By Revs. Don and Susan Dewey, Co-Regional Ministers
“The LORD delights in those who fear him, who put their hope in his unfailing love.” ~Psalm 147:11
Hope is subversive according to Old Testament Scholar and Theologian Walter Brueggemann. He writes, “Hope, on one hand, is an absurdity too embarrassing to speak about, for it flies in the face of all those claims we have been told are facts. Hope is the refusal to accept the reading of reality, which is the majority opinion; and one does that only at great political and existential risk. On the other hand, hope is subversive, for it limits the grandiose pretension of the present, daring to announce that the present to which we have all made commitments is now called into question.”
In the face of our current political divisiveness and growing proliferation of hateful rhetoric and violence, hope that envisions a more grace-filled and compassionate future can be both inspiring and empowering.
One could not help but be inspired by the incredible success of the U.S. women’s gymnastics team, or “The Final Five,” at the Olympics in Rio last month. Those five amazing women showed us the power of camaraderie and community across racial, cultural, economic, and religious lines. They showed us that when marginalized people lift each other up with love and laughter, even in the face of hate, everyone benefits. For us at least, “The Final Five” were a sign of hope in our turbulent world today.
In the midst of the shifting sands of our religious climate, how do we as the church offer relevance and hope to our communities affected by brokenness and fear? How do we demonstrate an alternative reality based on restorative justice and love?
Again Dr. Brueggemann invites us to consider the ancient practice of lament. “The surprise of Israel’s prayer is that the extravagance of praise does not silence or censor Israel’s need, but seems to legitimate and authorize a second extravagance, the extravagance of complaint, lament, accusation, petition, indignation, assault, and insistence.” To genuinely lament the shifts in our current reality from what has been frees us to be ready to embrace the new and more hopeful future God is inviting us into.
We often listen to voices that tell us the church is dying or no longer relevant. The truth is that the church is alive and well and even growing in many parts of the world. What appears to be dying is our western Anglo-Saxon style of church. Our traditional models of church are giving way to new models and expressions of church that are reaching younger generations.
We must be willing to give one another permission to genuinely lament practices and styles of our corporate worship and ministry that have sustained us and that have been the primary source of our security and strength as faith communities as new forms and ministries emerge. It is not that these former ways are no longer valid or important, rather we must be open to new expressions and practices that are reconnecting us to the communities we are entrusted to serve.
The medium is changing, but the message is still the same – love, grace, compassion, justice and peace lead to life.
Fear arises when the current arrangements are being called into question and are no longer working. With fear there is always a push to hold onto the way things have always been even when those ways run counter to our call to love and justice. Hope on the other hand inspires us to imagine an alternative future where God’s shalom is restored for all.
Brueggemann writes, “It is there within and among us, for we are ordained of God to be people of hope. It is there by virtue of our being in the image of the promissory God. It is sealed there in the sacrament of baptism. It is dramatized in the Eucharist—‘until he come.’ It is the structure of every creed that ends by trusting in God’s promises. Hope is the decision to which God invites Israel, a decision against despair, against permanent consignment to chaos (Isa 45:18), oppression, barrenness, and exile.”
Jesus said, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). What was new was not the command to love – the Hebrew Scriptures were full of such commands – but the command to love as Jesus did – expansively, unconditionally, and inclusively.
In his ministry and teachings, Jesus broke down the barriers he encountered and refused to limit God’s favor to a chosen few. Jesus demonstrated in his life and in his death that love cannot be stopped. If God is love, then it is a love that cannot be fully measured, cannot be fully known, cannot be fully comprehended; and it is a love that includes every person. Thinking back to the opening of the recent Olympics in Rio, and watching the parade of participants from countries all over the world as they made their way into the stadium, I imagined this to be a hopeful image of what God would desire for us as human beings; coming together to demonstrate our best in love and justice.
May we be bearers of God’s hope for our world that is in desperate need of this Good News!
Together on the journey,
Don and Susan
Your Co-Regional Ministers