Saturday, July 7, 1993

Location - FNCA 1993

One of the parts of the Assembly program that I have come to value particularly is the

Sunday evening service. At home, I doubt that I would heave myself out to attend one, but

here there is no special effort involved, and there seems to be something special about

evening worship. There is a particular feel about coming together when things are winding

down. In morning worship, there is often the sense of challenge for tasks that lie ahead.

The emphasis falls most naturally on our obligations, our efforts. In the evening, the

task, if we may call it that, is to let go and give ourselves into the Lord's care for the


"Thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety." When this was first written, war was an

annual event. Those lines about beating swords into plowshares and spears into

pruninghooks (Isaiah 2:4 and Micah 4:3) tell only one side of the story. The prophet Joel

tells the other--"Proclaim this among the gentiles; Prepare war, wake up the mighty men,

let all the men of war draw near; let them come up: Beat your plowshares into swords, and

your pruninghooks into spears: let the weak say, I am strong" (Joel 3:9f.). In other

words, the Psalmist was well aware of matters of personal and national security.

He also knew, though, that while we can and must take reasonable precautions, we can never

be in control of everything that affects our safety. Ultimately, our lives are in the

Lord's hand, and in a sense, the whole purpose of this life is that we discover and accept

this. The longer we pretend we are in charge, the bleaker our prospects are. Especially as

the aging process proves itself irresistible, we force ourselves into increasingly

difficult and fruitless denial.

This need to be in control can be insidious. It can show itself it any number of little

ways. We find ourselves sure that we have the answers and have a personal investment in

having things turn out the way we know they should. We want everything to be planned with

precision, and have a feeling that circumstances have no right to interfere. We are

generally intolerant of interruptions. We are restless with any sense of loose ends.

It is this restlessness that is addressed most directly by our text, for it is this

restlessness that makes us incapable of laying ourselves down in peace. Our minds won't

turn off, even though it is perfectly clear than nothing more can be done until the


An evening service, then, is a little chance to practice letting go. We do not have to

have all the answers before we close our eyes. If there is a worrisome problem, we do not

need to worry it through. If we lie awake and struggle with it, yes, we may make some

mental progress and gain a clearer idea of what we should do tomorrow. However, it is

equally true that our subconscious minds are at work while we sleep, and that they are in

touch with a deeper wisdom than our conscious minds know. If we can manage to let go, it

is surprising how many times "things are clearer in the morning."

It is wholly appropriate that during the daylight hours we focus our attention on our own

responsibilities. Sometimes it may seem, in fact, as though everything depends on us, and

this may help energize us to do our very best. But our strength is limited, and the time

comes when our energies flag. Our bodies and our minds tell us that it is time to rest.

It is then, when our ability to care for ourselves has declined, that we particularly need

to know that we are cared for. We could go outside and look at the stars if necessary to

remind ourselves that the universe is a great deal larger than we are and that its powers

dwarf our own. That tells us one side of the story. That should convince us that

everything does not depend on us.

The other side of the story is that the immense power of the universe, the whole energy

than maintains it, is benevolent. We can let go not with grudging resignation to the

inevitable, but with trust. The Lord is in charge, and the Lord is infinitely loving and

wise. For some odd reason I am reminded of the fairy tale of the shoemaker whose business

is rescued by little elves who come and do exquisite work while he is asleep. They can't

do it while he is watching.

This is a nice image of a kind of spiritual pragmatism. There are processes within and

around us that will not take place while we are watching. We have to provide them with the

raw material, so to speak, by our conscious observations and decisions, but we see only

the surface of events. The deeper levels of our being are sensitive to what is going on

under the surface, and need to be given the freedom, the space, to process what we are

sending them.

This is not the end of the story, of course. Tomorrow will come, and we will need to

shoulder our responsibilities again. There will be a morning chapel, a wake-up call. But

that is tomorrow, and we cannot live there. We can live only now, and now it is

appropriate to be letting go. What have we done and experienced today? What people have we

shared the day with? What are the loose ends? Perhaps we can bring them to consciousness

in order to lay them down neatly, where they can be picked up again in the morning.

Perhaps, if we do lay them down with care, when we look at them in the morning light we

will see something that eludes us now.

For the brief time between now and then, we can heed the Psalmist and cast our burdens on

the Lord with a full trust that he will sustain us. We must indeed do our part in the care

of our bodies while we are awake, giving them nourishment, exercise, and protection. Yet

we know that recovery from fatigue and many processes of healing take place far better

during sleep. So with our souls, we may do our part with better cheer if we recognize that

it is only a part, and give ourselves gladly into the Lord's hands at close of day.


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