The world today is in crises. We have fallen in hard times socially, economically and environmentally. A Filipino comedian said, “Life is like a rock; it is hard.”
Chinese alphabet (character) always presents “crisis” as both danger and opportunity. You must have heard of the man who found a job at the city zoo playing monkey. Daily he would put on a monkey costume and swing from tree to tree. The job was becoming ennui and he was having self-pity, feeling he was the only one who stooped to this level of work. One weekend, school kids visited the zoo and despite warnings, insisted on feeding the ‘monkey’ with peanuts and bananas. So as he swung from a tree, he felt dizzy and fell into a lion’s cage. Scared to see the lion approaching, he began to scream. The lion roared and said, “Buddy, if you don’t shut up, we’ll both lose our job.” It is comforting to know that in hard times, we are not alone!
The economic hardship is felt by the Church. While Christians are “not of this world,” we realize we are still “in this world”---and not exempt from its worries and cares. At many church denominations, I have seen some of my colleagues losing their job, vital ministries losing their funding and church executives agonizing in making decisions. Restructure here, retrenchment there, lay off everywhere.
Whenever we fall on hard times, it is our instinct for survival that tends to override everything. We are prone to panic, to lose our direction and to give up. Therefore, it is in times like these that we need to remind ourselves that we are God’s people---a people of faith, a people of visions and a people of power.
We are People of Faith.
One of the songs I learned in the ‘60’s had this lyric: “Walk with faith in your heart and you’ll never walk alone.” Faith is the opposite of fear. Fear distracts us but faith anchors us. The Bible says that we should walk by faith and live by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7; Habakkuk 2:4). Those who walk with faith will have direction even in darkness for “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11). Our ancestor Abraham was known as the “friend of God, “because he walked in search of a city not a visible, but one with a strong foundation, whose builder and maker is God.” God promises to “lead us continually,” even in ways we do not know. Rabindranath Tagore said, “Faith is a bird that sings while the dawn is still dark.”
We are People of Visions
On the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost, the Apostle Peter quoted Joel’s prophecy which says, “In these last days, God will pour out His Spirit. The young shall see visions, the old shall dream dreams” (Acts 2:17, Joel 2:28). (I’m middle age, so I guess I’m supposed to have both visions and dreams.)
Visions and dreams are the language of the Holy Spirit. In times of crises, we must see a vision of a great and mighty God, “who sits enthroned amidst the floods.” If your God is big, your problem is small; if your God is small, your problem is big. I remember as a young priest, I joined a Clergy Retreat in Sabah, Malaysia. In our free time, a dozen of us decided to climb Mount Kinabalo. Halfway to the mountain, half of the group gave up. I was one of those who tried to persevere, but while we were about to reach the peak, there was a thick fog which covered our way. Not knowing how far the summit, with our strength ebbing fast, four of us also decided to call it quits and walked downhill, feeling defeated. Only two pushed through the foggy trail. When we returned to the camp, exhausted and spent, we were amazed to find the two successful climbers already there, rested and refreshed, telling their stories. I was amazed at their tenacity but even more amazed at their revelation: It turned out that the apex of the mountain was only a few yards after the fog, and when they were up there, they saw a cable car! In crisis, we should not give up. There is rainbow after the storm…or a cable car after the fog!
We are People of Power
St. Paul said the power within us is greater than the power that is in the world. With all the crises in our lives, we need to know, that in the end, God wins. We are clay pots but within us is a treasure more precious than gold or silver, not fashioned by human hands. Within us is the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit who is the Lord and Giver of life. My Pentecostal friends often remind me, “You Episcopalians believe that the Holy Spirit is ‘resident’ in you; we Pentecostals believe, the Holy Spirit is ‘president’ in us.” In crisis or out of crisis, we need to reaffirm with St. Paul that “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) and that “what lies within me is greater than that which lies behind and or lies ahead.”
Indeed, in times like these, in crises, let us allow the Holy Spirit preside over our thoughts and our lives. And when God take hold of us, we shall not only survive but we shall prevail. As God’s beloved, we are a people of faith, a people of visions and a people of power. And we shall shine like the sun in our Father’s kingdom.
Let us pray:
Almighty and everlasting God, you are shelter from the storm, light in the dark and rock of our salvation. You sit enthroned amidst the flood and speak peace to the wind. In your still small voice, you calm our fears; by your mighty hand, you lift up our spirits.
In these times of economic, social and environmental crises, we turn to you in humility and faith. You alone can answer our deepest needs, you alone can mend our broken hearts, you alone can wipe the tears from our eyes, and you alone can heal our land.
In these hard and trying times, we ask you to keep our hearts connected to you as the Ground of our being and the Source of all good things. Help us to reach out to those who struggle, especially those who lost their jobs as a result of economic recession. As they transition to new life, help them to see open doors of new opportunities. Give them faith to believe that the power of the Holy Spirit within them is greater than that which is in the world. Give them the hope of new life that lies ahead.
We pray for the leaders of the Church and the nations. Give them wisdom to harness the energy and creativity of the people. Let the power of love overcome the love of power so that justice and peace will flow like rivers and prosperity will return to the land. Replenish the earth and fill this world with your grace and glory, as the waters cover the sea. Amen.
*The Rev. Dr. Winfred B. Vergara is Missioner for Asiamerica Ministries of the Episcopal Church Center; Priest-In-Charge of St. Michael & All Angels Episcopal Church in the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island; founder of Holy Child Episcopal congregations in San Jose, California; Las Vegas, Nevada and Woodside, New York. He is also Moderator of Pacific Asian American Canadian Christian Education (PAACCE) of the National Council of Churches;He and his wife, Angela, live in Queens, New York.