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You could feel the anxiety and worry oozing out of the headlines. As the summer has progressed, the headlines out of Germany have trumpeted the coming winter months with messages of energy restrictions and the possible shortage of heat for businesses and homes.
Even as we were back in Michigan in the month of July, German friends and congregation members were sending messages of upcoming difficulties that were being discussed on local and national levels.
Our city of Hannover has already taken measures to conserve energy by turning off lights on monuments at night as well as turning off fountains throughout the city. With the invasion of Ukraine and subsequent restrictions on Russia by European and Western powers, there is a cloud of uncertainty hanging over Germany as we approach the colder winter months. Germany has received almost half of their natural gas for heating and energy from Russia. The uncertainty of what Russia might do to withdraw that resource has heaped a certain level of stress on the German people.
There is a level of weariness that has pervaded life in Europe the last six months as we have moved from one crisis to the next – from global pandemic life, to the invasion of Ukraine, to upcoming energy restrictions that might delve society into situations people of my generation and younger have not had to experience in our lifetimes.
And then, lo and behold, for those of us who follow the Revised Common Lectionary, we have words of hope and comfort from the book of Hebrews. As the opening descriptions to Hebrews is written in the NRSV, it was written “to encourage an early Christian community to continued faith and hope in the face of hardship” (NRSV book intro) .
Two weeks ago, at the end of Hebrews 11, stories from the Old Testament were recounted to encourage new believers and early Christian communities of the consistent power of God. The writer alludes to the fact that there are too many stories to share of God’s protection and provision for those who dare to step out in faith and live into the call God has placed on their lives.
To live faithfully and hopefully into this time in our lives here in Europe is a call to the radical witness of hope. As I reminded my congregation, we worship the one who Is, who Was, and who Is to Come.
Alongside this we have our words from Hebrews 13 this week: since Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever, we can say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”
We can face the upcoming hardships and the uncertainty of winter 2022-23 in Europe precisely because of the consistent protection and provision God has shown humanity over millennia. It is not a Pollyanna faith, but one that relies on the promises and stands with confidence on the solid ground that has been provided for us time and again. For me, there is security and comfort in consistency. And our call as Christians in the coming months is to ground our hope in that very consistency.
I think it might be good for us to take stock of the amount of energy we consume here in Europe. That’s not to diminish the difficulties that will stretch people to the limit in terms of financial layout and possible health issues because of the lack of warmth. But already we have become more conscious of what lights are truly needed at home, how we can hang our clothes out to dry (like in the good ol’ days), and how quickly we can shower. These are all habits of the home we could have been living into more consistently – now we are motivated by the call to conserve.
These habits pale in comparison with the sacrifices people in Eastern Europe are making, and of course pale in comparison with how many people live around the world. But as Christians, we can do so with the buoyancy of hope because of that consistent provision and protection promised to us in Christ Jesus.
With the death of Fredrick Buechner a couple weeks ago, I was reminded of one of his quotes that caught my attention. “We are made ‘more perfect’ with the stories and the witness of those who have gone before us. It is absolutely crucial to keep in constant touch with what is going on in your own life’s story and to pay close attention to what is going on in the stories of others’ lives. If God is present anywhere, it is in those stories that God is present. If God is not present in those stories, then they are scarcely worth telling.”
Listen to your own story, the stories of your friends, the stories of the saints. There we will find inspiration of God’s provision and protection for our own journey and call to live in faith. There is comfort and hope consistently there for us.