Tag Archives: surprise

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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No words needed

When doing something unexpected for another person, it is often good to have an explanation for your behavior. It is even better when the person acknowledges the surprise and understands what you are doing and why. And no words are needed.

See you along the Trail.

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Thank you, US Airways

Today’s travel took me from New York to Louisville – an oft-made trip. The airlines, chosen due to price, was US Airways.

This is neither my preferred or favorite airline. It pains me a bit to say that. Allegheny Airline lies in the past of US Airways. Based in Pittsburgh, Allegheny was the first airline I ever used. My love for all things Pittsburgh lasted through a number of mergers.

In recent years, I have experienced problems on US Airways – cancelled flights, rebooking issues, and delayed luggage. I have not kept score of my travel woes. I have no documentation. But it feels like US Airways has been especially problematic.

Today, they did well by me and so I need to say: Thank you, US Airways.

The plane from LaGuardia landed in Philadelphia. The layover came to an end and I made my way to the gate for the Philadelphia to Louisville flight. The announcement came that boarding would begin shortly.

I opened my bag and discovered two items missing. I checked again and confirmed my first impression. A moment’s thought led to the realization that I had left them behind on the plane from New York.

Disappointed, I wandered to the bathroom, planning how I would deal with this. A call to the airline upon arrival in Louisville seemed the first step. I held out little hope. Actually, I held out no hope.

As I neared the gate for the plane to Louisville, a US Airways staff person said, “Is there a Mr. Ko-nig in the gate area?” She mispronounced the name. Many folks do.

“Is there a Mr. William Ko-nig in the gate area?”

I waved my boarding pass and made my way to the podium. She moved to meet me.

She held out her hand in which she held my items. “Do these belong to you?” she asked.

I smiled and replied, “They do. Thank you very much.”

“You are welcome,” she responded. She smiled and went on her way. I got in line to board.

Again I say: Thank you US Airways.

See you along the Trail.

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A different route

As I went out last Sunday, to make my way unto St. James Presbyterian Church, I planned to use St. Nicholas Avenue. It is flat. I employed my usual walking plan – take what traffic and the stoplights give me.

After a couple of blocks, I realized that it would prove difficult to get to St. Nicholas Avenue. I had gone too far north; St. Nicholas Park lay between me and my preferred route. A choice lay before me. To minimize the uphill journey and see some new things, I chose to go through the park.

There I was surprised and pleased to see crocuses or croci or both. Going by a different route, may bring new opportunities, new delights. At least it did as I walked out last Sunday to make my way unto St. James.

See you along the Tail.

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Rainbow over Oahu

Unexpected vistas appear,
unforeseen opportunities arise,
surprises occur,
grace abounds.
For a number of minutes,
I chased this rainbow 
along the H1 on Oahu.
“Dad, there is a reason
the University of Hawai’i 
calls their teams 
the Rainbow Warriors,”
Eric patiently explained.
30 October 2006
Honolulu, Hawai’i  

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