Sabbath 5: Uncertainties

Sabbath 5: Day of Uncertainty

Tastings: Texas shrimp braised in butter over a campfire, fresh curried trout broiled over coals, stewed tofu, roasted carrots, oriental rice crackers.

Still learning by heart: Isaiah 30: 21 “…This is the way; walk in it.”

It was a rainy morning so we headed out of the campground into town to do some window shopping and ended up at an international grocery as large as our local supermarket. In fact, the produce section was even bigger with many vegetables that I have never seen before. We stocked up on peppers–sweet red and jalapeno. The meat section included quail, chicken feet, goat, three kinds of chorizo (Mexican, Argentinian, Salvadoran) and much more. We settled for fresh shrimp and trout, pulled from the ice and butchered in front of us. We walked around the world looking at varieties of flours, rice, beans and canned goods, uncertain how to prepare or serve most of these items. Down each aisle we heard different languages. There was a reasonable amount of American food, but I have to admit the hot dogs seemed rather mundane next to their international competition. This shopping experience was an adventure, and I expect we will make a semi-annual trip down this way to stock up on items to expand our cooking menu. But we will also need to investigate recipes in order to be more certain how to use some of the new ingredients.

Our world is changing so quickly, and an large international supermarket is a delightful result, even if I am uncertain what to do with much of the food I saw today. On the other hand, change is also difficult; our uncertainty leaves us uncomfortable, even afraid, about the next steps to take. This is true in many churches, particularly in North America and Europe. This is true of the congregation where I serve. There is much of which I, as its pastor, am uncertain.

But I am not the only one. The word “uncertainty” resonates with so much that I see around me. I have noticed that this very word “uncertainty” has started popping up in faith discussions: a blog here, a lecture there, a conversation with another pastor over coffee. Many congregations struggle with attendance and finances, but not many seem certain about how God is leading the church differently. A few charismatic and innovative leaders have seemed to buck the difficult trends; sometimes we try to imitate them, but in the long run, it doesn’t work. The rest of us ordinary, but trying-to-be-faithful ones are uncertain about where it leaves us as leaders. And uncertainty, at least in our society, is portrayed as failure.

Nevertheless, today I wonder: what if God is actually calling people to walk the way of uncertainty for a time, and, in doing so, to have a radical trust and faith that God has something planned that we cannot see yet. To walk the way of uncertainty and yet remain certain that God’s goodness is guiding…now there is a challenge for Christ’s Church.

But he is the one who said, “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3)

It seems, then, that if God’s people are being blown down a path by the Spirit, there is bound to be some uncertainty with it. After all, who knows which way the Spirit will nudge us? Even though uncertainty can be disconcerting, especially to those who, like me, prefer to plan in advance and to see measured progress, uncertainty also has a positive flip side; it can invite a necessary openness to what new thing God might be doing.

Isaiah 43:18-19: Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness…

This was a verse I memorized 45 years ago. At that time I was fairly certain of a lot of things as a Christian. Now I admit readily to much I don’t know. But I now suspect that I am not out of the wilderness of uncertainty after all; instead, I’m still looking for the new thing God is doing. So when God tells me and others that “This is the way; walk in it,” I wonder if that way has a big orange road sign labeled, “Caution: Uncertainty ahead.” If so, it is better to know it in advance, I think. Being certain that uncertainty is coming sheds a little more courage on the path.