Keep Calm and Follow Jesus

During the second World War the British government began a campaign to encourage their citizen’s resolve in the war effort. There were a variety of posters with simple messages that all had a drawing of a Tudor era crown above them. The most memorable of them read, “Keep Calm and Carry On”. These were all discarded after the war and would’ve been forgotten if a trunkful hadn’t been found, quite by accident, some 40 years later. 

At first the phrase was re-introduced as “Keep Calm and Shine On” – a phrase that can mean anything from “be brilliant” to “be deceitful,” depending on which website you trust. Now you can find it on t-shirts, coffee mugs, and bumper stickers with “Keep Calm” followed by anything from “and Carry Guns” to “Presby On.”

I’m not too sure about either of those, but given the range of emotion being expressed over current events it seems to me that we do need to take a collective deep breath before someone else gets hurt. Even as I say that I am painfully aware that while friends and family of the Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC considered the amazing grace of God four separate African American church buildings were burned by arsonists in NC, GA, and SC. 

And although this may beg the question of whether or not anything has changed since the 1960’s, it is undeniable that we are living in a time of deep and meaningful change. In some ways the events of the day are the product of these changes. In some ways the events of the day are creating changes in the very fabric of our society. That may sound threatening to some, but I believe that it can all be used to move us toward something better. For better or worse, we are moving toward a “new normal”.

Same gender marriage is now legal. The use of the Confederate Flag in governmental installations is being challenged through due process (mostly), and its distribution is being limited through supply and demand. War continues to rage in the Middle East, and we continue to wrestle with our level of responsibility as a nation of power. And even as we fight terrorists on other shores, we continue to experience the terror of school shootings, of violence between and within racial groups, and at the hands of extremist Christians. The ethics and standards of policing are being questioned, and our racial and ethnic diversity continues to shift in our cities – but not so much in our congregations. 

All the while, new technology is changing the way we do business, communicate, and function at levels unseen since the Industrial Revolution. As we become more empowered by our shiny toys the middle class continues to shrink, and those who have more resources are becoming more connected to those who have less. New business models are becoming centered on relationships. Some businesses are asking what people need to survive and thrive rather than determining how to pay employees as little as possible and still get the maximum product from their work.

The interesting thing is that every single phrase in every single sentence of the last two paragraphs will be celebrated by some and absolutely offensive to others. Loss and victory seem unclear as the very earth seems to shift underneath our feet. Into this confused space of opportunity and loss we hear the voice of David cry out. David – who was the anointed successor of Saul, the anointed King of Israel – cries out in anguish over the death of Saul, who was his pursuer, and Jonathan, whom he loved like no other. 

In his song and in our Psalm today we find many of the so called stages of loss – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I say, “so called,” because we do not go through these stages neatly and orderly. Sometimes we double back because we have not truly finished being angry or feeling bad. It’s also because I think we often confuse acceptance with agreement. Acceptance is not the same as agreement. Acceptance just means that you fully realize that there is no going back – whether you like it or not.

Acceptance means a willingness to move forward. As followers of Jesus, I think there is yet another step that we can add to the way that we understand the changes all around us – and that is expectation! Paul speaks with expectation to the church in Corinth about their relationship to the churches in Jerusalem and Macedonia. Essentially this is his middle of the summer push to remind people about their pledges, but it’s not about money. It’s about recognizing their connection to each other through Jesus Christ. Paul wants them to see that faith creates expectation! 

The expectation of faith is that God is working in and through us, that God is active and present, and that we are to give in ways that empower others and in ways that encourage our own faithfulness. We talk about this a lot in Presbyterian circles. We call it “connectionalism”, and yet our experience of being connected to other congregations in the presbytery is usually limited to meetings that no one wants to attend. 

Yet this Summer I experienced a week of camp with children and youth from at least 10 of our congregations that was hosted by adults from at least 5 of them. Even now there are members of our Presbytery preparing for another trip to Cuba. Even now there are communities in the disappearing wetlands finding hope in the work of our Young Adult Volunteers who plant switch grass and educate communities about the care of God’s creation. Even now there are representatives gathering to create a web of awareness and care for food insecurity in families across the state. Even now there are congregations sharing ideas to become stronger in their public witness of a God who redeems and restores in the midst of every struggle.

And as good as that sounds, we still find ourselves reaching out expectantly with our own hopes and fears. Maybe we are like Jairus, the established religious leader who suddenly became interested in Jesus when he realized that his daughter was ill. I wonder, was he annoyed when Jesus stopped – knowing how sick his daughter was? As Jesus looked to the woman – an outcast who had asserted herself – was Jairus tugging on the other sleeve? 

Or maybe we are like the woman herself, desperate and willing to risk rejection – she would’ve already been seen as unclean. Yet it was her faith, her expectation that God was active and present, that made her well. And Jesus called her “daughter,” and proclaimed that she was clean. 

Or maybe we are like the onlookers who saw the little girl get up and heard Jesus dismiss the miracle as unimportant next to the need to give the girl something to eat. 

Or maybe we are like the girl herself, and we are waiting for the call of Christ to tell us to get up and get moving.

Wherever we find ourselves in the story, I believe we are being called to “Keep Calm and Follow Jesus.” We are being called to stiffen our resolve, not to close our minds. We are being called to place our trust in the hands of the one who brings healing and wholeness – the one who restores communities through their own faith and trust. 

We must expect that Jesus offers restoration, even to us. We must expect that the restoration we want may not happen the way we want it to happen. And we must expect that the most miraculous thing we can do is to care for the one that Jesus has touched and claimed as beloved. 

That will probably put us in some uncomfortable relationships, but it will also give us the opportunity to hear Jesus – in the midst of the radical changes all around us – call our names and say, “Little child, get up!”

Keep calm. Follow Jesus. Amen.
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