As per usual, readings appointed for this Sunday can be found here
Hope Born of Suffering
I have noticed a dramatic shift, well, dramatic to me, in my preaching the last several months. As I have felt myself overwhelmed by political upheaval, as people debate the nature of truth, as gun violence continues to claim lives, as our Federal government prioritizes American well-being at the expense of the earth and our international relations, as the deep divisions in our country and in our world have been exposed and in some cases dug even deeper…my preaching has changed.
But, in a fashion that surprises me…the more afraid I am, the more theological my sermons seem to have become, the more out of control our government and political structures seem…well, the more likely I’ve become to set at the center of it all our allegiance to the King of Creation over and above any allegiance to state or country. So, I’ve focused on exploring the nature of God in Christ and our relationship within…and have not specifically called out specific events.
I shared this shift with colleagues, largely because I had become concerned that I wasn’t spending enough time talking about the “real world” and our fears within it. But, and this is the critical but…in a world where truth is defined by party alliances rather than fact and where security is prioritized over community, our theology becomes the place in which we can ground ourselves in why all of this matters, all of this, in this moment, in this world.
When we explore the nature of God in Christ and our relationship within…
We are given a tool with which to consider how we AS CHRISTIANS are called to engage.
And, so, with Christ at the center, the world pressing in, and our calling to go forth…
We are asked to hear the scripture and to consider where our collective and individual understanding of God’s call to us will meet the needs of the world. When we gather in community, we do so for fellowship, we do so for comfort, we do so for strength, we do so for music…but fundamentally all of that exists because of our apriori commitment to the praise of God. And, in this gathering we do the work of deepening our knowledge of God—a knowledge, that then deepens our understanding of God’s call to us. Prayer, scripture, study, and our life in community—all set the stage for what we do next and how we as Christians are called to react to the newspapers, the twitter feeds and the news updates pinging on our phones.
And, the lens by which I hear those push notifications, the buzzes and the dings that interrupt our thoughts and demand our attention, is that of hope. Hope, as articulated in the passage we hear today from Paul’s letter to the Romans, “hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
Saturday morning, I re-read these lines I had written on Thursday. And, in light of the failure to convict the man who killed Philando Castile, I read them with a sense of outrage.
Where is the hope manifest? Where is the hope now? Where is the hope when, in an age of live streaming, people can be killed in front of us and their killer remain free?
How dare we speak of hope?!
When persecution is sustained and maintained by those in positions of authority, how dare we speak of hope?
When Paul wrote his letter to the Romans he was writing to people he had never met—people living in a community which had already experienced the first government mandated persecution of Christians by the emperor Diocletian in the year 49.
And, so, when these words were read aloud in the early church, they were read in the midst of communities that had first-hand experience of state persecution.
State mandated persecution in the year 49, targeting early Christians. State mandated persecution in the year 2017, targeting people of color. How dare we speak of hope?
We dare, we dare because suffering is the context out of which hope is born. And, so we cannot speak of hope unless we speak of suffering.
So, we hope in the midst of suffering.
But, hope is not a passive thing. Because, the Christian response to suffering is a mandate to accept and extend the gift of compassion.
Jesus sends them forth with compassion. Compassion is the first step. Compassion is what motivates and drives the disciples out into the world. Compassion. Not just for the disciples but for the lost. For those who wondered where their place was within a culture in which worth was defined by gender, by tribe, and by reputation.
He had compassion. And, so too must we begin with compassion. With stepping out into the broken world knowing that we do so out of the divine calling to heal the broken. To repair relationships and work towards unity so that all may gather together knowing the love of the God who first loved us.
So, where will the compassion take us? Where will we go knowing that there are broken and hurting people who suffer persecution just outside our doors? Where will we go with hope born of suffering?
I myself cannot answer these questions for you. But what I can do, is set this story within the context of the theological understanding we have been given through our study of scripture, our prayer, and our fellowship.
Hope is born in suffering. And, so to speak of hope is to name the suffering. To speak of suffering is to pursue the hope.
To pursue the hope is to trust in the love of God given freely to each and every human being in creation. A love that keeps us praying. A love that keeps us hoping. A love that casts out fear.
My words thus far have been my own, but I wish to close my sermon with wisdom from Dorothy Day who wrote in her “The Reckless Way of Love” the following,
“Whenever I groan within myself and think how hard it is to keep writing about love in these times of tension and strife, which may at any moment become for us all a time of terror, I think to myself, "What else is the world interested in?" What else do we all want, each one of us, except to love and be loved, in our families, in our work, in all our relationships? God is love. Love casts out fear. Even the most ardent revolutionist, seeking to change the world, to overturn the tables of the money changers, is trying to make a world where it is easier for people to love, to stand in that relationship to each other. We want with all our hearts to love, to be loved. And not just in the family but to look upon all as our mothers, sisters, brothers, children. It is when we love the most intensely and most humanly that we can recognize how tepid is our love for others.
The keenness and intensity of love brings with it suffering, of course, but joy too, because it is a foretaste of heaven.”
Dorothy Day wrote these words in the late 1800s and they speak what I need to hear in the 2017...
And, this said,
Let us love intensely and humanly. And from this place of love turn suffering into hope.