PAULA MEHMEL: Shoot The Rapids — The Two Kingdoms

I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted.

The events of the past week have left me at once glued to my television and also feeling a soul-crushing desire to just go upstairs, pull the covers over my head and pretend that this is not happening in our country.

So I have been praying a lot about how to deal with this grim reality that literally surrounds us. That is between conversations with the Capitol and Hartford Police about what threats may be posed by my congregations location across the street from the Connecticut State Capitol and making the decision to close the church building from Jan. 17-20, for the sake of safety.

The simple truth is, as evidenced by such choices we have to make in the face of domestic terror threats, even if we try to ignore what is happening, it still impacts us.

So how do we deal with it, as people of faith? How do we keep ourselves from being completely overwhelmed and continue to function, even as we deal with the single greatest threat to our freedom and our way of life as a democratic nation since the Civil War?

Upon reflecting, I recalled one of my favorite quotes from my favorite poet. TS Eliot had just converted to Christianity when he wrote the poem “Ash Wednesday,” which describes the struggle to live as a person of faith in the midst of a faithless world, how one might turn away from the world and turn toward God.

In the first of its six stanza’s Eliot writes, “Teach us to care and not to care. Teach us to sit still.” Those words have guided me during times of personal turmoil, when I have been uncertain which way to turn and they seem apropos to this time and place as well.

Simply put, it is a reminder that, as people of faith, we live in a place of duality. In Lutheranism, we call it “The Two Kingdoms.” Although this is a complex theological doctrine that has a lot of nuances and ways in which it can be misinterpreted and abused, simply put, we are citizens of two kingdoms — the kingdom of heaven and the earthly realm. And while God is ruler of all, we live subject to the laws of the world.

In that vein, we can’t ignore the “real world” and simplify things by saying “God is in charge and so I can’t do anything.” But at the same time, we need to remember that our ultimate hope and salvation comes not from a nation or a flag but from a Risen Savior. That is why nationalism of any sort is sinful — because it worships a false God, not the Lord of all nations.

As we live between these worlds, we need to learn to “care and not to care.” We need to learn how to be invested but not obsessed, engaged but not possessed. We need to learn to sit still, to listen, to pray and then to respond with action.

There is an old adage that says a good preacher reads the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other, so that what is being preached is relevant to the world in which we live. Never has that been more needed — not just by preachers but by all people of faith.

We need to watch the news with an understanding that what happens impacts us, and we need to be aware and active, if necessary, on the side of justice, mercy and grace. But we also understand that we have a Sovereign God who holds all accountable and no one is above repute.

One of the best ways to do that is to center ourselves in Psalm 46:

God is our refuge and strength,

a very present(a) help in trouble.

Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,

though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;

though its waters roar and foam,

though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,

the holy habitation of the Most High.

God is in the midst of the city; it shall not be moved;

God will help it when the morning dawns.

The nations are in an uproar, the kingdoms totter;

God utters God’s voice, the earth melts.

The Lord of hosts is with us;

the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Come, behold the works of the Lord;

see what desolations he has brought on the earth.

God  makes wars cease to the end of the earth;

God breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;

God burns the shields with fire.

“Be still, and know that I am God!

I am exalted among the nations,

I am exalted in the earth.”

The Lord of hosts is with us;

the God of Jacob is our refuge.

Martin Luther used this as the basis for “A Mighty Fortress is our God,” and I believe we can use it as a basis for prayer right now, reminding us that God is with us and even as the “nations are in an uproar and the kingdoms totter,” God is still God, our refuge and stronghold. We are saved by our citizenship in heaven, not on earth.

We need not fear, even as we engage, as we care, as we respond to injustice. We are not passive, but we also trust in God. And we are able to find that peace and strength, when we are still— when we pray and remember that we serve a higher power.

These are trying times, but when we face them undergirded by our faith and the knowledge that we are not alone, we can both take in what is happening, respond with faith and turn to God for the renewal of our wearied sould. We can learn to care and not to care — to sit still, even for a moment, as the world roils around us, and then find the strength to forge ahead in faith.


O God our Refuge, help us to turn to you when the nations teeter, as our Rock and Firm Foundation. Allow us to find solace in you and strength to stand firm in your Word of Truth in a world filled with deception, knowing that your Truth will guide us, give us courage and truly set us free. In the name of the one true Savior, Jesus Christ, we pray.  Amen.

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