John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
Ernie Johnson has one of the best jobs in broadcasting. The host of the NBA on TNT, (and part-time moderator between Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal) is a familiar face to many sports fans in the US. He is also a remarkably open, humble, and honest celebrity. He has weathered a cancer diagnosis publicly, shared his experience with dangerous blood clots, and he often has wise and reassuring words for his audience in times of turmoil. One such instance comes to my mind frequently when there is uncertainty in the public arena, and it is his opening monologue on the first NBA broadcast after the Presidential election of 2016. Specifically he said:
“From one Presidential election to the next, I never know who is going to be in the Oval Office, but I always know who is on the throne. And I’m on this earth because God created me, and that’s who I answer to. I am a Christian, I follow this guy named Jesus - you might have heard of him - and the greatest commandment he gave me was to love others. Scripture also tells us to pray for our leaders, and that’s what I’m going to do.”
There is a lot there, and I’d like to break it down, a little at a time. First, “I know who is on the throne.” What a statement, and what a relief. It reminds me of one of my favorite hymns, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.” The verses are a stirring image of our ever-present hope in Christ.
O God, our help in ages past, Our hope for years to come, Our shelter from the stormy blast, And our eternal home.
Under the shadow of thy throne, Thy saints have dwelt secure; Sufficient is thine arm alone, And our defense is sure.
Before the hills in order stood, Or earth received her frame, From everlasting thou art God, To endless years the same.
A thousand ages in thy sight, Are like an evening gone, Short as the watch that ends the night, Before the rising sun.
In this time of uncertainty and change, what a relief to be able to admit I don’t know what the stock market is going to do, or if stores will be closed, or how long school and church will be meeting remotely, but I do know Jesus is sovereign, and I know He is on the throne. I also know our God is eternal, omnipotent, and omniscient. He knows our fears and doubts, and He is ready to receive them, to take them upon himself, and offer us the security of His peace, that passes understanding.
If you listen to the rest of Ernie’s message, he mentions people feeling troubled, just like the verse at the top of this post. Unsurprisingly, Jesus was right - there is trouble in the world. Not just COVID-19 or the financial strain it is causing, and not just the physical toll it may exact on our society. There was trouble before this pandemic, and there will be trouble after, I am sure. However, God created us in His image, and loves us enough to send His son to save us, so we need not fear what is in the world - it has been overcome.
Instead, we are free to follow the commandments Jesus left for us in scripture, including to love our neighbors as ourselves. How we do that in the present day can look very different depending on any number of factors, but there are some common themes. We can share the gifts God has given us, like Maurizio Marchini, an Italian tenor who has taken to his balcony to sing for his quarantined neighbors each night. We can pray for one another and help one another - sometimes through acts of service and kindness, and sometimes by staying home to flatten the curve, making sacrifices for the benefit of our neighbors. At the end of this pandemic, when we breathe a sigh of relief, and return to school, shops, and restaurants, what a joy it will be to see our neighbors again, happy, healthy, and safe, even if (and perhaps because) for now, loving them means staying right where we are.
Finally, Ernie reminds us to pray for our leaders, and that is something I want to invite you to join me in doing. To pray for our leaders on every level to have wisdom and discernment, to find solutions to care for those who will be impacted the most by this pandemic, and for them to seek the Lord in times of crisis. I also invite you to pray for one another, for our school, and our faculty. We are an amazing community of learners, teachers, shepherds, and brothers and sisters in Christ. My prayer is that we’ll join together stronger, even when we’re learning apart.
When Ernie Johnson mentions that he knows who is on the throne, he does not mean that Jesus is on the throne of his life (though he is there too) but that Jesus is seated at the right hand of God the Father, and will come again to establish a new heaven and a new earth. When we know Jesus, know His victory over death and sin, and His love for us, we can find our shelter in the shadow of the throne, where we know we’ll be at the feet of Jesus.
P.S. I know for many of us, we return to things that are familiar when we feel the need for normalcy, and for me that is often a return to the hymns we sang in church growing up. So, for some inspiration and encouragement, I’ve linked some more wonderful hymns below.
Thine Be the Glory https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UPH7-dNrwb8
Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2ICi6IMoatc
A Mighty Fortress is Our God https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T0132OxXRdA&list=RDBwL9r7C1CM0&index=7
Be Thou My Vision https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AdHY3mmwqrc&list=RDBwL9r7C1CM0&index=27
When I Survey the Wondrous Cross https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IveBZTE5zVM&list=RDBwL9r7C1CM0&index=41
Praise to the Lord, the Almighty, the King of Creation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UsPne9PiJkk&list=RDBwL9r7C1CM0&index=35
O God, Our Help in Ages Past https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-0KVVybJKmU&list=RDUsPne9PiJkk&index=2