Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Proper 28 B - Nov 15, 2015

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Joseph Wallace-Williams, n/OHC
Proper 28 B - Sunday, November 15, 2015

Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18) 19-25
Mark 13:1-8

“Let us consider how to provoke one another to love, and good deeds, encouraging one another.” Heb10: 25
Morning-by-Morning faithfulness.  

Hope in God
In the very early stages of my discernment as to whether or not God was calling me to ordained ministry, and well into my time in seminary, I found myself faced with that dreaded question that inevitably any young seminary student who is not married or partnered is faced with on a date.  Yes!  That great dreaded question: “So tell me, what do you do for a living?”

In an attempt to come up with some witty response that would not be a flat-out lie I did a non-scientific survey of clergy I knew. I asked them for their response to the question “what do you do for a living?” Here are some of the responses:

I’m a teacher.
I'm in the service industry.
I am a firefighter.
I am a museum curator.
I am into antiquing.
Oh me? I work for a really old nonprofit.
Oh, I am in the insurance industry.
I do weddings.
And a Rabbi friend said:  I'm in the funeral industry.

But here is the one that jumped out to me: “I am a consultant. My specialty is helping to get people out of bankruptcy.” I asked my friend to explain why she used this. She said, “Think about it. As clergy we help individuals and the Church get out of a type of spiritual bankruptcy. Like a good consultant, you speak the truth to your ‘clients’ about how they got to this place without judging them. You empower them to develop, implement, and carry out a plan that will help them immediately to begin to find their way out of un-health, and you help set them up for success in the days and years to come.”

I think my friend was spot-on. You and I, as the body of Christ, are a royal priesthood, and we are to encourage each other to live more fully and boldly our commitment to Christ.

In the letter to the Hebrews we hear, “Let us consider how to provoke one another to love, and good deeds, encouraging one another.” (Heb10: 25)

You and I know all too well that there is no such thing as life without struggle. I have met it, from one end of life to another. Over and over again, what I thought were the foundations of life have shifted and slid away from me, sometimes only changing my mental and emotional typography a little, and at other times completely shattering every given I've ever assumed into a kind of kaleidoscope of deep pain, despair, and hopelessness.

I have come, like you, through the death of loved ones, life-shaping disappointment, and rejection. When tragedy strikes, when trouble comes, when life disappoints us—as Jesus reminds us that it surely will—we stand at the intersection of hope and despair.

To go the way of despair not only colors the way we look at things and makes us suspicious of the future and those around us. It also makes us pessimistic and downright negative about the present.

It is this pessimistic, distorted view of reality that leads us to ignore the very possibilities that could save us, and worse, it leads us to want to inflict pain and hurt as we have been hurt ourselves.

But when I am in my right state of mind and can think more clearly, I realize that when I say that I am in despair and feeling a sense of hopelessness, what I am really saying is that I have given up on God. That I really don't believe that with God all things are possible. And that God really doesn't care.

Think about it—despair at its core says that I am God and if I can't do anything about this situation, then nothing and nobody can.

But if we go the way of hope, and take life on its own terms, we come to know that whatever happens God lives in it! Hope and hopefulness come from the knowledge that we do not belong to ourselves. I think the Heidelberg Catechism puts it well when it says, “Question: What is your only comfort in life and in death?" The answer begins: "That I am not my own, but belong—body and soul, in life and in death—to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.”

You see, contrary to popular belief, hope is not a matter of waiting for things outside of us to get better. Hope is all about getting better on the inside about what is going on outside.  It is about becoming open to the God of Newness. It is about allowing ourselves to let go of the present, and believe in a future that is soon to be but not quite yet, trusting in a God whose power working in us and through us can and is doing greater things than we can ask or imagine.  It is about holding on when life seems pointless and perhaps even a little absurd.

Yes, it is hope in things not yet seen that will bring us to the point of personal transformation, which is found at the intersection of maturity and stagnation.
Every dimension of the process of struggle may in fact be an invitation to draw from the well that is God’s deep love for us.  Hope is not grounded in the future. Christian hope—our hope knows at the core that God did not look down from a distant heaven and say, “There, there, it's all right.” But, in Jesus, God entered into the full range of our human suffering and tragedy. Jesus walked right into the fire of pain, while we ordinary human beings allow the troubles of life to twist and distort us into victims, oppressors, or a combination of the two. Jesus’ suffering shaped him into a perfect offering. And so we hope, because we have His hope.

An ancient people tell the story of the elder who was talking about struggle. The elder said, "I feel as if I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is the vengeful, angry, violent one.  The other wolf is the loving, compassionate one." And the disciples asked, "But which wolf will win the fight in your heart?" And the holy one answered, "It depends on which one I feed." The spiritual task of life is to feed hope.  Hope is not something to be found outside of us.  It lies in the spiritual life we cultivate within. To wrestle with life is to be transformed into the self we are meant to become, to step out of the confines of our false securities, and to allow our creating God to go on creating in us.

Now if you have found yourself squirming and uncomfortable with my words this morning or the thought has crossed your mind, “What does he know?” Or “how sophomoric or naïve of him.” Or “how overly simplistic of him. My situation is so much more complicated than that.” Perhaps you are correct and perhaps you are actually standing at the intersection of hope in God's abundance and the darkness of despair and hopelessness. Perhaps you are in the very place right now where you need to make the decision to change your perspective and live in the abundant life God invites each and every one of us to.

Some days and long nights we cannot see the victory of Christ with the naked eye, but we can hear it with the naked ear. Beloved, the psalmist says, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will not fear, for you. O God, are with me.”

In other words, if you want to know the truth, pay more attention to the Gospel you hear than to the obsolete evil you and I see.

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