I am thinking
I could not have chosen a worse sermon title for today – “keep on growing” –
really!? I don’t know about you but a
lot of the growth that happens to me this time of you is not necessarily
positive. How many clothing returns do
you suppose are of items that would have fit the person when they were
purchased, but now after Thanksgiving and holiday parties, well, they just don’t
However, growth in girth is not what
I am talking about this morning. In Luke
we read of Jesus, “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and
the favor of God was upon him.” In his Notes on the New Testament, writing about Luke 2, both verse 40 and 52, John Wesley
wrote, “It plainly follows, that though a man were pure, even as Christ was
pure, still he would have room to increase in holiness, and, in consequence
thereof, to increase in the favor as well as in the love of God.”
The Christian life is one where we
are encouraged to keep on growing. There
is always room to grow in grace. There is always room to grow in wisdom. There is always room to grow in faith. There is always room to grow in hope. There is always room to grow in love. There is always room to grow as a person of
God and as a human being. I like to use
the phrase, grow as “a person of God” better than “child of God,” because
though I like that phrase in some ways, in other ways it might perpetuate the
idea that we are always children when it comes to faith, and that is not the
case. Recall that in John’s gospel,
Jesus tells his disciples, “I do not call you servants any longer… but I have
called you friends” (15:15). Paul speaks
of Jesus as “the firstborn within a large family” (Romans 8:29). Jesus is like an elder brother with whom we
grow up. The writer of Ephesians writes,
“we must grow up in every way… into Christ” (4:15).
The Christian life is one where we
are encouraged to keep on growing. We
can all say “yes” and “amen” to this easily enough. At the same time it is good to be reminded
what it really means to grow, what it really means to learn, what it really
means to mature. Growth is sometimes
easier to say yes to than to actually accomplish, and that’s because learning
and growing is not always easy. I want
to say three things about this.
One, learning and growing involves
change, and change is not always easy or comfortable. Edgar Schein is a well-respected management
consultant, and professor emeritus of the Sloan School of Management at
MIT. He is considered an expert on
corporate culture, and in one of his books on that topic, Schein writes about
change. “People resist change because
unlearning is uncomfortable and anxiety-producing” (The Corporate Culture
Survival Guide, 115). I am guessing that we may not need an MIT
management consultant to tell us that we tend to resist change. Schein digs a little deeper. He says that for change to take place, we
need to keep two principles in mind.
Survival anxiety or guilt must be greater than learning anxiety, and
learning anxiety must be reduced through increasing a sense of psychological
safety rather than increasing survival anxiety or guilt. (124)
Schein is arguing that change is
uncomfortable. We’ve experienced
that. To motivate change, we have to
introduce another measure of discomfort, some dissatisfaction about the way
things are. That dissatisfaction must be
higher than the discomfort of learning.
We could keep raising that dissatisfaction level, but that also produces
defensiveness, and so becomes counter-productive. It is better to provide some sense of safe
space for change. And if all this is not
complicated enough, Psychologists Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey, in their book Immunity to Change, write that even when we want change there are also
things in us which resist that change.
“We are a living contradiction” (38)
Learning and growth require some
change, and change is messy and complicated.
Nevertheless, we are invited to keep on growing.
Learning and growth also mean taking
some risks. In the passage for today,
Simeon takes some risks. Yes, it says
that Simeon was guided by the Holy Spirit, but God’s Spirit is often a whisper
in our lives, and to try and follow the Spirit may mean that we miss the
whisper sometimes. Had Simeon shown up
on other days at the Temple, looking for the Messiah? We don’t know, but learning and growth often
require taking some risks, following whispers of the Spirit knowing that we may
not hear clearly sometimes.
Learning and growth involve some
risk taking. We take risks when we ask
tough questions of our faith, not settling for the answers we were given in
Sunday School. One of the things I
appreciate about the Adam Hamilton book many of us have read, Making Sense of the Bible, and by the way, there are a couple of copies still
available, is that Adam invites our deeper questions about the Bible. I admire the kind of risks Adam took in his
own journey of faith, and the kind of risks it took for him to write this
book. Not everyone will agree with him
that there are places in the Bible that never really reflected God’s purposes,
passages, for instance, that regulate slavery rather than speak against it.
Learning and growing involve taking
some risks, asking some questions, trying spiritual practices that may not
always work well and then have to be changed.
How many of you remember our experiment with monthly Sunday evening
meditative worship? When the fourth
session came around and I was there alone, it seemed that maybe we were not
meeting a need with this, and discontinued it.
A third thing about learning and
growing that makes it challenging is that it often happens through difficult
moments, and we learn from such moments when we can lean into them. In today’s Scripture reading, Anna is a woman
who was married for only seven years, and has now been a widow a long
time. At age 84 she fasts and prays
often. You get the sense, here, of a
woman who knew difficulty and loss and learned from it, grew through it. Mary is told that her soul will be pierced
along the way. What a difficult message.
Parker Palmer, in his book, Let Your Life Speak, writes about the seasons of life. In the
Upper Midwest, newcomers often receive a classic piece of wintertime advice:
“The winters will drive you crazy until you learn to get out into them.” Here,
people spend good money on warm clothing so they can get outdoors and avoid the
“cabin fever” that comes from huddling fearfully by the fire during the long
frozen months. If
you live here long, you learn that a daily walk into
the winter world will fortify the spirit by taking you boldly to the very heart
of the season you fear.
winters take many forms – failure, betrayal, depression,
death. But every one of them, in my experience,
yields to the same advice: “The winters will drive you crazy until you learn to
get out into them.” Until we enter
boldly into the fears we most want to avoid, those fears will dominate our
lives. But when we walk directly into them – protected from frostbite by the
warm garb of friendship or
inner discipline or spiritual guidance –we can learn
what they have to
teach us. (102-103)
In her book Necessary Losses, Judith Viost echoes something similar. The
road to human development is paved with renunciation. Throughout out our life we grow by giving
up. We give up some of our deepest
attachments to others. We give up
certain cherished parts of ourselves….
Passionate involvement leaves us vulnerable to loss…. Losing tends to be difficult and
painful. Let us also consider the view
that it is only through our losses that we become fully developed human beings.
Learning and growth often involve
loss, or getting out into our loss. We
all experience difficulty and loss. I
don’t think God does things to us for our growth, causes us pain and loss. That’s just there. It’s part of life, like the season of winter. God, however, walks with us as we get out
into it, so we can become fully developed human beings, more mature in Christ.
We want to learn and grow, but it
isn’t easy, and we are tempted to stay put, to stay static. How do we manage the courage to learn and
grow? We know we are not alone. God is with us through it all. That Jesus presented at the Temple is a
reminder that God is always present to us.
And we are there for each other.
And we know we are loved by God in Jesus.
Because we are known and loved and
not alone, we can grow and become strong, filled with wisdom; with God’s favor
on us. May it be so, otherwise our faith
can feel a lot like a dead shark. Keep
on growing. Amen.
who know me know I really like music.
You know that I often use music to start a sermon, playing a cd or my i
pod. But it’s Christmas Eve, and playing an i pod, well, it just seems like I
could be a little more traditional today.
I so want to begin with a song, and I have been working on one the past few
weeks. The lyrics have been changed to
reflect our interesting December weather.
I’m dreading a gray
With all the fog I’ve
come to know
Where the gutters drip
You slide and slip
In all the slush
that’s on the roads.
I’m dreading a gray
With every sermon note
May the weather become
And may the moon shine
bright on Christmas night.
be honest, not about my singing – please, but let’s be honest, the world in
which we live inspires some dread in us.
The Irish poet Seamus Heaney, at a poetry reading in Minneapolis in 1996
was explaining a poem he was about to read, and how it contained an image of
childhood dread, “that sense of omen that a very young child can have, a sense
of the possible dangers of the world, when you don’t actually have content for
your dread, but you know it’s there.” He
then went on, “and of course experience gradually supplies you with the
we are children, things that go bump in the night may frighten us, though there
is nothing there. As we grow, we don’t
need things to go bump in the night to know fear and dread. Experience supplies us with the content. All we need to do is turn on the news: think
Ebola, think police shootings – shootings by police and shootings of police,
think ISIS, think North Korea.
In this week’s Duluth NewsTribune Mitch Albom, a
columnist from Detroit, printed letters from children in the Detroit area to “Santa’s
helper,” in this case an organization in the Detroit area started thirty years
ago by a school secretary who noticed that some kids were coming to school
without coats or socks in the winter.
Dear Santa’s Helper: It has been a hard year
for me and my parents because… We have lost our home two times…. My Mom
couldn’t pay the storage bill so we lost everything. My Mom has been in and out of the
hospital. We have spent the night in our
car, shower in fast food places, lakes and so forth.
Dear Santa’s Helper: It has been a hard year
for me because… My father stopped talking to me after my parents got
divorced. He said I was dead to him.
Dear Santa’s Helper: It’s been a hard year
for me because… It’s hard to live in a motel.
You would think with my Mom working two jobs a day we wouldn’t be in
this situation…. For the first time since I was little, I cried in front of my
Mom…. None of my friends want to hang
out with me because I can’t do the stuff they want to do…. We never did anything wrong. Why did we get this lifestyle?
And I know that
some of you here have had a year when your heart has been broken, when some of
the things that evoke fear and dread have happened in your lives.
One of the things
that kind of amazes me is how many Christmas songs give a nod to fear and dread
and difficulty. In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan. Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone (“In
the Bleak Midwinter”). And ye beneath life’s crushing load, whose forms
are bending low, who toil along the climbing way, with painful steps and slow (“It
Came Upon the Midnight Clear”). The hopes
and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight (“O Little Town of
Bethlehem”). Even secular Christmas
songs chime in. I’ll be home for Christmas, if only in my dreams. Have yourself a merry little Christmas, may
your hearts be light. From now on our
troubles will be out of sight./ Until then we’ll just have to muddle through
difficulties, muddling through. The
people walk in the darkness. Emperors
order people to be registered, even if it means traveling for days and for miles. Here’s the bad news. Our fears, our difficulties, will not
magically disappear during the hour or so we are here together. Our singing won’t be so loud as to chase all
our troubles away. The difficulties we
fear will not just vanish with the lighting of candles.
But tonight is not
about that news. It is about good news,
but we hear this good news is a realistic context. The good news doesn’t come served on a silver
platter in a mansion. The good news
comes to shepherds in a field – cold and smelly. The good news arrives like the messiness of a
birth amid the hay and small of animals.
Here’s the good news. The world may
not magically and instantaneously change, but we can be different, and even a
little different just because we are gathered here. We can be different because we can know hope,
a hope that is strong, powerful and tenacious.
We can know the kind of hope Anne Lamott writes about. Hope is
not about proving anything. It's about choosing to believe this one thing, that
love is bigger than any grim, bleak stuff
[shit] anyone can throw at us. (Plan B, 275; Small Victories,
231 “Falling Better”).
Hopes and fears
meet, and hope is stronger because love is stronger, and love is stronger
because that’s God’s very nature. Here’s
more good news. Because we can be
different, the world can be different too, maybe not in an hour or overnight,
but the world can be different. No
wonder this is such good news. The word
“good news” in the gospel reading is the Greek word used to describe news which
affects an entire community, news brought by a runner to a Greek city to share,
for example, news about a victory in battle. (John Howard Yoder, in Watch
For the Light, December 11) Because
we can be different, the world can be different. The world can even be a little more like that
world described in Isaiah 11 where the wolf and the lamb live together, the
leopard and the kid, the lion and the calf, the cow and the bear, and little
children are safe – no hurt or destruction, no more letters to Santa’s Helper
about why it has been such a tough year.
This is what
Christmas is about, about a God who enters our fearful, messy world and touches
our lives with all their difficulties, a God whose love is stronger than any
grim, bleak stuff life can throw at us.
It is about hope and fear meeting, and about hope being stronger,
I think we get
that. Even in our non-religious cultural
artifacts of Christmas, we get that it is about hope, and the strength of
hope. Think of some of your favorite
Christmas movies or stories. Aren’t they
about hope? Unless your favorite
Christmas movie happens to be “Bad Santa” or something like that. Dickens “A Christmas Carol” is about a man
set in his miserly ways who is able to see his life more honestly, and make
changes toward kindness and generosity.
It’s about hope. “It’s a
Wonderful Life” is about an ordinary person who realizes just how many lives
his life touches even in the backwater town of Bedford Falls. It’s about hope. The story “The Gift of the Magi” is about the
deep love of a couple, the wife who sells her hair to buy a watch chain for her
husband and the husband who sells his watch to buy lovely hair combs for his
wife’s beautiful hair. It’s about hope. “Elf”
discovers his family, and eventually finds acceptance. It’s about hope. “The Santa Clause” has that wonderful line –
“Seeing is not believing, believing is seeing.”
We can see different. We can be
different. It’s about hope. “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” is about
misfits, many consigned to the island of misfit toys, finding a place. It’s about hope. “Charlie Brown’s Christmas” is about a
scraggly tree coming to life when given love and care. It’s about hope.
But hope needs to
be more than a movie plot and a story line, and it is. Recently Anne Lamott posted a Christmas
reflection on Facebook. There was a cartoon in the “New Yorker”
decades ago, that I’ve never forgotten, of two men chained at the wrists and
ankles to the wall, off the ground, in a jail cell, in a cave. One man turns to the other and says, “Okay,
here’s my plan. When the guard comes in
to bring us our meals…” That’s how I
feel about the last two weeks of holidays, the days of death by cookie, bad
nerves, tight smiles and overwhelm.
Doomed, like a prisoner, or space alien, but you know what? Also full of hope.
Lamott goes on to
share the story of her last reading for her recent book tour. She was not feeling well. She had been given
an injection that she said made her face puff up like an apple pie. But at that reading she encountered close
friends – a friend since age six, old friends of her fathers – “People who
still show up to rally for justice and peace, like poets and do-goods always
will, against the myriad endless wars, and oppression, for civil rights and
women’s rights and the environment….
They fill me with hope…. Because
we are people who show up for peace and each other, this gives me hope and
Then Anne Lamott
remembered how, at this same bookstore, thirty years ago, she got to have tea
with the poet and writer Wendell Berry, who was signing books during a
mid-December storm. Berry looked out the
window and said, “It gets darker and darker and darker; and then baby Jesus is
It gets darker and
darker and darker and then baby Jesus is born.
The hopes and fears of all the years meet at Christmas. Our hopes and
fears meet here tonight. And hope is stronger, because love is stronger and
love is stronger because God’s nature is love.
Hope is stronger, because the God of love is with us, and when we need
God to draw especially close, God just does – even when its messy, even when
its inconvenient, God just does.
By the way, those
heartbreaking Santa letters, well they go to that foundation started by that
school secretary, and the foundation selects the kids it can help, and provides
funds for the most needed items like food, clothing, car repair, and
educational assistance. Such things
speak to me of Christmas – small acts of hope in a fearful world, small acts of
kindness and love that remind us that hope is believing, then acting on that
belief, that love is bigger than any grim bleak stuff in life, hope and love
made real in the messiness of life.
It gets darker and
darker and darker, then the baby Jesus is born.
Hopes and fears meet, and hope is stronger because love is stronger and
the God of love is with us. Know hope,
no matter how many fears have touched your life. Know hope.
Know that you are loved. Share
love with others, because sharing love and hope only increases them. Tonight, it’s about hope. Merry Christmas.
McCartney sings about how quickly time goes, but the title of his song hints
that the past stays with us, the things we did as a kid. In that sense he echoes the famous line of
William Faulkner, “The past is never dead.
It’s not even past.” (Requiem for a Nun, 80, voice of character
past is never dead. It’s not even
past. We carry the “whens” of the past
into our “now” - - - now and when - - - just as thoughts of the future lure us
forward, having an impact on the present – now and when, our Advent theme.
past is “massively present” in the phrase of theologian Gordon Jackson, who
goes on to write, “the past is not deterministic, but it is determining; that
is, it is a vast flow of reality to which every present experiencing moment
does conform in effective or powerful ways” (Creating Something of Beauty,
27). A couple of weeks ago, Pat Miller
introduced some of us to Judith Viorst’s book Necessary Losses. In that book Viorst writes, “our past, with
all its clamorous wishes and terrors and passions, inhabits our present” (17).
past is massively present, and we cannot change it. What we can do, however, in the present, is
create something new around it. When I
was a boy, I had a basic set of Lego toys.
This was before the Lego toys got as fancy and complex as they currently
are. My Legos had a couple of gray
square pieces that could serve as a base for building. Then I had a few blocks of different sizes
that I could use in different ways.
There were limits to what I could build, given the materials I had, but
I could still use those materials in more or less creative ways. Of course, one could always add some new
blocks. That’s what working with our
past, our whens, is like. We cannot
change some of the blocks, but we can re-arrange them in different ways and we
can add to our set of blocks in the present.
let me suggest three things we can do with our past whens in our present nows
that open us up to creativity, and that has something to say about the God of
Jesus Christ. My sermon was not simply
inspired by Paul McCartney and Pat Miller, but by the gospel reading.
the Gospel reading, the story of Mary links past and present, not just Mary’s
past, but a longer, wider and deeper story.
References are made to Abraham, to Jacob and to David. Something is happening now that fits into
that longer story of God’s relationship with these important figures from the
Bible. She sings a song which celebrates
God’s grace and mercy “from generation to generation.” God is one who shows strength with God’s arm,
who scatters the proud – letting them get caught up in the thoughts of their
hearts. God is one who brings the
powerful down from their thrones and lifts up the lowly. God fills the hungry with good things but the
rich have to fend for themselves.
soul rejoices in the present because she remembers the grace of God in the
past, in the long story of the past. We
are invited to do the same. We keep
telling these old stories from the Bible because we believe they are also a
part of our story, a part of our long and broad past. And the story of the Bible, from beginning to
end, is a story about grace, about creativity, about covenant, about love.
our own stories, there will be times where we remember that we have not always
lived up to who God would have us be. We
have turned away from others. We may
have hurt others. I can still remember
things I said years ago that were not well said, and they hurt, and I regret
them. I can’t change them. I can’t change the times when I did not live
up to God’s creativity, covenant and love.
But then there are the stories of Abraham, who lied about Sarah being
his wife, and Jacob who stole his brothers birthright, and David who slept with
another man’s wife and had that man sent into the most dangerous part of
battle. And what is God’s response –
grace. Remembering the long story of the
past, we can be more creative in putting together the past in the present.
remembering the past, remember moments of grace. These need not be wonderful, thrilling moments. Sometimes grace is just getting through a
hard day. One grace from this week’s
Ruby’s Pantry was just that, we made it.
The truck broke down and arrived at 5:30 instead of 3:30. I was not feeling particularly good, and I
ran a fever all day Friday. Part of the
grace of the evening was just making it through. We all have days where grace comes in the
form of just making through the day.
grace can, and often is more. We should
remember not only grace in our personal stories but in our cultural stories. We need to remember the picture of the white
police officer hugging a twelve-year old African-American boy who had been
holding a sign that said “free hugs” at Portland protest over a grand jury's
decision not to indict the police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. (http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/29/living/ferguson-protest-hug/). We need to remember the story coming from
Australia. As a gunman held people
hostage in a cafe in Sydney, thousands of messages of support have been posted
online for Muslims in Australia who are afraid of an Islamophobic
backlash. The spark was a Facebook post
by a woman , who said she'd seen a woman she presumed was Muslim silently
removing her hijab while sitting next to her on the train: "I ran after
her at the train station. I said 'put it back on. I'll walk with u'. She
started to cry and hugged me for about a minute - then walked off alone'. It started a whole #illridewithyou social media movement. (http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-trending-30479306)
here’s a moment of grace for me. Earlier
this month I was traveling to make an evening presentation about the Minnesota
United Methodist Church effort called “Reach, Renew, Rejoice.” The presentation was to be made in a church
outside of St. Cloud, so I figured I would pick up a meal on the way. I stopped for some fine dining at the
McDonald’s in Mora, disappointed that they were no longer serving the McRib. While I was sitting there, I saw a woman, her
husband, and two children come into the restaurant. She looked familiar. She looked like a woman who had attended the
church for a year or so a few years back.
Interestingly, this woman had called me earlier this fall to talk about
some concerns in her life. You know the
rest of the story – it was this woman at the Mora McDonalds. We talked, we
hugged, there was a tear in her eye.
need to remember such moments of grace, moments like meeting my wife Julie for
the first time. I was with another girl
that night. I need to remember moments
of grace, like the birth of each of my children. When I mentioned birth stories a couple of
weeks ago, it allowed me to think again about the birth of David - six weeks
early and with health issues, Beth who arrived on a Sunday morning and I missed
worship that day - the SPRC chairperson
gave my sermon, and Sarah born at Baylor hospital in Dallas six years after
make the most of the past in the present, remember the long, broad past. remember moments of grace, and remember that
grace is also the power to create anew.
I admire the wisdom of Jack Kornfield.
Forgiveness means giving up all hope of a better past (The Art of Forgiveness,
Lovingkindness and Peace, 25). While
I would argue none of our pasts is without grace, we should never paper over
how utterly terrifying the past is for some.
Some of us carry deep wounds from the past – things we have done, things
done to us. We cannot change the past,
but grace is the power to take the Lego blocks of the past and build them into
something with a certain beauty. One of
the stories that I have always been amazed at is the story of Betty and Gene
Halvorson of this congregation, both now deceased. Betty and Gene lost three sons on a single
night, three sons washed into the treacherous waters of Lake Superior. I can’t imagine the pain, the heartache, perhaps
the self-blame. Betty and Gene were
among the most gracious and caring people I ever knew. Every time they came into this church, a
chapel reminded them of their tremendous loss, yet they were always here. They took hurt and pain and tragedy and
created something beautiful.
cannot change the past. It is ever
present. We can remember that God, in
grace, was with us in that past. We can,
in God’s grace take that past and create something more beautiful, knowing that
God also invites us into a future that is more just, more compassionate, more
caring, more peaceful, more beautiful, and more loving. Now and when, but then every so often,
something happens that amazes, that changes everything. God’s grace enters our world stunningly and
profoundly – but that’s Wednesday’s story.
last week I received a mailing from the General Board of Pensions and Health
Benefits of The United Methodist Church.
This is not surprising as this is the group with which I have my
pension. I expected it to be general
information about the Board or about my account. So imagine my surprise when I began
reading. Dear David Bard: According to
our records, you are eligible to retire in 2015.
Yikes! I need to let you know that I don’t have any
plans to retire in 2015. I am not near
ready to do that. The Board of Pension
is doing its job, though, in letting me know that I need to be preparing for
that time when I do retire. I need to be
thinking about the future, and that will have an impact on the present.
theme we are working with in worship during the Advent season, those four
Sunday prior to Christmas, which begins today, the theme we are working with in
Advent is “Now and When.” Today, I want
to explore with you the “when” of the future and how it touches us in the
present. We are going back to the future
are going back to the future because our texts for today are about the future, and about the present. The Gospel of Mark reading begins, “in those
days.” It is a reference to a future
“when.” It is a bit of a frightening
future. After that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not
give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in
the heavens will be shaken. In the
midst of these calamitous events, then
they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory. Some translations are now using the term “the
Human One.” The Human One is a
wonderfully deep and rich image that Jesus appropriated as a term of
self-identification. In Jesus, true
humanity, which is linked somehow to the image of God inside of us, in Jesus
that true humanity comes into the world powerfully and decisively, but the
Gospel of Mark acknowledges that all is not made immediately well. There is something yet to come.
of this future, our lives in the present need to be different. Learn the lesson of the fig tree. Look for the signs of the Human One and know
that “heaven and earth will pass away, but the words of the Human One will
certainly not pass away.” So “watch out”
and “stay alert.”
than Mark, Isaiah also imagined a difficult time, a time in which we would want
to cry out “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down.” The prophet looks around and sees only people
straying, people spending their efforts on things which “fade like a leaf” or
blow away with the wind. We cannot read
this passage in isolation from others in Isaiah, which, while not negating the
difficulty of the present, imagine that future where indeed God does tear open
the heavens and comes down. For I am about to create new heavens and a
new earth…. Be glad and rejoice forever
in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its
people as a delight…. No more shall
there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does
not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered
a youth…. For like the days of the tree
shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of
their hands…. The wolf and the lamb
shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like and ox; but the serpent, its
food shall be dust! They shall not hurt
or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord. (Isaiah 65:17ff,
texts take us back to the future. They
provide glimpses of a horizon of hope even when the present is difficult. This future hope rebounds into the
present. In the words of theologian
Lewis Ford, “Future influence is different.
It is the still small voice that calls the world into being out of
practically nothing” (Transforming Process Theism, 18). God is that voice in the future calling us
forward (Ford, 234 – God as future creativity).
It is a call from the future to the present. Theologian Jurgen Moltmann puts this idea of
the influence of the future this way. The God of hope is himself the coming
God. When God comes in glory, God will
fill the universe with God’s radiance, everyone will see God, and God will
swallow up death forever. This future
is God’s mode of being in history. The
power of the future is God’s power in time….
By virtue of the hope for the coming God, the expected future acquires
an inexhaustible ‘added value’ over and against present and past in the
experience of time. Moltmann, The
Coming God, 24).
live in a horizon of hope, even when we know the full difficulty of the
present, and the present is difficult.
matter our particular opinion on the justice of the grand jury decision in
Ferguson, Missouri, the fact remains that an eighteen year-old young man is
dead, and a young police office has to live with the fact that he shot and killed
this young man, no matter how justified he believes his actions to be. The world is not yet right.
Cleveland this week, a twelve year-old is dead, shot by police who thought the
toy gun he was carrying was real. The
world is not yet right.
is making a comeback, draining the life out of some, ending the lives of
others. The world is not yet right.
week, two Palestinian militants armed with guns, knives, and axes hacked and
shot worshippers in a Jerusalem synagogue as they prayed. Five people died in the attack. The world is not yet right.
self-declared Islamic State engages in brutal beheadings. It is encouraging children to witness
killings - what happens when someone thinks differently from the Islamic State
or defies it in some way. The world is
not yet right.
that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will
be shaken. O that you would tear open
the heavens and come down. The Bible is
not pollyanish. This kind of literature,
which is called “apocalyptic” is frightening, yet it has a purpose. Scholar Walter Wink, The positive power of apocalyptic lies in its capacity to force
humanity to face threats of unimaginable proportions in order to galvanize
efforts at self- and social transcendence (The Human Being,
159). Into a world that is not yet
right, a voice speaks to us from the future, inviting us to something new. The Human One will come. Here is a reflection from Walter Wink about
that. To be in the image of God is to be of the same stuff, the same essence,
the same being, masculine and feminine.
But we humans are clearly not “like” God in our mundane existence. We are selfish, contentious, brutal, indifferent,
vicious, and vindictive. If we are like
God, then, we are so only potentially.
Perhaps someday we might become more fully human. For now, we are only promissory notes, hints,
intimations. (Just Jesus, 105).
Yet the promise is that the Human One will come.
The world is not
yet right, but still we live in a horizon of hope, for God is a God who
continues to appear, calling to us from the future and present with us
now. Our lives are not yet right. We still struggle to be more fully human, yet
we live in a horizon of hope, for God is a God who continues to appear, calling
to us from the future and present with us now.
In words written by Walter Wink, “the Human Being wants to happen in and
among us” (The Human Being, 170).
We are a people
who live in a horizon of hope. Nurture
that hope. In this season of Advent,
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
week, I have nurtured hope in a couple of ways.
On Wednesday afternoon, we opened the chapel, then the sanctuary up for
prayer for anyone who wanted to come and pray or meditate or reflect on the
events in Ferguson. Not many came. I wanted to do something during that
time. Once an hour, beginning at noon, I
went either into the chapel or the sanctuary and rang my prayer bowl. Earlier in the day, I had decided that I
would offer a brief prayer service at 4 p.m. if anyone was present. No one was, but I offered the prayer service
anyway. I rang the bowl. I used the United Methodist morning prayer,
slightly revised. I read “The
Magnificat” from Luke 1, Mary’s powerful words about the horizon of hope in
which we live. I prayed a body
prayer. Then I sang. I was a little self-conscious about this, but
I did it. I sang “We Shall Overcome” and
the last first of “We Are Called” – Sing,
sing a new song. Sing of that great day
when all will be one. God will reign,
and we’ll walk with each other and sisters and brothers united in love. We are called to act with justice. We are called to love tenderly. We are called to serve one another, to walk
humbly with God. All this was an act
of hope, a living in a horizon of hope.
week I also celebrated an acquaintance of mine.
Lowell Gess is a United Methodist pastor, who is also an eye
doctor. Lowell and his late wife Ruth
established the Kissy Eye UM Clinic in Sierra Leone. It has had its ups and downs over the years,
but it has been a labor of love and compassion.
This week the story broke that Lowell, age 93, is going to return to
Sierra Leone on January 3 to do what he can for the Ebola crisis. He is taking $100,000 worth of medical
supplies with him. Lowell has been
quoted as saying, “When you’re at a certain age, you just keep your fingers
crossed you won’t have a stroke or heart attack before January 3.” He has also said that if he contracts Ebola,
he will not return to the United States for treatment. This week I have shared Lowell’s story and I
have meditated on him as a sign of hope, a life lived in a horizon of hope.
world is not yet right, but we are people who live in a horizon of hope, people
with a future that speaks to us, people with a God, who, as the Human One,
continues to find ways into our lives and into our histories. We are a people who hold fast to dreams. Amen.