Romans 8:18-25; Psalm 65:1-5; Matthew 12:15-21
This evening we continue our series “In the Mean Time”, in which we reflect on faith, hope and love. “And now faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” [1 Cor. 13:13] Advent situates us in the meantime between the first and second coming of Christ. In the meantime; and the times can be mean. Yet, faith, hope and love endure.
Faith, as the word is used in the New Testament, is a kind of belief, but a belief that goes beyond mere intellectual assent to something. Love is, well, love; God is love…we’ll hear more on love next week. So, what is hope? Hope is both a verb and a noun; something to do and something to have. It’s a great big word, actually, and a lot has been said about hope by theologians, philosophers and psychologists and lots of others.
I won’t attempt to summarize their thoughts. Instead, I’ll talk about what hope is to me and why I think it’s a good idea to have it. Actually, I think it’s a really good idea to have hope.
Christian hope is a kind of faith, a subset of faith, or, at least, closely related to faith. I think of it this way: hope is the confident anticipation that God’s mission, God’s vision for the human enterprise will indeed be fulfilled, made real—on earth as it is in heaven. Christian hope is the confident anticipation that what the Scriptures call the Kingdom of God is actually going to happen—in real time, sooner or later. Jesus went all around proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom: hope is believing that he wasn’t just making stuff up.
Faith, hope and love: I don’t think I’m always faithful; I know I’m not always loving; but, for whatever reason, I think I have always had hope. I don’t know why. When Isaiah says, “my word will not return to me empty, but it will accomplish that which I have purposed,” I believe it. God’s will shall be done. The Kingdom will come, on earth as it is in heaven. For whatever reason, I’ve never doubted this—even though in the meantime the times can be so mean—horrifically so.
Speaking of time: in monastic spirituality much is made of attentiveness to the moment, this very moment in time—an attentive, expectant mindfulness in the present moment. The 18th century Jesuit, Jean Pierre de Caussade, wrote of what he called the “sacrament of the present moment”. Richard Meux Benson, the founder of the SSJE, encouraged us to be “men of the moment”—and not just in the general sense of being up to date on things, but of the moment, that is, this very moment, because “Eternity is in that moment, and all the energies which are given to eternity are given through that moment” (R. M. Benson “Ínstructions on the Religious Life: Series Three”, p. 88).
But, as rich and wonderful and real and sacramental as the moment is, the present is too small a thing. As enormously expansive and full as the moment can be, there is yet more, a whole dimension more. And that is the future, God’s future—and God’s mission in the future. It is in this mission of God, yet to be fulfilled, that we put our hope.
Grounded in this very moment and animated by “all the energies of eternity” manifest in it, as Benson put it, hope situates us also in the future. Hope situates us in the long trajectory into God’s future. God’s future and ours. The Christian vision of the human enterprise is a multi-dimensional vision in which past, present and future are deeply and richly interwoven.
Personal fulfillment and personal salvation and personal healing and forgiveness are an important part of the big picture; but only a part. A spirituality that focuses only on one’s own well-being and one’s own relationship with God is incomplete. We are part of something much larger than ourselves and our concerns. Our own moments with God (as wonderful as they can be, as necessary as they are) are but moments in a much larger framework, a much larger design, a much larger structure.
And we’re the builders; we are the builders of something much larger than ourselves. We don’t know what the architect is up to, but we all have something to do on the construction team. Hope is the confident anticipation that whatever it is that we’re building, it is indeed being built, in concrete, earthly terms, by the grace of God, regardless of how chaotic it may seem in the mean old meantime.
I don’t know why this image comes to mind (it’s not a perfect analogy)—maybe it’s the sheer chaos and violence and brokenness and craziness of life—but sometimes it’s like we’re in those mob scenes in movies about the French Revolution: men and women, young and old, pitchforks and torches, rocks and sticks and whatever people can lay hands on. Like the rabble storming the Bastille, we’re God’s rabble laying siege to all the ancient prisons: the prison of captivity, the prison of degradation, the prison of fear; the prisons of every deprivation and disease. Laying siege and tearing down these prisons in order to build something new in their place. And, like the French Revolution things can be a bloody mess for a good long while. But where once stood the Bastille prison, a hated symbol of despotism, now stands a great center for the performing arts. “In the meantime” can be mean. But, even so, God’s rabble, armed with hope, builds opera houses and places where the human spirit is celebrated—over the ruins of old prisons.
One of our interns said something the other day that I found thrilling. He admitted to feeling restless and eager to be closer to the front lines of more active ministry. Of course, the Monastery is a place where we minister to many people on the front lines of active ministry. A few are called here, either for a lifetime or for a season of life. But many more—thanks be to God—are drawn to life on the front lines, “in the trenches”. We celebrate that here; we especially celebrate the awakening of young hearts and minds to the possibilities of service to others in the name of Christ. We celebrate the attraction to the work of transformation of the world. It’s in this transformation that we put our hope and it is critical that younger generations join in this work. From our beginnings in Oxford in the 19th century the SSJE has encouraged and celebrated the ministry of young adults. Maybe because this thing we call Christianity was started by a young adult.
Or maybe because we have hope. We Brothers are, obviously and visibly, deeply rooted in the past—look around! And we cultivate a spirituality of vibrant mindfulness of the present moment. But we see what we are and what we do as part of a still larger picture: God’s future. Our work with young adults—and our being joined by young adults in our work– is an outward and visible sign of our anticipation of the future; it is a sign of our hope—our confident anticipation of that which is to come–on earth as it is in heaven.
Life has more meaning when we have hope. Life has more meaning when we understand that we are the builders of something much larger than our own lives and concerns, if we know our place on the long trajectory into God’s future. Life has more meaning when we know we’re on God’s construction team—even if, rabble that we are, we don’t quite know what it is we’re building. Yes, we are rooted and grounded in the past; yes, we are rooted and grounded in this present moment; and because we are in Christ, we are rooted and grounded in God’s future.
“Thy kingdom come! On bended knee the passing ages pray; and faithful souls have yearned to see on earth that kingdom’s day…And lo, already on the hills the flags of dawn appear; gird up your loins, ye prophet souls, proclaim the day is near…” [Hymnal 1982, 615]
“The flags of dawn appear.” When the Kingdom comes in its fullness it will be mostly the triumph of small things. The widow’s mite; the boy’s five barley loaves and two fish that fed thousands. Even the smallest gestures of kindness, love, compassion, patience, generosity. These are the flags of dawn. These acts of loving kindness, which are very much of the moment, make manifest all the energies of eternity. These are the “flags of dawn” that make God’s future real even now.
O beloved rabble of God: the flags of dawn appear; hoist them higher!
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