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Snowflakes are Us    Psalm 27:1, 4-9      January 23, 2011
 
 
Wilson Alwyn Bentley lived in Vermont from 1865 to 1931 and was fascinated by snow. He found a way to put snowflakes on black velvet and photograph them. Bentley wanted to prove that no two are exactly the same. He photographed and published more than 5,000 individual snowflakes, and today you can see his work at the Buffalo Museum of Science.

Because of his obsession, Bentley was given a fitting nickname — “Snowflake.”

He examined snowflakes under a microscope and discovered that they were all miracles of beauty. “Every crystal was a masterpiece of design, and no one design was ever repeated,” he wrote. “When a snowflake melted, that design was forever lost. Just that much beauty was gone, without leaving any record behind.”

Looking at Bentley’s “Snow Crystal Collection,” a writer named Morgan Meis found that he was especially fond of snowflake number 892. Roughly stellar in category, it’s a bit irregular: The top left arm doesn’t have a cap like the other five do.

Irregular but beautiful.

We’re all flaky, really. Bentley isn’t the only person who should be given the nickname “Snowflake.” We all should. Each of us is a miracle of beauty, a masterpiece of design, and no one design is ever repeated.
 
Are we irregular? Of course! All kinds of irregularities — physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, you name it. We are irregular human beings but still miracles of beauty, shaped in utter uniqueness by a loving and creative Creator.

Our Lord is the God of the snowflakes.

Psalm 27 begins with the words,
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (v. 1). If we are, in fact, God’s snowflakes — precious, unique and transient — then we need a Lord to preserve us and act as a stronghold for us. Otherwise, we’re going to melt, disappear and be lost forever.

Reading the Psalms is a journey of self-discovery that penetrates our façade of self-sufficiency. The composers of the 150 Psalms we find in our Bibles explore the full range of human emotions from rage to rejoicing. John Calvin describes the Psalms as “An Anatomy of All Parts of the Soul.” 

“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?”
 
We are challenged to make a choice between faith and fear. Either we make the faith choice, seeing God as “my light and my salvation,” or we make the fear choice, looking for the answer to the question, “whom shall I fear?”

As snowflakes, we don’t have to go far to find something to fear. We know we’re vulnerable to physical illnesses, emotional distresses, relational breakdowns, economic stresses and spiritual crises. Sometimes we feel as delicate and transient as snowflakes — quick to melt down and disappear forever. We’re not strong enough on our own to stand against all that life may bring our way.
 
The Scriptures tell us that we are in the world, but not of it. Christ has redeemed us, made us new. Since we are not of this world, it stands to reason that some of the world’s influences are bad for us.
 
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (v.1)
 
The image of light in the present context is as a beacon to safety. Think of it as a lighthouse keeping us from crashing against the cliffs on the shore.
 
That the Lord is someone’s “salvation” is an idea found frequently in the Old Testament (especially in the Psalter and the book of Isaiah). Although the word salvation has strong theological overtones to modern hearers, the root meaning is simply “help”: the Lord is my Helper.
 
 “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (v.1)
The Lord is the stronghold of my life; the source of strength in my life; that is, God’s strength.
 
If we make the faith choice, our future looks very different. We aren’t so vulnerable if we put our trust in God because we discover that the Lord is our light, our salvation and the stronghold of our life. The key is to put our trust in Almighty God, not in ourselves.

When we live in God’s light, we’re living in the Lord’s presence.
 
God’s face often appears as light, or shines upon people, such as in the classic Old Testament blessing, “[T]he Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you(Numbers 6:25). So when the Lord is our light, we are living close to God and in a place of peace. “Your face, Lord, do I seek,” says Psalm 27 a few verses later. “Do not hide your face from me” (vv. 8-9).

Again,
“The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?” (v.1)
 
We can choose faith or fear. The faith choice also reveals to us that the Lord is our salvation and the stronghold of our life. After the Israelites were saved from the Egyptians, Moses and his people sang out, “The Lord is my strength and my might, and he has become my salvation” (Exodus 15:2).
 
Later, the writers of the psalms spoke of God repeatedly as a stronghold or refuge, such as in Psalm 28, “The Lord is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed” (v. 8). God is our salvation, saving us from disaster. The Lord is our stronghold, the saving refuge of all who trust in him.

That’s good news for each of us; even when we feel as delicate as a snowflake.
 
An excerpt of something Kari Myers wrote last year in HomeTouch helps put this in perspective.
 
“ Don’t look down!” That’s what they say when you’ve a long way to fall. It’s because, of course, looking down leads to thoughts of the really bad things that could happen. When we stop to ponder how steep the climb, how far we have to fall and the sharpness of the rocks at the bottom, fear takes hold.
 
What if my foot slips or I lose my grip. What if I make a mistake and lose my way or run out of strength before I make it to the top. There’s never a shortage of things to fear.

In fact, if we set our minds to it, we can probably all come up with a substantial list of reasons why we cannot overcome the challenges God has set before us.
Sometimes the reasons have to do with the problem. It’s just too big, too hard, too complicated. Sometimes it’s us. We’re not strong enough, not smart enough, not up to the challenge, often in more than one way.

These things cannot be disputed. Rocks are hard. Problems can be enormous. Human beings are, well, human. Fear then seems a reasonable response — fear and despair.

But then there’s God.

And that’s the key. The key to successfully climbing mountains doesn’t actually have to do with the difficulty of the mountain or the skill of the climber. It’s about the one who made both mountain and climber.
 
God is bigger than our biggest problem and he is not limited by our weaknesses. When we believe that, it doesn’t matter how high the mountain or how weak the climber. If we focus on God instead of our troubles and shortcomings we can do whatever it is he has called us to do.

It’s all about our focus, isn’t it?
 (—Kari Myers, HomeTouch, August 22, 2010.)
 
When we choose faith over fear, we receive the assurance of God’s power and presence through all the challenges of life. This is expressed in verse 4, when the psalm-writer says that he wants “to live in the house of the Lord, all the days of my life”. In Bible times, God was thought to live in the temple in Jerusalem, so to live in the house of the Lord was to live in God’s presence.

How does God help those who choose faith over fear? Verse 5 says that God
“will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock”.
 
This means God will offer protection and deliverance to all who trust in him, keeping them safe from anything that will destroy them. The key is – we have to want God’s protection. We have to look for the light and follow the beacon out of darkness to safety. It’s our choice.

Life is hard (in Scott Peck’s words). Challenges will still arise, and crises will come. But God’s promise of protection and deliverance means we’ll never be completely destroyed by hard times. We will never melt and disappear, like a snowflake in the sun.

Patricia Dahlgren experienced a horror that would cause most people to melt down: the murder of her mother. But Dahlgren responded with faith instead of fear, according to an account in the Christian Century (July 13, 2010). Twelve years after the killing, Dahlgren, accompanied by a friend and a minister, spent an entire day in an Oregon prison with the killer.
 
Dahlgren told the killer about her emotional journey after losing her mother, and the killer told her exactly what he had done, admitting that he was sorry for it and ashamed of it.

The meeting led to healing, for victim and offender. Dahlgren told the killer she forgave him, which stunned everybody in the room. She chose faith instead of fear. She chose to let God be her salvation—her helper.

The promise of God’s protection and deliverance does not shield us from suffering or pain. But it does mean the Lord shields and guides us as we move through life’s horrors so that we’ll emerge with unexpected healing and strength.
 
After passing through a time of hardship, the writer of Psalm 27 says in verse 6, “Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me … I will sing and make melody to the Lord”.

And that’s how we can feel as well, if we choose faith over fear and trust God to lead us toward healing and new life. Amen.


Rev. Rosemary Stelz, First Presbyterian Church, Bastrop, LA
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