I stopped watching news on television about a decade ago; actually it was probably about the time we were being told that we had to go to war against Iraq because Sadam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.
This was because it seemed to me like such a disconnect between the chit-chat of our local news programs as they introduced or concluded some cute or unusual story and the sudden serious faces when reporting some local or national tragedy of the worst kind. And the national news was worse, because there was always some “breaking” news story and the message was usually “be afraid” or “be very afraid”, or “be very, very afraid”.
I’m sure we are all aware that we become most “patriotic” when something really bad happens. We hear lots of talk about how we must “stand together” to face some kind of disaster or potential disaster. As a people, we are much easier to control when we are frightened. And usually the problems are so big, and so far removed from the sphere of our day-to-day life that there is nothing we can personally do to solve the problems. This leads to a great sense of frustration, or . . . for me, anger.
I don’t like being angry; it’s as if my stomach is tied in knots, and if anyone tries to talk about the situation causing all the fear and anxiety, I was quite capable of going off into a rant. I’m not aware that these rants changed anyone else’s mind about anything at all, and after I cooled down, I had to apologize and hope I still had some friends left. I do get a daily newspaper, so I know what is going on, but I don’t have to hear the shrill voices and what seems to me sometimes like the feeding frenzy of a bunch of sharks whenever anyone says something stupid. And the more controversial it is, the better for the news media, who can gets days and days worth of self-righteous indignation out of stupidity or lying and they always give the worst possible interpretation of any speech or event.
That’s when the idea of the city of God is a comfort to me. It’s a concept that originated with St. Augustine, a fourth-century Christian bishop who wrote a book called The Two Cities. Rome had just fallen to the Vandals, which eventually led to the collapse of the Roman Empire. The Christians were blamed. After all, Rome was called the “eternal city”, which could never fall, but the Christian God had failed to protect Rome, as he should have done, since Constantine had declared him to be the one true God. So Augustine attempted to defend the Christians against this charge.
His argument was very similar to what we would now call the separation of church and state. He said that the church and the state both tried to make a good society and were visible to all. But there were also two invisible cities, the city of the secular world and the city of God. But they were not in two different locations. Rather, the city of God resided within the city of the world, sort of like a secret society, and its purpose was the proper sharing of those things necessary for life, just as God freely distributes air, water, and light. Humankind must therefore pursue the City of Heaven to maintain a proper sense of order, which in turn leads to true peace. This city of God is what today we would call the Kingdom of God, which is present among those who are followers of Jesus and seekers of God’s heart.
There were two psalms my Mother used to quote to me when the politics of my childhood days threatened the peace of God’s Kingdom. One was “Fret not because of evildoers” and the other was “Put not your trust in princes”. So as an adult, I searched out which Psalms those were, and I brought them to you this morning. I think they contain very good advice for those of us who are citizens of the City of God, who are working “underground”, as it were, to help the Kingdoms of this earth become the Kingdom of our God and of his Christ, as that Hallelujah Chorus tells us. We are here to live out the peace of God’s Kingdom. That is our mission and that is where our attentions and energies should be concentrated.
The first is Psalm 37, and I’ll read part of it to you. The second is Psalm 146, and I’ll read part of it also. I’d like to think of these as our instructions to help us preserve our mental sanity when things get bad. “When the going gets tough, the tough get going” That’s us. We refuse to give in to the mindset of fear that some of our leaders are trying to instill in us.
Ready for your instructions?
Psalm 146 English Standard Version (ESV)
Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
2 I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.3 Put not your trust in princes,
in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.
4 When his breath departs, he returns to the earth;
on that very day his plans perish.
5 Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord his God,
6 who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever;
7 who executes justice for the oppressed,
who gives food to the hungry.
The Lord sets the prisoners free;
8 the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
the Lord loves the righteous.
9 The Lord watches over the sojourners;
he upholds the widow and the fatherless,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
Praise the Lord!
Psalm 37 English Standard Version (ESV)
Fret not yourself because of evildoers;
be not envious of wrongdoers!
2 For they will soon fade like the grass
and wither like the green herb.
3 Trust in the Lord, and do good;
dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness.[b]
4 Delight yourself in the Lord,
and he will give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the Lord;
trust in him, and he will act.
6 He will bring forth your righteousness as the light,
and your justice as the noonday.
7 Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
over the man who carries out evil devices!
8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath!
Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.. . .
10 In just a little while, the wicked will be no more;
though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there.
11 But the meek shall inherit the land
and delight themselves in abundant peace.
. . .23 The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
when he delights in his way;
24 though he stumble, he shall not be cast headlong,
for the Lord upholds them with his hand. . . .
27 Turn away from evil and do good;
so shall you dwell forever.
28 For the Lord loves justice;
he will not forsake his saints.
They are preserved forever,
but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.
29 The righteous shall inherit the land
and dwell upon it forever.
30 The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,
and his tongue speaks justice.
31 The law of his God is in his heart;
his steps do not slip. . . .
39 The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord;
he is their stronghold in the time of trouble.
40 The Lord helps them and delivers them;
he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
because they take refuge in him.
So let’s keep reminding ourselves which city we live in. The city of the world is always out there trying to get our attention – Hey, hey, look over here, look what’s going on over here. . . .
Remember that worry and fear are unproductive and numbing – what good does our fear and anger do? They do not solve the problems.
So let us work on the problems we can solve, the contributions that DO make a difference. Here are some things we can do that align us with the City of God. I hope you will think of other things and share them with us in the time that follows:
Plan a surprise for someone you love – bake a pie, pick a flower, make a small gift, find something at the thrift shop – when you do it, tell them you love them and thank God for them being present in your life.
That person who talks on and on – find a free moment and give them a call, with nothing in mind but to listen. . And listen . . and listen.
Smile at people in the grocery store or the office building, especially someone wearing a scarf that covers their hair, or has a different skin color than yours. Say good morning to a perfect stranger on the street.
Spend some time outdoors in a park or your own backyard, and marvel at the beauty of nature
Say five hopeful optimistic or encouraging things for each pessimistic or discouraging thing you say,
Write a note to a family member, say I was thinking about you today and hope you are OK and finding small things in life to enjoy.
I’ll stop talking now, and maybe you will share with us what you do – or say some encouraging words to all of us
DO NOT BE AFRAID == Jesus
This message was delivered to Spokane Friends by Lois Kieffaber during 2017