I keep hearing this refrain going around that things are going to get harder before they get better. We hear it at the national level of course - the economy is in the dumps; retirement investments have been decimated by a plummeting Stock Market; we're funding two wars we can't afford, but we can't afford to end them carelessly either. Unemployment is on the rise and many of us are holding our breath that our job isn't next.
I'm hearing it elsewhere too. Non-profits are getting hit pretty hard in these times. Many have gone under. Churches that have set their budgets on the calendar year have found deficits looming - spending up but giving not following suit. I've heard it quite a bit lately around St. Andrew as the Session is in the process of setting our budget for the new fiscal year beginning in July - reconciling our calling for mission and ministry with our financial expectations.
There is certainly reason for concern. We don't have any reason to expect that the financial realities will be any different for St. Andrew. So let me invite you to a little perspective. Let me invite you to remember our story. Isn't it in precisely those times that we don't see a way out, that God shows up? Don't take my word for it; listen to just a few examples from our own story:
We already know about the promise of a son and a future to Abraham and Sarah, but we might argue that Hagar and Ishmael got the short end of that deal there and yet, in the desert, out of water, just as she turns away from her dying son for a final time, God hears and she becomes the grandmother of a great world religion (Genesis 21).
The Pharaoh who had locked up in his basement a dreaming convict named Joseph with a plan to prepare for the coming years of drought is able to save all of Egypt and provide aid to the surrounding nations, including Joseph's own family with whom he is reunited (Genesis 45).
A nation with 100% unemployment and no permanent housing wandered in a wilderness, but ate manna and quail and did alright (Exodus).
Ruth faced starvation but somehow continued the line to Jesus (Ruth).
The people of Ninevah are hours away from extinction and all they have going for them is a cranky and reluctant, water-logged prophet who would love nothing more than to see the great city disappear, yet the whole city repents and is saved (Jonah 3).
A widow without resources whose sons are taken into slavery to satisfy her debts is told to keep pouring the last of her oil into any jar she can find, and it just keeps coming until she has enough to buy her children back (2 Kings 4).
Elizabeth has a son in her old age (Luke 1) and Simeon and Anna get to see salvation's dawn (Luke 2).
At least two starving crowds in the middle of nowhere and without an arguably incompetent event planning committee are fed by a few loaves and a few fish (Matthew 14, 15, Mark 6, 8, Luke 9, John 6)
The widow at Nain gets her son back (Luke 7).
The Samaritan woman at the well never thirsts again (John 4).
Enough from me. Let me turn it over to a section from one of my favorite prayers of thanks that we pray around a table with only a little bread and juice, and yet, even there when we share it, a world is fed:
'When we turned from you, you did not turn from us...when everything was in chaos, you formed beauty and order (Genesis 1, 2) When Abraham and Sarah were childless, you birthed them a son (Genesis 21) When the Israelites were enslaved, you led them to freedom (Exodus) David faced Goliath and the widow of Zarephath drought (1 Samuel 17, 1 Kings 17) Naaman faced leprosy and Esther the slaughter of her people (2 Kings 5, Esther 8), and the stories proclaim that you granted them all your life.
Maybe it is just me, but I get the sense that this story of ours teaches us that God is to be found precisely in these trying times. And given some of the stories you have told me, it seems pretty clear that God has continued to write this story in our lives. It's not that we welcome tough times; it's just that our God is a God of tough times, and tough times are when miracles happen. Yep, I think this could just be a very good year!
Chuck Sigars is currently an elder at St. Andrew and a newspaper columnist and author.