“For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: In returning and rest you shall be saved, in quietness and in trust shall be your strength,” said the Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli as she began her final sermon at the 9:15 a.m. Friday morning worship service.
Her sermon title was “In Quietness and Trust,” and the Scripture readings were Isaiah 30:8-18 and Matthew 8:23-27.
“You have heard the Isaiah passage every day this week, a kind of lectio divina as a community,” she said. “Lectio divina is a way of praying, of listening for the voice of God in Scripture. As you read it repeatedly, in different translations, you get a deeper connection with God and what God is saying.”
She called the prophetic tradition in Isaiah and the Gospel reading in Matthew a guide and grounding to “bold, loving resistance to injustice in service to the vision of God’s kingdom.”
She told the congregation that we are challenged to consider God’s kingdom vision as presented by the Hebrew prophets and Jesus as “the primary way to hold America accountable. They are a nagging reminder that we always have choices, and choices have consequences. Where we put our trust and love makes a difference in our lives and the life of the world.”
As Gaines-Cirelli brought the week to a close, she wanted to lift up something that she thought some in the congregation might find odd — that to trust God is a prophetic act. She quoted theologian Walter Brueggemann that the task of the prophetic tradition is to nurture an evocative consciousness and prescience that is counter to the culture.
“The idolatry of our current cultural religion,” she said, “is that we put our hope, faith and love in everything but God. To trust God is countercultural. It is a foundational prophetic act, and everything else flows from that act.”
Returning to trust, meditation and mindfulness can’t necessarily heal “this beautiful broken world, and I agree to a point. But without the guidance we receive in relationship to God, how do we know that things should and can be different?” she asked.
We were created to participate in God’s saving activity in the world, she told the congregation. We were created to serve God’s dream for creation. How will we know or discern what our gifts are, the right action to take? What are our resources?
“In quietness and trust we return to God” was her answer. When we are confronted with trials and scary headlines, we can draw on God’s reality and presence and discern how to respond.
We don’t have to make it up.
“It is an orientation that keeps us humble and open and reminds us of our dependence,” she said. “You are not insignificant, but I would suggest that you are not God, and neither am I. This reality keeps us from being blinded into thinking that the world revolves around us. It saves us from a small, self-obsessed life.”
Staying near God reminds us that we don’t have to hold up the whole world, that we can separate the nourishing food from the junk food so we are not distracted by things that don’t matter.
She quoted Philippians 4:8: “Whatever is true, honorable, just, pure, pleasing, commendable — if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise — think about these things.” She said that to focus on what matters most, nearness to God helps — that by keeping close we know God’s love for us, others and for creation.
“We can trust the eternal, steadfast love that allows us to live every moment more fully. That-is-the-most-powerful-force-in-the-world!” she said. “If we truly trust, we can look at the world, whatever is going on, and say ‘Bring it on.’ Because I am held and loved, I am free, so you can do whatever you want to me, but God is holding me in steadfast, eternal love.”
This love saves us from soul-killing idolatries. Sometimes we know things in our heads but not fully in our hearts. The signals in Gaines-Cirelli’s life that tell her she has not reached perfection are restlessness, agitation, over-functioning and “the visceral anxiety that I am going to fail.” These are the red flags that tell her she is still on the journey to perfection.
When she was on her yearly silent retreat five years ago, she was struggling to be still. Her spiritual mentor suggested she read Matthew 8:23-27, the story of Jesus calming the storm. Her mentor told her to prayerfully put herself in the text.
Her first reaction was to realize that she was on the boat and that it was Jesus who got her on the boat, and he was asleep. The Scripture says that when Jesus got in the boat, the disciples followed.
“I am a disciple and am on the boat and you, Jesus, got me into this; this is your fault,” she said.
The text describes the strong winds and the waves around the boat.
“I am from Oklahoma and I don’t like strong winds and I don’t know about boats,” she said. “I realized how vulnerable humans are in boats, and I looked at Jesus sleeping and I wanted to know how he could sleep under those conditions and how could I do that.”
That was when she received an invitation to follow Jesus into his rest, just as she had followed him onto the boat.
“I know how to follow him onto the boat of activity, but when things get hairy and scary, how do I follow him into rest? Rest is salvation,” she said.
To sleep even when there is a storm raging is not hiding under a blanket or failing to respond to a challenge, she said. Even in the middle of danger we can rest in God, in God’s steady presence that is holding us in eternal love.
The only way to know and learn this trust is “by actually spending time in silence with God, listening for God’s voice.” We have to train our sense to hear what Jesus is saying in the midst of scary reality.
“He is saying, ‘Be still, and know and trust that God has the power to be with you in times of peril,’ ” she said.
Theologian and monk Thomas Merton wrote a prayer about trusting in God. He said that he did not know where he was going, he did not know his own self and that thinking he was following God did not mean that he really was following God. But he knew that the desire to follow God was pleasing to God, and he did not want to do anything to depart from that desire. He knew, therefore, that he could always trust that God would not leave him to face his perils alone.
“In quietness know that God will never leave you to face your perils alone,” Gaines-Cirelli said. “Everyone can face perils as God’s prophets with love, faith and courage. Thanks be to God.”
The Rev. Susan McKee presided. Bill Bates read the Scripture. His Chautauqua involvement began in the early 1950s. He is a lay reader and chalice bearer and member of the board of trustees at the Chapel of the Good Shepherd, is an Annual Fund volunteer and team leader, and a Promise Campaign major gifts volunteer, a graduate of the CLSC Class of 1995 and an Olympian Level Guild of the Seven Seals. He is also a life member of the Chautauqua Women’s Club and a member of its Scholarship Committee. His wife, LaDonna, has taught here for 30 years. The Motet Choir, under the direction of Jared Jacobsen, organist and coordinator of worship and sacred music, sang “Afternoon on a Hill,” with words by Edna St. Vincent Millay and music by Eric Barnum. The Randell-Hall Memorial Chaplaincy and the Geraldine M. and Frank E. McElree Jr. Chaplaincy Fund provided support for this week’s services.