Rising to the Occasion
As the tragedy in Ukraine continues to unfold, a shining light has been the Churchill-like leadership of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. His courage and eloquence have captivated the world and undoubtedly helped propel other world leaders to increase their pressure on Vladimir Putin to stop the invasion. As I write this, the military pressure on major Ukrainian cities appears overwhelming. But whatever happens, I suspect the courage of Zelensky and the Ukrainian people will have a lasting impact on the world order. Hopefully their courage and suffering will inspire us to take up whatever economic challenges are likely to result from ongoing global economic pressure on Russia. Time will tell.
We talk about people like Zelensky and Churchill “rising to the occasion.” There are also everyday unsung heroes that also rise to the occasion. Last week Sharon and I spent time with a friend that we hadn’t seen for 19 years. During those 19 years he’s lost two wives. The second died of ALS, a muscle-wasting disease that at the end of her life left her with the ability to move only two fingers. Ron cared for her until the end. That’s rising to the occasion, as it is for countless others who have been caretakers -- parents of children with disabilities, single parents, and people with their own disabilities or job losses or health issues. Ron is also afflicted with a mysterious lung disease that came out of the blue five years ago when he spent several weeks in the hospital. It disappeared just as mysteriously, and surfaced again this past January. Otherwise extremely healthy and fit (he still rides a stationary bike, walks on a treadmill and works with weights), he walks around the house tied to a long tube connected to an oxygen machine. He voiced no complaints, pointing to all the ways his life has been blessed. Clearly, Ron has risen to the occasions of his life.
This past Sunday I was privileged to speak at a friend’s funeral. Early in the pandemic she and her husband were afflicted with Covid, and the resulting damage led to both of them being placed on hospice. They weren’t supposed to live this long. I'm very grateful that I returned to Michigan in time to spend the last few months sharing long conversations with these dear friends. Both have risen to the occasion throughout their lives, and now Don will have the added burden of going on without his wife of 69 years. I’ve also seen their family rise to the occasion in beautiful ways. I feel so taught and blessed.
I find myself thinking this morning more broadly about what it means for those of us who identify as followers of Jesus to rise to the occasion. The apostle Paul writes:
Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. (Romans 6:3-4).
Raised with Christ. So what’s the occasion? First, it’s not just spiritual but historical. The communion liturgy contains what is sometimes called the mystery of faith: “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again!” These are historical events. We live in the time between Jesus’ resurrection and his return. Each of us is made in the image of God, which according to Genesis 1 means that we were made to reign. Dallas Willard suggests that Jesus’ disciples are in training for reigning. Ironically, rising to the occasion for disciples means following the example of Jesus “who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness (Philippians 2:6-7). Rising to the occasion for Jesus meant becoming a servant and ultimately “becoming obedient to death-even death on a cross.” Sometimes there are circumstances we choose – so as to be people of influence wherever we live, work, play and learn. At other times the circumstances are chosen for us. Either way, each of us is called to rise to the occasion.
After the funeral this past Sunday a couple came up to me that I hadn’t seen for 40 years. They were very welcoming and gracious. As my wife and I were leaving, they were walking some distance ahead of us. At that moment I knew the Holy Spirit was prompting me to run up to them. I asked if I could have a few more moments of their time. I told them I needed to apologize for a decision I made early in my first pastorate that affected their family. I asked them to forgive me. Tears welled up in the woman’s eyes. She said she did. Her husband simply said, “That was a long time ago.”
Is there a particular circumstance in your life right now where you're being called to rise to the occasion? Because of Christ and his Spirit, we never have to do it alone, and shouldn’t even try. Sometimes we’re tempted to rise to the occasion only when there is a fair chance that we’ll succeed. If that was the case for President Zelensky, I wouldn’t be writing this post.
So what are the odds you won’t succeed? And what does success even look like, especially in kingdom terms? May I suggest four questions to ask ourselves around our particular “occasion?”
What or who are you needing to trust?
What is your short-term and long-term hope?
What does courage look like in the situation? (Courage defined as 'doing it scared'.)
What sacrifices are being asked of you?
In Christ our hope is sure and secure, personally and globally. "Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again! No matter what happens in the short term, there will eventually be a new heavens and a new earth. Whatever challenges we face now, whatever circumstances are calling us to rise to the occasion, they're preparing and training us for our role in that new and eternal future. Nothing is wasted.