The past few weeks have seen us reading the gospel through the eyes of Luke, we will watch the disciples learn in word and action the meaning of their mission. The great prophets will reveal a God who makes us accountable to the covenant, but who also acts as a parent toward us and never gives up on us. We will watch the continued change of the early Christian communities as they live more fully into their discipleship and mission to become a living church.
The early christians knew the world is filled with pain and tragedy; we need to be realistic and acknowledge it. And we understand pain and tragedy for we have witnessed it or been part of it. . The reading of the scripture seems to pinpoint that hope exists in a realistic view of the world but a view of the world that is only possible through faith. This is so because faith demands that we see the world with realistic, open eyes and yet discover God acting within it. Faith gives birth to hope, for hope sees the world as it is and understands the presence and activity of God.
The Russian novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn tells of a moment when he was on the verge of giving up all hope. While a political prisoner in the Soviet Union, he was forced to work 12 hours a day on a starvation diet; and he became gravely ill. One afternoon, while shoveling sand under a blazing sun, he simply stopped working. He stopped working even though he knew that the guards would beat him severely, even to death. But he felt he just could not go on. Then he saw another prisoner, a fellow Christian, moving toward him cautiously. With his cane that man quickly drew a cross in the sand and then erased it. In that brief moment, Solzhenitsyn felt all of the hope of the gospel flood through his soul. It was a renewal of Christian hope, even though the situation had not changed. It gave him courage to endure that difficult day and the months of imprisonment that followed.
Hope is with us even when spiritual strength leaves us broken and vulnerable. Isn't this exactly what Solzhenitzyn discovered? When he had nothing left in himself, the building block of faith was still there. And that building block awakened within him the gift of hope.
The prophets through the ages have given us some harsh messages about ourselves and our actions , the prophets have told us over and over again we are anxious and obsessing about the wrong things and we always need to be obsessing on the wellbeing of the oppressed, the orphan and the widow.
The prophet tells the people to wash themselves and make themselves clean, to remove the evil of their doings, to cease to do evil and learn to do good. The passage is not talking about giving up anxiety so we can trust God and prosper in our health, relationships and career. It is talking about giving up the kind of anxiety that focuses on perfection in things that don’t ultimately matter while turning a blind eye to the reality of suffering of those around us. The prophets tell us :start being afraid, start being anxious, not about proper sacrifices and solemn assemblies, but about injustice.
The loss of hope lets anxiety take its place. I read that during Lent one year a seminary professor assigned the class the task of fasting from anxious thoughts for a week. One student raised her hand and asked, “Dr. McKenzie, if we fast from anxious thoughts, what else will we have to think about?” Everyone laughed nervously. She looked embarrassed because she hadn’t been kidding.
We believe that if we don’t maintain our defenses, if we don’t keep anxiety patrolling the perimeters of our thoughts and lives , something bad will surely happen. It’s like carrying an umbrella so it won’t rain. The deepest faith many of us have is faith in our fears. And I don’t mean the fear of the Lord (the deep awe and reverence for God) that the Bible tells us repeatedly is the beginning of wisdom. I mean the faith that, as long as we are anxious, chaos will be kept at bay from our personal cosmos. I mean the faith that our anxiety forms a protective shield around our life. It results in the fear that, if I feel a moment of peace, it must be because there is something I’ve overlooked. Live in the past and you will be depressed. Live in the future and you will be anxious. Live in the present with gratitude and you will be at peace.” Hope gives us wings. Hope allows us to see what others don’t see and to fly above the fear – to fulfill our dreams and to be happy.
Anxiety is like a thief that steals our hope from us. “From our Christian perspective the message is that that we need to be preoccupied, but not with fear and anxiety. We need to be preoccupied in the present with faith in God’s future. The thief is at the door now. The thief is fear and anxiety. How can we keep our house of faith from being broken into by fear? Jesus tells us that if the householder had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. He is promising us the resources to keep fear from stealing our faith.
Fear cripples our willingness to risk. Fear cripples our willingness to face great challenges. Fear cripples our ability to listen. Fear cripples our ability to be kingdom people reaching out to those who are different than us. Fear cripples our souls. The gift of God however is that there is another world view.
That other world view is the one offered to us by Jesus of Nazareth…hope. Just as Jesus offered a counter cultural-world view in the First Century he does so today. He reminds us that even in the worst of times God is at work. God does not come and go with the political climate, with difficult times or even with death.
Such a world view offers hope to the hopeless and courage to those on the journey of knowing God. It offers hope to those who have been bullied or picked on. It offers hope to people who have been discriminated against because of the color of their skin or their sexual orientation. It offers hope to churches that are struggling. It offers hope to those seeking employment. God is at work and so there is hope. And it is that world view which we need to proclaim.
We are not a church of fear. We are a church of hope. And in this time and place if there is one commodity that is desperately needed it is hope. So for that reason I challenge you on this day to consider how you will help us continue to make that hope known. To Be a hope giving church
Tragedies will continue to occur, but we have been given a promise that one day this pain will end. In the meantime, we've been issued a challenge to bring hope to this broken world. It is our responsibility, then, as Christians, to pursue hope amidst the despair, to bring joy to the heartbroken and love to the unloved. We are called to serve all of God's children as an extension of God’s hands and feet on this Earth.
So what can you do? Start by examining our hearts. What are you passionate about? What gifts and talents have you been given? How can you leverage those for the sake of the God’s Kingdom? How can you use them to bring God's children back to Her? If you have a voice, sing. If you have a word, speak it. If you have a hand, lend it.
Because, in the end, we will never hear the untold stories of tragedies undone by hope and love, but we can be confident that they are there and that God is using us all to bring hope to the hopeless, to bring light to this dark world and heal the broken.