Several years ago, while reading through the obituaries in the Atlanta paper, I ran across one for a Mr. Jones, who’d just died at the age of 104. The piece noted that, at his death, Mr. Jones was still working for a car dealership and that he was still paying into his 401K. You know what that man had? That man had hope. A lot of hope.
Do you? Do we, as a community, have hope?
For those who haven’t been here the past couple of weeks, here’s what’s been going on. I’ve been trying—unsuccessfully—to introduce a new church theme. The theme is Just Peace. I planned to roll it out two weeks ago, but realized we needed to set the context first. Remember the context? The universe. All creation. Yeah. That narrowed it down nicely.
Then I thought I’d roll out the theme last week, but I realized talking about peacemaking without first talking about hope didn’t make sense. Why work for peace if you don’t have hope that work will be effective?
The Monday before, in her speech to the UN, Greta Thunberg had said to the world’s adults: “You look to us young people for hope. How dare you!” As we wrestled with Greta’s words, we realized that we can’t pawn hope off onto the next generation. We adults–and especially we followers of Jesus–have a responsibility to nurture our own hope, to tend to the thing with feathers perched in our own souls. We looked at the story of the imprisoned prophet, Jeremiah, buying a piece of property as a sign of hope that the people who had been taken into exile would return home again. “Fields and property will again be purchased in this land.”
During the conversation about, of all things, financing repairs to the sanctuary, I kept hearing whispered “Hope! Hope! Hope!” popcorn across the room. Suddenly, it seemed, we were starting to think about hope, to tentatively try it on for size, to see how it fit.
Then, on Tuesday, I checked my email. There was a note, a thoughtful note…that declared, “There is no hope!” The email reminded me that talking about hope and actually hoping are two different things. Nurturing hope takes work. Lots of intentional work.
And sometimes, hope shows up unannounced, barges in without knocking, and plops down right in the middle of the community before we even know it’s happened. That happened on several fronts this week.
I listed some of those signs of hope in this week’s newsletter…the Interfaith Peace Conference at Junaluska that Andrew is on the planning team for. The conference focuses on using the arts in peacemaking. Educational opportunities are brewing. I got an email from Rollin Russell offering to share his experiences with the process that led to the original Just Peace resolution with the national UCC. Rollin was working with the UCC’s Church and Society team at the time. Last week, I mentioned FCUCC, Hendersonville’s reaching out to us as they begin the Just Peace process there. They are potential partners with us in this process.
Now, for the really hopeful thing. Casey came to me week before last to share a request to use our space. Casey doesn’t share every rental request with me, but she felt this one could be important. She was right.
Sunrise Movement describes its mission this way. “We’re building an army of young people to stop climate change and create millions of good jobs in the process.” “Together,” they say, “we will change this country and this world, sure as the sun rises each morning.”
Two weeks ago, during prayer time, I suggested that, if we’re looking to draw more young people here, we will have to address climate change. The circumstances are becoming so dire, that a church that doesn’t address climate change will be irrelevant to young people. When I played back the recording of the prayer time, I was surprised to hear that I was beating the pulpit through that entire statement. I guess I had some feelings about it.
So, I said all that, then–just a few days later–Casey gets the call from the folks at Sunrise Movement. Here’s what that tells me about hope. Sometimes–and this makes total sense–we want assurance that our hope is well-founded. We don’t want to risk hoping for something unless we already know there’s a good chance the hope will be fulfilled.
What I’m coming to find, though, and the call from Sunrise Movement confirms it–sometimes, it’s not hopefulness that emerges from hopeful circumstances, but the other way around. Sometimes, hopeful circumstances have been there all along, but we couldn’t see the circumstances as hopeful because we weren’t open to seeing them that way. Maybe it’s not the assurance of hope that comes first, but hope itself.
In your bulletins, is a sheet listing the Sunrise Movement’s principles. I encourage you to read it. Visit their website. As we learn about what Sunrise Movement is doing, I invite us to open our hearts to hope. I invite us to open our imaginations to all the possibilities of having this group use our space. How might we support them? How might we learn from them?
I also invite you to join me this afternoon at 4:30 in welcoming the group to FCUCC. All we’ll do is say hello, then leave. We don’t want to horn in on their meeting. Remember, we need to tend to the thing with feathers in our own souls. But we do want to let them know we are glad they are here and that we, too, are committed to acting Earth into wellbeing.
I got another email this week. The sender posed an interesting question. I have been thinking a great deal about our environment and it seems to me that our internal environments and that of Earth are inextricably bound. I wonder if we have been taught to plunder our own internal resources in the same way we do those of our planet. And I wonder if we admit to the need to renew our internal resources as we endeavor to renew our planet, if this will create greater sustainability.
I think this person is on to something…as are those who follow Richard Rohr’s idea of contemplative action. It’s easy sometimes to think of ourselves as only contemplative or only activist. The deeper truth–the truth Jesus lived–is that one without the other is only half a spirituality. If we focus only on our interior lives–unless we’re called to be a monk–we’ve missed the opportunity for acting the world into wellbeing, for healing the world. By the same token, if we focus only on social activism without nurturing our own spirits, we will not be able to sustain the good work we do.
As the emailer’s question suggests, what we do in the world has roots in what’s going on inside us. If we tend well to what’s going on inside us, actions we take in the world will be healthy and whole-making. Action is important…as is contemplation. A whole spirituality includes both: contemplative action.
Planning worship each week is…interesting. (I started to say “terrifying,” but we’ll go with interesting. 🙂 Some folks love silence and want lots more. Others consider communal silence a form of torture. Some folks appreciate sermons that passionately address issues of social justice. Others prefer calm sermons related to our interior lives. Some folks want a nice, traditional, structured service. Others want lots of creative music and readings and dance. Basically, every time I enter the pulpit is a crapshoot. I roll the dice and hope for the best.
Because I believe contemplative action is the most effective means of acting the world into wellbeing, I try in every worship service to create invitations to contemplation and action. In the last couple of weeks, I’ve come to realize that my sermons tend to focus more on the action side of things. Today, as we contemplate hope…and peace…and harmony among the nations–particularly on this Sunday of World Communion–I invite us to spend some quiet time with today’s reading inspired by Psalm 85. Listen. Receive these words. Take them in. Find peace in them. Find hope. Let us pray.
Beloved, how gracious You are to your people;
You restore our souls time and time again.
You forgive our distractions
when we wander far from You;
You give us new life.
Yes, You bless us and raise up new hope;
You awaken our hearts to love.
Restore us again, O Spirit of Truth;
burn us with the refining Fire of Love!
We cannot live separated from You;
cast out the demons of fear, doubt, and illusion.
Revive us again, we pray;
may your people rejoice in You!
Have compassion on your people, O Holy One,
and grant us your forgiveness.
Listen, O People, in the silent Chapel of your heart;
and the Beloved will speak of peace to you,
to the hidden saints, to all who turn their hearts to Love.
Surely new life is at hand for those who reverence Love;
O, that harmony might dwell among the nations.
Steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will embrace one another.
Wisdom will spring up from the ground
and truth will look down from the sky.
Yes, the Eternal Giver will grant what is good,
and the lands will yield abundantly.
Mercy and compassion are Love’s way;
You will guide our footsteps upon the path of peace
as we recognize with open hearts that You are our peace.
What a goodly thing; If the children of all Earth
Could live together in peace.