On Saturday, January 13, at 8:07 a.m., residents and tourists in Hawaii got text messages on their phones and alerts interrupting their television programs telling them there was a “ballistic missile threat inbound to Hawaii.” “This is not a drill” the messages warned.
Alerts like this would be frightening at any time, but considering the current tensions with North Korea and the president’s hard-line, violent rhetoric, a missile attack is an entirely credible possibility. People who saw the message were terrified.
It was 38 long minutes before emergency officials sent out the next message: “no missile threat or danger;” “false alarm.”
The incident in Hawaii is a very specific and intense example of the creeping terror and dread and horrified disbelief that I—and I know many of you—have been feeling over the past year, plus. It’s not just the lack of diplomacy and threats of international violence. It’s the racist rhetoric and policies, the anti-immigrant actions, the disregard for the environment, the privileging of the wealthy.
This, my friends, is not a drill. This is the actual world we live in.
And the political forces at work in the world are frightening and powerful.
These entities are so terrifying because of the power they wield. It’s their power that so often makes us feel powerless.
The writer of Psalm 62 knows this feeling of powerlessness. In verse 3, we can hear the psalmist address the powerful, saying:
How long will you assail a person,
will you batter your victim, all of you,
as you would a leaning wall, a tottering fence?
The psalmist feels like a leaning wall, a tottering fence. I can relate.
But this tottering fence stands in stark contrast to the images used to describe God: a rock, a mighty rock, a fortress, a refuge.
Somehow, the psalmist was able to shift from worrying about how powerful his enemies were to finding hope in the power of God.
“For God alone my soul waits in silence; for my hope is from God.”
That’s the move I want to make. Not to be naive about the powers of this world, but to truly live into the truth that real power, ultimate power, belongs to God.
I realize, of course, that it’s one thing for me to say: God is all powerful, trust God. And it’s another thing for us to actually, in real life, face the powers and principalities of this world with the full confidence that they, who seem so powerful, are actually leaning walls and tottering fences; that God is our rock; that, as the Psalmist says, “power belongs to God.”
What does that look like today? To trust in the power of God?
- Like marching with thousands who are demanding a better path for our country?
- Like raising fearless children even if we are ourselves are terrified?
- Like speaking and acting and voting on behalf of the most vulnerable in our society?
- Does it look like singing? And playing music? And writing? And making art? And baking food? And building structures?
- Like healing and loving and teaching and living?
- Like showing up at church even if you’re not quite sure why you’re there?
- Does it look like creating communities where we can be accountable to each other, where we can be brave and strong for each other; communities where we can remind each other that human power is false and fleeting while God’s power is true and eternal?
With all of the emergency alerts in our world today—some of them false alarms but so very many of them real—we must, somehow, and with each other’s help, make the journey the Psalmist made. We must move from a place of despair to a place of hope, acknowledging that “power belongs to God.”
This post is excerpted from a sermon preached at Peace Mennonite Church on January 21, 2018.