Summary: We all need a place of quiet in which to hide and reflect; it will be the community of faith. Here we know one another as we really are, but love one another anyway. That is transformative.
Just a little less than a month ago, as many of you know, my wife’s father passed away very suddenly. Of course, we all hurried to get together, and then, as families do in times like that, we began to tell stories. We remembered how he used to say this or how he once did that. And one story we told came from deep down in my wife’s memory. Margaret remembers how, as a small child in Birmingham -- that’s Birmingham in England and not Birmingham in Alabama -- as a small child she spent many a night in a bomb shelter, because it was wartime, and that industrial city in the north of England was a prime target.
By the way, far any of you who may harbor certain suspicions about either Margaret’s age or mine, that was the Second, the second World War!
But once the air raid warning sounded, the whole family would have to go into the shelter until the "all clear" was sounded. Now what do you do in a bomb shelter? You might pray; you might try to sleep; you might just go into neutral and do nothing. But Margaret remembers her father, huddled over in a corner of the shelter, writing a book!
Imagine writing a book while bombs are falling outside! The concentration that would take; I don’t know about you, but I can’t write a grocery list if the TV is playing too loud! We reminisced and laughed about this wonderful scholar who could turn out a fine book of theology even though Nazi nightmares were all around him, threatening his very existence. It almost seems absurd, until you think about it a little more.
You see, maybe the shelter, maybe the hiding place, actually gave him a chance to concentrate that he couldn’t find any place else. It gave him the focus to do what he wanted to do. After all, he was the pastor of a church, and that’s demanding. He was the pastor of a Baptist church, and that’s more than demanding. You know the nursery rhyme about that, don’t you? "Mary had a little lamb; it would have been a sheep. But it became a Baptist and died far lack of sleep." Maybe this hiding place, this bomb shelter, actually gave him a kind of concentration he couldn’t get anyplace else.
And more than that, you need to know that the book that came out of the bomb shelter was called, "The Christian Understanding of History." It was all about how we can understand what God is doing when the world is being destroyed. It was an attempt to think out, "Where is God when the world is crashing down around your ears?" And so, you see, maybe the bomb shelter, maybe the place to hide from death and destruction, was even a kind of laboratory. It was a unique setting in which to learn and reflect and speak about that theme. Maybe without the hiding place there would have been no great book at all.
This morning I want you to see that we can use the hiding places in our lives to give us security. And because of that security in the middle of confusion, we can create something fine and noble.
When you live in a world which is in a mess … and we do … when you live in a world which is in a mess, you will need a hiding place. You can use the hiding place just as a place to hide and nothing else, just as a shelter and nothing more. Or you can use the hiding place as a tool to equip you for something noble and great and creative.
That is the way I think of the Christian faith. And that is also the way I think of the Christian church. Our faith and our church are, for many of us, hiding places. We need them. It’s stormy out there. And you can just rest here if you want to. Just hover behind the stained glass and sleep on the pews and burrow around in the Bible, and that’s it. Or you can use this hiding place as a moment of respite in which and through which you can become prepared for wonderful, noble things.
Let’s dig deeper into this truth. Let’s enlist the prophet Isaiah to help us. Isaiah is going to show us what kinds of things can happen if you make proper use of the hiding place. And Isaiah will teach us that even if you are a church moue, hiding in the church, you don’t just hide. You hide in order to become something special.
I’m going to ask you to follow the Biblical material very carefully. Page 575 pew Bibles. And stay with it.