Tag Archives: candles

Candles, Fireworks, Hope

Romans 8:15-25
Candles, Fireworks, Hope
March 29, 2010
First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone
The Rev. W. Mark Koenig

“In hope we were saved. Now who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

I think a lot about hope these days.

Singer and activist David LaMotte wrote, “These are hard days in so many ways. Much of the time, it seems like the headlines are in competition for the worst news. … Being alive is hard work. Some days, I don’t feel hopeful.”[i]

David wrote those words two years ago. The need to think about hope goes with us always. It presses upon us with urgency in the age of Covid-19.

Be clear. Hope differs from optimism. Dramatically.

Optimism says things will get better; things will work out as we want; things will happen in a way that fits our desires and understandings.

Optimism is important. Envisioning we can do something often plays a critical role in allowing us to succeed.

Hope is not optimism. Writer and politician Vaclav Havel, who resisted the communist rule in Czechoslovakia and worked for a new future for his people said, “Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit.”[ii]

Hope is the conviction that however things turn out, life will make sense and all will be well even when we cannot imagine that will be. Hope lies beyond our selves, beyond our capacities. Hope lies in God.

Hope can be elusive, difficult to experience. A quick look at world events and the lives of people we love underscores that. Covid-19 highlights this reality in a dramatic fashion.

How then do we keep hope alive? How do we sustain hope that the world can be different, that we can be different? That our lives have meaning and purpose? That we can contribute to a more just, loving, peaceful society?

I don’t know that my thoughts and prayers about finding and nurturing hope have led to any absolute answers to those questions that will work for everyone. I have some ideas to share that help me understand and sustain hope. Perhaps they will prove of use to you.

Hope is relational. I cannot hope on my own. Relationships are key to hope. Hope is like lighting candles in the wind.

I had been in New York for a little over three months when the people of southern Sudan went to the polls in January 2011. The northern and southern parts of the country had engaged in violent conflict since before Sudan achieved independence. A peace had been brokered. The treaty provided that the people of the south could vote to remain part of Sudan or to become their own country.

An interfaith community gathered at the Church Center for the United Nations to pray for the people of Sudan as they voted. After prayer and scripture reading and song in the chapel, we went outside to light candles.

Cold and wind and big, wet snowflakes greeted us on the sidewalk along First Avenue. We lit our candles, but we had to work together to keep them lit. We relit each other’s candles when they went out. We used fingers and song sheets to shield the flames.

Lighting candles in the wind is relational. It takes a community. So does hope.

To hope, I need to be connected to God. I need to pray and read Scripture and worship. To hope, I need to be connected to others.

Hope is relational. It is experienced in the grace of God and in the wonder and love others who hope in me, hope for me, and hope with me.

Hope is surprising. I can open myself to hope. I can nurture hope. I cannot command or control hope.

13669846_1180325505322138_3800535346819562182_nSummer 2016. A Brooklyn Cyclones game with members of First Chinese Presbyterian Church. I have no idea of the score but in the eighth inning the end-of-game fireworks went off. We looked at each other in surprise. From the row behind me and about three seats to my left, Will Tsang said, “Work that into a sermon, Mark.” (The photo is from that night and was taken by Doreen Cheung.)

Check that challenge off the list. Hope, like eighth inning fireworks, is surprising.

If a baseball story isn’t convincing enough, here’s a Bible story.

Luke’s Gospel recounts that on the Sunday after Jesus’ death, two of his followers walked to Emmaus. The death of Jesus had crushed their hope.

As they walked, a third person joined them. They did not recognize the person, but we, who read the story now, realize it was the risen Christ. The story reminds us that Christ comes to us as we travel on the Emmaus roads of life, in hospitals resisting Covid-19, in jails and prisons, in nursing homes, at meal programs and homeless shelters, even in our homes today as we use telephones to worship. Wherever we are.

When they reached Emmaus, the followers of Jesus invited the third person to stay and the evening meal. As their guest, they asked the traveler to say grace.

The traveler. Took bread. Blessed it. Broke it. Gave it to them. They recognized him. Hope was reborn. And Jesus left them.

Hope comes in surprising, mysterious, unexpected ways. The moments do not last forever. Sometimes they do not last for long. But the moments may fill us and bless us and sustain us for living.

Hope may surprise us in a word in a sermon or in the lyrics of a song or in a passage of scripture. Hope may break through when we receive a kind word. Or when a family member or friend acts in an unexpected way; when we receive grace or mercy in the place of vengeance and punishment; when we welcome one another as God’s beloved children.

Hope may sprout when we hear of the consistent, persistent courage of first responders and medical personnel; the grace of the people who bag our groceries and who clean hospitals, medical facilities, and other essential places; the commitment of business owners who care for their employees in hard times.

Hope does not come through individuals who suggest that others should be sacrificed for the good of the economy. Hope most certainly comes—most certainly comes when individuals make sacrifices for one another.

A Minnesota state trooper stops a cardiologist for speeding. Instead of a ticket, the trooper gives the doctor some of his own N95 masks. Hope. In Italy, people step out on their balconies to make music for each other. Hope. People who live near a hospital in Vancouver open their windows to clap for the medical and support personnel at shift changes. Hope.

Because God, through Jesus, is the source of hope, we live in hope. We live in hope even when life is painful and challenging and horrifying. Hope is an act of resistance and resurrection. Hope says – let the worst happen, God is not done. God who creates and loves us; God who raises Jesus from death to life; God who pours the Holy Spirit out upon us; God will have the final word. And it will be a word of life and love and grace and hope.

“In hope we were saved. Now who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

Hope.

I have been thinking a lot about hope lately.

Like lighting candles in the wind, hope is relational.

Like baseball fireworks before the game ends, hope is surprising.

And rooted in God, hope is real.

Thanks be to God.

 

[i] https://www.davidlamotte.com/2018/hard-days/

[ii] https://www.vhlf.org/havel-quotes/disturbing-the-peace/

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20 Dec #Ablaze #AdventWord 2018

20 Dec #Ablaze

Closing worship at the Montreat Youth Conference, August 3, 2018.

The Advent devotional project, #AdventWord  is offered by the Society of St John the Evangelist. Each day a word is provided and participants are invited to share images and/or reflections and to use hashtags so our reflections may be included in an Advent Calendar with others from around the world.

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Christmas: Light

Light

24 December 2013
Forest Hills Church (Presbyterian)
Cleveland Heights, Ohio

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Once came tears

IMG_0022 (768x1024)It was an intense hour. Tears rimmed my eyes most of the time, once they slipped out. This evening, I took part in a candlelight vigil.

We lit candles and kept them lit in the wind – together. We remembered the children and adults dead in Newton, Connecticut. We remembered our neighbors in New York and other places. And we rededicated ourselves to working to end the gun violence that haunts our country.

Social media brought the word … at least to me.

Rutgers Presbyterian Church posted the announcement on their Facebook page: a candlelight vigil would take place at 5:00 P.M. at the corner of West 86th Street and West End Avenue to honor the memory of yesterday’s victims in Newtown, Connecticut, the victims in the shooting in Portland, Oregon earlier this week and the memory of all victims of gun violence. The vigil would also provide an opportunity for participants to rededicate themselves to working for an end to such violence.

IMG_0016 (1024x606)I read the post in Strawberry Fields – and decided I had to be there.

Arriving a few minutes early, I discovered a group gathering at the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew which stands on the corner. Many people brought their own candles. Because some had brought candles to share, those of us who had not brought our own were given a candle.

The number of participants increased – people of diverse ages, races, and faiths. Shortly before the appointed hour, we lit our candles and assembled on the steps of the church.

Opening words were shared, the host pastor  welcomed the group and articulated his vision of a country and a culture where we have greatly diminished violence in general, and gun violence in particular. Individuals shared their pain for the people of Newtown, of New York City, and of all places whose lives have been seared and forever altered by gun violence. Linda Rosenthal, New York State Assembly Member for the district, spoke, noting that this event marked a beginning and that she intends to help the community engage in conversation and action to end gun violence in our city and country.

IMG_0020 (1024x768)As participants engaged in the hope expressing, hope sustaining communal activity of keeping our candles lit in the wind, we voiced further concerns and hopes. We prayed additional prayers. We identified ideas for actions:

  • signing petitions such as this one asking the President to recognize that now is the time to begin discussion on gun control
  • engaging in conversations within their community and faith communities (here are some Presbyterian resources) on what steps to take
  • working to expand mental health care and to ensure access to such care for all
  • encouraging Mayor Bloomberg to become more intentionally involved in the issue; and
  • coming together again to plan and organize.

Small steps, but steps.

Then we walked up W. 86th Street to Broadway. Passers-by joined the group. At the corner we stopped. More passers-by joined the group. They received candles as they did.

We sang – old songs for certain – but we sang. “If I Had a Hammer.” “We Shall Overcome.”

Near the end of “Down by the Riverside,” as we pledged to study war no more, I looked across our group and saw a mother tenderly kiss one of her children, then her other child. Tears slid down my cheeks.

IMG_0872 (1024x768)With the promise that we would continue what had just begun – and the announcement of the Facebook pages where next steps will be posted – the event ended. We stood together for a while. Then we went our separate ways.

The brief hour soothed my angry, aching soul. But it did not comfort me. And I will act.

See you along the Trail.

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