I had learned enough to know that I had better leave my cell phone in the rental car, so as I rode Space Mountain, as I joined the Foolish Mortals in the Haunted Mansion, I had no idea that my phone was, as the saying goes, blowing up. It was only many hours after the fact that I discovered dozens of voicemails, emails, and text messages, all sent to me while I was away on vacation, all over whether or not the soup kitchen could adjust its serving time by fifteen minutes so the church could have an after school program.
Boundaries are important. Knowing how to take sabbath, when to disconnect, is important for everybody, especially those who care for and support others. Technology has made this even harder, these personal communicators right out of Star Trek that beep and ping and do everything except beam us up. But I imagine keeping good boundaries is hardest of all for Jesus, who must be exhausted from watching Facebook on his smartphone all night to see when a post hits ten thousand shares so someone’s disease can be cured…
Or maybe it doesn’t work that way. Maybe, like me, you have long abandoned the idea that God manipulates the world like a metaphysical puppet master, changing the laws of physics to send a ball just left of the Pesky Pole, re-wiring cells so a cancer turns benign. Loved ones die and bad people succeed sometimes. Perhaps none of this is God’s doing, is not God’s will. There are those that respond to tragedy, even human-caused disasters like the slaughter at Sandy Hook Elementary, and see a divine hand, announce that God needed new angels. Really?
Maybe God is not the arbitrary and capricious egotistical super human of the old theologies of blessing and curse, not a God that picks and chooses, that bargains and that counts prayers to decide who should live and who should die. There is no real evidence that the number of prayers offered has any more influence on a treatment outcome than the number of signatures on those petitions at change.org have on the behavior of despots. Not that I think prayer does nothing, I just don’t think it does that. Our daily bread does not fall from the sky despite our daily prayer, and apparently hasn’t in at least 3000 years, if it ever did. Maybe we are not supposed to be passive lumps waiting for divine blessing.
Starting Thursday night, just after they gave thanks for everything they had, naming things like family and food, millions of Americans began the celebration of a child born into poverty by kicking, clawing, biting and tripping one another through a 24 hour shopping spree in pursuit of what they didn’t have but desperately needed, a 72” television or some new gizmo, shiny and cool and at a bargain price, only some money and your soul. There were multiple shootings, at least three dead. It is enough to make you want to move to the Big Empty, Montana, but that is the route to becoming a Unibomber. We live in a culture that fans the flames of our fears and doubts, that makes an economy out of our emptiness. In the United States of Consumerism, you are what you own, and what you own will be broken or obsolete by next year. We are our stuff, the gospel of of our age. How’s that working out for you?
More people with better healthcare than ever before, fewer people in poverty than at any point in recorded history, and we couldn’t be more angry.
The Hebrews that remained in Canaan after centuries of defeat and destruction, gathered around the Sea of Galilee and around Jerusalem, hoped for a messiah, an anointed king who would defeat the foreign rulers and would restore an independent nation-state under the Davidic dynasty. The pressure was so strong that even the early Christians felt it necessary to claim Jesus as a member of that royal line. But those who hoped for this kind of restoration were disappointed. No great king ever came, and after repeated rebellions, the Romans crushed Jerusalem itself, destroying the Temple and eventually expelling the Jews.
What Jesus delivered was an in-breaking kingdom of God that started in the heart, that started with love, a loving God and a demand that we love others. It did not matter, he assured us four decades before the Temple was destroyed, if one stone was left upon another stone, if the building itself was torn down. That was never what any of it was about.
It was about love, passion, justice, forgiveness. Not a building. Not a king.
Hope is not hope in some outcome, some thing, some 72” flat screen. Hope is believing. To hope is to believe that there is a spark in each of us, as my friend Ruth would say. It is an outwardness that is expressed as love and creativity and transcendence. To practice hope is to see that spark even in the darkest of times and to be a keeper of that flame. We must carve out spiritual and physical space for hope, for love and creativity, must nurture it with prayer and dance and acts of generosity and sacrifice.
The practice of hope is seeing the worth and potential of every person even in the darkest of times. That doesn’t mean we are passive in the face of evil. We feed the good, fan the flames of the good, open doors and make straight a highway so that individuals and communities can thrive. And we are called to name evil when we see it even as we announce the possibility of repentance. We are called to jam a spoke in the wheels of oppression, and there is hatred enough in this world, but if we stop seeing the good, we are doomed. We embrace science but when it comes to things of the spirit, believing is seeing. Believe that you can make the world a better place, and your life will contribute to doing exactly that.
Hope is not passive longing for some ideal outcome, a pony under the Christmas tree. Hope is creating the conditions for that creativity and agape inherent in every human to be expressed in community.
Paul warns us in our reading from Romans about inward behaviors, selfish behaviors, promiscuity and obsession. The apostle calls on us to put away darkness and put on light.
Despair is a failure to believe. To hope is to cling to the fact that God, that divine mystery whence we came, is good, is a force for outwardness, for life, for love. To hope is to assert that despite setbacks and human inhumanity, that this human project will be rendered as a good, that being is better than not being.
Christianity and Buddhism both arrive at the same location, both have a heart of compassion, but arrive from different directions, and despite my love for that other tradition, I will choose being over non-being every time. My God is named “I am becoming,” and I too am becoming, and you are becoming.
We face an unknown future and the mysterious other and we do so boldly because we have hope, not in a Stanley Cup, but in the goodness of humankind. In our capacity for love and kindness. In the way a sack of chemicals and electricity can produce van Gogh’s Starry Night and a singer-songwriter from New Rochelle could sing about it and the baby you loved now has a baby they love.
We are becoming, despite our setbacks and our fears and our 72” flat screens.
Hope in stuff, in outcomes, in leaders and parties and mutual funds, and in the end, you will be disappointed.
My hope is in the Lord, that serendipitous creativity whence we came and that I name as God, an outwardness and love so powerful and experienced in the person of Jesus, an infant born in an occupied country that would change the world forever.
Feed your hope. Believe and see.