the things we wear: hope
So we’re 2 weeks into our fall sermon series, and we’re calling it ‘The Things We Wear.’
The big question we’re exploring is: ‘how do we be human?’
If Jesus shows us this way to be human, and thats the way we’re here learning to walk, we’re asking: what does it actually look like? How do we go about doing it?
So each week we’re exploring one the the things that Jesus gives us 'to wear.' We’re looking at some of the postures, rhythms, attitudes, and dispositions he offers that draw us into a whole new way of being human and alive in this world - a way, our tradition teaches, that hums with reverence, a way of life that was always meant to be.
Last week we spoke about rest and this morning we explore the second thing we’re to wear.
It’s one we all need and we all want to wear, but we get confused about just what it is and just how exactly it works, sometimes to the point where we take it off and leave it behind.
So, this morning, my friends, we talk about hope.
And we’ll do that by talking about ...
87%, that book from the Bible you’ve never heard of, where hope lives, and the flow of it all.
Let’s start with a truth Im 87% convinced of.
It’s not 100% because, to be honest, I just dont like this truth. That left over 13% is straight up denial.
And that truth is this:
For a world made by a good and just God, more often than not, it really doesn't look like and feel like it.
The truth is, to be alive, to be here in this world, to live, and move, and have our being, means that we. will. suffer.
Anyone with me on that?
Its a truth we experience more than we know, isn’t it?
We experience it mentally, emotionally, sexually, physically, spiritually - on every level of our being. It would be unbearable if there wasn’t for the all the beautiful things we get to experience alongside the terrible.
Struggle, our experience tells us, is that this reality isn’t a consequence of sin, karma or faithlessness, but it’s simply how it is. It’s simply baked into all of this.
The writer Fred Buechner was reflecting upon this reality after a friend of his suddenly and tragically died. And caught between the pain of losing his friend and the joy of having that friendship, he wrote this:
“Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid.”
This is actually the line where I got to experienced that wisdom that says ’never meet your heroes.'
As I was finding my voice as a preacher, figuring out just how I thought what I thought, and how to put into words what I was feeling, Buechner was my hero. He was my guy. He was the one who rearranged the air for me and showed me what the craft of preaching can be. If he said it, I'd highlight it and believe it.
But it was this line that first made me go: "Woah. Wait. What?" And it wasn’t the first part of this. The world is beautiful and terrible. Ive lived that. I get that. Im 87% ok with it. It’s that last part that stopped me: ‘Don’t be afraid?’
Dont be afraid?!
How can we not be afraid?!
How can we not be afraid when suffering looms around at every corner?
How can we not be afraid when we experience just how fragile and broken our world can be?
Anyone with me on that?
Now, it’s been awhile since I first read this and Im still 90% sure I disagree with him on this, but I get where he’s going. He’s going after the same thing the writer of that Bible passage we heard was after.
The passage was from a part of the Bible many people dont even know exists, but I think its one of the best parts of the Bible. Its from the Book of Lamentations. Scholars think the book reflects upon one of the hardest and most difficult times in Israelite history:
This time around the 6th century BCE when the Temple was destroyed and the people were exiled. It’s this time when the Israelites lost two of the things that were central to their identity and their purpose: their temple and their land. It’s a book about how, at the same moment, they lost both their faith and their home.
The whole book is them lamenting, thus the very creative title. It’s them crying out to God as they experience just how terrible this world can get.
And it’s there, in their lament, as we saw in the passage we heard, that we hear the same wisdom Buechner is getting at.
"God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits and to the woman who diligently seeks. Wait for hope to appear. Don’t run from trouble. Take it full-face. Remember: The worst is never the worst."
The reason we dont have to be afraid, or, as I might rephrase it, the reason we don’t have to despair, is because we have hope.
Hope is the thing we wear as we navigate through this terrible and beautiful world.
Now maybe your response to this wisdom is the same as my response was to Buechner.
That’s the answer?
That’s how we navigate it all?
I get it. When hope is stacked up against everything we come up against in this world, illness, abuse, addiction, depression, violence, global warming, racism, it can seem a bit ridiculous. It can seem too sentimental, a bit too wishy washy, a bit too weak. It can feel almost hopeless.
But here’s the thing …
But here’s the thing that can help hope stack up and seem like something that just may help us out:
We need to remember where hope lives.
As the writer Rebecca Solnit points points out, hope lives between pessimism and optimism.
Optimism, she says, is the idea it’ll work out for the best.
Pessimism is it’ll work out for the worst.
And hope …
“hope is holding on to the fact that it might be ok.”
Hope is not the blind assurance that things will work out perfectly.
It is the subversive trust in the kind of God we have.
All throughout the Bible there is this idea that God is a very particular kind of God. Walter Brueggemann perhaps got it best when he said that God is “the Spirit of Possibility.”
God is a God who moves over chaos and darkness bringing order and light, who moves over fear and death bringing love and light, who moves over injustice and brokenness bringing justice and reconciliation. The kind of God we have is One who can make the impossible possible.
The reason we can have hope is because of this Spirit.
Hope is this trust that because God has moved God will move again. And because our hope is that, hope is a scandalous and courageous act of faith.
And so if hope isn't blind optimism but an act of faith, our question becomes:
How do we wear it? How do we do hope? How do we practice this hope in a way that helps us avoid fear and despair?
And the answer, I think, can be found in the flow of hope, in the three moments we need to take in order to put hope on.
The flow begins with looking back.
It begins with memory.
It begins by looking back on how God has already moved in our lives and world.
By reflecting on what this Spirit of Possibility has already done, the times She did the impossible, the times She erased the writing on the wall, the times She picked us up, dragged us forward, and helped us through what we thought would kill us, we are reminded of something so important:
We. are. still. here.
We look back to remember all the times we thought our story would end but didn’t, and we let those memories nourish and bolden our faith that God is a God of the Impossible.
Having looked back, we shift to looking to the present.
Having learned from the past and having nourished that faith, we look to see how that changes what we see in front of us.
No longer is whats in front of us seen as insurmountable, undefeatable, and a death sentence, but instead it’s seen as a prayer, as one more thing for this Spirit to move through, as one more thing for us to overcome, as one more thing to cause us to trust in the truth that, as the great poet Rumi said, "all darkness is followed by sunshine.”
And so having looked back to nourish our faith, having looked here to shift our perspective, we then enter into the final stage … we look ahead.
Looking ahead may be the hardest part, not that any of this is easy, because this is where our definition of hope begins to differ from other definitions.
We dont just look ahead and passively sit back, waiting for God to do Her thing, waiting for the road to clear and for the day to break. Our hope is a lot sweatier and more scandalous than that.
We look ahead and trusting that because God did move, God will move again, and we actively step forward, daring to act like the future we long for is already here.
This is the kind of hope Jesus calls us to have and wear.
We need to enter into it because it’s there we find the life and world we long for.
We find the life we’re seeking because it’s here, in this flow of hope, that we begin to act like addiction and illness won’t get the best of us; like what other people say and think about us won’t define us; and like our failures and fallings won’t have the last word.
We find the world we’re called to build because it’s there, in this flow, that we find the imaginations to tear down broken systems and build up new ones; the courage to forgive others and seek reconciliation; and the generosity to build a world where everyone has enough and everyone has a place.
Hope isn’t something we wear sentimentally or passively. It’s something we wear audaciously and actively. It is the posture we can take that allows us to exist, despite any fears, fully and deeply in this terrible but beautiful world, and maybe, just maybe, make it a bit less terrible than when we found it.
So as people called to wear hope, as people who need to enter into it’s divine flow, I’ll sum it up with this:
May you who are experiencing fear and despair,
you who dreads that tomorrow will be exactly like today,
you who longs for day light,
may you dare to put on hope.
Breathe in that Spirit of Possibility,
that Spirit that has moved and will move again,
and may you struggle well,
and step forward,
knowing and trusting that the God of the Impossible is with you.