On Sunday, November 29, we lit the candle of hope in our Advent wreaths and were reminded that for Christians hope is not fantasy or wishful thinking. Fantasy and wishful thinking can give us a momentary escape, but when we are up against a raging pandemic, the insanity of our current politics, and the widening gap between rich and poor, justice and injustice, truth and lies, wishful thinking is powerless to bring a real sense of peace. In the Scriptures, hope is expectation rooted in God’s love for us. Hope takes root and grows as our trust in the God Who Is With Us deepens.
But let’s be honest. For many of us it’s hard to grab hold of hope right now. And my supply of hope varies from day to day, often from hour to hour! May I offer you three things I’m doing right now to sustain and strengthen hope in my life?
First, I’ve declared a fast of sorts from social media and the news outlets. I check Facebook in the morning and sometime in the evening, limit posts, and avoid clicking on sensational news posts. As a priest and pastor I want to be informed about what’s going on in the world and around me, but if I’m not careful I’ll read posts or watch a news program until my blood pressure goes up and I’m ready to move my family to a desert island and give up on the human race! The constant dribble of news and talking heads can really do a number on our hope index. You might also want to watch the film “The Social Dilemna,” which underscores how our feelings and moods can be manipulated by media.
Second, I’ve ratched up my reading of the Gospels and books written about how human beings rose to the occasion during difficult and dark times. Reading about the life and teachings of Jesus have a way of centering us and reminding us about who we are as Christians. The sheer beauty of Jesus’ way of love inspires hope; hope that we, too, can actually experience God’s deepest desire for us. I’ve been reading about and watching documentaries about WWI and WWII, as well. Those generations faced desperate times and unspeakable horrors, yet many millions of people became heroes in their own right by resisting evil and making sacrifices. We simple would not be where we are as a nation today without the courage of those generations—a courage that I believe was built on the hope that the world could and would be a better place.
Another way that brings and builds up hope in me is mentioned on page 16 in the Advent booklet we distributed last week. Scott Stoner writes, “And because we know that God often works through others, putting our hope in others can be an expression of our hope that God is, and will be, present to us in and through other people.” Whenever I get discouraged or feel hopeless about what’s going on in the world and in our country, I think about the people of Good Samaritan Episcopal Church. Your engagement and generosity over the past year has been a source of hope and joy to me. So many people, staff and lay leaders, have worked hard behind the scenes to offer worship, prayer, and formation opportunities. We’ve sent a mission team to Guatemala, established a scholarship fund at Lake Washington Technical College, and distributed hundreds of worship packets. Folks have taken care of the facilities, planted flowers, deep cleaned the sanctuary, given of their time. I could go on and on, but you get the picture.
As I write this, the people of this parish have pledged over $230,000 toward the 2021 ministry budget. We have pledged 94% of the amount recommended by the finance committee ($246,000). That may well be a record for this parish, and is already a healthy increase over the 2020 pledge amount. Earlier in the year the people of the parish gave over $20,000 to my discretionary fund and even as I write are making contributions for coats and gift cards for families in need. Those contributions have helped families and individuals make mortgage and rent payments, pay utility bills, and buy food. What all of that says to me is that our hope is not grounded in the stock market or who’s in the Oval Office; our hope as a parish flows out of our belief that Jesus’ Way of Love can change the world. God has been present to me this year in you, and for that I am deeply grateful.
No better way of expressing Christian hope is found than in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. Paul writes:
There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit! (Romans 5:3–5, The Message)
I love that Eugene Petersen translates “hope” as “alert expectancy.” Because of what God has done for us in Christ AND because we are part of the living Body of Christ in the world, we can live in alert expectancy that Love will overcome.
With great expectation,