This past Monday at Morning Prayer, Dr. Byron Martin, Executive Director for International & Intercultural Engagement at Valparaiso University, offered a reflection on the theme for this year, Things I Hope For. Apart from his skillful delivery and rhetoric, what made his presentation compelling was that he began by acknowledging that the invitation to speak on the topic had forced him to confront his own despair and frustration in light of our collective ongoing struggle with both incidental and systemic racism. Basing his message on Psalm 73 which includes examples of honest self-reflection such as “But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; my steps had nearly slipped. For I was envious of the arrogant; I saw the prosperity of the wicked,” Dr. Martin walked and compellingly talked us from a place of anger to one of hope. If you didn’t catch him live, I encourage you to view the live stream.

Researchers who study resilience in human beings report that a common thread among the most resilient among us is the ability to honestly acknowledge the gravity of the situation along with the damage sustained and then describe a narrative that takes them through that time of suffering to a place of renewal and hope. 

Christian theology provides a means for such honest and hopeful story-telling. The promise of abundant divine grace gives breathing room for an honest assessment of ourselves and our circumstances, it frees us from having to hide from our fault, our shame or reality of others’ actions or the fragility of our own lives. Asaph, the composer of Psalm 73, tells the truth by admitting “I was envious of the arrogant.” That’s not just a statement that calls out the arrogant for their suspiciously unjust prosperity, it also acknowledges the self-righteousness of the one making the claim! It’s Asaph’s admission that he had placed himself as a judge of the hearts of others, a place of justice-making that only belongs to God. He could have papered all that over with assertions of his relative innocence when compared to others, but the grace of God gives him the freedom to be honest with himself and his situation. It’s the start of his renewal.

We’re all going through a bunch of stuff right now – more stuff than normal – and it’s easy to become exhausted by it all and want it all, the pandemic, the political fighting and the racial unrest, to just go away and get us back to a time when life seemed to be working better. A more honest assessment will allow that our lives together have never been as perfect as the campus viewbook said it would be. If this season brings nothing else, it might drive us to a more honest self-evaluation. There have always been times that have broken our hearts and shamed us. There have always been times when our steps nearly slipped. 

But, as Dr. Martin observed last Monday, that’s not the end of our story, not the one that our gracious God has written for us. The Christus Rex (Christ the King), that statue of Jesus, crowned and ascending off the cross at the Chapel of the Resurrection, is an image of this honest, resilient hope. The cross, that instrument of a disgraceful death, looms large in the background. Its power is undeniable. It can’t be hidden away. It’s a thing that happened. Yet, before it, soars the risen Christ who having humbled himself down to a death on the cross is now, by virtue of his obedient, loving commitment to all of creation, rises victorious and honored above all of creation. His honor only increases as he shares it and so we are honored to be called heirs of the rule and reign of a gracious God. So, in the window above the head of the Christus Rex, a medallion reads in Greek, Ι[εσυ]Σ Χ[ιστυ]Σ ΝΙΚΑ – Jesus Christ, victor.

Regardless of your burden whether it’s self inflicted or placed upon you by the actions of others or faceless circumstances, Jesus calls you out of that place into one where you are beloved and worthy of honor. If you can’t quite believe this for yourself and would like to know this more deeply, Deaconess Kristin or I would love to talk with you.

Be blessed.

Pr. Jim

University Pastor James Wetzstein and Deaconess Kristin Lewis take turns writing weekly reflections. You can contact Deaconess Kristin here and Pastor Jim here