Keep Calm and Carry On
July 11, 2021
Job 10:1-9; 38:1-7; 42:1-6, Psalm 46, Mark 6:1-6, 2 Corinthians 12:2-10
If I were giving a children’s sermon today, I’d be showing them this coaster. It has the familiar image of a jowly, cigar-smoking Winston Churchill with his message to the people of England during the second World War. “Keep Calm and Carry On.” And then I’d explain to the kids that he was saying this as the country was at war with Nazi Germany. I probably wouldn’t tell them the horrifying statistics of the Blitz, but some of you remember it in your lifetime, and many more of you know about it from having heard and read the stories of that terrible, precarious time. Between Sept. 7, 1940 and May 11, 1941, as many as 43,000 civilians were killed and another 139,000 were injured. Two million houses were damaged or destroyed. Many children had been sent out of the city, away from their parents to places where they’d be safer. Food was being rationed and there were shortages of even basic commodities like flour and meat. Every aspect of life was being disrupted and there was fear of the future as well. Many people were discouraged to the point of questioning whether the Allies could prevail over Nazi power
The slogan I mentioned had been printed on 2.5 million motivational posters in 1939, but they were never distributed and in April of 1940 most were destroyed and weren’t rediscovered until 2000. Since then, Keep Calm and Carry On has become wildly popular, seen on T-shirts and coffee mugs and wall plaques. But in the midst of the worst national crisis Great Britain had lived through since the invasion of William the Conqueror, it wasn’t used. How come?
I can’t answer that for sure, but here’s my guess. In the face of such apparently overpowering odds, if people had been urged to “Buck up. Get a grip! Keep Calm and Carry On!”, it might have felt like an implication that their faith in king and country was flagging. I imagine the famously stiff upper lips might have curled into skeptical snarls.
Of course, we all know the outcome. Belief did prevail. Courage wasn’t abandoned. Faith and hope endured in spite of the misery they’d had to suffer. But in the midst of the Blitz, they might not have wanted to be told to ‘carry on’. What they wanted was to be rescued!
Well, the Bible is full of the stories of people in misery, in dire straits, in situations where lives were not only threatened, they were lost. Little Israel was constantly being overrun by its more powerful neighbors… and that continued right up to Jesus’ lifetime when Rome, the biggest bully on the block, was imposing its version of civilization and culture on as much of the world as it could. Naturally, a people who claimed their god was almighty and loved them best of all had to wonder… “What the heck is going on?”
That had certainly been Job’s reaction to the sequential blows he received: Children killed, home and possessions destroyed, wife died, and himself afflicted with boils. If his ‘friends’ had encouraged Job to keep calm and carry on about then, I can’t imagine the message would have been well received. This isn’t fair and it isn’t right! I’ve done nothing to deserve this!
But if it comes to who deserves what… look at Paul.
[I have had] far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death. Five times I’ve received… forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. 2 Cor. 11:23-28
And on top of all that, Paul says he was given the gift of a handicap, to keep him in constant touch with his limitations…
At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,
My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.
Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become. 2Cor. 12:7-10 The Message
Maybe you can remember times/events in your own life where you suffered through a prolonged illness, or financial reversals, were abandoned by a friend, or endured an unjust accusation. How did that feel? What did you do? Shed tears and ask God, “What the heck is going on!!!?”
The Bible tells us stories of humanity’s relationship with God. We love to hear God’s promise to Abraham, “I will be your God and you shall be my people. And again and again we have construed that to mean, “If we consent to have you as God, then we’ll be your people (and you’ll take care of us and see that we prosper and preserve us from evil and give us….you can fill in the blank with your own desires. Like the Janis Joplin song says, “Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz. My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.”
But, in fact, as God points out to Job, it’s God who made us, not the other way around. We are God’s people not by anything we’ve done. We’re God’s because God made us. God committed God’s self to the relationship by the mere act of creation. Bound together by God’s will. Why? Certainly not because we’ve earned it. Not because we’ve chosen to acknowledge God in our lives. No. God is with us, like it or not… just because.
Maybe God just likes being with his humans, walking with them in the cool of the evening. God likes having a relationship. Not for the sake of pulling our buns out of the fire—but just for the sake of being with us, even if the fire burns up our buns.
Paul wasn’t always rescued. And lest he ever be inclined to boast, he had a bodily torment that wouldn’t go away, despite his prayers. What is god’s response? I Am. My power; your weakness.
Like Job, Paul acknowledges that God is God and he is content. Because of weaknesses he cannot control he must rely on/ he is aware of Christ dwelling in him. If you always have to be in charge, there’s no time or space or even need to know that God is with you. That’s the downside of being a Type A.
Christianity is a religion rooted in confident belief that God is strong. God is powerful…mightier than empires and rulers and systems. Even conquering the seeming finality of death. In today’s psalm, the psalmist claims that God not only exists, but is “a very present help in time of trouble.” Without that dogged belief, we humans—Christians or not—would fall into despair, hopelessness, melancholia, cynical a-theism.
In fact, we’re here in this place today, you and I, because we’re people of God and in the end, either out of desperation or a glimmer of remembered faith we turn to God to sort out what we are helpless to control/effect. We’re here to look at how other people of God were also assailed, attacked, brought low—people who believed themselves to be loved by God, people who can’t believe what’s happening to them is really God’s will. But if it’s not, why is it happening to me?!! Why don’t you do something, God?
God’s response isn’t always what we want to hear.
God to Job: Who do you think you are?
God to Paul: I’m with you in your weaknes
Whatever the circumstances that bring us to God in weakness, the first and last words God speaks are these: I Am. Remember that, Moses. I Am. Don’t forget who I Am, Job. And Paul? I Am with you, Paul.
And you, too, (names)
And I’m with Gary and Jennell.
Thanks be to God. Amen.