Rev. Dr. Donna Giver-Johnston
July 16, 2017
Time Out! a coach calls when her players are not performing well, they are making mistakes, getting frustrated, losing the game, and need a break. They need to sit down, wipe off the sweat, take a drink of water, hear words of instruction and inspiration from the coach, take a deep breath and then get back out there to play. Time outs can be an effective way to re-focus players and help improve their performance and results.
Time Out! a mother calls for her young child who is acting up, acting out, and behaving in a way that is unacceptable. The child needs a recess, a pause in the action, time to think about what they did wrong and how they might do better, a time to rest and recharge batteries. Time outs can be effective means parents can use to discipline their children.
Cut! The director calls in play rehearsal. What he is really calling is Time Out! for the actors who are forgetting their lines, not getting stage cues right, and messing up. They need time to halt the action, take a break, take a breath, maybe get a cup of coffee, talk a walk outside, clear their heads, then look at the script again and remember what the play is about and their role in it. Time outs (or cuts in the action) in plays can be an effective way to improve the performance.
Time Outs are not just for athletes and children and actors.
Psalm 77 begins as a lament:
“I cry aloud to God, in the day of my trouble; I seek the Lord, my soul refuses to be comforted.
Has the Lord’s steadfast love ceased forever? Are his promises at an end for all time?”
The Psalmist is in a painful place, a miserable state, what we might call “a dark and lonely valley.”
A time when all seems helpless, life seems unfair, and God seems to be far, far away.
Have you been in such a place and time in your life?
When you keep replaying something someone said that hurt you.
When you feel the pain of your broken marriage—for you and your children.
When you fear the future knowing your cancer diagnosis.
When you grieve the death of a loved one.
When you can’t seem to get out of this dark hopeless place.
When you wonder: where is God, when you need him most?
In v. 9, from a dark and hopeless place, we hear the psalmist cry out,
“Has God forgotten to be gracious?”
And yet, 3 verses later, we hear a very different response.
Questioning God is replaced by talking to God, who is close at hand.
“Your way, O God, is holy. What god is so great as our God?
You are the God who works wonders.”
What happened between v. 9 and v. 13?
After verse 9, we read a word that we don’t recognize. Selah. (Say-la’).
Selah is a Hebrew word whose precise meaning is unknown, but it basically means—a musical interlude.
Remember the Psalms were often sung, and so “Selah” is instructing the voices to stop for a moment, maybe to allow other instruments to play an interlude, or to let there be silence.
Its placement in the Psalm here is significant to the meaning.
It means Time Out!
Take time out to take a break, a recess, a pause, a respite, a rest.
Take time to be still and silent and let others speak or play to inspire.
Take time to re-focus, reflect, and remember what is true.
That’s exactly what the psalmist seems to have done. “Selah.”
And after Selah, the Psalmist is different. Listen to the next verses:
“I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord; I will remember your wonders of old.
I will meditate on all your works, and muse on your mighty deeds.”
After a time out, the psalmist’s doubts are replaced by renewed faith.
The “Selah” helps the psalmist remember God’s mighty acts of power on behalf of God’s people;
and because of that, sooner or later, would be used in his favor.
The Psalmist needed a time out to remember what is true. And so do we.
Have you seen the Disney movie Finding Nemo? Or the latest version Finding Dory.
Dory is the fish that suffers from short-term memory.
I read an interesting reflection on the story (Brent Bailey, June 21, 2016) that compares Dory’s struggles to the way that we often experience our life as a Christian—as a sort of perpetual struggle to remember what is true:
To remember that God created us and loves us.
To remember that God is with us, no matter what struggles we face.
To remember that Jesus died for us, so that we might have life in abundance forever.
But we cannot do this alone. We need a community to help us remember God’s promises.
That’s why we come to church. It’s a Selah—a time out in our busy week or our lonely week.
It’s time to re-focus, reflect, and remember what is true.
When we can only think of our pain and sorrow, others remind us of God’s presence with us.
When we cannot remember what is true, others remind us of the story of our faith—that God has led many people out of darkness and despair into a place of promise, and will do so with us.
When we cannot sing, others sing for us. When we cannot pray, others pray for us.
When we hunger and thirst, others feed us with the bread of life and the cup of salvation, because Jesus says, “Do this in remembrance of me.”
When we forget, others remind us what is true: God has been our help in ages past and is our hope for years to come.
“Just keep swimming,” Dory the fish continues to sing when she doesn’t know what else to do.
I suggest having such a mantra is helpful to remind us of a way out of our dark valleys to fine our home with God.
What is yours?
Maybe “Just keep praying.” Or “Just keep worshiping.” Or “Just keep breathing.” Or “Just keep remembering.”
Or maybe a simple word “Selah” will remind you to take time out to re-focus, reflect, and remember what is true.
Time Outs are not just good for athletes and children and actors.
They for good for all of us.
We all need time to take a recess, take a breath, clear our heads, and hear words of instruction and inspiration. Time outs can be an effective way for us to re-focus, reflect, and remember what is true.
I Invite us all to take a Selah—a quiet moment to reflect….and in that time to write on your paper heart,
on one side, something that you want to remember about God
and on the other side, something/someone you want God to remember.
After a moment of silent reflection and a musical interlude—a Selah—we will put the hearts on the Prayer Wall, as we sing the hymn, “Healer of our Every Ill.”
We will put them on the Prayer Wall as a community,
to help us remind others about God and to remember God’s people in our prayers.