Sermon 12-7-2014 “Hope” by Ruthie Tippin
Michael Downey, Gift’s Constant Coming, Weavings – A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Life, The Upper Room, November/December 1999.
“What happens when what you once believed no longer seems believable?” What happens when what you have staked your life on no longer seems reliable?” “Faith says yes, and all our hope is anchored in what we have affirmed, what we have said yes to. What happens to hope, to our sense of future, when we can believe no longer?” “Can you have hope, hope in God, when faith in God is gone?” These are the questions that poured out of Michael Downey. He is a professor of theology and spirituality. A man of faith. A Catholic. A man who knows God. A man who was suffering deeply when he went to visit a valued friend. “It seemed that I had lost everything, even and especially my most deeply cherished and firmly held convictions about God. The room was shrouded in darkness. Yet there was enough light for me to look on her as the words came: “When you can no longer believe, that’s precisely when hope begins.”
Faith and hope – the interrelationship between the two is mysterious and challenging, and remains a mystery for us all. When all seems lost – even and especially our faith, we need hope more than ever. Nothing seems more important to us than hope.
If you’ve ever walked through the redwood forests of Northern California or the Olympic National Forest of Western Washington State, you’ve seen immense timbers… everywhere you look. The canopy is high, but many tall trees have fallen, and lie silent and seemingly dead around you. It doesn’t take long to realize that these massive trunks, wild octopus roots, and stumps - taller than you are - are teeming with life. Tendrils of green, insistent life are shooting up fighting for the sun, making their way into the world.
“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” The prophet speaks for God, giving us a sign to watch for – a sign of hope.
“You’ve gotta see this…” “Would you look at this…” “You’re not going to believe this…” And a lot of us don’t. Hope surprises us, just when we can’t believe, when we won’t believe, when we don’t believe.
Hope is not just crossing our fingers for good weather on a wedding day, or finding a nice parking spot. That’s what we initially think it is. As time goes by, hope deepens. As Downey describes it, “Hope is precisely what we have when we do not have something…Hope is a sense of what might yet be. It strains ahead, seeking a way behind and beyond every obstacle. Hope is the willingness not to give up precisely when we draw no consolation from faith.”
Think of what the prophet Isaiah was saying when he spoke those words… the people of Israel were in exile in Babylon. They had no voice, no rights, no faith, and no hope. Isaiah gave them a sense of what might yet be… from the family line of Jesse, from those who had led them in the past, One would come in God’s Spirit. God’s Spirit would rest on him, with wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge and the fear of the Lord. This gave them reason for their hope.
But what is the reason for our hope? A gift. Just like green branches thrusting up out of old stumps, the gift of hope comes as an unexpected gift. It’s something we can’t order from Amazon. It’s something we can’t make ourselves, or cause to happen. Our hope comes in a manger. Our hope comes in Christ. Our hope comes in the Seed Christ.
George Fox, 1656: “When you meet together in the light, hearken to that light, that you may feel the power of Love in every one of you. So your spiritual ear will be opened to hear the counsel of Love, and your spiritual eye will be opened to see the Lord Jesus Christ in the midst of you… So, each of you wait inwardly upon him, and know the son of Love to be revealed in you. And know the seed in you, which is Christ, to which the promise of Love is made; that you may all witness that you have come to him who was in the beginning…”
Early Friends understood the prophetic witness of Isaiah, and the insistence of hope. George Fox knew Christ as the Seed – the Source of Hope, Love, and Life. Christ was born once, and for all. But Christ was also born in all… in all of creation, in all of life, in all of us. ‘The Word became flesh and dwelt among us…” The Seed Christ was planted, and now it surprises us, with hope springing up, in us, around us, when we least expect it.
Too often, we consider Christ as a spiritual Santa Claus. We think of him apart from us – outside of us. We set him out on parade, like the child in a nativity scene. We dress him up in swaddling clothes… “Isn’t he sweet?” At Easter time we act as if he’s a toy action figure, complete with loin cloth and crown of thorns. We hang Jesus on a plastic cross… “Isn’t he sad?” No. Christ isn’t sweet, and Christ isn’t sad. Christ is real. Christ is the Son of God. Christ is God made flesh like you and me. Christ is in you and me. Christ is God become part of our eating, drinking, sickness, joy, passion, dying, living, laughing, loving. God is everything in us because the word became us. The word became flesh. We forget. We forget who Christ is. Christ is God incarnate.
“The incarnation of God in human flesh is the defining mystery of Christian life and faith, wherein God and humanity, two spheres of existence, meet in wondrous exchange… Nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus urge us to adore him. Rather, he calls us to follow him and thereby to partake of his life, his energy, his spirit – living the divine life here and now by participating in the mystery of the Incarnation. This is the reason for the hope that lies within us.” [Downey]
This is the secret of hope – we don’t live in isolation. We live in incarnation. It is not our energy, our spirit, our knowing that answers our need. It is the gift of God in us – recognized, welcomed, watched for, that one day brings the greening of our lives – and often, when we least expect it.
We enter now into a time of reflection. We’ve had so much, filling us this morning already. What is it that God is speaking into your heart and mind and soul? If it is something for you alone - hold it, treasure it, keep it. If it is something that is meant for us all, be obedient to that light, stand and share it. Join with me now as we welcome Spirit again and again.
Friends, remember that despair isolates. Despair isolates. Hope incarnates. Be the hope of God for those around you. Be the hope of God for the world, and if you are in a hopeless place, remember - it is not your energy, your spirit that has to bring hope. Open yourself to God’s spirit, to God’s energy, to the hope of Christ in you. Go in Peace. Walk in Love. Amen.