Sunday, August 28, 2016

Moriah Hurst: Picking up stories of hope

Back to school Sunday
Joshua 4:1-7

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    Being able to cross the Jordan was a big deal for the people of Israel. They had been wandering in the desert for 40 years and finally getting to cross the Jordan River marked the end of their time in the desert and the start of their time in the Promised Land. Kind of like the 8 of you who started kindergarten this week, you have known it was coming for a long time and you might have been a bit afraid but also kind of excited for this change to something very new.

    The Jordan River was what lay between the people of Israel and the Promise Land. We have gotten a lot of rain this summer and you may have seen flooded rivers or fast flowing water. Well, as they came up to the Jordon it was at flood point with the water high. The people are told to be strong and courageous. The Ark of the Covenant went first, so that God would lead the way showing the path to follow. As the toes of the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant touched the water the river stopped flowing from up steam and the water started to pile up on itself. The priest walked out into the middle of the river, which was now a dry riverbed, they stood there and waited until all the people had gone across safely.

    I can imagine the people being amazed at the water stopping for them and also so excited to be heading toward the Promised Land. Today we would stop and take a picture, or better yet get a video that could become a YouTube sensation.

    But not being able to take a picture they did what they knew best to mark that moment. 12 men went back into the river and picked up big stones and carried them to the shore. They placed the stones as a marker so they would remember what had just happened. And Joshua their leader said “when your children ask what these stones mean, you will be able to tell them the story of how God stopped the Jordon River and we walked through on dry ground”. The story of our hope being in God and God guiding us.

    Our culture and media try to get us to pick up all kinds of ideas and stories. We are told how to be and who to be and shown how we might be rejected if we don’t conform to this. We pick up lots of things and carry them around with us and I wonder what they mean to us.
    What are the stories we tell?
    What about ourselves do we need to remember?
    What do we pick up and carry?
    This is the backpack I used in high school and college. But it is not the backpack I started high school with. I was home educated until my last year of high school. So my first day of my senior year was my first day of traditional school. My Mom had ordered this backpack for me but it didn’t arrive until the second week of school so for the first week of school I carried around my childhood backpack which was bright pink and baby blue. Let’s just say I was pretty aware of what I was carrying for that first week because I almost glowed as I walked down the hall.

As we go into new experiences what do we carry with us?
    When I was in college and hanging out with a lot of other missionary kids we used to brag to each other about how much emotional baggage we had from being drug all over the world by our parents. But I came to understand some things as baggage and some things as luggage. We all have baggage we drag around with us – I have a box of toys from when I was a little girl that I just can’t seem to get rid of but really is just taking up space in my closet. I also have three quilts, one my mother and I made, one made for me by my grandmother and one that was given to me as a blessing when I first started as a missionary. These quilts move with me in my luggage  no matter how bulky they are because they remind me that I am loved, that I am grounded and that I come from a community and family who support me and are cheering me on.

(get text book out)
    Sometimes we are carrying around useless books that are never used but are dead weight in our bags. Yet, what are the stones we need to pick up and carry as markers, reminding us of the story of who we are? The stones that help us remember what God has done for us. And what are the things that are just dragging us down and are telling a story that makes us feel less. We have to be careful what we pick up.

(get another book out)
    I used to try and carry around books that I knew I needed to read but just wasn’t getting to. I hoped that by having the books with me, touching me I might learn by osmosis. Even though that didn’t work there is something to the fact that what we hold closest to us will teach us and inform the way we are.

(pull out a note pad and folder)
    When I started teaching I realized that I had to help my students learn how to take notes. There was so much information coming at them in class and they needed to learn what was important enough to write down and what would be helpful in assisting them to remember things. Maybe some of you share the experience that I had of getting ready for a test and as you look back over your notes realizing that you have some really creative doddles but no real content. As we look back at our stories we need to think about which parts we tell and what we hold on to. Do we take note of the times when God showed up and was active or do we have a lot more stories of when God felt distant and we felt alone. What do we pay attention to, what do we hold on to?

    Over the last 5 months since I’ve been back in the USA I have found myself coming away from a number of conversations with people and wondering – what were they so afraid of? When tensions are high politically, racial, and theologically there is good reason for some people to be afraid. But do we want our fear to be the story we tell and the thing we carry. Where is our hope? What is the promise that this new school year holds for us?
    The kinds of stories we tell effects us. When we only hear stories that Muslims are dangerous than of course we will approach them with some fear. But when children hear stories about how wonderful they are, then they can go into spaces assuming that they will be loved and welcomed. We have narratives about ourselves that we have learned from our families and our culture. There are ways that we tell our stories that help us define who we are.

    In my family we have a narrative of being outsiders, and we are because we have moved so much. But that narrative also cuts us off some times from the very people we long to connect with because we think “they will never truly understand our story and thus never truly accept who we are”. Because of my family narrative of being an outsider we don’t let ourselves become insiders. What stories do you tell yourself about who you are?

(take out pencil and colored pencils)
    As we look back through the Bible, which is our story woven with God’s story, we see God, or an angel showing up and often the first words out of their mouth are “Fear not” or “Do not be afraid”. We need this message to be repeated because we can get stuck in our fear, not realizing that our fear is coloring the way we tell our story. Our fear can grow and weigh us down. We need more stories written with colorful hope – praying that God will help us see creatively. Carrying the potential to let God transform our stories and us.

(pull out the erasers and white out)
            Sometime we want to block out and erase parts of our stories. The Israelites probably would have preferred to not wander for 40 years before they got to the Promised Land. They would have liked to erase the mistakes they made that got them into that situation. But we can’t just white out or erase parts of our story. I’m not advocating for us shying away from the hard parts. They are part of us and we need to be gentle with our stories.

(pull out a lunchbox)
            And last but not least, we need to be fed. What in our stories makes us laugh, reminds us of hope and sustains us. Too often we get so focused on our minds that we forget we are in bodies. We have to pause for snacks every once in a while to let our bodies, minds and spirits catch up with each other.

            Often in our lives we have threshold moments. We stand on one side of a door or possibility ready to walk or jump into what is on the other side. The start of the school year is one of those threshold moments as students, teachers and families’ transition from one way of being into something new. The staff and pastors here at church are also standing on a threshold, shifting how we are as a team and wondering what this new reality will look like. We stand with the people of Israel, our feet just about to touch the water waiting to cross over into new ways. We are poised on the cusp of change which can bring feelings of both excitement and fear. What will this be like? What is this new story we are stepping in to?
            And as we look to this new start we also put some rocks in place, milestones along the way – this is where we have been and this is the story of faith we can tell to help us on our way. Maybe we need to learn fresh ways but we will need to look back on the things that have shaped us.

    When I got to college they said that some things that were cool for kindergartens had become cool again. Things like having snacks, taking naps, going barefoot, and carrying your backpack on both shoulders again. Maybe we have to go back to hearing some of the basics we might tell our kids as we send them off to school – be kind, remember who you are, treat others how you would like to be treated, ask questions-listen well-learn lots.
    If you are starting a new school year or just continuing business as usual may what you carry with you sustain you for the journey and not drag you down. May you find space for bright colored dreams of hope, safe spaces to nestle your stories of pain, and enough room in your bag for snacks.

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Sunday, August 21, 2016

Phil Kniss: To walk unbent

"This is a story full of love...You are set free"
Luke 13:10-17; Isaiah 58:9b-14

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I wonder what picture you saw
    when you heard the Gospel story.

Maybe you’re not one to see a vivid image
    when you hear a story told.
But even if that’s not normal for you,
    I’ll bet—at least if you were listening
        to the story today from Luke 13—
        I’ll bet this time you saw something.
    Because this story is written to evoke a picture.

It describes, three times, what this woman looked like
    that Jesus met and healed in the synagogue.
    She was crippled, Luke said, for 18 years.
    She was bent over, Luke said.
    She was quite unable to stand up straight, Luke said.

And then Jesus called her over.
    Called her over.
    Did not go to where she was,
        but asked this bent over woman
        to get off her seat in the synagogue,
            and walk over to where he was.

We’ve all known persons with similar conditions.
    Some of you may deal with it yourself.

In the most severe cases,
    just observing it engenders sympathy.
It’s a picture of pain and struggle,
    not to be able to stand up straight, to walk bent.
    It often requires some equipment to help the person walk.

We understand, mostly, what causes this.
    It’s a spinal condition called kyphosis.

Some persons with the condition, can,
    by putting forth immense effort and energy,
    stand up straighter, at least momentarily.
        But they cannot sustain that.

    Anymore than you or I can hold our arms out straight
        for more than a few minutes.
    Soon, we are worn out with the energy required
        to keep going against the force of gravity.

I say all this to help us grasp the kind of ailment
    this woman truly suffered from,
    before Jesus touched her and freed her.

The Gospel writer, of course, doesn’t diagnose her condition
    as a chronic spinal kyphosis, as we might.
He describes her as
    “a woman with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years.”

I won’t try to explain exactly what that means,
    because I don’t know.
I do know the world view of the Gospel writer
    included an understanding that the spirit world
        played an active and interactive role with the physical world.
    And I’m inclined to think that we modern westerners
        generally have an underdeveloped view of the spiritual realm.
    But I’ll let it go at that, except to say . . .

I think this woman’s physical condition
    had to have a profound impact on her spirit,
        her mind, her emotions,
        her relationships, her way of looking at the world.

Imagine if you can,
    living for 18 years without naturally being able to make eye contact,
        looking down at the ground,
        being unable to constantly survey your physical surroundings.
    You might have read how posture can impact emotions & attitude.

Experts suggest that simply striking a confident pose—
    shoulders back, hands on hips, chin tilted up—
    and holding it for three minutes,
        can have a profound impact
        on how confidently you think and act.
    They suggest you strike such a pose for a few minutes,
        before going into an important job interview, for example.

        Don’t know how well that works.
        I haven’t done a job interview for 20 years now.

But can you at least imagine how your whole being
    would be shaped by 18 years of being bent over,
        unable to stand straight?

    Can you grasp how that would profoundly impact
        the way you feel about the world?
        how you see your place in that world?
        how you might wonder if you even belong?

    This was a deeply burdened woman
        that Jesus met in the synagogue on the Sabbath.
    Deeply burdened. With multiple burdens.
        Her physical posture was, in all likelihood,
            a symbol for her whole life and way of being in the world.
        She was weighed down.
            Pushed down not only by gravity,
                but by the way others treated her,
                and by the way she saw herself.

    This is not pure speculation on my part.
        Yes, I know a chronic physical ailment
            does not always define one’s life.
        But the Gospel account specifically describes this ailment
            in terms of oppression.
            She was not only physically bent.
                She had a spirit that bent her.
                Whatever that means, exactly,
                I don’t think I’m speculating
                    to say she was bent over, and burdened,
                    in more ways than one.

And then Jesus met her.
    Jesus, the one who saw things differently than those around him.
        Not only could he see the world
            in ways this woman wasn’t able to see.
        He saw it in ways that other able-bodied, strong-spirited
            people around him were not able to see,
                or at least were not willing to see.

    This is a wonderfully-told story,
        that puts all the tension and conflict that surrounded Jesus
            directly into focus.

    Here Jesus was, in the synagogue, on the Sabbath,
        all eyes on him,
        all ears on him who already had a reputation
            for being a rabbi who saw things slant,
                who acted slant,
                who didn’t seem to value protocol.

    And the first thing to notice in this story,
        is that Jesus noticed the bent-over woman.
    This is significant,
        in that there is typically a segregation of men and women
            in Jewish worship.
        The temple had a physical and visual barrier,
            and so do orthodox synagogues, to this day.

    Further, not only did Jesus notice and take heed of her condition,
        he called her over to him.
        Presumably, he was in the position of the teacher,
            near the center,
            all the men gathered around.
        And Jesus asked this bent-over woman to get up,
            and walk over to him.
        Whether I’m entirely accurate, I don’t know,
            but my mental picture has this woman
                slowly hobbling toward Jesus,
                the crowd of men parting to let her through,
                until her interaction with Jesus is at the center,
                purposely being put on display by Jesus.

    His words were simple, and to the point.
        “You are set free,” he declared.
    His words were a performative speech act.
        That is, his words not only described a reality.
        They changed the reality they were describing.
    Upon his words, the woman straightened her back,
        stood upright,
        looked Jesus in the eyes,
        and gave praise to God.

    And from the other rabbis and synagogue leaders,
        Jesus got the reaction he expected,
            and maybe even, hoped for.
    I think Jesus wanted not only to cure this woman of her oppression.
        He wanted to see his people,
            his own community of religious leaders,
            cured of their tendency to oppress.

    The reaction was that the synagogue leaders
        shifted immediately into damage control.
    In their indignation over Jesus clearly breaking Sabbath law,
        they didn’t even address Jesus.
        They addressed the crowd of worshippers:
            “Look people,” they said.
                “There are six days for work.
                    So come and be healed on those days,
                    not on the Sabbath.”

    In other words,
        rather than confront Jesus directly,
        they took out their frustration on the people
            who were there hoping for Jesus to free them, too.

    But Jesus didn’t play their game.
    He didn’t continue the passive-aggressive indirect communication.
    He turned to the leaders directly.
        “You hypocrites!
            You are trying to prevent this woman, and anyone else,
                from being freed of their bondage on the Sabbath.
            Your treat your own donkeys with more compassion.
                When they are tied up on the Sabbath,
                    you untie them, and set them free to find water.
            But this woman, tied up by Satan for 18 years,
                you object to her being set free on the Sabbath?”

    And Luke ends his story with these words,
        “When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated,
            but the people were delighted
            with all the wonderful things he was doing.”

For Jesus, this is the measure of what is lawful and right:
    Does it set people free?
    Does it allow persons the freedom
        to live the life they were created to live?
    Or does it add to the weight they are carrying?

I suggest that is still good criteria for discernment.

The prophet Isaiah seemed to point in the same direction,
    in the O.T. passage we heard today.

Isaiah challenged Israel to “remove the yoke from among you.”
    Remove the yoke!
        Take that instrument intended for a beast of burden,
            that instrument that forces the wearer to bend at the neck,
            and get rid of it.
    And what is this yoke, according to Isaiah?
        It is the “pointing of the finger, and the speaking of evil.”

A spirit of condemnation is not of the Spirit of God.
    Rather, God’s agenda is to free us all to be and become
        the persons we were created to be and become.
    Read through Isaiah 58,
        and look for those words that describe
            the yoke that burdens and oppresses,
        and look for those words that describe
            what frees and satisfies.
        It’s all through the passage.

        And, Isaiah addresses the issue of the Sabbath itself,
            the very concern that tripped up the synagogue leaders
                in Jesus’ day.
        The Sabbath, Isaiah reminded,
            was a cause for delight
                and (quote) “riding on the heights of the earth.”
                Talk about freedom!  Riding on the heights!
        The Sabbath is expressly not for
            serving your own interests,
            or going your own way.
        It is to be lived outwardly, and joyfully—
            exactly as Jesus was living it,
                by freeing people of their burdens on the Sabbath.

    God is pleased when we live in a way that honors
        our created purpose.
        And of course, discovering that purpose
            is a lifelong process of discernment.
        We won’t always agree what freedom should look like.
            And that produces some struggle as we figure it out.

    But God is still all about helping us walk unbent,
        unburdened by the condemnation of others,
        or any condemnation we heap on ourselves.

May these scriptures speak freedom to us today, as well.
    Because, Lord knows, we are bound, in many ways.
        Many of us, though physically we stand upright,
            we are walking through life bent over,
            weighed down by a spirit of condemnation
                that is not of God.

    I venture to say,
        we are living in a season of greater burdens than usual,
        more condemnation than is good for our spirits.

    Maybe we are not personally being condemned,
        or condemning ourselves,
        but we are swimming in a sea of condemnation.

    It may be our loved ones or dear friends who are being condemned.
    It may be a political cause or religious conviction
        we are passionate about, that is now under fire.
    It may be a group of people we are passionate about supporting—
        immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQ persons,
        “Black Lives Matter” movement, or others.
    The condemnation we feel may be indirect.
        When inflammatory things are said
            about certain people or causes we care about,
            we end up carrying that burden ourselves,
                sometimes without even telling anyone.
        I confess that it is a daily discipline for me—
            and I am not always successful—
            to lay down my burdens,
                and bear what is mine to bear,
                and not bear what is not mine.

    Even apart from burdens that result from condemnation,
        there are so many other burdens weighing us down
            as a church, as a nation, as a world.

    We can barely get our minds around the lives lost,
        and the massive loss of property
            in the flooding in Louisiana,
                that will never be able to be recovered
                either by insurance or government aid.
    There are families who lost entire homes and all their belongings,
        and may get $10,000 . . . or less . . . in total relief.
    The utter devastation of the California wildfires overwhelms us.
    The chaos and violence in the Middle East and Africa.
    The millions of refugees and displaced peoples.
        These are also burdens we carry with us,
            to varying degrees,
            and they add to our heaviness, our despair.

    And then on the personal front,
        we have a whole other level of burdens—
            relationships strained or broken or abusive,
            chronic or terminal illness—our own, our loved ones,
            the continuing darkness of grief and all that goes with it,
            material loss or financial distress,
            loneliness and isolation,
            or something entirely different.

I simply want to name and acknowledge
    that no one here is removed from the impact
        of burdens we carry,
            our own,
            or on behalf of others.
And I want to name and acknowledge
    that many are here this morning bent over
        with the weight of it all.
    That many of us are not far removed
        from the experience of the woman in Luke 13,
        who Jesus noticed, and called, and freed.

Jesus also calls you, to come over, and be set free.
    It’s what God wants for you.

So I conclude by inviting the other pastors to join me at the front,
    and for Virginia to come, play some healing, freeing music.

Any of you are invited to come for prayer,
    and anointing with oil, if you desire.
    Bring whatever burdens you are carrying—
        whether they are your own burdens,
            or you carry them on behalf of another.
        whether the burdens are personal or communal or global
            if you are bent over, and need prayer
            for the freedom to walk unbent,
                you are invited to come,
                and we will have a brief prayer with you.

Come as you as willing and able.

—Phil Kniss, August 21, 2016

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Sunday, August 7, 2016

Phil Kniss: Intrepid trust

This is a story full of love...Faith beyond sight
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16

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As I think back on my journey as a preacher over 33 years,
    I remember preaching in other times of national distress,
        when we were going through things,
            as a nation, as a church, as a people,
        that gripped us, alarmed us, saddened us, angered us.

I stood before a congregation in Gainesville, Florida,
    at the height of the nuclear arms race in the 80s,
    and preached the Gospel of Peace.

I preached—or at least made a valiant attempt to preach—
    the Good News in the face of all kinds of
        national and global crises and wars and tragedies . . .
    the US invasions of Grenada, Panama, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
    the Beirut bombing that killed 241 American Marines,
    global famines,
    the rise of AIDS,
    the Iran-Contra scandal,
    the Space Shuttle Challenger explosion,
    the Exxon Valdez, and Deepwater Horizon oil spills,
    Hurricanes Hugo, Andrew, Katrina, and Ike,
    the Persian Gulf War,
    the LA riots of 92,
    the Branch Davidian standoff, and mass killings,
    the storm of the century in ‘93 that killed 300,
    the Oklahoma city bombing
    the 1995 heat wave that killed 750 in Chicago.

And then I arrived at Park View 20 years ago.
And I’ve stood here in this spot, trying to bring good news to you
    in light of airplanes being bombed in flight,
    the start of more wars,
    the tragedy of 9/11,
    Columbine, VA Tech massacre, countless school shootings,
    another Space Shuttle disaster,
    devastating tsunamis and earthquakes,
    the housing collapse and global financial crisis,
    and more, and more.

Always, it seemed, it wasn’t too much of a stretch
    for me to say in those sermons, “Yes, things are bad,
        but it’s not the end of the world.”
I could say, and would say, “God is with us.”
    “Redemption is at hand.”
    “We, the church, are stewards of the Gospel of Reconciliation.”
And it sounded believable.

Something is different today.
    I’m not saying things are worse overall, today,
        than they were during these other global crises and catastrophes,
        and wars, and other human evildoing.

The human race has always been prone to do evil,
    to be destructive, to injure each other in epic proportions.
    That’s not new.

What’s new, it feels to me,
    is a deeper level of despair and hopelessness,
    a broader level of populist rage,
    and for many of us, an insidious emotional numbness to it all.

From the painful conflicts and injuries
    we inflict on each other in the church,
    to the truly shameful state of our national politics,
    to racial injustices,
    to sexualized violence,
    to mass shootings and reliance on guns,
    to the rapid rise of global terrorism . . .

    Any of these, by themselves, creates a crisis.
    But when one piles on another and another and another,
        we have a situation that to this preacher of the Good News,
        seems unprecedented, at least in my lifetime.

I now am forced to wonder.
    Can I be believed anymore, when I stand here and say,
        “Take courage, God is with us.”
    Do my words sound cheap,
        when I preach the Gospel of reconciliation and restoration
            and salvation and deliverance?

There are many who look at the horrific global terrorism,
    climate change,
    a shifting moral landscape,
    the breaking of relationships in the church,
    and the prospect of a Trump presidency,
    (or the prospect of a Clinton presidency),
        and conclude that our world really is falling apart,
        and there’s nothing we can do about it,
        and it’s just going to be awful beyond description.

    People are seriously trying to map out an exit strategy.

        In the 60s, it was “Where have all the flowers gone?”
        Today, it’s “Where has all the trust gone?”

These are the kind of times that lead us into temptation.
    We are tempted to speak, or behave, or interact with people,
        in ways we couldn’t have imagined doing 10 or 20 years ago.
    We are tempted to escape, in one form or another.
        And religion becomes the perfect escape vehicle.
        Especially when one of the core teachings of the religion
            is about another world to come—
            that this world is fading away,
            to be replaced by something better.

Christians have always been tempted to escape.
    That, in itself, is not new.
    I remember the era in our church, the church of my childhood,
        when the end times, and the rapture, was all the rage.
    It was preached from the pulpit,
        and reinforced by slick, and scary, Christian movies,
            that urged us all to be ready
                for Jesus to come and whisk us away.
            Being ready,
                pretty much meant having prayed the sinners’ prayer.

    That was also an era of global and national ferment—
        Vietnam War, race riots, a sexual revolution.
    The idea of being whisked away into spiritual safety,
        was pretty attractive to evangelical Christians like us.

    But that focus on the end times, on the ultimate fix
        for this broken world,
        was also roundly criticized,
            looked down on by Christians with a social conscience,
            by those who believed
                Jesus wanted us to make this world a better place.

    And that divide has stayed with us in the church ever since.
        It’s taken different forms.
        It’s modified itself along the way.

    But there are still these two tendencies, two leanings.
     On the one hand,
        some Christians look toward our future with God in heaven
            as the way to face the ills of this world.
    On the other hand,
        some Christians disparage that as spiritual escapism,
            and instead resolve to maximize the capacity
                of human good will
                to build a beloved community here and now.

    I readily admit I’ve usually been drawn to the second option.
        I have tended to think there is something inherently suspect
            about Christians talking so much about heaven,
            that the real and pressing needs of this world
                don’t seem to demand our attention.

But let’s take a moment to think about this,
    without taking sides.
    Try to reflect, as objectively as we can,
        on the implications, in this life, for taking one side, or the other.

    Does it follow naturally,
        that persons who put their hope
            in a future where God puts everything right,
        will by nature be less involved in doing good now,
            in working for positive social change in this world?
    And does it follow naturally,
        that persons who put their trust
            in the human capacity for good,
        will actually be more personally involved
            in bringing about the social change they believe is possible?

    What are the actual results for our lives now,
        from leaning in one direction, or the other?

Let’s start by turning to today’s scripture readings—
        especially Genesis and Hebrews.

We only read part of Hebrews 11,
    but the whole chapter is a catalogue of stories of the faithful.
Over and over the writer says,
    “By faith, so-and-so did such-and-such.”
        By faith, Abel gave an offering that pleased God . . .
            by faith, Noah built an ark,
            by faith, Abraham obeyed God
                and set out for a place not knowing where he was going,
            by faith, Abraham and Sarah gave birth in their old age,
            by faith, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses,
                the whole people of Israel,
                Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah,
                David, and Samuel and the prophets . . .
                all did things significant for God’s purposes.
    Their stories are only briefly told,
        sometimes only mentioned, with a one-line summary.

    But if we took the time to look at each one, one-by-one,
        and review the stories behind the names,
        we would be amazed.
    This is not a hall of fame for holy people.
        It wouldn’t take much digging to prove that point.
    This is a hall of fame for people who acted in faith.

All of them were called,
    either directly, by the voice of God,
    or through a prophet or prophetess of God,
    to undertake some act that advanced the purposes of God,
        and that to do so appeared at best, foolish,
            and at worst, suicidal.
        But certainly dangerous, and highly unlikely to succeed.

    They were not acting strategically,
        because they thought through in advance,
        what would work to make the world a better place.

    No. They simply were shown to have believed God,
        when God said, “This is what I’m going to do,
            and I want you to participate.”

    They had intrepid trust in God’s future.
        That is, they trusted, without fear, without trepidation.

    And all the deeds of this roster of heroes
        did nothing to advance their own personal interests or agenda.
    In fact, they were usually asked to set aside their plans and agenda,
        and undertake dangerous work for the purposes of God,
        to act in the interest of God and God’s people.

Whether the request was to build a boat on dry land,
    or pull up tent stakes and move to a yet-unknown destination,
    or give up life in the palace, and join forces with the slaves,
    or give shelter to foreigners preparing to attack their city,
         . . . or, you name it . . .
    they acted on faith,
        on trust that God had something in mind they could not yet see.

    And that very blind faith in a future yet unrevealed,
        is what empowered them to be intrepid,
            to act courageously, in the present.

We may wish to criticize, as escapist theology,
    those who are investing in some future that God is working on,
    but what do our scriptures say about the actions of Abraham,
        who shaped the life and faith and character of a whole nation?
    Hebrews 11 says that Abraham lived as if he were a foreigner,
        a temporary resident,
        a sojourner.
    He looked toward a city with foundations.
        Even while he chose to live in tents.
    And it says this not just about Abraham,
        but about the whole roster of faithful heroes,
        the movers and shakers of the people of Israel.
    It says, “All of these died in faith
        without having received the promises,
            but from a distance they saw and greeted them.
        They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners . . .
            [because] they were seeking a homeland.
            They desired a better country, that is, a heavenly one.”

Think about that!
The spiritual posture of the most effective change agents in scripture,
    is the very posture we criticize as withdrawing or escaping:
    “This world is not my home. I’m only passing through.”

Now, I’m not saying that people who focus on heaven all the time,
    can’t have their head in the clouds,
        and be overlooking positive things they could be doing now.
    But we certainly can’t assume they do have their head in the clouds.

Having a future in which to place our hope,
    can actually equip us,
        give us great spiritual energy and wherewithal,
    to actively engage this world and help it begin to look like
        the future we hope for.

In a sermon this past spring, I read a paraphrase from Scott Hoezee,
    a Christian Reformed pastor, preacher, and author,
    who wrote about the relationship between hope and action.
Let me repeat it here, because it fits. He wrote,

Hope is what got Mother Theresa to bathe the putrid flesh of lepers in Calcutta. Hope is what made Martin Luther King and others walk across the bridge in Selma. Hope is what let Nelson Mandela get out of his prison bed every morning. Hope is what moves every volunteer in a soup kitchen to ladle out bowls of chicken and rice . . . It is not the hopeless who establish hospices and Ebola clinics in Africa, or stand in the breach when rival drug gangs threaten to shoot up neighborhoods, or boldly stand up to power. It is the hope-FULL who do all that, precisely because even now they serve a risen Savior, who even now has all the power to accomplish what will fully come.
I also was recently reading the Herald Press book,
    Rewilding the Way, by Todd Wynward.
    He told about the founder of Outward Bound movement,
        Kurt Hahn, who grew up as a Jew in Germany,
            in the early days of Hitler’s rise to power.
        Hahn spent some time in prison,
            before being forced to flee to Britain.
        He was a harsh critic of society that produced adults who were
            sedentary spectators,
            restless, but without purpose and hope.
        He later converted to Christianity,
            and became a member of the Church of England,
            and developed a philosophy of education that formed souls.

    Hahn wrote, and I quote,
        “I regard it as the foremost task of education,
            to ensure the survival of these qualities:
                an enterprising curiosity,
                an undefeatable spirit,
                tenacity in pursuit,
                readiness for sensible self denial,
                and above all, compassion.”

As I look at that list,
    I see a list of the fruits of Christian hope.
    If we believe, truly believe,
        that God is working for
            the salvation and restoration and redemption of the world,
        and that we have been invited to partner with God in this project,
            wouldn’t such a belief
            naturally produce Christians with these characteristics?

    And isn’t such a collection of Christians, living in community,
        in the kind of world we inhabit today,
        exactly what we need to defeat
            the sense of despair and hopelessness that abounds
                in the world and in the church?
    Don’t we need more radical and hopeful followers of Jesus,
        who embody an enterprising curiosity,
            an undefeatable spirit,
            tenacity in pursuit,
            readiness for sensible self denial,
            and above all, compassion.”

    The kind of world we hear being trumpeted . . . pun intended . . .
        a world where we live in fear and resentment of the other,
        where we take advantage of the weak to secure our strength,
        where we dehumanize the other,
            (which is happening all over the political spectrum,
                by the way, not just by one side)
        that kind of world will not survive for long,
        when the church is doing its job of being the church,
            of being an alternative community,
            operating by a Jesus-shaped political identity,
            living in present hope of the Kingdom of God,
                which, like Jesus said, is near us now.

Is there any defensible reason why we should despair,
    when we worship the resurrected Jesus?

I can’t think of one.
I can only think of reasons to go out of this place full of hope,
    having been reminded of God’s power to turn death into life.
I can only think of reasons to reach out in compassion
    to all souls who are struggling,
    and to be messengers of hope
        who live with an intrepid trust in God’s future.

—Phil Kniss, August 7, 2016

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