Retired Baptist minister Judson Edwards has written very honestly about how challenging being a pastor was for him at times over his thirty-eight year career in the local church. When he found himself in life’s low places, Edwards said that there was one particular family member that he regularly turned to which was his Uncle Glen. Glen was the brother of Judson Edwards’ father and Glen was a pastor himself for many years.
Over time, Judson Edwards wrote his Uncle Glen countless letters, made regular phone calls to him and occasionally enjoyed important visits to Glen’s house so that they might spend time with one another in person. Edwards says that his Uncle Glen’s support, listening ear and counsel became so valuable that it wasn’t uncommon for his wife Sherry to say to him “It might be time to give Uncle Glen a call” when she knew that Judson was clearly low or upset.
In essence, Uncle Glen was Judson Edward’s faithful, dependable refuge. A refuge is a place of shelter and protection. When a refuge comes in the form of a person, a refuge can be described as a relationship in which we can be honest, share what is on our heart openly and have the freedom to be ourselves. In that Judson Edward’s Uncle Glen knew exactly what he was going through, he provided that type of safe place to his nephew. (Judson Edwards, Bugles In the Afternoon, Chapter 1, Smyth & Helwys, 2016)
On this Mother’s Day, I want to suggest very simply that God is always available as a relational refuge to you and I as his children. And, I also want to suggest that when we are at our best for one another as family, we provide the most important people in our lives this same needed space to be their authentic self with freedom and safety.
Psalm 31, particularly in the verses that we read for today has God as our refuge as a theme. Of the Psalms, Psalm 31 has a degree of notoriety. On the one hand, this comes because Jesus apparently remembers this Psalm on the cross. The words “Into thy hands, I commit my spirit” are a direct quote by Jesus of Psalm 31, verse 5.
On the other hand, Psalm 31 resonates with many people because it is such an honest psalm of a person on the run and in trouble. It can make the reader think of the moment in David’s life when he was on being pursued by King Saul during the days after he had been anointed as Saul’s successor. If you will remember, there came this time when David as the king-to-be was more popular than Saul as the current ruler. This led to David rightly feeling unsafe. Saul was jealous of him. In turn, David fled to the Judean hillside for safety. Psalm 31 definitely gives off this vibe of a person whose life hangs in the balance and who thus seeks safety and refuge.
In turn, what is truly powerful in this Psalm is the imagery of God as our safe place. If you read slowly and carefully our text for today, in the span of only 8 short statements or verses, there is this profound sense of God as a rock, fortress and refuge. In fact, in the New Revised Standard version, the word refuge is used 3 times in the first 5 verses.
The world is a scary place. We never know how others are going to treat us, whether we are safe with them or if they even care at all about our lives. But God is our protection and God is our safe place. God offers us strong, secure walls behind which we can feel his security, catch our breath, let our guard down and rest.
We all need that. We need a place of protection. But, again, we also need a place of refuge relationally and spiritually too where we know we are loved no matter what. Safe places are not just places where we can escape the world’s violence. Safe places are also the locations where we know we have the freedom to be who we truly are. I hope on this day that all of us who are participating in this service know God in this way. God is our refuge. If there is one being in all of the universe who we can be ourselves with, it is God. If there is one place where it is okay to be honest and truthful about our pain and hurt, happiness and hopes it is in the presence of God.
Today, we are filming our service in the homes of our staff. Each of us have contributed to the service from a room or location in or outside of our own house. It is said that our homes are our sanctuaries. Our homes are our safe places. I believe that when God is our refuge that God provides us a spiritually safe home too.
At the same time, on this Mother’s Day, I also want to say that when we are faithful to one another as families, we provide this type of sanctuary to our spouses, children, grandchildren, siblings and other relatives too. Again, we all need these types of places. Beyond God or our church, our biological family is one of the few places we are likely to find this type of safe haven.
Is this what we are providing to those we love the most? Do our children, grandchildren, siblings, parents and other family know that with us they can be honest, themselves and that in our presence they are safe and have a refuge? Do they know that we really and truly are interested and care about all that is going on in their lives and that we want to provide for them a loving place to share about it all? When they think of us, do they think of us as a refuge similar to the way God is spoken of in Psalm 31?
John Lane is a professor of English and the Environment at Wofford. Recently, Lane wrote a book called Neighborhood Hawks which, more than anything, is a year long journal of his attempts to learn as much as possible about the Red Shoulder Hawks who lived in the trees of his Spartanburg neighborhood and the woods surrounding it. Truthfully the book is about way more than just the hawks. What Lane really chronicles in his year of paying close attention to the world around him is what was happening with all of the birds, animals, plants and trees in the natural world in which he lived. In essence, he got in touch with and paid careful, daily attention to his world and thus saw things that I suspect he had never noticed before.
God, as our refuge wants to know us on this intimate, personal, daily level and in the process to love us just as we are. Are we willing to ask the questions, give the time, provide the listening ear and love our biological family members just as they are on this level too? Can we be the faithful, dependable refuge for each other that God offers to be for us? I hope and pray that we can. Amen.