Hope?

Texts: Jeremiah 33, Luke 21

This week 74 Frederick, our church building for over a century, was demolished. A bit of the 1970’s entrance is partially standing, in a pile of rubble, the rest a heap of individual bricks. Several of my more pastoral colleagues send sympathy and consolation notes for our congregation. I offered to refer you to them, if you need somebody to hold your hands. Devastated? I am relieved!

I reminded you – again – of Augustine, Bishop of Hippo in North Africa, Vandals besieging the gates of his own city, and barbarians sacking Rome. He wrote:

Hope has two lovely daughters: anger and courage.
Anger, so that what must not be, may not be;
Courage, so that what should be, can be.

What is the hope that helps you face your fears, and step up to another day? What is the shape of your hope - and therefore, of your anger? Is it boundary-minding to conserve and protect what is threatened? Is it righteous advocacy for those emerging from long covert suppression? For whom and for what do you speak up? Does your worship encourage, give you courage, to continue?

Lots of you have been taking offence at me for over a year here. This week, I am meeting with a set of presbytery colleagues, presenting complaints from 4 of you, the next step in our United Church’s new form of inquisition, replacing our original traditions of adversarial adjudication. This is not secret, but confidential, and I assured you 4 anonymous complainants, you have been heard.

Henri Nouwen was a mystic Catholic priest who settled in Canada, around Kitchener, then at Daybreak L’Arche over in Richmond Hill. In ‘Aging’ he wrote:

Wishes are not hopes. Aging is a slow conversion from wishes to hopes. Wishes are things we can visualize: specific things and outcomes, goals and objectives… We wish for, and hope in. Hope is trusting that the other will to their part faithfully, to reach the as yet unknown together…’

Is it possible to get beyond Christmas wishes, to Advent hope this season?

We hear from Jeremiah 33 on Advent I every 3 years, promising a shoot from the stump of Jesse, as if that was a one-off prediction of Jesus, long since fulfilled, but repeated to gloat over the obsolete predecessor faith. This year we read another dozen verses introducing that familiar nugget. Last year, we read Jeremiah 8, 29, and 32 as we moved – so this was a reminder of real context.

Imagine a temple and a tradition 500 years old. Solomon’s Temple survived successive monarchies, civil war and divided kingdoms. The Assyrians swept through and past Israel and Judah into Egypt and up the Nile, but overextended themselves, and fell back to defend home turf against the Babylonians. Judah and Jerusalem got a 2nd chance to learn the lessons, and prepare for worse.

Jeremiah told them to take care for the poor and the young – to make justice, to build community – so they put him in jail. Even in jail, Jeremiah did not shut up. He even bought a plot of land in the city, a sign of commitment and hope. He was willing to invest in Jerusalem, whose leaders hated him. Jeremiah used the image of a tree – the tree of Jesse – the branch of David – a shoot coming out of a stump – resurrection from apparent death and disaster.

Jeremiah did live to see Nebuchadnezzar and Babylon exile the leaders and people – and destroy the first temple. (He himself was sent to Egypt which had appreciated his advice to Zedekiah, even if the locals didn’t – but Jeremiah was assassinated there in Egypt.) A stump of Jesse, the logged-off mess after the Assyrians in Israel, and Babylonians in Judah, could simply be seen as not what it once was, or as the victim of parasites – or Jeremiah could see the new shoot.

Might we find in that hope of a green shoot coming out of a stump, new trust in the other, to do their part faithfully, to reach the as yet unknown together? Might we find anger, so that what must not be, may not be, and courage, so that what should be, can be? Happy New Year – it’s a new Christian year!

Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand Six Hundred Minutes
Five Hundred Twenty-Five Thousand Moments So Dear

Many of you recognized those lyrics from the Broadway musical “Rent”, or even the tune as I sang it. There are, after all, 525,600 minutes in a year. Are they all equal? Of course not! How do you measure a year – what moments define the rest, or weigh more? In “Rent”, young people sing of living with AIDS, and measure their year:

In Truths That She Learned - Or In Times That He Cried
In Bridges He Burned - Or The Way That She Died

When all this happened, nobody knew the future. Nobody knew of a new temple, sponsored by Iran a century later, then expanded under Greeks, then Romans. Nobody knew Jesus was coming (600 years later). Nobody knew that in 70CE, this Second Temple will be razed in turn, by Romans. All they knew was that bigger forces threatened Solomon’s temple, in Jerusalem, the city of David. Jeremiah wasn’t the problem – he was naming hope, anger, courage.

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

Centuries after Jeremiah, just before another 500 year old temple was razed by a new empire, Jesus visited with a group of Galilean fishermen. Jesus in Luke starts in the temple, visits regularly and repeatedly all his life – but his disciples were rubes, awed by the monumental. (Mark’s Jesus, over the past year, starts in Galilee and only comes once to Jerusalem, for his appointment with death.) After 70CE, a Syrian-Turkish community remembered Jesus’ Temple attitude.

Jeremiah’s God, and Jesus in turn, wept at the decline and fall of Judah and Jerusalem, and at the exile to Babylon, and scattering by Rome. The legacy of generations inspired pride, making many things less bad, or better. Weep for those good things being lost. The legacy of centuries is pride. The legacy of the privileged who would not listen to Jeremiah, to reform to avoid the predictable preventable fall like Israel to Assyria? Shame.

Jesus in Luke is similarly prophetic – but not even proposing reform for Israel. Rather, he asks us all to take stock against disaster. Will disruptive change be bad news for you? Perhaps you have too much to lose! Will it be good news? Perhaps you are suffering unjust misfortune, which could only get better! That’s one way to read the ‘day of the Lord’ eschatological warnings. More common is the guy who asks when the event will come, so he can beat the market.

Our God does not punish in wrath. However, our God is not the liberal fool trying to give us self-esteem by protecting us from consequences and affirming our bad choices, nor a helicopter parent hovering to protect us from any harm. We get to manage our end of relations with what is holy, and with each other. We live and learn. As a result, God weeps a lot – in grief and in anger. Jeremiah voiced it. Jesus echoed it. Do you? I wished you a hope-filled Advent.