Mt. McKinley in Alaska, originally known as Denali, "the Great One." .... "Lead me to the rock that is higher than I; for you are my refuge..." (Ps. 61:2-3)

       "Who do you say that I am?" Jesus asked.  Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God."  And Jesus answered, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! ... You are Peter (petros), and on this rock (petra) I will build my church..."  Jesus then began to speak of the rough road ahead. And Peter took him aside and rebuked him... "Get behind me, Satan!" Jesus replied. "You are a stumbling block..."
                                                (Matthew 16:13-23)

May these words of this Peter be like a rock,
not a stumbling block!

"Between the lines"

Message preached November 21, 2004
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA

based upon Psalm 46

Order of Worship

            Before we read the 46th Psalm, letís pay attention to a word thatís inserted between the lines in three places. "Selah" occurs 71 times in 39 of the Psalms in this prayer and song book of the Bible. To be honest, we really donít know exactly what this notation means. If youíre like most folks reading through the Psalms, you give it a glance and move on, without a second thought. Most translations donít even bother to translate it, keeping this Hebrew word as it is.

            One Bible dictionary (Buttrick IDB 3:460) states this "this is probably a direction for the conductor that now a signal of the cymbals should interrupt the even flow of a chant." Weíre talking public worship here, friends. A "conductor." Hmm, have you ever thought of our worship leader as a "conductor?" And "cymbals." What are we to make of that? Canít say that Iíve ever thought of cymbals as an instrument important for worship. Have you?

            Iíve recruited a young percussionist in our congregation to help us with worship this morning. When we, all together, read this Psalm, the "conductor" (I mean, our worship leader) will point to Shawn when we reach that word "Selah," and he will clash his cymbal. Of course, how loud is he supposed to do it? I could imagine some of us being startled out of our seats if that cymbal sounds out as greatly as it could.

            Reminds me of a marching band practice back in high school, when the director had us out on the field getting ready for a football game halftime. The sky was dark, but there was otherwise no warning when lightning struck nearby. You never saw so many metal instruments fly up in the air as in that moment. Unfortunately, the cymbal player couldnít detach his cymbals fast enough, so he had to make a trip to the emergency room with some bad burns on his hands.

            Some say that thunder is Godís cymbal clashing in the sky. Is that how we should have Shawn play it? (point to him: a loud clash!) Everybody awake? Maybe that was the point of this untranslated Hebrew word found between the lines of a Psalm. "Wake up, folks!" it crashes out the message. "Listen up. This is important stuff. Pay attention!" ... Perhaps.

            Then, again, maybe this "Selah" was to be a signal for something a bit different. One suggestion is that here we find an interlude. Could be at this point in the reading of this corporate Psalm, someone would break forth into a solo, either singing or playing an instrument, or perhaps a choir or a band of some sort might ring out. Meditative music, so to speak.

            Another possibility is that at the sound of the cymbal, the people were instructed to raise their voices, or their eyes, or even their hands to God. Or, another idea Biblical scholars have had (here and above, Anderson p. 49) is that at this moment in the Psalm Godís people were to prostrate themselves on the floor, similar to what happens in mosques even today - Muslims kneeling in prayer and at certain points lying down in submission before their God. If this sounds strange, remember that our religions share similar roots.

            If any of these alternatives were our choice, again: how loud the cymbal? Should it be very soft (point to Shawn: an almost silent touch). Would the multitude even hear that? Or should Shawn play a medium volume? (point to him: a medium clash)

            I know, I know. Such details are not really important, are they? We can pay so much attention to this word between the lines that we donít get to the important stuff, the content of the Psalm. I venture to say that in our daily life we do this a lot, donít we? We clash our "cymbals" from Sunday to Sunday, or from holiday to holiday, without much thought about our true refuge and strength. We give lip service to thanksgiving without being still every day and allowing gratitude - knowing that God is God! - to flow through the melody of our work, school, or play.

            Wake up! (point to Shawn: a loud clash!) Listen! ... Okay, Edna, I think itís time for us to speak together this Psalm. Donít rush through it. Allow it to speak to you. Where it says "Selah," our "conductor" (I mean our worship leader), will point to our "percussionist," and the cymbal will crash. How about "medium" volume, Shawn? We will then "pause" in silence, allowing God to interrupt us. Iím not suggesting you lie down and prostrate yourself on the floor. But consider what it means to submit yourself to God, for a moment or a lifetime. You could lift up your eyes, or even your hands, in this time of silence between the lines of the Psalm. After a minute, Shawn will gently shake a tambourine to bring us back to continue our reading of Psalm 46... Edna?

Unison reading of Psalm 46

            We have paused on this day, interrupting the ebb and flow of our week, that we might "be still and know" that God is God. Worship, you see, is itself an interlude. It is something we fit between the lines of our everyday life. It interrupts our patterns of living and draws us toward the One who helps us to live day by day. The clang of church bells once upon a time would call people to prayer. Of course, life may have traveled at a slower pace then, and a reduced noise level meant such calls could be heard. Today, we almost need a thunderclap to get our attention.

            This week many will pause their year, and loved ones will seek out one another across the miles. Wednesday, in fact, will be the busiest travel day of the year. I know. Iíll pick up our familyís college student at Dulles airport that afternoon, expecting crowded terminals, parking lots, and highways... Of course, as families get together, some of the reasons why we live so far apart may come to the forefront. The details of the meal may get in the way of (or protect us from, depending upon how you look at it) the real content of our relationships.

            You know the roots of this American holiday. Interesting things happened as those pilgrims paused for a time of thanksgiving, at least according to the tradition weíve received. Do recall that they were in survival mode, having been through a rough time, when hunger and disease claimed the lives of many. Their little "city on a hill" almost didnít make it. A good harvest gave some hope, and out of that came gratitude to God, who was their refuge and strength.

            Gratitude. Pausing to be thankful. Do we need famine and hardship (point to Shawn: a loud clash!) to wake us up? Does the "earth" need to "change" (point to Shawn: a medium clash!) for us to be filled with thankfulness? Do "the mountains" need to "shake in the heart of the sea?" (point to Shawn: a sustained clash!) Do the "kingdoms" have to "totter," the "earth melt" (point to Shawn: a medium clash!) before we pay attention. Must there be "desolation" (point to Shawn: a soft clash!) before we actually "behold the works of the Lord?" ... Sometimes ... These events certainly cause us to either look up to the source of our strength, or to get down on our knees before God.

            We gather together to worship every week (not just on holidays), and in so doing, we put our lives into perspective. "Be still and know that I am God." Those eight words in English interrupt our frantic pace, our thoughtless activity, our thankless and thus lifeless living. We each hear this Word from the Lord in our own way. For some of us (point to Shawn: a medium clash!) it is a call to turn off the distractions and pay attention to what really matters. For others (point to Shawn: a medium clash!) it is a stop sign which says that ceaseless activity is a waste, even if it is good work, if what is most important is forgotten.

            We interrupt this regularly scheduled program for an important reminder from your Creator: "Be still and know that I am God. I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth." Thereís a bigger picture out there, you know. You get so used to seeing things from your own perspective, to living within your own rut. Thereís a world out there - "my world," says the Lord. "I am exalted " in your little corner of this world, as surely as "I am exalted" in every corner, every nation. Hmm, what does it mean to you for God to be exalted in your neck of the woods, in your home, in your daily routine? Likewise, what does it mean to you for God to be exalted elsewhere, among people with whom you donít share much in common?

            Since weíre currently in the middle of a war over which we may disagree, what should we "be still and know?" Listen (point to Shawn: a medium clash!). God "makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire." Hawks and doves alike need those words. On the one hand, itís God, not our modern-day chariots - even if they are the most advanced in military history - who "breaks the bow" and "shatters the spear." On the other hand (or is it the same hand?), it is God, not our own pacifism, who "makes wars cease." Remember, "I am exalted among the nations," says the Lord. Even among people of a different religion. Gives you pause to think, doesnít it?

            Now, allow me to flip things a bit. Iíve spoken of our regular gathering together to ask the Lordís blessing as being like that Hebrew word "Selah" found in Psalm 46. Worship interrupts of daily routine to help put our lives in perspective. In many ways this pause happens between the lines of our lives. It gets us used to paying attention to what we donít ordinarily see. I mean, if youíre looking to see God at work in and around your life, you have to read between the lines. Itís not necessarily going to be front page news, you know. Course, sometimes (point to Shawn: a loud clash!) Thatís what it takes to get our attention. Get used to reading between the lines. When you do, you discover the Lord at work all over the place (point to Shawn: soft drum roll on cymbal!).

            The healing river flows through all the lines of our lives, making glad the city of God. In fact, God is in the midst of the city. God is our refuge and strength, our very present help, right there between the lines. Would you join me in repeating the last line of this Psalm, which is so important it is spoken twice: "The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. Selah." (point to Shawn: a loud clash!)

online resources for this scripture text

For commentaries consulted, see Psalms.

©2004 Peter L. Haynes
(you are welcome to borrow and, where / as appropriate, note the source - myself or those from whom I have knowingly borrowed.)

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