Tag Archives: hope

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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Prayer 1

God of the ages,

grant us patience, courage, and grace;

grant us faith, hope, and love;

grant us all we need

for the living of our days

in the age of Covid-19.

Amen.

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Filed under Current Events, First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone, Prayer

After – Albuquerque 1996

1294519_10151934672121063_245716286_oAfter the prayers had been said
and the motions had been made;

after the rulings had been dispensed
and the speeches had been delivered;

after the instructions had been given
and the buttons had been pushed;

after the votes had been tallied
and the results announced;

after the passion
and the decent order;

after . . .
. . . the assembly sat in quiet contemplation,
pondering who had won
and who had lost,
considering what was gained
and what the cost.

My heart sundered the silence,
breaking, softly breaking,
for those, who by official action,
had been denied their full humanity,
and, whose gifts, but that same official action,
had been rejected.

A tear slid down my check,
coming to rest in tangled whiskers.
A single tear
shed for those beloved of God
who the vote would exclude
and for those
who out of fear
or prejudice
or lack of love
or for whatever reason
sought to shut doors –
and build walls –
and keep out –
and settle once and for all;
and in so doing
lost an opportunity
to join in
God’s amazing,
welcoming,
including,
affirming,
door-opening,
wall-smashing,
never-ending
love.

This was written after the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)’s 208th General Assembly (1996). That assembly met in Albuquerque, New Mexico and took action to recommend a change the church’s constitution that would ban LGBTQ individuals from serving in ordained offices. I attended that assembly as an observer. As the United Methodist Church meets to wrestle with similar questions, I remembered this piece and choose to share it. 

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Filed under Current Events, Family, Friends, Human Rights, Poem, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

Hope’s daughters

Worship this morning at the First Presbyterian Church of Whitestone focused on responding to gun violence. Planned and led by our confirmation class and youth group, the service invited us to connect with hope’s daughers: anger at the way things are, and courage to see that they do not remain the way they are. (Augustine)

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Eeyore Knights of Valor

Not alone, we stand together,
for alone one could not stand.

Not alone, we stand together,
soul to soul and hand in hand.

Not alone,  we stand together,
aching hearts, but spirits strong.

Watching, waiting, working,
when others turn away;

seeing, hearing, feeling,
what others would avoid.

Not alone, we stand together,
wounded,
surely wounded,
sorely wounded,
wounded all, yet still we stand.

Not alone, we stand together,
laughing, weeping,
bound by hope
and filled with love.

Not alone we stand together,
for alone we could not stand.

26 July 2001
Colorado National Monument, Fruita, CO and Orem, UT
revised 15 February 2019
Manhattan, New York 

with thanks to Diana Cheifetz

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Grandma Cao

I watched The Apology tonight on PBS. It is a harrowing story of sexual violence and of official denial and the refusal of people to acknowledge and address past wrongs. It is a story endurance and perserverance in the face of such violence–physical, social, and psychological.

The documentary “follows three former “comfort women” who were among the 200,000 girls and young women kidnapped and forced into military sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. Seventy years after their imprisonment, the survivors give their first-hand accounts of the truth for the record, seeking apology and the hope that this horrific chapter of history not be forgotten.”

I stand in awe of the grandmothers who tell their stories. Their courage and grace amazes me. I grieve for their experiences and for all the women who did not survive this violation. I am grateful for their willingness to share their stories and to filmaker Tiffany Hsiung and those who have captured and preserved their stories.

Grandma Cao, one of the women featured in the documentary, died on October 22.

Tiffany Hsiung has written a reflection on Grandma Cao, the grandmothers, and the realities of telling stories of sexual abuse and violence. The contemporary parallels are clear, painful, and instructive.

Here are some quotes:

It has been almost a decade since I first met Grandma Cao, and some other survivors of World War II. History might refer to them as “comfort women,” a euphemism given by the Japanese Imperial Army. But to me, they are “the grandmothers” and what started out as a journey to uncover these atrocities, soon turned into an exploration of one’s perseverance.

The grandmothers I interviewed told me that back in the old days — and even today — people will say things like, “Well, if it really happened then why didn’t you say something sooner?” Or, “The only reason you are saying this is because you want money and attention.” Sadly, this rhetoric is still often heard today as a defense when a woman publicly discloses her experience with sexual violence.

For many survivors, the decision to speak out is a daunting one. The thought of negative repercussions can be worse than burying it deep inside of you forever.

For victims of sexual violence, the biggest fear about speaking out is not being believed and, thereby, being re-victimized. Society has perpetuated a culture of shame that has resulted in decades, or even lifetimes, of silence for survivors of sexual violence. Something has to change.

Watch The Apology. Read Tiffany Hsiung’s article. Believe survivors. Break the culture of shame. Challenge rape culture. “Something has to change.”

See you along the Trail.

 

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Holy ground

Last night, Friday October 19, 2018, I stood on holy ground.

The gathering took place at the Joel E. Smilow Boys and Girls Club in the Bronx. About 100 men of all ages gathered in the gym for a teen forum.

Teenagers sat in the bleachers. The elders, ranging from 30 to over 80 years old, sat in chairs on the gym floor facing the teens. There were fathers of some of the teens. At least one  grandfather. Staff from the club. Friends. Friends of friends.

Several men shared their stories. Stories of mistakes. Of keeping on in the aftermath of a son’s death. Of endurance. Of the values of freedom and equality. 44416412_10156534705201063_6388540716364070912_nOf despair. Of hope. Of redemption.

When they finished, the teens asked questions. Why should I stay in school? How do I stay strong? How do I avoid the trouble of the streets? What do I do when the trouble comes looking for me?

The elders answered honestly, speaking from their experience.

After two hours, the group stopped and shared dinner. One on one conversations took place in the dinner line and as they ate. The evening closed with a promise to meet again and to meet on a regular basis.

When they do, wherever they do, the ground will be holy.

See you along the Trail.

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