God is our bridge over troubled water

Published 5:54 pm Thursday, July 2, 2020

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In the spring of 1969, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were gone – brutally killed. Racial tensions were erupting across the U.S. The war in Vietnam was raging. Millions around the world were impacted by the war and the strains on our nation’s health and economy.

In the summer of 2020, the war on COVID-19 is raging, causing enforced isolation for some and for others, the day-to-day fear of working in the midst of a silent killer. Millions around the world are impacted by the health and economic crisis. Today, many states around the country face a renewed flare up of the pandemic that could yet again impact us all medically and economically.

In the summer of 2020, George Floyd is gone – brutally killed. Racial tensions are erupting across the U.S. After all these years, we still struggle to face our racist tendencies while offering support and encouragement to the people who serve in law enforcement.

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As if that isn’t enough, we faced in 1969, as we face in 2020, the usual litany of obstacles and difficulties, whether it involves our income, raising our children or grandchildren, illness, old age, problems at work or setbacks at home.

The spring of 1969 and the spring of 2020 have a lot in common. Our nation and our world face a raging storm of difficulties and tragedies where the only option available to us is to hang on and survive as best we can.

Speaking of storms,  Psalm 46 is written for people caught in a storm. A song of hope, a bridge for all who struggle. The first line guides the Psalm: “God is our refuge and strength always ready to help in times of trouble.” The Hebrew word for trouble means to be restricted, to tie up, to be narrow or cramped. We would say today, “We are in a jam or caught in a storm.”

But, even then, God is ready to help. The last two verses promise, “Be still and know that I am God! I will be honored by every nation. I will be honored throughout the world.” (10-11)

The first part of Psalm 46 describes chaos and destruction but, God is still in control. So, what should be our response? “Be still and know that I am God!” The Hebrew term for “be still” means, “relax, do nothing, be quiet.” And the emphasis is on you the individual. God is in control so, “you relax, you be quiet.” As you learn to relax, you begin to truly put faith and trust in God.

“Be still and know that I am God.” Whether it is spring of 1969 or summer of 2020, God is in control. Our task is to first relax and put our faith in God to guide our response. The Lord will help us overcome our weakness and our problems. God’s hope overcomes despair and enables us to tackle even the most difficult situation with vigor.

My interpretation of history is that traumatic events such as what happened in the spring of 1969 and what is happening now during the summer of 2020 often lead to dramatic change that impacts us all –  leadership change, a religious revival, technological change, some advance in science or an explosion of great art and literature. These changes act as a bridge guiding us out of crisis toward something of greater significance.

The spring of 1969 inspired a sensitive singer-songwriter, Paul Simon to dig deep for words of comfort. As he gazed out across the East River from the window of his New York apartment, he sang the opening lines filling his thoughts:

When you’re weary, feeling small. When tears are in your eyes, I’ll dry them all.

I’m on your side, oh, when times get rough And friends just can’t be found

Like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down

Paul Simon would write later, “At the time, I did not think my song was about a spiritual experience. It was something I recognized later but I did not know it then. To write something that effortlessly and that quickly is a very unusual kind of inspiration.”

When you’re down and out. When you’re on the street.

When evening falls so hard I will comfort you

I’ll take your part, oh, when darkness comes And pain is all around

Like a bridge over troubled water I will lay me down

Psalm 46 says: “The LORD Almighty is here among us; the God of Israel is our fortress… Be still and know that I am God.“

Sail on silver girl. Sail on by. Your time has come to shine.

All your dreams are on their way. See how they shine.

Oh, if you need a friend, I’m sailing right behind

Like a bridge over troubled water I will ease your mind

The promise of God remains the same whether in spring of 1969 or summer of 2020.

“Like a bridge over troubled water. I will ease your mind.”

Rev. Larry E. Davies can be reached at larrydavies@vaumc.org.