This is a continuation of our sermon series Practising Hopefulness, and I get the feeling it’s a theme that will stimulate discussion about how we explore the characteristics of a community shaped by the kingdom vision of Jesus and how we share it with others in the weeks and months to come. We’ve looked at “being valued”, “enlivening grace” and “liberating the victim” so now we are more aware of some of the issues facing us as a community, how do we endeavor to translate our thoughts into practice. I’ll begin with a quote by Mahatma Ghandi who said, “We must become the change we want to see.”
Hope is in some ways difficult to define and will look different to each one of us at different times. It is described as an attitude towards the future, an assurance that what we find difficult will pass and that a more positive experience will prevail. It has the power to pull us through challenging times, drawing us out of a place of darkness into an experience of light and it is no surprise therefore that it is often described with light metaphors — a ray, a beam, a glimmer of hope; the break in the clouds; the light at the end of the dark tunnel.
Some people I’ve talked to think of hope only being fulfilled at the time of their death, whilst others think along different lines, that hope is something to be lived rather than anticipated.
How do you think about hope? Is it something that can be fulfilled in the present?
Tom Wright suggests that the real promise of hope is of living a transformed life in God’s new creation. He writes that Jesus’ resurrection, in this light, is simply the first instance of this new life foretold for all. Wright believes this new creation will be a redeeming of God’s first creation; for him, far from rushing to leave this world behind, a Christian’s true calling is to work toward this new creation right now.
A statement by one of my tutors as a reflection on the content of our Christian hope challenged me. She said,
“Full participation in the kingdom of God is both individual and communal. It is something we are called to receive and to respond to. It’s no use being passive assuming everything will be fine.”
I’d been with you here at St Mark’s for less than a year and was very focused on what I could do within this community and within my secular employment as a nurse.
How might I respond to the cries of the hungry, the lonely, the sick, the marginalized, the frightened, the angry or whatever need was presented?
The statement made me pause to reflect, not only on what I could do, but on where hope can be found in situations that sometimes feel hopeless. I began to realise that there is more than one solution and that by adopting certain attitudes hope becomes more evident.
One solution is patience, a willingness to let events unfold in their own time. The decision to defer my ordination to the priesthood was initially taken to enable me to gain more experience but led to a feeling about whether there would ever be a right time. It would have been easy to allow this question to dominate my thinking and for the light of hope to have faded. Without hope it is difficult to be patient and easy to become frustrated. With patience and hope, it is easier to listen to God and our own hearts, gradually discerning who God is calling us to be.
Linked to this is a second solution, maintaining an attitude of courage and of confidence when facing the unknown. In our gospel reading we heard about the mission of the seventy, sent out in pairs “like lambs into the midst of wolves.”
Imagine being sent out into a dangerous environment with fear of persecution and risk of death and yet going because you hope that by doing so, it is going to effect change and make the lives of others better. Thank God for those who have the courage to stand firm in a position of vulnerability in order to provoke a response that might lead to change in thinking and potentially change in behaviour.
A third solution is an attitude of persistence, the determination to keep going no matter what happens. We have hope when we can say, all will be well, and we mean it despite not being able to see what lies ahead. This is the hope founded on faith, which comes with the grace of God. We can tap into it whenever it is needed. Martin Luther said about this positive force in our lives: “Everything that is done in the world is done by hope.” To remind us of this truth, we have been blessed with inspiring saints and heroes who kept going in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds — Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Junior, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and many others. We also the example of those who regularly face darkness and do not allow it to overwhelm them — families at the hospital, health care and hospice workers, volunteers in international humanitarian programs, human rights advocates, and people working for social justice in areas of conflict around the globe.
Christ comes into our lives, through friends and fellowship, through Word and Sacrament… and it is through these that we begin to see true healing of life’s hurts. We don’t need to be the miracle workers, it is the kingdom itself that brings the peace, forgiveness, and healing through the vocation of love.
I know I’ve been talking about my calling, but this equally relates to your calling. Jesus did not just send out one person, he sent out many. Each one of us has a ministry in the places we live, study, care or work, a ministry to make the love of God visible and tangible. We are called to be Christ’s hands and feet on earth, to be people through whom the hope of being united with God in heaven becomes a reality in the present.
We are not being called to go out and save the world single handed, we are being asked to go out and meet one individual or family at a time, to get to know them in the sharing of hospitality and friendship, in listening to each others stories.
We are people of material and spiritual wealth and there are many ways we can share that with others who have different experiences than us. Some may feel beaten down by the terrible economy, job insecurity, the housing crises, and disappearing retirement funds. We are called to be ourselves, walking alongside others, reflecting Christ’s love and showing something of his face in a way no one else can.
At lent group this week there was a discussion about the sense of inadequacy felt in the face of media images and how that sometimes led to us feeling overwhelmed, immobilised and powerless to do anything productive.
When I got home I saw the Christian Aid leaflet “count your blessings”, a daily calendar for use during lent with thought provoking reflections and suggestions to encourage us to think about and pray for those living in poverty around the world.
As I looked at it, I realised that last year, this raised £300,000 for Christian Aid. Imagine if everyone had said, my offering is only 20 pence today so it wont make a difference.
There are some people whose actions are illuminated as an example to others, but each one of us has the potential to offer a glimmer of hope to someone else as we act as agents of change.
In a speech in 2008 Barack Obama said,
“Hope is the bedrock of this nation, the belief that our destiny will not be written for us; but by us; by all those men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is; who have courage to remake the world as it should be.”
Let us seek to be living examples of the change we wish to see in the world and to remember that by walking a path of hope, we make that path visible for others to follow.