves and 100 mph winds, Gregory said. One day, a tanker came over the horizon and it was gone. Frank Lloyd Wright built the Imperial Hotel to withstand earthquakes.

There are photos illustrating the destructive aftermath of an earthquake, but the hotel still stood.

“These architectural metaphors reflect the psalmists psychic confusion, personal displacement, yet God acted in a redeeming way. God is refuge,” he said.

Verse 2 of the psalm describes the land opening up and hills moving toward the sea, “like a drunk lurching out of a tavern.”

The psalmist was painting a picture of shaken-up land with no place to stand.

“This can happen personally and as a nation,” Gregory said. “What happened in Charleston is shaking the nation. The first word of the psalm is not the covenant the name of God­ — it is refuge, or as Martin Luther said, a mighty fortress. But a fortress is no good if you can’t reach it. God is found between the straits, in the Scylla and Charybdis.

“God delights to let himself be found at Rock Avenue and Hard Place Boulevard.”

Gregory said there are more than 800 names for fear, from agoraphobia to “homolophobia” — fear of sermons.

“St. Paul said that God has not given us the spirit of fear but the spirit of love, power and a sound mind,” he said. “When we wait a week for a medical diagnosis, we do not have a spirit of fear. When we have lost a partner of 50 years, and we hear new sounds in the night that were never there before, we do not have a spirit of fear.”

There is a change of scene in verse four of the psalm.

“The psalmist is by a river that runs deep and is fed by streams that make glad the City of God,” Gregory said. “There is a suggestion that God’s power is not noisy power but quiet power. Human power is noisy — the sound of a rocket taking off from the coast of Florida or a gunshot. God’s power is quiet.

“This morning, the sun came out and shone in a nursery on a baby and did not wake it,” he continued. “Yet the sun is lifting tons of water from the Atlantic and rain will fall. I am impressed with these verdant grounds.

“I come from Texas and all we have are wanna-be trees. The sun was striking the trees, making chlorophyll, but no one at the breakfast table said ‘I heard the sun striking the chlorophyll.’ ”

When does God’s help come? It comes in the fourth watch of the night, just before dawn, he said.

The hardest watch is the fourth watch, between three in the morning and dawn. Human metabolism is at its lowest.

“If God’s help came in the first watch, I would say how clever I am,” Gregory said. “If it came in the second watch, I would say what a great network I have. But in the fourth watch I know it must be God.”

He told a story from Watchman Nee, the 20th- century autodidactic Chinese Christian. Nee was swimming with a group of men and one of them began to drown.

The best swimmer in the group sat on a rock and did nothing until the very last minute.

Just as it looked like the man would drown, the good swimmer dove into the water and rescued him. His companions were angry and wanted to know why he did not act sooner.

The man said, “If I had jumped in sooner his rigidity would have drowned both of us. When he went limp, I could safely approach him.”

“God wants us to be limp,” Gregory said. “Otherwise we are in danger of hugging ourselves to death — self hug-u-lation.”

In verse 10, God speaks and says “be still and know that I am God.”

Gregory said that we have a lot of metaphors with hands — throw up our hands, out of hand, a real handful.

“But when God speaks he wants us to let our hands hang down and be still,” he said.

Human beings are like the rooster who crowed when the sun came up but presumed the sun came up because he crowed, Gregory said.

“We need to hear the words of the psalmist. God says to us, ‘be still and know that I am God,’ ” he said. “The Lord of hosts is with us, the God of Jacob is our refuge. I would have prefered the psalmist said the God of Abraham, the father of three religions, or the God of Moses who brought the law down from the mountain.

“But it is the God of Jacob, the schemer and scammer, who meets us at the last moment. If God is the refuge of Jacob, maybe there is hope for me.”

The Rev. Robert M. Franklin, Jr. presided. The Rev. George Wirth, retired Presbyterian minister and a consultant to the Cousins Family Foundation, read the Scripture. The Chautauqua Choir sang “With a Voice of Singing” by Martin Shaw. Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship, directed the choir. The Geraldine M. and Frank E. McElree Jr. Chaplaincy Fund provides support for this week’s services.