In the face of overwhelming challenges

In the face of overwhelming challenges

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These are challenging days in which to be a person of faith. And by “person of faith” I mean anyone who seeks to bring their life into alignment with the presence and character of God.

We might disagree about the specific nature of God. We might even disagree about what language to use when we talk about “God.” Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs speak of “a Power greater than ourselves” and “the God of our understanding.”

So, we might disagree about many of the details, but I suspect that beyond our disagreements many of us are striving to bring our lives into alignment with a positive, life-affirming, life-transforming reality which is greater than ourselves.

And as we do so, we find ourselves confronted by a whole host of situations in the world that we find confusing, distressing, and even abhorrent. In these days in which we are living we are faced with so many crises that we can barely even name them and keep track of them, let alone adequately address them.

There is the climate crisis, the refugee crisis, the gun-violence crisis, the opioid crisis, and on and on the list seems to go. What is a person of faith to do? How are we to respond in the face of such overwhelming challenges? Fortunately, for us and for the world, we need not attempt to tackle all of the challenges in the world alone. Indeed, we cannot. It is beyond our capacity. But we are not alone. All over the world there are people of faith and good will who share our concerns and our desire to heal the brokenness which seems so ever-present. We have partners who are already walking with us on this journey, even when we have not yet become aware enough to notice.

Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr once offered this helpful reminder. “Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love.

No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.” But even when we recognize that we are not alone and not on our own, the challenge of what to do and how to do it remains daunting.

In the face of such diverse and seemingly overwhelming circumstances in the world, how do we go about figuring out where to begin? Author and theologian Frederick Buechner offers one possible template to consider as we discern our calling. “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” It is easy to feel pulled in so many directions, which can leave us feeling completely inadequate to the task.

It can be helpful to remember that we will be most useful and make the most difference when we bring our best selves to the task. If we are doing something purely out of guilt or because someone else expects us to, then we are far less likely to be in a position to give it our best. Remembering that we are not alone in addressing the needs of the world offers us the perspective that no one of us is responsible to do everything.

We need only do our best in responding to what we feel called to do with the gifts we have been given. The Talmud put it this way, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now. Love mercy now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

So, may we remember that in the face of “the enormity of the world’s grief” we are not powerless to respond. Each of us has gifts which can be brought to bear. And perhaps the greatest gift of all is the gift of community. We are not alone. In community we have not only our gifts, but also the gifts of everyone else as well. Your gifts will enable and empower you to respond to some of the crises we face, while my gifts will enable and empower me to respond to other crises.

Together we are far more than the sum of our parts. Together, as each of us seeks to bring our lives into alignment with the God of our understanding, we have the power to transform the world. How is God calling you to respond today?

Roger Lynn is the Pastor at Plymouth Congregational Church, which is affiliated with the United Church of Christ.

 

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