May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing,
so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
What is this thing we call hope? We know it is there, but it can be hard to capture with words. Desmond Tutu says, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness.” This ability to see what is not yet visible has driven the dreams and visions of millions of men, women, youth and children. This intangible – hard to describe in words ‘state of heart ‘– is responsible for a spirit within us that not only allows us to see a better tomorrow, but also inspires us to “be and build” that better tomorrow. As followers of Jesus, this is the essence of our call – to embody this dimension of our faith in how we live. It is ‘us’ at our best. It is ‘us allowing God’s powerful Spirit of new life and resurrection to shape our identity against all the forces that would much prefer we exist in the shadows of fear and hate.
But “living into hope” – as the third part of our 300th Anniversary theme affirms – is not for the faint of heart. Pope Francis reminds us “hope is a risk; it is a risky virtue.” Hope embodied in our actions takes on and challenges the present and existent “way it is” – and dares project and actively strive toward “what it should be.” Hope is not based on some innocent Pollyanna view of the life. On the contrary, hope is fully aware of that which is all around us – threatening to imprison our spirits and even our bodies. Hope carries with it a depth not easily discouraged by the real and present challenges of this place and time.
As we – this Presbytery of Philadelphia – look to 2017 and the 300 years ahead of us, I have been wrestling with what the embodiment of our hope might look like. Will we dare believe God’s plans for us are far greater than our ability or inability to see the possibilities? Will we step into that belief with conviction? Will we be willing to risk the idols and brokenness of our time: a romanticized past; aging buildings cheating us from our witness; a rampant economic injustice that continues to create sub-populations who have felt unheard; a poverty resulting in homelessness; an education system cheating children from the very hope we say we claim in Christ; a culture of “isms” and polarization dehumanizing the “other” in the name of some false sense of security? Will we surrender that false sense of security we create with beliefs contradicting the Gospel message of God’s unconditional love? Will we boldly be a counter-cultural force to this reality? What will we be willing to risk so the world – not simply our individual lives – might reflect the hope of the Gospel for all creation?
Each generation has had to face extraordinary challenges and answer this question for themselves. This was true for our fore-parents from the moment they started to build a life on this continent. That journey slowly but eventually led to the abolition of slavery, women’s suffrage, the rebuilding of a government structure from scratch, wars from within and wars with other nations, civil rights for all people, and more. Their legacy – with all its imperfections – is grounded on a hope they carried for which they were willing to die. What will our legacy be for our children’s children? What are we willing to risk for the sake of the promise of a new and better tomorrow? What hope are we willing to live into? How will we tangibly abound in hope?
As I write this Spirit Soundings, I am in Cambridge, Massachusetts overlooking the Charles River from a room in a monastery. Many of you know, I have a deep connection with flowing water – whether rivers or oceans. In my spiritual studies this morning, I was reminded the ancient symbol for Christian hope is the anchor. The anchor represents safety – a sense of holding steady on the waters. It represents a sense of arrival. Yet when the anchor is raised, it travels with the vessel on to the next horizon and place of promise. For us, it is clearJesus is our anchor, our hope – providing a centering for where we find ourselves and a ever-present companion for where we are going.
I honestly can’t say for certain where we will be ten years from now, let alone 300 years from now. But I choose to live in the hope we have been given in Christ. I choose to believe most of you choose to live in that hope as well. I believe together we can – and will – witness to the love of God in Christ in ways that are relevant, transformative and responsive to the world in which we live. I believe together we will abound in hope! So I leave you with the words of the Apostle Paul to the saints in Rome, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Amen!