Updated: Nov 23, 2022
This past summer I tried—and failed—to write a sermon about hope.
I was working as an intern in a chaplain training program at Queen’s Medical Center, Honolulu.
The program is designed to give one hands-on experience providing pastoral care and ministry in a healthcare setting. As part of that program, I had to write and deliver a monthly homily for the Sunday morning service in the hospital’s interfaith chapel.
Because it was an interfaith service, there were no readings to dig into; no Gospel to proclaim; no shared tradition to fall back on. So, I had to learn to preach on big over-arching themes.
I chose “hope” for my final sermon of the summer because I had learned from my experience with patients, families, and providers in the only trauma one center in the state that an assurance of hope was often desperately needed.
And truth be told, I needed to hear it too. At that point, I had spent ten weeks away from home, working in a hospital surrounded by dire injury and illness, I had spent weeks and weeks commuting 90 minutes each way. I had lost 20 lbs—I’m not kidding— 20 lbs walking to and from the bus stop and now none of the clothes I brought with me fit anymore.
I had just moved to a new apartment on a church campus much closer to the hospital, but I was routinely warned by the congregants not to go outside at night. Earlier in the summer, I had been woken up from a dead sleep when the biggest cockroach I had EVER SEEN crawled across my arm. I was exhausted; I was homesick; I was burnt out.
And I had just turned in a homily about hope that had taken me all week and about three drafts to complete, and my supervisor, who usually loved my sermons, promptly cut the last third of it and told me just to preach what I had left. And the truth was, even if I had wanted to try again to fix that sermon, I would not have been able to. I was out of time, and I was out of ideas.
The community around me needed hope, and I felt like I had none to offer.
I wonder if some of us are feeling that way this morning. Here we are more than two and a half years into a Global Pandemic, which was supposed to be two weeks to flatten the curve. There are wars and increased tension on the world stage,
climate change is worsening droughts, famines and hurricanes, There are weekly mass
shootings, increased crime, and insurrections...
And we’re finally through yet another election where it seemed like our Democracy and
community life was on the line. And somehow we’re already talking about the next one!
I know that every generation feels like they are living through the end of the world. Something about human nature makes that a cyclical and remarkably common sentiment
But, let’s just say it feels, at least to me, like this is as close as we’ve been in my lifetime to what Jesus is describing in today’s Gospel reading.
And I wonder if some of us are feeling like the people around us need our support, like there are family, friends and neighbors who need us to help them have hope, but we don’t have a lot to give right this moment. At this moment, when maybe some of us showed up this morning looking for guidance, when maybe some of us could use a little hope, the readings don’t seem to have a lot of Good News. Paul is writing to a community to instruct them that if someone doesn’t work they don’t eat, and Jesus seems to be telling us that it’s all just going to get worse. We appear to be so very far away from the Heavenly Commonwealth that Isaiah is describing.
Which might have some of us wondering if there is any place that we can find hope—if there is any hope in a world that is wracked with turmoil and pain and disaster.
My dear siblings in Christ, I would suggest that is precisely where we can find hope. That amid suffering is the only place where hope can be found.
Hope is only possible where there is something missing. We can only hope for healing if we are unwell; we can only hope for home when we are away from it. We only hope for a new day when the present one has failed us. Hope is not a declaration of what is. In the words of theologian Kate Bowler “Hope is the language of May it be.” 1
Isaiah writes his vision of God’s heavenly commonwealth not in the midst of wholeness and
plenty, but in the aftermath of exile, when his whole world has fallen apart, when there seems to
be nothing left. It is only among anguish that he can speak of—when he can hope for—a time
when “no more shall the sound of weeping be heard… or the cry of distress.”
Isaiah can have hope precisely because he is surrounded by desolation.
In today’s Gospel reading Jesus tells his followers that more desolation is coming. There will be wars and insurrections, earthquakes and great famines, but He also says something truly
unexpected: “Do Not Be Terrified”
Things are going to get so much worse and you are going to have to endure it. He says to the
people assembled “they might even haul you before the authorities, but do not worry. I will be with you.” Have Hope; God is with you.
But notice; notice that Jesus doesn’t say “hope that I will be with you.” He says “I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand,” I will be with you. We can hope for the outcome on the other side of our current trouble, but we don’t need to be hopeful that God is present.
Remember, we only have to hope for what is not at hand. And if there is one thing that I know about the Holy Spirit, something I have preached before and I will preach again and again until judgment The Holy Spirit Shows Up.
That is true whether you are threadbare in a hospital in Honolulu or slowly falling apart in a pew in Martinez. The Holy Spirit Shows Up. God is with you.
But that means we have to show up too. We must resist the urge to give ourselves over to
hopelessness and despair, we must try to continue to work towards the Heavenly
Commonwealth that Jesus preached in his Earthly ministry, that Isaiah Proclaimed in his visions of God’s realm. We do this as Christians Knowing that God is with us. That if we fall short. If we do not have the words; if we do fall into despair, the Holy Spirit will show up.
Knowing that, we must continue to hope. We must find hope where it waits for us in the
In just two weeks we will be in the Season of Advent. A time when the Church will enter into a paradox of waiting for Christ to come into the world at Jesus’ birth, and at the same time
anticipating Christ’s return to bring the world to come.
It is a season of profound Hope. A season when we look around and see the world that is filled with turmoil and pain and disaster. We see that the world as it is now is not the world as it could be. And we can hope that indeed a new world is on its way. That it is about to be born and we are already participating in it. That one day we can gather with the great cloud of witnesses from all nations and ages and “be glad and rejoice forever in what [God is] creating;”
May it be so.
1 Kate Bowler “We are not divine. But we are loved. That is enough.,” Washington Post, Dec 23, 2019