The Lord is my light and my salvation;[Psalm 27:1]
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
This Sunday many will hear Psalm 27 read in your worship services.
When I was in parish ministry, there were several psalms that I always had at the ready whenever I would visit parishioners in hospitals. Psalm 27 is one of them. The very first verse should give you a clue as to why. It is a psalm of absolute trust and confidence in God no matter what difficulties or hardships may confront us in life. They are words one needs to hear before facing surgery, or while recovering from sickness, or frightened by the anxieties of life.
Now that I have completed my assignment as Acting Bishop of the Southwestern Pennsylvania Synod, I guess it’s fitting to let it be known that next week I will be returning to parish ministry for a time, but not in a Lutheran setting.
On January 24 of this year, I received a call from the Right Reverend Mark Hollingsworth, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Ohio, asking whether I would be willing to serve as interim rector of St. James Episcopal Church in Painesville, OH.
Shortly before I retired, I had mentioned to Bishop Hollingsworth that if there were any opportunities to serve in the Episcopal Church, that I would be willing to do so. I wanted to remain active in ministry, yet I also wanted to avoid any high degree of visibility in our synod so as not to be a distraction. The ELCA’s full-communion partnership with the Episcopal Church provides that opportunity.
I eagerly look forward to my return to the parish. It is where I feel most useful. There is a joy to being able to shepherd the people of God through the obstacles that dominate our lives, to be a healing presence. I feel ready to step back into that fray.
I am not so naïve as to think this will be a walk in the park. The last two years have been a tremendous challenge to most pastors because of COVID-19.
A Pastor’s week has its ebbs and flows. We go from the delight of the Sunday celebration, to reassuring the concerns of a family in crisis, or sitting at the bedside of someone who is ill or dying. In between there are telephone calls to return, emails to answer, meetings that one has to attend but would rather miss. At this time of the year there is the lousy weather and the lack of sunshine, not to mention all the duties that are part of one’s personal life.
On a broader scale, throughout this pandemic of the past two years, and even earlier, our society has been hammered economically, physically, politically, and spiritually. The culture has become coarse and degraded. People are still fighting off the ravages created by COVID-19, which manifests itself in many and various ways.
The relationships that used to connect us with others have literally vanished. We are angry more often than not. We have experienced a rise in incidents of racist acts, coupled with injustice, and gun violence.
The distrust of government and legislators is massive. Authoritarian regimes like that of Russia are turning the world on its ear. Life in general seems to be going in a downward spiral.
It is in times like these that fear frequently takes hold of us. Fear traps us in the belief that nothing will ever improve, that we are surrounded by a net and will never escape. When life gets us down, fear fills the void left by hope.
It is in times like these that the words of the psalmist radiate like a beam of sunshine through the clouds of our emotions.
The LORD is my light and my salvation;
whom then shall I fear?
The LORD is the stronghold of my life;
of whom shall I be afraid?
Fear is not just the realm of the timid. Fear closes in over all of us no matter how brave we may appear to be. Politicians know this, and they capitalize on our fear to fill up their campaign coffers.
I cringe, for example, when I hear the campaign slogan, “Pro-God. Pro-Gun.” Which is it? It can’t be both.
How challenging it is for our secular world to trust in God when anxiety seems to rule the day.
When we ponder the realities of today’s world, we come face to face with some of the core questions of our faith: How do we move confidently from the present into the future? What is the nature of the Christian hope?
As Christians, our circumstances should never be what defines our life. Rather than taking direction from our fears, our faith compels us to see our life in a much larger perspective. There is nothing so dark and gloomy as fear, nothing so unsettling than being afraid. When we are intimidated by people, or discouraged by circumstances, God’s presence provides a defense against these frightening circumstances.
God’s presence is the light which chases away the shadows of despair. God is a fortress against whatever evil comes our way. When we live without that sense of God’s presence, our fears become all the more encompassing. But when we trust in God’s presence, we can cease being intimidated by the unknown.
This Second Sunday in Lent we are one week further into the experience of the cross, the symbol of what stands between the Lord and us. It was Jesus who knew far better than any of us the horrors of evil, sin, and abandonment.
I invite you to read the entire psalm (HERE). As you do, picture Jesus as he hung on the Cross, yet embodied confidence and complete trust in the God of our salvation.
If we are willing to face our fears with that same confidence and trust, the doom of depression can and will be expelled by the light of the Gospel.
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