In the past few weeks there have been times that I have struggled with embracing hope. As a disciple, I still find hope in the teachings of Christ. That hasn’t wavered. As a person of faith, I still find hope embedded in the relationship that I have with my Holy Creator and the assurance that God’s vision of Hope is for all people. As a citizen of the United States though, I have struggled to find hope within our humanity lately.
This past Sunday I was scheduled to preach at my home congregation in Eugene, Oregon, within the Community of Christ denomination on what was the Advent Sunday of Hope. As I was preparing for what words I could share in the midst of my own struggle. Words that would stay true to who I am and what I am experiencing while still being true to our scripture text and the purpose of advent season. It was then that I started to remember and also research stories of hope. That preparation then served as the foundation for the cultural application portion of my sermon this past week.
The following is a portion of a sermon
I preached at Community of Christ
in Eugene, OR, on Sunday, November 27, 2016:
A change is about to be signaled with the coming of a baby child. As the Christmas song declares, what a strange, and yet beautiful, way to save the world. For hope is birthed in the middle of a society that was in need of change. That was in need of structures to be transformed. For hope is birthed to bring freedom to all people, especially the marginalized, oppressed, lonely, and perceived unwanted in the world. Therefore, it seems the hope of Christ is still needed in our day and, furthermore, it is apparent that the importance of the birth story is still powerfully relevant in our present culture.
On the morning of November 29, 2009, just a few miles from I was living, four Lakewood, Washington, Police Officers were sipping their morning coffee at a local coffee shop and working on their laptops in preparation for their upcoming shifts. As they sat there, a gunman walked in and shot all four of them in a targeted attack. As the families of these four officers began the holiday season, their lives were now changed forever. The community was in shock. Confusion abundantly flowed. But it didn’t take long for those who lived in the region to turn this pain and anger into something positive. Donations poured in. Signs of support flowed in. The following Friday, a Seattle based radio station called for a vigil in a nearby community. I, along with three of my Share & Care House co-workers at the time, joined with hundreds and hundreds of others as we carried our candles and formed what was to look like a heart in an empty parking lot to show our solidarity in a time of deep pain. It was humbling, it was incredibly sad. But the response was powerful. In an act that could have torn this community apart, many clung to hope and came together.
In a world where so many people seem divided… where we cling to that which makes us comfortable… where we cling to the sometimes false sense of security in which we feel safe in… when people of different gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, religion, societal status, and frankly political affiliations seem to be at such enormous odds with one another… I find hope in stories like this.
I find hope in the images of Christians who held hands to form a protective wall around Muslims so they could pray with a sense of safety during the protests in Cairo in 2011.
I find hope in the images of Muslims who held hands to form a protective wall around a Christian church in Pakistan so they could worship peacefully after another Christian church had been targeted with a deadly attack a few weeks prior in 2013.
I find hope in the abundant response from disciples and friends in British Columbia after a call for household items went out from the Vancouver Community of Christ congregation there as they sponsored an apartment for a Syrian refugee family.
I find hope with every mouth fed through our Community Cupboard and Student Snack Zone here at Community of Christ in Eugene.
I find hope in the faithful response of the Crystal Springs Community of Christ Congregation in Bothell, Washington, who, in a stand of solidarity and plea for peace, following the mass shooting in an Orlando Gay Nightclub earlier this year, joined the Bothell 4th of July Parade to walk for peace and to extend the invitation for all to join them in embracing diversity.
I find hope when members of that same congregation, along with many other faith denominations, joined together this past Friday to show support for a Muslim Mosque in Redmond, Washington, that was vandalized earlier this week in an apparent hate crime.
I find hope when after the campaign office of one political party is firebombed in a North Carolina town that the opposing political party came together in an act of unity to help raise funds to go towards the repairs that were needed for that office space.
I find hope when teens and staff on our Caravan ministry package food for food banks with such excitement and joy. When other teens and staff proudly help with the building of homes for Habitat for Humanity. While other are pushed a little outside of their comfort zones to volunteer with young kids at a Boys & Girls Club. Yes, I find hope in the faithful response from people of all ages, especially when they work together.
I find hope when the Mission Community of Christ Congregation in Illinois, pastored by Tami Perryman, choose to spend their Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend packing 188 boxes to feed 111 children for a year as part of the Feed My Starving Children campaign.
I find hope in a kid, a teenager, or an adult who makes the decision to be baptized and commit to follow the teachings of Christ as a radical response of faith in a world where so much seems to be contrary to those teachings. When someone decides to enter the Holy Waters of baptism and symbolically pledge to help, in their own way, using their unique gifts and calling and yes, even in the midst of the shortcomings for all we have them, in the transforming of the communities for which they play, laugh, learn, worship, and work in. When they make the decision to walk with Christ as a member in this faith community because of the acceptance and love shown them by those faithful disciples for whom they walk alongside with. And… If you have yet to make this commitment as reflected in Community of Christ, the invitation is extended to you this advent season. That as we prepare for the Christ child, may you also spend that time exploring the depth of this invitation for you and what is essentially the ultimate response of gratitude that you could give in the response to the life that Jesus lived.
Hope. That is… A feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. A feeling of trust. Like I said earlier… Christ birth ushered in a hope of freedom for all people.
May we all find hope, embrace hope, and work towards that which embodies hope as we journey to the manger this Advent Season.