The Birth of Hope

I’ve been thinking a lot about hope — where it comes from and how we find it. Because it seems hard to find right now. Any proclamation of hope feels nonsensical. It feels trite and ridiculous. Or worse, it’s so obscure and distant that it’s impossible to claim. I find this unacceptable and it seems to be most of what I hear. What good is the possibility of hope if you can’t imagine it in your own life? What good is the promise of good news if it seems to come to everyone else but you? 

I would say: diddly squat. And yes, there are terrible things in the news. There is so much violence and destruction but it’s not the headlines that have me thinking about this possibility of hope. It’s the church I’m pastoring. I am their interim pastor. I am walking with them through a season of ministry where everything is uncertain and unknown. I’m wondering with them about what ministry looks like in a rural community where nothing much seems to change. It’s all fine and good to say that there is hope for the church. I would tend to agree. There is lots of hope for the church universal — but what does it look like for this teeny tiny church in the countryside? 

I don’t tend to post my sermons here but this one is still working on me. I’m not writing anymore. I’m not editing the words that I preached this morning from Micah 5:2-5a and Hebrews 10:10-15 but they are challenging me. We’ve spent most of Advent in this church asking questions inspired from the prophets. This week is no different. There is a question at the heart of this sermon that I’m still trying to answer. It isn’t resolved yet. Perhaps because Christmas hasn’t come yet. There is part of me that wants so very much to expand on those last two paragraphs because it feels like there is more there. There is more to be said as hope is born. 

So here is a sermon about that hope that is coming.lights-788903_1920

 

Imagine that time before the old agreement, before there was a new plan to replace the old. Imagine, if you can, such a time and such a place where there is no need for anything new. There is no technology or theology to be improved. It is just the people in their old ways looking for love, hope and peace.

Imagine a time when you and your clan are without a home. You’ve been pushed out and left in the wilderness. You can’t go to the temple. You can’t worship as you always have but it’s what you want most. When everything is so new and terrifying, you and your clan want nothing more than to worship.

So it was in the Diaspora of the Jews. They couldn’t get to the temple — the place where all worship happened, the place where God lived. And so, they did something different. They didn’t abide by the blood sacrifices that had made a comeback in those days when Mary and Joseph are making their way to Bethlehem. They had to do something else in their exile. They had to find another way to worship. So, the rabbis led the people in worship as together in the wilderness “they offered prayers, songs and offerings in synagogue worship services.”

Did their worship change because their situation changed? Did their relationship with God change because that was God’s will? Or is this just how change happens? Do our old habits always give way to new ways of worshipping and living and hoping? Aren’t we always hoping for more?

Micah speaks to exactly that desire. To displaced, confused, wandering people who know more violence than peace, he gives them hope for something more. Something more than what they’ve known. Something more than what they’ve seen.

So that, as Nancy Taylor says, “Micah captures the ache with which we live each day and the hope that is in us for a future that only God can deliver.”

Only God can deliver this future that is more than what we’ve known and more than what we’ve seen. Only God can imagine such a future without being too bogged down by our sins. As the birth of hope is so very close, coming we hope this very week, we might not want to talk about our sins. But, we must. We have to talk about this for just a moment because these five verses in Hebrews demand it.

Imagine that time before the old agreement, before there was a new plan to replace the old. Imagine, if you can, such a time and such a place where there is no need for anything new except for the fact that everything has changed. Nothing is as it was so that everything around us is changing. And we bellyache. We moan. We protest. We demand God for hope and this is our sin.

As Sister Simone Campbell told Krista Tippett on American Public Radio’s OnBeing, “our sin is our obsession with security.” We have so convinced ourselves that “everything ought to work out perfectly for us. That we ought to have every conceivable drop of oil ever that we’d ever need any time. That we have to have electricity…” she goes on. There is a long list of those things that we need and want. We think that our hope will come from these things, these little guarantees from the long list of our needs and wants. But, hope does not come from a place of security. Hope comes, instead, from the wild surprises that God continues to point us toward.

So, let’s get specific. The prophet Micah points us toward Bethlehem. He pinpoints a place on the map where no one ever thought anything would ever happen. Still, the prophet directs our attention to a specific place — right there, he says, in Bethlehem — and tells us to look for that something more that we’ve always wanted. He zeroes in on our aching longing, turns us around and pushes us toward specifics. Not vague possibilities or warm feelings. No, he says that from this exact place, hope will come. A leader will come “who is to rule in Israel, whose origin is from of old, from ancient days.”

So, let’s get specific about where and when and even how we see hope being born. For that hope will not only be born in a stable in Bethlehem. Micah assures our displaced, confused, wandering hearts that this hope —God’s hope — was not a one-shot deal. It is a hope that is always coming to birth. Again and again, God surprises us. God’s hope shows up in unexpected places asking us to believe that it’s possible.

Imagine that hope has a name and a face. Imagine that it have a body. Maybe even your body. Imagine that you could be faithfully obedient to that hope within you. And that it could so change what you know to be true and what you see in the world around you, that hope within your body. Or maybe not your body. Maybe you don’t feel it inside you but it has another name and another face.

Yes. Let’s get specific. Let’s pinpoint the exact where that hope is being born right now. Let’s not talk about vague possibilities or warm feelings but ask ourselves this: where exactly is hope being born right now?

Does hope have a particular name and face? Does this hope being born have a body that doesn’t fit with our expectations? Is hope in this time and place found in a Syrian refugee or the Mexican immigrant wandering in the desert as Mary and Joseph did so many years ago? Is the hope that might change all that we know being born in Paris right now? Or will it be found in a Muslim woman’s eyes blinking through the hijab that otherwise hides her face? Or is hope coming right here on Ridge Road?

Get specific. Pinpoint exactly what it is that you God see doing for God has promised that this hope is not a one-shot deal. It is always coming to birth. The question is: where do you see the surprise of hope?

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Liturgical Lights for Sunday June 28, 2015

J A S M I N EThis Sunday the Narrative Lectionary leads us into the words of Psalm 40:1-10 as we continue to focus on the Psalms offered by Working Preacher. There is another reading to pair this one in Luke 17:11-19 but it seems I can’t get excited about these alternate readings as I’ve skipped them every week.

This particular psalm seems like it could be paired just as well with the Revised Common Lectionary readings. It has that sense of joy and relief that comes after healing has come. It has that mysterious trust that comes with faith — this overwhelming sense that there is a bigger picture, or at least a desire for a larger story to exist. It could be what the woman healed from 12 years could sing after Jesus calls her his daughter. Or it could be a song to itself — a song that lifts up the hope and certainty of salvation even before healing has come.

Healing, however, doesn’t feel quite right. Because it was only a few days ago that this happened. There may be forgiveness but there is work to be done especially in white churches. So I want to hold on to what the Rev. Norvel Goff Sr. said at Mother Emanuel on Sunday: “We have some difficult days ahead, but the only way evil can triumph is for good folk to sit down and do nothing.” To begin this Sunday, I’m using words inspired by my seminary professor Dr. James H. Cone so that those of us in white churches might especially open our hearts and minds to the power of black theology. If his work is unfamiliar to you, I encourage you to listen to this podcast.

These will be difficult words to pray and may even put the words of the oppressed on the wrong lips — but in saying these words aloud — perhaps we will learn more about the oppressive system that we hold more powerful than God.

Call to Worship (Responsive)
Inspired by James H. Cone’s God of the Oppressed

We come together as a community to worship and to praise.
We come together on this day because God has done so many things.
Nothing compares to our God.
We are a community that knows this truth.
We know God’s wonderful deeds and even what God plans.
We have seen it spoken and lived by the people around us.
God has done so many things.
Nothing compares to our God.
We come to worship and praise
because we want to always be that kind of community —
the kind of community that will freely become oppressed.
Because we know the truth of Jesus Christ.
God has done so many things.
Nothing compares to our God.
We are a community seeking a Jesus-encounter
that will claim us for liberation.
Nothing compares to our God.

Prayer of Invocation
Inspired by James H. Cone’s A Black Theology of Liberation

O God, there is no perfect guide
for discerning your movement in the world.
There is no way for our hearts and minds to
fully understand your hope and your help,
but we want to do your will.
We gather here as a community of Jesus Christ
that wants nothing more than to tell of your good news.
Open our hearts and minds to see you as the God of the Oppressed
so that wherever there is humiliation and suffering
that is where we will find you, O God.
For we know — deep in our hearts — that there is no use for a God
who loves white oppressors the same as oppressed blacks.
There is too much white love in our world, O God.
What we need is the divine love as expressed in black power.
May we find such a force working in our world.
May we find it even with ourselves so that we are so caught up in this
holy activity that we can truly see that righteousness is not just for me and mine
but for the great assembly you always dreamed to be.
Guide us in this way here in this community of Christ today. Amen.

I would love to hear what you’ve go planned for worship on Sunday. Please share your comments and ideas below. And, if you happen to use the prayers I’ve written in your worship, and I hope you will, please do offer me credit with as follows:

The prayers in our worship this morning were written by/adapted from Liturgical Lights for Sunday June 28, 2015 by the Rev. Elsa Anders Peters. Elsa is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ who blogs at revelsaanderspeters.com.