I wrote the following for the church website and I’m cross-posting it here.
“Let’s 86 this year.”
That’s something I heard a lot about 30 years ago in 1986, especially in the days following the explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger some 73 seconds after liftoff. A number of events took place early in the year that made people want to just get the year over with.
Three decades later, I’m hearing a 21st Century version of 86-ing. Go on Facebook and you will see a number of people saying that 2016 was the worst. The reasons we see this passing year as a dumpster fire ( a very 2016 phrase) is because of the election and the deaths of several well-known celebrities, including David Bowie, Prince and most recently, Carrie Fisher. We want 2016 to be over and done moving on to the next big thing in 2017.
But was 2016 really the worst? Well, it really was the worse for those living through the Syrian Civil War. It was the worst for people in Venezuela who see their economy melt down and find it hard to purchase food. It was the worst for people living in parts of Chicago who are dealing with a rising number of homicides.
2016 did see an unusual number of high-profile deaths and for the fans of musicians and actors it can be a little heartbroken. I for one will be watching Episode VIII of Star Wars with a hint of sadness, seeing Leia and knowing Carrie Fisher is no longer with us.
But 2016 doesn’t have to be the worst. Whenever I couldn’t sleep, my mother would tell me to read Psalm 121. This psalm is one that could be used as a blessing before car trips to Louisiana to see relatives. In fact it was used many times before we pulled out of the driveway. “I raise my eyes toward the mountains.
Where will my help come from?” We know the answer. The psalmist tells us that no mater what we do, God is there with us. None of this means bad things will never happen, but it does mean that we never face them alone. God was with us through the election. God was with us as some of our favorite artists passed from the scene. God was with us when a parent or grandparent died. No matter what, our help comes from God above, meaning that the world can throw its worst, because we know God is there to help us face down the powers that seek to oppress us.
Was 2016 the worst? Before I answer that, let me tell you a story of a death that many of you might have forgotten. The death of Bob Ebeling. Most people wouldn’t know Ebeling. He wasn’t a singer or actor, but an engineer who worked on the Space Shuttle program. On January 27, 1986, Ebeling and four other engineers made a plea for the shuttle launch scheduled for the next day be cancelled. The knew it was going to be very cold the next morning and they were worried that the O-rings on the fuel tank would fail causing an explosion. NASA didn’t listen to the engineers and on January 28, the Shuttle exploded.
Ebeling blamed himself for the disaster and carried that shame for the next 30 years. As he neared the end of his life, he shared this pain with the listening audience. Because of this people from around the nation wrote in to give Ebeling encouragement. But what really lifted his spirits was when officials from his old company and NASA absolving him of any blame. He died a few days later, but without the burden of shame.
Was 2016 the worst? I don’t know. It didn’t seem that way to Ebeling. Yes, he died, but he did without the guilt he carried for decades.
But I do know that God was there even during the “worst times.” I do know that no matter what might be thrown our way God will not leave us abandoned.
I hope 2017 is a better year. But everything is good when God is the author of our faith.
My help comes from God, Maker of Heaven and Earth.