*photo from austinkleon.com
I got sucked into "doomscrolling" this morning. I should know better than to start the day with my Facebook feed, but I did. First it was the debacle that is American politics these days, and the lengths to which some people will go in the name of self-interest. Which, of course, leads to pandemic numbers there, and here (and our own politicians behaving badly). And then another article about some largely unknown threat that could unravel the world as we know it. And then the reminder that some people are billionaires, while so much of the world suffers for basic needs. And, and, and.
And then, as my wife asked if I was okay—what with all the heavy and frequent sighing—I remembered to put down my phone and pick up my Bible, which is what’s supposed to be first in my morning. I use the Read Scripture app, from the folks at The Bible Project. Right now I’m making my way through Deuteronomy, which might not be the first place I would go to make me feel better about things. There are some really marvellous, even glorious moments, and some difficult ones. But the Psalm for the day was Psalm 56.
Psalm 56 isn’t precisely relevant to my personal life, at the moment. My enemies aren’t oppressing me much these days. But a line that echoes through the prayer jumped out at me:
“In God I trust; I am not afraid.”
It comes up a couple of times in the 13 verses, and it’s not clear to me whether it’s a confident declaration of unshakeable faith, or a mumbled reminder. Of course, there’s a way of saying “In God I trust; I am not afraid” that can be as troublesome as it is comforting. It can be an excuse for indifference or arrogance, or a justification for burying our heads in the sand.
But for me, this morning, it was a breath of fresh air. It was a reminder that my hope and action are not rooted in fear, or anxiety, or despair at the way things are. My hope and action are rooted in the God who made and loves this world; the God who entered this world in the midst of political tyranny, to far from ideal circumstances, unwanted and largely unnoticed; and the God who has promised that, by that entering, “the way things are” will not have the last word on us or the world.
Today is the last day of the Christmas season, and I think the promise of Psalm 56 is a good word for it. The season may be ending, but the work of Christmas is just begun. Now, as Christians, we start to learn again how to live not just for the way things are, but for the way they really are, the way they will be when God gets the world God wants.
In my sermon on Sunday (January 3, 2021), I challenged my congregation to resolve to read the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), weekly, for the next year. That’s Jesus’ manifesto for his ministry. It’s what he’s about. And it gives us a framework for what it looks like to live as those who trust God, who are not afraid, and who are yearning for more than the way things are. It gives us a framework for the way things will be.
I’m hoping to start a monthly on-line gathering to talk about the Sermon on the Mount, to figure out together how to live this stuff. Watch for details soon.
In the meantime: trust God; don’t be afraid.
Grace and peace.