Sunday, November 24, 2019

Phil Kniss: Yet we hope

God's Good Earth: Hope and Healing
Psalm 85:7-13; Isaiah 58:6-7, 10-12; Romans 8:18-25; Luke 2:27-33

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We are called to hope.
Our primary Christian call is
to live in hope,
to proclaim hope,
to invite others to hope.

Wow! Wow.
In this world . . . in these days . . . that’s a big ask.
How can we hope, and still be honest?

Throughout this worship series we have tried our best to be honest.
We called it “God’s Good Earth” on purpose, because it is good.
It is beautiful.
It is diverse.
It has renewal and regeneration built into it.
It has so much going for it.
But we didn’t pull any punches describing the trouble we’re in.
We are unfortunately fighting against this good earth.
And often winning the fight.
Our destructive actions are incredibly powerful.
They are eliminating species, destroying ecosystems,
and changing climates.
The point of no return is right around the corner,
and we don’t seem to have the will to change.

And that’s just talking about the natural world.
What if we throw politics into the mix?
Entire societies are in a chaotic and violent meltdown,
and no one knows how to stop it.
Hong Kong, Syria, Bolivia, Israel-Palestine,
Afghanistan, and on and on.
Whole nations are blowing up.
And we might even wonder if ours is next in line.

So, let’s talk about our reasons for hope.
Let’s get happy, what do you say?

No, really. Let me repeat my opening lines.
We are called to hope.
Our primary Christian call is
to live in hope,
to proclaim hope,
to invite others to hope.

If we can’t do it now, then,
have we ever been able to do it?
Because this is not really the worst of times, historically.
In terms of loss of human life,
World War II was the worst conflict ever.
In a six-year period, nearly 80 million people died.
Can we even imagine that scale of loss of life today?
The Chinese famine of the late 1950s killed over 20 million.
If we want to feel overwhelmed,
there are endless lists of historic human catastrophes.
Look them up.
Boggle your mind.
They make our times look blissful in comparison.

But in all those situations we Christians
had something positive to say and do.
We people of faith and goodwill did not stop hoping then.
We made sacrifices, we got to work
to relieve human suffering
to rebuild lives and societies.
Some of those humanitarian projects live on today,
because our acts of hope flourished and grew.
And vibrant churches still exist in many of those places,
because some of our proclamations of hope resonated,
took root in those cultures, and bore lasting fruit.

But here we are today, again, in dire straits,
and feeling hopeless.
Have we forgotten our reason for hope?
Well . . . come to think of it . . . what is it?
Why should we hope?
On what basis can we hope?

And by hope, I don’t mean wish.
We all wish things were different.
No, hope.
A confident sense of grounding.
Trust in a good that is larger than ourselves.
A good that will triumph someday.

Let me head right into this topic that is a spiritual minefield.
We can so easily step onto something we shouldn’t.
Maybe it’s our fear of these spiritual mines
that keeps us from even trying sometimes.

What we don’t want is an excuse not to act.
What we don’t want is denial.
What we don’t want is spiritual escapism.
I get it.
We’ve all seen that, and we rightly reject it.

The topic of our relationship to creation
is that kind of spiritual minefield.
Some Christians expect the kind of heaven
that’s meant to get us off this evil physical planet earth,
and into some glorious other-world . . .
and they expect this heavenly rescue soon,
when Christ will come and whisk us away,
and the evil earth will burn up,
getting what it deserves for its sin.
So . . . there are some Christians who think that
caring about our planet is misdirected,
that it takes our attention away from heaven.

In the same way,
when we speak of hope in the midst of catastrophic human suffering,
we are tempted by escapist thinking.
The road to salvation must take us out of this place altogether,
to “the sweet by and by,”
“where all the saints of God are gathered home . . .”
because “this world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through”
“and I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.”

There is truth embedded in those words.
But . . . are these our only options?
Must we either
put our hope in a spiritual escape
orchestrated by a God who removes us from earth to heaven,
put our hope entirely in the human potential for goodness,
so that if we all try harder and change our behavior,
the world will be healed.

Is there another path toward hope and healing?

Yes, there is.
It is God and human beings acting in concert with each other.
It is divine and human collaboration . . . co-laboring . . .
working together.

Here is our theology of hope.
Let me first point it out in scripture.
Then spell it out for our times.

Isaiah the prophet assured God’s people
that their actions and God’s actions were intertwined.
We heard from Isaiah 58 today.
When we loose the bonds of injustice,
let the oppressed go free,
share our bread with the hungry,
bring the poor into our house,
and clothe the naked like we clothe ourselves . . .
then the light of God will shine,
Yahweh will make us like a well-watered garden,
and the ruins will be rebuilt.

The psalm writer exults in Psalm 85,
that “steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.”
This sounds like God and humanity reconciling,
in a cosmic divine-human kiss.
It says, “Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky.”
This is the image of divine and human collaboration.

Yes, and according to Paul and to writer of the Gospel of Luke,
it is perfectly good and right to look to the future for our hope.
Looking to the future for hope does not avoid the present.
It does not lead to inaction.
It is a simple trust in God and God’s work.
It is confidence that as we do our part, God will do God’s.
It is to anticipate, with expectation,
the psalmist’s vision of the divine-human kiss,
when reconciliation happens,
when our brokenness is redeemed,
when, as apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8,
creation itself is freed from its bondage to decay,
when it no longer groans in unfulfilled longing.

In the Gospel of Luke today we saw old man Simeon find true hope.
He found it in a future he knew he would never see.
As he held the 8-day-old infant Jesus in his arms,
he was filled with the hope he had longed for.
He said to God, “I can die in peace now.
For you have let me see your salvation.”
Yes, it was in seed form.
It was a helpless human infant,
soon to be a refugee to Egypt.
But in that baby Simeon saw God’s salvation.
And he could die in peace,
knowing this divine-human kiss would happen.

So let’s bring it to our day now.
With the earth on fire, metaphorically, and in some places, literally.
With creation and human society in a deeply broken state,
where is our hope?

Well, again, here is our foundational theological assumption.
Believe it . . . or not.
This is our confession as God’s people.

Things are badly broken in creation
because we abused our power and broke things.
The fall of humanity brought us here.

And God’s primary purpose is to
repair, redeem, reconcile, and restore the shalom
that God intended all along at creation.
And God’s purpose is ultimately unstoppable.

And despite our failures,
we humans are still God’s first choice as partners in healing.
It is a partnership that is happening now,
poking up here and there,
surprising us like an early spring crocus.
It’s not fully there yet,
but it will ultimately culminate in the divine-human reunion,
a cosmic kiss of reconciliation.
So we live in hope for that day,
and practice for it now.

Yes, we have another option.
It seems kind of anemic in comparison.
Since things are going badly as a result of humans behaving badly,
we can put our hope in better behavior by human persons
and having the economic and political systems of the world
repent and turn toward virtue.
So we appeal to our innate human goodness as our salvation.
If that doesn’t work, well, then, we’re doomed. And creation, too.

And it doesn’t seem to be working.
Despite the best of intentions,
and the best expectations of each other,
we don’t seem to be moving toward our own salvation.

So . . . where is our hope?
It is in the future God already created,
where human beings and God collaborate in mutual love—
We look forward to God’s ultimate salvation and restoration,
and we practice for it now.
We do not put our hope in escaping from God’s good earth.
Nor do we hope in the potential of humanity to heal itself.

We hope in God,
who is at work now to save and redeem the broken creation,
and who created us to collaborate in this work.

That is our theological frame of mind
as today we issue a call to praise and Thanksgiving
for God’s abundance in the harvest,
and as we issue a call to stewardship,
as we prepare to offer the first-fruits of our harvest.

Every year on this Sunday,
we do a collective act of thanksgiving and hope.
We bring our regular offerings and offer them in worship to God.
And we bring our First-Fruit Faith Promises,
a statement of trust in God’s provisions,
and a statement of hope in God’s future.

You know,
our annual congregational spending plan is not just some
institutional exercise of financial management and budgeting.
Sure, call it that if you want. That’s not untrue.
But theologically speaking, it is much more than that.
It is placing our hope in God’s future.
It is being strategic about collaborating with God.
Part of God’s healing work, as we heard in Isaiah,
is feeding the hungry, clothing the naked,
bringing the homeless into our house for shelter,
and giving freedom to the oppressed.

We actually plan for these acts of collaboration in our budget.
Each of our gifts is a way to join together and join with God.
And that is not just putting a spin on it, to make it sound good.
Look carefully at our spending plan.
Ask questions about it.
Not just the parts of it we send away,
and we send a lot away in mission, locally and globally.
But ask questions about our spending on this building.
How are we using this building?
Is it really for ourselves?
Or in service of our divine-human collaboration?
Who is coming in and going out of it, and why?
In the course of a season,
you will see many in our community
being blessed by this building,
thanks be to God.
And ask questions about our grants for education
and faith formation,
and find out whose lives are being impacted, and how.
And ask questions about our spending on staff.
Find out how your three pastors and office staff
and other staff,
are touching the lives of our neighbors,
and those living on the margins,
or our own members who struggle with life.

Everywhere I look around PVMC,
I see us practicing now,
for God’s ultimate healing and reconciling work.
And I thank God for that.

If giving to the work and ministry of Park View Mennonite
is not an investment in this divine-human collaboration,
then I have no idea what is.

I hope that we all together can
live in hope,
proclaim hope,
and invite others to hope.
Just as God has called us to do.

Phil Kniss, November 24, 2019

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