Pastor's Blog

Rock in the ocean

Solid Ground in Turbulent Times

You’ve probably heard the sarcastic but too close-to-the-truth saying, Nothing is certain in life except death and taxes. And yet, as we head into a new year, I imagine that we are all looking for some sense of certainty and clarity regarding the future; some solid ground on which we can stand to steady and guide us through the fog, frustration and fears that the year 2024 inevitably holds as we continue to hear about or experience disease and disaster or war and global warming, just to name a few issues that may keep us up at night. 
In times of uncertainty, some people look for confidence in their finances, surmising that even if they don’t know what’s going on, at least they’ve got money in the bank.  Others lean into their friendships and family connections, hoping that whatever comes, we’ll get through it together. Many others pour themselves into politics and activism seeking security in working to shape the future toward a better outcome – at least their preferred vision of what that looks like. Still, others find hope and meaning in service projects and in caring for their neighbors in need or a planet under duress. Finally, distraction and addiction through entertainment and substance abuse find their way into many of our lives as coping methods for the tenuousness and possible terror of the shadowy future.  
All of us have likely pursued several or all of the avenues mentioned above in our search for security and comfort amid life’s uncertainties – most of which are normal, healthy activities in and of themselves. Addictions and distractions aside, the question is, can our bank accounts, our relationships, our activism and charitable works bear “the hopes and fears” of all our years, as the Christmas Carol notes? Will we ever have enough money to ease our anxiety? Is it feasible or even fair to pin our hopes on another human being? Is there a political party or candidate that can lead us to the promised land, as it were? And, while it is always right to love and care for our neighbors – especially those in need – do we really have the wherewithal by our own wits, energy and compassion, individually or corporately, to organize and advocate toward a level of local and global equality and harmony that will calm our fears and ease our anxious minds? 
In a recent New York Times op-ed, Maggie Jackson, author of the book, Uncertain: The Wisdom and Wonder of Being Unsure, after acknowledging people’s aversion to uncertainty and mentioning many of the same anxiety-producing issues brought up in the first paragraph of this article, goes on to state: a wave of scientific discoveries reveals that learning to lean into uncertainty in times of rapid change is a promising antidote to mental distress, and that a growing body of evidence and a range of new interventions suggest that skillfully managing uncertainty in the face of what’s murky, new or unexpected is an effective treatment for anxiety, a likely path to building resilience and a mark of astute problem-solving ability.  
I have not read Ms. Jackson’s book, but I can imagine that her discussion of coping strategies and new interventions could prove beneficial in helping people navigate the anxiety-inducing times in which we live. Certainly, we can all benefit from developing a more open, flexible mindset that is less surprised by change and more willing and ready to adapt to new situations. And, many of us would have much less anxiety if we managed our time and attention better by turning off the news and signing off of our social media feeds. However, some of the larger issues that both Ms. Jackson and I mention in our articles including political upheaval, war and the threat of climate change, may require more than a new perspective and better anxiety management skills.  
Without discounting our efforts toward greater personal resiliency and our work to make the world a better place or ignoring the progress we have made on various fronts throughout the centuries, the nightly news and our social media feeds continue to provide us with more information than we can process and reveal more threats to our sense of well-being than we can bear. Might I suggest that to find true peace of mind and genuinely solid ground in this new year, we will have to look beyond our bank accounts, our relationships, our political activities and efforts, and even our religious traditions: Our only hope is to open our minds and hearts to the mysterious but very real faithful love of God. 
Psalm 136 begins with these verses:  
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good.  
His love endures forever. 
Give thanks to the God of gods. 
His love endures forever. 
Give thanks to the Lord of lords. 
His love endures forever. 
The psalmist goes on to recount God’s character and his exploits on behalf of his people, repeating the refrain, His love endures forever, another 23 times for a total of 26 recitations. The prophet Jeremiah uses similar language in his gut-wrenchingly honest account of the atrocities suffered by the Israelites due to their refusal to trust in God when he says in Lamentations 3:22, The faithful love of the LORD never ends! His mercies never cease. 
Do we believe that? As we peer into the cold mist of a new year, are we actively and consistently seeking God and trusting in his faithful love to carry us through? Or, truth be told, are we relying more on our assets, abilities and associations, rather than on God? 
Note that both the psalmist and Jeremiah focus on the love of God as the characteristic that endures and sees his people through. Human history is replete with visions of gods and goddesses that are powerful, terrible and often capricious. It is unique to the Jewish and Christian faiths that God is revealed as one whose power and holiness flow from a center of enduring love. And as Christians, we believe that the love of God is not inconsistent or sentimental, but rather, constant and sacrificial, being most fully revealed in and through Jesus Christ. 
Paul says in his letter to the Colossians that Christ is the visible image of the invisible God, (Col. 1:15, NLT). And the writer of Hebrews, speaking of Jesus, says that The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, (Heb. 1:3, NIV). So, when we talk about relying on the enduring love of God, we are not commenting on some ethereal, romantic ideal, rather we are looking to the solid reality of his love expressed in human history in the life, death and resurrection of God’s son, Jesus the Christ; the one who calmed the seas, walked on water, fed the multitudes, touch and healed the lepers, the deaf and the blind, cast out demons and raised the dead. And, who through his sacrificial death and resurrection, not only provided forgiveness for our sins but overcame the power of death itself, so that no matter what happens in our lives today, or what may happen in the unknown of the days ahead, we have an anchor for our souls (Heb. 6:19) and a compelling reason for hope. 
But we don’t just look to the past. The words of Jesus to his original disciples recorded in the gospel of John reverberate through the centuries to comfort and guide us today. 
“If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. (John 14:15-18, NIV). 
There it is! The enduring love of God is available to us right here, right now, through Jesus by the presence of his Spirit in this world and in our lives.  
The Apostle Peter exhorts us to Cast all [our] anxiety on him because he cares for [us], (1 Peter 5:17, NIV). As the year 2024 unfolds with all of its possibilities and problems, my we learn to lean into the enduring love of God in Christ more than anyone or anything else as we seek to worship and work together in the power of the Spirit for the Glory of God and the Good of Our Neighbors near and far. 
—Pastor Scott