Getting beyond anxiety

Dearly Beloved,
Grace and Peace to you.
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replied, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.
         —Acts 1.6-9

The disciples had already lost Jesus once. He had come back from the dead, but now he was talking about going away again. They were facing life without him. The story of the Ascension is about Jesus’ glory, but it’s also about the disciples’ grief. It’s about change, challenge and loss. It’s about our longing for faith when Jesus feels absent. It’s about the uncertainty and insecurity of facing the unknown. It’s about abandonment and anxiety.

This month I am moving to a new church, as many United Methodist pastors are, and my church, like many, is going to be without me. As we face this loss and change, the church and I are both feeling anxiety. Some people really want to believe in God but don’t experience God, and feel sad about that. There’s a lot of talk about the decline of the church in America. The whole church is anxious. In our own ways we’re all asking, “Jesus, are we going to be OK? Will you restore the kingdom now?”

But Jesus won’t promise that. Instead he shifts our attention away from our individual wants and anxieties (“It is not for you to know”) and focuses us instead on God’s grace in our lives (“You will receive power”) and on our purpose: “You will be my witnesses to the ends of the earth.” He says, “There is a lot you can’t know. But receive the gifts that are given to you, and share them. No matter what happens, embody God’s love.”

Focus on your purpose. Chaos is what is going on outside of you, but within yourself or your community, be the Gospel. Pay attention to grace in your life, and bear witness to that. Trust that there is power in that. You can’t predict or control the future, but you can choose your purpose, and you can stick with it. You can’t determine what happens to you, but you can look for grace in everything, and live by the grace you see.

When our world comes apart, we wonder, “Now what do we do?” The crucified and risen Jesus says, “Embody love, that’s what.” And then we’re not so afraid, no matter what happens.

Deep Blessings,
Pastor Steve

Copyright © Steve Garnaas-Holmes
Unfolding Light

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