the fourth sunday of advent …

reflecting on the journey
God leads and supports us on the journey!

It’s hard to believe it’s been four months, since I announced my intention to retire at the end of the year. It was that next weekend pastorTotzke, bishop’s associate for leadership formation and congregational care, was here. We met in the room just across the hallway. She provided an overview of what to expect, in the weeks and months ahead.

She went over the “Call Process Guide for the Congregational Council,” at least, the parts of it we needed to know, at the time. It began, “Each pastoral transition is unique.” It went on to say, “The church council is to lead in a non-anxious way focusing on the ministry and mission of the congregation,” were the next ones. For the next half hour, she laid it out for us. Then it was time for questions. The first one was asked by Jonathan. “What does acting un-anxiously look like?” We chuckled. But as soon as I heard it, I knew that would be the focus of this sermon! My final “reflecting on the journey.’ “What does acting un-anxiously look like?”

Kris responded by describing what acting anxiously looks like. Nervousness. Worry. Unease. Apprehension. Disquiet. Fretful. Afraid. Luther used the word angst. Those are all synonyms for anxiety. Pacing the floor. Wringing hands. So, acting un-anxiously is, of course, doing the complete opposite. Not reacting but acting. Calmly. Thoughtfully. With courage. With conviction. But that’s not what happens when we’re confronted with the changes and chances of life. That’s why recruits – military, first responders – are required to undergo strenuous training. To learn not how to react; but how to act. Un-anxiously. In the middle of the chaos. In the middle of the madness. To learn how to set aside the natural, instinctive. To be able to do what needs to be done … in the moment.

That’s why we’re here. As church. As god’s own. That’s why the gospel is preached! That’s why we baptize! Why we’re forgiven! Why the bread’s broken and the wine’s poured! Why we sing the songs and say the prayers and read the words! Over and over! Again and again! Sunday, after Sunday, after Sunday! It’s not, simply, so that we can get past St. Peter. Through the gates. Into heaven. It’s so we can live un-anxiously! So, we can act and not react! So we, too, can do what need doing! Right here! Right now! Not losing our heads! Not losing heart! That when times like this come – and they will come – we, too, can act with courage, with audacity!

“What does acting un-anxiously look like?” It’s keeping our head, as the poet says, when all about us are losing theirs! Losing theirs and blaming you – blaming us – for it! It’s trusting when everyone else doubts! It’s being willing – being able – to wait. To wait no matter how long it takes! (I’ll post the poem on our Facebook page, so you can look at it, when you get the chance. It’s, actually, a pretty good description of un-anxious living.) Acting un-anxiously is being the eye inside the hurricane. Acting un-anxiously is becoming the calm, not just before, but within! But for us, that happens … that only happens … as we come to know god! Who god is! What god does!

Truth is, god doesn’t just love us. God isn’t just with us. God is for us! Active! Involved! In each breath! In every heartbeat! Calling! Gathering! Enlightening! For us, it’s not a choice. A state of mind. Acting un-anxiously looks a lot like faith! Like trust! Like believing! And it looks a whole lot like our prayer …

O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending (to ventures that have no ending), by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go (or, for that matter, not knowing if or when we get there), but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Listen to those words. Feel them wash over you. Breathe them in. Out. Believe. That’s acting un-anxiously! It’s what it looks like! What it sounds like! What it feels like! It’s “a living, daring confidence in God’s grace”, Luther says, “so sure and certain that we stake our life on it a thousand times!” Stake our life on it a thousand thousand times!

Contrary to popular opinion, we weren’t chosen just to lie down in green pastures. Or to be led beside still waters. Instead, we are called, created, for the journey! Carrying crosses! Following Jesus! Called to be loved! Called to do the same! That means, expecting ventures unending! And paths untrodden! And perils unknown! Expecting the very things everyone else does their best, tries their hardest, to avoid!

“To venture,” says Kierkegaard, “causes anxiety, but not to venture is to lose one’s self.” Anxiety – acting anxiously – is a part of the journey. Natural. Normal. But not to venture is even worse. The only way we go on is by believing! Believing god’s hand is leading! Believing god’s love is supporting! It’s because of that, we continue. Step by step. One oasis after another. Going out with good courage! Going out boldly! Going out confidently! Staking our life on god, through it all! Acting – living – un-anxiously, through it all!

We were never meant for mud pits. But then, again, we were never meant for the promised land, either. God intended us for this! This wilderness! For us, this is the promise! For us, this is the treasure! In all its glorious uncertainty! For us, it’s the venture. the journey – that’s the destination! The treasure! No start … no finish! No beginning … no end! But here! In the middle! In between! And it’s god who keeps us keeping on … un-anxiously!

Unending ventures! Untrodden paths! Unknown peris! Those are the things that end most journeys. Those are the things that make us question. The things that make us quit. That make us give up … and turn around … and go back to where we once were … But for us, there’s god! God beside us and god between us! God ahead of us and god behind us! God beaconing! God encouraging! Catching us when we stumble! Picking us up when we fall! Taking us in god’s arms when we tire! Brushing us off! Setting us on our feet, again! All the while leading us! Supporting us!

What does acting un-anxiously look like? Well, Jonathan, it looks a whole lot like this! The gospel proclaimed! The goodNews administered! It looks a whole lot like believing! It looks a whole lot like church! And, my friends, it looks a whole lot like us!

Midland Lutheran Church