the road

faith, jesus, and a conversation on the road

Tag: theology

optimism and hope

A sermon for the second sunday after pentecost, preached at the 8am service

Romans 5:1-8

Hope. Hope is the message we hear from Paul’s Letter to the Romans this morning. Hope is a driving force of Paul’s commitment to ministering for Christ, for standing as the beacon of Christ’s light still present in this world as the message of Christ, encouraging the work of the newly forming church, the total and complete giving of himself to a new kind of belief, a new hope. It is this hope that we hold onto as believers in Christ. Without hope, there is no faith for us, because our faith is based on a sense that the world is not as it should be, that Christ, God, Spirit, is not done with this creation. And it is this development of hope, a process that builds out of our experience in this life, our experience of faith, the process through which we stand against the cultural norms of our time, putting our faith before ourselves, and accepting the progression from suffering to hope, it is this development that Paul lays out before us today, that we must continue to come back to as we strive to have hope, see hope, and create hope for others in this world.

Hope is not simply created. We do not have hope simply because, we have hope because we have experienced the world in its fullest reality and still stand against it, wanting and demanding more. We boast of our hope, we boast of our sufferings, not because we have pride or vanity, because we have a desire to be more hopeful than someone else, to have suffered more, to be the most, extra, but rather we boast because we cannot help but be thankful for the grace of God that fills us, the peace of God which permeates us in that grace, and the hope that we can’t help but feel, for ourselves, for this world, even in the face of suffering. For suffering builds endurance, and endurance builds character, and character builds hope, and through this, absorbing and transforming our suffering, we find that place of hope that can only be found in faith, faith in the peace and grace of God, faith that God’s love was made manifest when Christ died for us even while we were still sinners.

I consider myself an optimistic person. Sometimes cautiously so, but rarely do I ever feel that a situation cannot be turned around, rarely do I ever feel that someone’s mind cannot be changed, rarely do I ever feel that anything other than optimism is how we should, perhaps even need, to approach this world, our existence. I have discovered this about myself as I’ve come to see problems, whether little things in our Church, or big things in our world, as solvable, at least if not by me, by someone. There exists in this world people who can solve the problems of this world. They may not all have been discovered, they may not all have even been born yet, but I do think that we can solve our problems. I believe this because I see good in every person. Even people who I personally struggle with, whether it be personal acquaintances or world leaders, I cannot help but feel optimistic that someone will have an impact on them, change their hearts (for world leaders I hope for change at least on the basic human rights stuff), or that people will rise up and prevent that person from doing further harm, whether it be within a small community or on the global scale. And, I have this optimism because of my faith. I know the message, the Good News, that is left for us, and I know that this message, this Good News, cannot help but change the world, if only we can get more people to hear it. This is why I’m so passionate about evangelism. This is a large part of why I became a priest. If the whole world were optimistic, not just about solving our problems, but optimistic about each other, then hope would prevail, and the Kingdom of God would be that much more realized here, now.

But, I understand why you might be a pessimist. I understand why many in our world are pessimists. There is pain, there is suffering, there is fear and hate and unrest and hurt in our world. This past week saw much of that pain come back to the surface. On Monday, we marked the one year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting, where 49 LGBTQ peoples, and one very lost gunman, were killed in one of the largest single events of violence in our history, simply because they dared have hope that they could live the lives that they were created for. As the week progressed, news that a noted Sandy Hook Massacre denier, Alex Jones, (the fact that I had to write that phrase made me pause for a moment) was going to be given a national platform from which to spew fear and unrest, caused an outcry and questioning of what we demand of our media in times such as these. Then on Wednesday, on two different coasts, our complete addiction to gun violence was laid before us again, as two different shooters attacked people, one an angry man targeting those who lead the political party that he disagrees with, and the other an angry man targeting random victims, killing three and himself. And, these were just the shootings that made the news that day. With this news cycle, a news cycle that is both shocking and par for the course, it can be understandable why one might be a pessimist. And, this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of those daily interactions, daily moments, that lead us deeper into pessimism, into fear, hate, unrest.

So, how can we maintain optimism, how can we push back against the pessimism of this world in these times? How can we not?

We have an eternal hope, an eternal optimism given to us through our faith in Christ, in our faith in the love of God that was put on display when Christ was crucified, for all of our sins, even as we were the ones carrying out the death sentence. We need to ask ourselves, what about our faith must lead us, guide us, inspire us, to continue to be optimistic, to continue to see and have hope for this world, for each other. It is up to us to choose hope, to choose to be optimistic, even in the face of all of the suffering, all of the pain, all of the crap that is continually and constantly before us, both on our television (or computer) screens and in our less positive interactions with others every day. This is not a call to action. This is not a call to go out and spread the Good News with other. This is about accepting the promise that is our faith, and realizing what that can mean for us in our lives. This is about accepting hope, just as much as we accept God’s love, for our lives, for this creation. This is about seeing the best in people, whether they be world leaders, strangers on the street, people in our office or school, friends, family (perhaps especially family), it is about seeing the best in each other, regardless of whether they (or we) live up to it or not.

If we start with this simple act, if we simply give in to optimism and expect the best rather than the worst, then we begin to live into that promise of hope that is found in our faith. It does take a radical shift of the mind to accomplish. It can be really easy to slip out of it. Even as an optimistic person, I still catch myself dismissing people outright, because of interactions with them, because of grudges I hold against that person. But, through the hope that I have, hope in the power of God’s love to change not just this world but change individuals, I am forced to reconcile my pessimism about someone, I am forced to try and see the best in them, because that is what we are called to do, that is how we are called to change the world.

And, hopefully, when I catch myself, God can enact change in my heart as well. It’s not like I’m a perfect human being. It’s not like every person I dislike deserves it. It’s not like every person I dislike even knows I dislike them. I hold the same anger in my heart that many of us are quite familiar with, but I don’t want to. I don’t want this anger weighing on me. I don’t want this anger dictating how I interact with the world. Rather, I want to have hope, to trust in God’s love, to follow the path laid before us by Christ, to be in communion with all, to see the best in all, to see the best in myself, even if they, even if I, do not live up to those expectations all of the time.

Our suffering produces endurance, endurance which produces character, character which produces hope. Without suffering there is not hope. We cannot experience one extreme without knowledge of the other. And with that knowledge we should push ourselves, those around us, this world, to reach for that hope. And with that hope, to see the world with optimism. To see the best in people, to see the best in ourselves, to see the best for this creation. We can accomplish this shifting of our hearts, because God’s love has already been shown to us through Christ’s death for us. We must boast of this reality. We must boast of our faith, faith that the peace and grace of God can and must change not just ourselves but this world. It starts with us, it starts with our hope, and with that hope, we can’t help but see this world changed.

Amen.

go therefore and make

A sermon for Trinity Sunday, preached at the Saturday 5:30pm and Sunday 10:30am service

Matthew 28:16-20

“Go therefore and make disciples.”

These are the closing words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. The last thing that Jesus leaves for us is a call to action. It is a call into an active, engaged ministry, throwing off a static, passive ministry, throwing off the concept that sitting and waiting for the second coming will be good enough, it is now imperative that we go out and do the work, do the transformational work that has been laid out for us. It is this call, to make disciples, that we are all called into as followers of Christ. It is this call, to make disciples, that has harmed many. It is this call, to make disciples, which has seen the teachings of Christ twisted, distorted, used as a weapon for submission, rather than an invitation into hope and love. It is this call, to make disciples, that we need to reclaim for our Christian faith, reclaim from those who would teach messages of a prosperity gospel, messages of LGBTQ hate, messages of fear of other cultures, other faiths, other skin colors, messages that are designed to exclude rather than include, messages that drive us farther away from God, for these messages by definition cannot bring us closer to God. And by driving us further away from God, not bringing us closer, they do not enable us to live into the call that is left for us today. Because disciple making is about connecting others to God.

But why should we got out and make disciples? Why should we take on this hard mantle of countering the messages that have been allowed to permeate our collective conscious’, to divide rather than bring together?

We should make disciples because it is what Christ calls us to do. We should make disciples because spreading the Good News of Christ for all is good work, is God work.

It is the Good News, this God work, that makes it not matter that there are people out there who we see as distorting and leading astray, it is this Good News, this God work, that invites us to hold anyone and everyone (including those with whom we disagree) in our hearts, offering anyone and everyone love, the love of God, the love of God that is made known to us in Christ’s death and resurrection.

Because, you cannot have one without the other. For us, there is no God without Christ. There is certainly no Christ without God. And, the presence of the Holy Spirit means little to us without the context that we are given by the salvific act of Christ on the cross, and the immense grief God experiences in that moment, the grief of a parent seeing their child betrayed, tortured, murdered. It is in this moment, this act, that we are given a glimpse of God’s understanding of our world, God’s hope for us in this world.

I don’t know about you, but my facebook feed has been filled with a lot of priests complaining about the designation of this particular Sunday. Even though our lessons don’t exactly reflect it entirely, the Sunday after Pentecost is always observed as Trinity Sunday. Now back to my facebook feed, I see many clergy-types complaining about heretical interpretations of the Trinity, about how wrong everyone is going to be about the Trinity when they preach it from their pulpits this weekend, but for me, I don’t understand why there is such consternation, such fear about a highly complicated and yet very simple part of our faith that we call Trinity.

It is a part of our faith. It is the reality of our faith. The Trinity is how we know the relationship we have with God. The Trinity is our past, our present, and our future understanding of what God intends for creation.

Now, there are a number of different interpretations of how the Trinity exists in terms of our faith and our understanding of how God has interacted with creation. These various understandings tend to get thinkers far more intellectually inclined than myself into some trouble, as they try to balance their understanding of God within a framework that is unlike any other. For me however, I see the Trinity actively engaged in our world, because we are actively engaged in the world. The Trinity allows us to see the active presence of God in this world. Our way of knowing and being known by God. Our way of (at least trying to) understand the why of our faith, the why of sharing our faith, the why of making disciples. The Trinity, for me, is really about a relational understanding of God, Son, Spirit, a relational understanding that speaks not only to our understanding of God as one, but our understanding of why we are creation, and what we’re supposed to do with that.

I most readily accept the following when I think of the Trinity, and I quote from The Very Rev. Ian Markham: “When we think about God, we are thinking about a God who is dynamic and active. God creates and sustains (and in this mode it is primarily, but by no means exclusively, the work of the [traditionally labeled] Father); God reveals and redeems (again primarily the work of the Son); and God unites, heals and transforms (again primarily the work of the Spirit).”(84, Understanding Christian Doctrine) It is because of this relational understanding of God, a God which we experience as “endless movement between the three modes of being,”(84) that alternative names for the modes of Trinity have come into the common parlance. Names like Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, or Source, Wellspring, Living Water,(84) attempt to speak to the greater nature of the Trinity that moves beyond an anthropomorphic limitation that we often assign to the Trinity when we speak of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. It is in this active, relational understanding of the Trinity that Jesus calls us into ministry, assuring us that the work of going and making disciples can and will be done through the Good News, for I AM is with us to the end of the age.

This active and dynamic Trinity, flowing between modes, is our catalyst, our backbone, our strength and resolve in doing the work of disciple making. We are filled with God with every breath we take in, for it is the breath of God which creates life, which redeems life, which unites and transforms life. The breath of God flowed out over the formless void like a mighty wind, and the world was created. The breath of God flowed into us in our very beginning, the breath of God made the dry bones come to life, the breath of God anointed the disciples of Christ as Jesus breathed on them, and that breath continues to flow into us through the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who is with us, in the trenches, doing that God work, sharing that Good News, making disciples.

Our God, through our understanding of Trinity, is active and dynamic in this world and because of this, we have to be active and dynamic in this world too. Jesus calls us today to make disciples, not because we need to convert or fill a quota or convince everyone that our way is the best way, but because it is in the action of making disciples, heck even in the action of trying to make disciples, that we are active and dynamic participants in this creation, that we are active and dynamic participants in our relationship with God.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself, but how do I make disciples? How do I be an active and dynamic participant? How do I share the breath of God, share the relationship of the Trinity, share the Good News left for us? And to that I say: you should’ve come to the evangelism training yesterday…

No, really though, we make disciples by trying. We make disciples by being in creation and interacting with creation. We make disciples through our sighs as we stand to fight injustice once more. We make disciples through our voices as we use the breath within us to shout down hate and bigotry and fear. We make disciples because that is the only thing we can do. We make disciples because we are followers of Christ, and through Christ, through God, through the Holy Spirit, the Trinity, three-in-one, we are inspired, fortified, sustained, to go therefore and make.

Amen.