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All Request Summer Hymn Sing
Bridge Over Troubled Water
June 10, 2018
Rev. Fritz Nelson – First Presbyterian, Columbiana

Text: Psalm 23
Song: Bridge Over Troubled Water by Paul Simon

Troubled water…

This song – written by Paul Simon in the late 1960’s and then covered by Elvis in 1970 – leads me to another song – an old spiritual sung on the plantations.

Wade in the water children
Wade in the water children
Wade in the water children
God’s gonna trouble the water

Troubled water. In the old spiritual God’s troubling of the water stirs us from our placid lives and leads us into new directions. We wade into the moving current and let God fill and heal and renew our lives. Sort of like walking along the creek in my yard right now. Its pleasant. The water trickles. The wild geraniums and Jacobs Ladders are in bloom. The blue jays cackle in the oaks overhead. I walk along the creek and I’m relaxed and renewed. I feel more connected with God. The water’s troubled just enough to allow me to see and feel God’s presence and grace.

But the other night, during that thunderstorm, my little creek became a raging mini-river, a torrent of gray brown water spilling over its banks, ripping at the creek side garden, carrying garbage and trash from the city’s storm drains. A little turbulence may be a gift – but when the turbulence becomes a storm, when the troubled waters no longer invite but inundate, toss us around, threaten to drown…

I’ve been thinking a lot this week about Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain – mourning their high profile suicides while knowing many others committed suicide this week with no fanfare whatsoever and even more thought about it. The waters rise, the troubles engulf, it becomes hard to swim. Seemingly manageable troubles one day become unmanageable the next. We get too tired. Or we feel like we’re creating burdens for those around us. We enter the valley of the shadow of death.

Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
I will fear no evil
For Thou art with me
Thy rod and they staff they comfort me
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies
Thou annointest my head with oil, my cup overflows

I love that image of the prepared table in the presence of our enemies. The enemies, the troubles, the trials remain. The demons still dance and jeer and attempt to control. Unlike in some other psalms, God doesn’t vanquish the enemies, he doesn’t defeat them, annihilate them, they remain but God’s presence makes us so secure, so calm, so at peace, we can enjoy a great banquet amidst our troubles and trials. We can receive holy anointing. We can gather strength and confidence for the journey ahead.

I wish I had a five step program for moving from depression and anxiety, doubt and fear, to peace. I wish I knew the absolute key for being able to enjoy God’s heavenly banquet in the midst of our enemies. But frankly if I did, I wouldn’t be here right now – I’d be too busy plugging my best selling book and hanging with Oprah. And if I did, I’d be a fraud.

I only know my own journeys and a small portion of the journeys I’ve walked with others. I know how deep the water can feel and how hard it is to swim. I know many of the things people say – “look on the bright side,” “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” “just hang in there” – none of those really help. I may know in the depth of my being God has laid a banquet for me in the presence of my enemies, but I also know I can’t find it in the tumult. I might be standing beside it. I might even be sitting at the table. But I can’t find it.

I also know often the little things make the most difference. Sometimes it’s a song – many of the songs suggested for this summer became more meaningful because they helped someone through a tough time. Sometimes it’s a safe place, a safe activity or a safe person. For me, during my struggles, it was preaching. For a friend, its her grandchildren. For others it could be a job, reading scripture, praying, writing, a physical activity, a job or anything else. Some might find comfort and support confiding in a friend, or a therapist, or a spiritual director. Each of these can provide a way through the troubled water – a root to grab onto, an eddy to rest in, stepping stones, foot bridges, islands, and more. Points along the way where we can breathe a little easier, see a little clearer, maybe catch a glimpse of the banquet, catch a taste of holy presence, feel God’s anointing and maybe, just maybe, begin making through the troubles to the new life Christ has in store.

Walking along someone during a period of life struggle can become almost as tiring as struggling yourself. I feel many consider suicide in part because they feel as if they’ve become too much of a burden to those around them. When we become that bridge we become threatened by the very same water threatening our friend or loved one. We can become swept up in the current, our own support systems can become undermined, anger and frustration creep in. Without meaning to we can enable the storm, become enmeshed in the storm, even increase the storm’s fury. For those struggling through troubled waters, friends are stepping stones, boards or longs running from bank to bank, maybe a pontoon bridge. Close to the water, accessible but vulnerable. Therapists, spiritual directors, doctors are more like suspension bridges, rising high above the flood, less accessible, maybe more intimidating, but able to guide and direct without getting swept away.

During my struggles it took me many years to find the banquet God had laid for me in the presence of mine enemies. It took stepping stones and branches, eddies and islands, bridges close to the water and the guidance of those whose distance and stability gave them perspective. It took the grace of God who patiently led me through the valley of the shadow of death at a speed, in a way, I could follow. Not a bridge but a path, which I stumbled blindly along, until I could be healed.