November 13, 2016
Luke 21:5-19, Isaiah 65:17-25
“The Way to Hope”
When I was in seminary, I learned to say, “The word of God for the people of God” with the response, “Thanks be to God.” I say it each week after the scripture reading, but frankly I don’t always feel thankful for the word of God. Sometimes it is very difficult to hear. We are in the last two Sundays of the church year and we get to hear some tough, apocalyptic gospel lessons. Actually, they don’t feel out of context in light of all that has happened in our country and the world. I have been concerned about the outcome of the election. I am distressed at the level of hatred and vitriol I have witnessed in public discourse. I am hearing about it everywhere. It happens on social media. It happens in the schools where parents come in screaming and name-calling. It happened in one of our neighborhood churches recently. A man screamed at the minister using profanity because he was unhappy about the sermon. Why do we think it is ok to go off on someone when we disagree? What good do we think name-calling and screaming will do? I am not suggesting that we bury our head in the sand, but I am clear that it is our job to lead the conversation in a way that is loving and kind. A clergy friend has one bumper sticker on her car. It simply says, “Be Kind.” We can do this. We can find a way forward by being kind.
My wife is a principal and encounters some really angry people. When they come in screaming at her, she disarms them with kindness. That doesn’t mean she tells them what they want to hear or ignores how they are treating her (or often her employees). It does mean that she refuses to respond to their meanness by being mean herself. I learn so much from witnessing her interactions with people. When she treats people with dignity, even when they are screaming, it disarms them. It sometimes seems that people have forgotten that we can treat one another with dignity.
My concern now is what kind of country will we be? I may not be able to control that, but I can control what kind of citizen I will be and what kind of follower of Christ I will be.
Both of our texts today were written in a time of turmoil. Isaiah spoke to the people who had been in exile. They are given a new vision of a new heaven and a new earth. It isn’t about the sweet by and by. It was a promise that the present time would give way to a time when all would live in harmony with each other. It was not easy for the exiles to believe this promise. Their lives were difficult and they had become cynical about this God who didn’t seem to come through for them. But the promise remained. They will have houses, vineyards, food, and all will live together peacefully.
Luke refers to the destruction of the temple. It was a grand and glorious structure. Less than a decade after its completion, the Romans destroyed the temple. Jesus predicted the temple’s destruction and described the terrible things that would happen: wars, earthquakes, famines, and plagues. Jesus told his followers that these horrific events would be an opportunity for them to testify. I’ve been thinking about the opportunity to testify in the face of horror and pain. We like the idea of talking about God in the face of goodness, but that gets more difficult when things are hopeless. Each of the texts today refer to a time when it seems all hope is lost and they promise that God is doing something new in their midst. That is not always easy to believe. Yet the call to trust in God is powerful even in the most horrific circumstances.
Thomas Dorsey was a blues musician from rural Georgia. He moved to Chicago and worked full time in a church while struggling to support his family. In August of 1932, Dorsey left his pregnant wife and traveled to St. Louis to be the soloist at a large revival. After the first night of the revival, he received a telegram that said, “Your wife just died.” Dorsey raced home and learned that his wife had given birth to a son before dying in childbirth. The next day his son died as well. Dorsey buried his wife and son and withdrew in sorrow. Some time later, he sat in front of a piano and felt peace wash over him. He heard a melody that he had never heard before and began to play it on the piano. Then came the words:
“Precious Lord, take my hand,
Lead me on, let me stand;
I am tired, I am weak, I am worn;
Through the storm, through the night,
Lead me on to the light;
Take my hand, precious Lord,
Lead me home.”
There is something in the human spirit that wants to hope even when the way forward seems impossible. That something seems to know that God is healing brokenness and calling us to be witnesses for hope.
Martin Luther was asked what he would do if the world was coming to an end. He replied, “If tomorrow is the Day of Judgment, then today I want to plant an apple tree.” That is exactly what these texts call us to do. We should be planting trees and other things that make no sense. That is what faith looks like. Wendell Berry says,
“So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.”
- Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
Jesus is telling his followers to do something that won’t compute. When the world is falling apart, they can give voice to a God who creates something beautiful out of destruction. They can get involved with God whose kingdom is among us rather than wishing for things to be different. They can be part of God’s saving goodness here and now. So can we.
I watched a Ted Talk with Candy Chang. Candy lives in New Orleans. She said the city is a place that has a parade every time someone sneezes, a place with beautiful architecture, and it is a place with the highest number of abandoned buildings in the country. After suddenly losing a woman who had been a mother figure to her, Candy decided to do something. She painted the words “Before I Die” on an abandoned building and she provided chalk for people to write their responses. Hundreds wrote everything from: “before I die I want to be tried for piracy, to: plant a tree, be someone’s cavalry, be completely myself.” There are walls around the world now in Australia, India, Denmark, to name a few. (http://beforeidie.cc/site/)
One church took this to heart and created a wall that asked, “How can we pray for you?” They then prayed the prayers written on their wall. I love that! What if we painted that on our wall facing Lomas right next to the bus stop? We can be a witness of love and kindness and civility in a world that desperately needs it. We can embody God’s love and care in a very tangible way by listening to the pain and hope and longing of our community. We are in the middle of a city and we have the opportunity to be Christ’s compassion in a unique way.
It’s funny how this works. All I have to do is talk about hopeful actions to begin to feel hopeful. Just as we can give our way to being more generous, we can hope our way into being more hopeful. We can be a source of hope no matter who wins the world series or the election. We can be a source of hope because God is at work doing something new in our midst. God is calling us to live in harmony with one another and the world around us. Hope happens in us when we notice all the ways God is bringing hope to our world. We are called to be witnesses who plant seeds of hope in every way possible. Let’s start paving the way.