How do we find hope for our future? Is there any reason to hope?
When we look at the world around us, when we hear the news, when our world is rocked by scandals at the hands in whom we have placed our trust, it is sometimes difficult to make a case for hope.
Yes, there are signs of improvement in the economy, but the unemployment rate continues to be over 10%. The national debt the previous 8 years have incurred because a series of misguided wars will dominate our children’s lives and possibly the lives of our grandchildren.
Then there’s the violence. Every day women and children are beaten—and sometimes killed—and weapons are used against others. And October has been the deadliest month in two years for United States troops in Iraq.
Add to that the struggles of the rest of the world. Right now millions of people in the world live in places where there is no work, no money, very little food, very little hope for tomorrow. Global warming has already impacted the sub-Saharan portion of Africa, where famine and drought run rampant. The AIDS epidemic, now “celebrating” its 25th anniversary, continues to devastate families in Africa and everywhere else. Millions of people live in fear because of the brutal choices and actions of people of violence in Africa, in China, and the Middle East. And in the midst of all that, sometimes even in the family of the church we find ourselves betrayed and injured by the people chosen to protect and nurture us.
In the light of all that—is it possible to face the future with hope?
The disciples of Jesus are wondering the same thing as he talked to them about Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. The disciples were understandably alarmed, and asked if this would be the sign of the end of the world as they knew it.
“No,” Jesus replies. “The end of the Temple won’t mean the end of the world. In fact, I promise there will be a lot of stressful times to come, long before the end comes.” Well, thanks, Jesus, that’s very consoling!
So—is it at all possible to face the future with hope?
William Willimon refers in a sermon to the church’s long wait for Jesus to return and finally bring in the promised age of peace and well-being for all. It’s been a long time since Jesus was here and made that promise! So Willimon, thinking of a child peeking over a crowd to see a parade, or peeking over a window sill to watch for Grandma & Grandpa’s arrival, comments, “It’s hard to stand on tiptoe for 2,000 years”.
Yes, it’s hard to live expectantly when it doesn’t seem very imminent. It’s hard to live with expectation of what God will do someday when we’ve got pressing concerns today—going to work and school, planning our next trip, getting the kids to all of their events, spending time with our family and friends, saving money for the future, taking care of our health or the health of loved ones. It’s hard to live expectantly, it’s hard to even imagine the future, when we have all those things—and then some!—to worry about. Given all that, plus our anxieties about the state of the world, we know why it’s been “hard for the church to stand on tiptoe for 2,000 years”.
So is it really possible to face the future with hope?
Jesus speaks in today’s gospel reading about hard times coming for the people of God, about signs of the end, about “fear and foreboding,” about cosmic chaos, about the coming end of the world as we know it.
But Jesus reminds us that the Reign of God is already here, living within us, waiting to be revealed in its fullness. He tells us to live in every situation with hope, not in fear. After all, Jesus says, chaos and evil and death do not have the last word, God has the last word! And so, when it seems as if the best thing to do is to run and hide in fear, Jesus urges us instead to look up and see that our redemption is already at hand.
At first glance, this reading is about destruction, but it is really about redemption and transcending every obstacle life might place before us. Even as Jesus speaks these words, he is preparing himself to demonstrate with his life how to live these words. He is preparing to enter Jerusalem, the very seat of Empire, where he will be arrested and killed. Jesus is not a victim of fate, rather, he knows that suffering in the present moment can be transcended and actually bring about the Reign of God. Jesus is about to accomplish our redemption and the redemption of all creation—setting us free from the limitations of sin and chaos, evil and death.
Jesus, as the one who brings us sure knowledge of the presence of God, is about to have the last word. Jesus is about to accomplish the redemption of all and usher in the kingdom of God, and it will be accomplished by going through the darkness and coming out on the other side.
So, in the midst of our current global challenges, where is that kingdom and what does it look like?
It look likes you and me, welcoming the rejected and forgotten ones to a parish community that honors the life experiences of everyone equally and demands nothing but a willingness to be part of something bigger than ourselves.
We see a glimpse of God’s Kingdom when, once again, Jesus comes to us in the mystery of the altar, as we gather around the Lord’s table.
God’s Reign is evident when you and I act selflessly to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, provide holiday gifts and meals for those in need.
The Kingdom is here whenever someone has the courage to say “no” to violence, to stand up for something bigger than themselves, to work for peace and reconciliation.
God’s Reign is evident when we speak truth to power, when we insist that the poor must be lifted up and served by the mighty, when we do what we can to limit our consumption of the earth’s resources that were intended not only for us, but for all.
The Kingdom presents itself to us when, in the dark night of betrayal by those who had previously been our friends, the phone rings and we hear the supportive words of others whom we have never met who are, nonetheless, impelled to contact us.
If you look at the events in your own lives, you will have to agree that the Reign of God is already here, not in its entirety to be sure, but it is present nonetheless.. And so we look forward in hope, because that’s who we are. We’re not looking back in fear, we’re not looking down in shame, we’re not distracted by the appearance of evil or by our own fear of suffering. We’re taking the words of Jesus to heart, we’re looking up!
Early in the life of our nation, the Connecticut legislature was in session on a bright day in May, doing their work by natural light. But then something happened—there was an unexpected total eclipse of the sun, and they were plunged into darkness. Some of the legislators thought Christ was returning, and they clamored for adjournment. They urged the entire legislature to turn to God in prayer, and the entire body of men was in a panic.
But the Speaker of the House struck his gavel loudly and reclaimed the floor. He acknowledged the darkness and the fear it stirred up in him. “The Day of the Lord is either approaching, or it is not”, he said, “If it is not, there is no cause for adjournment. And if the Lord is returning, I, for one, choose to be found doing my duty. I therefore ask that candles be brought!”
Candles were brought, and the Connecticut legislature went back to its work.
That is how we, too, prepare for the coming of the Lord, living expectantly, whether that coming is soon or delayed even longer. We do our duty. We worship God, and we grow together in Christ, and we serve God and others, and we reach out so that many can hear and know the good news that they are loved exactly as they are. And we do it all joyfully, hopefully, and with purpose! Our ancestors in the faith knew that the victory already belonged to God, despite times when that reality wasn’t so evident.
Is it possible to face the future with hope? The answer must be a resounding “yes”, as together we work to bring the light of a single candle to bear on the darkness, as together we manifest what we already know to be true.