Tuesday, December 30, 2008
A New Year sermon... :-) Live hopefully.
I hate the chaplain and manager of Ross Home, an aged care facility here in Dunedin. Each Christmas they send a Christmas card to say "thank you" for taking your turns at leading chapel services, but they include the roster for the next year. It is a harsh reminder that the new year will soon be upon us! When I wake up tomorrow it will be next year... another 49 Sunday morning services, 45 Friday drop-in centres, 16 radio services, 98 visits to the fire station, 98 visits to ambulance, Habitat working bees, meetings, etc etc etc. How can I sustain myself for yet another year of busyness? How can I avoid burnout? Lately I have been reminding myself of a sermon I preached a few months ago on "Hope". Here goes the basics of it.
We knew a young woman who was blind and was intellectually handicapped. A delightful woman named Beverley. She lived relatively close to a rail track. I recall more than once sitting on the couch with her and out of the blue she would say, "Train, David, train!" Her mum would explain that in 5 minutes time there would be a train pass by. It was not that Beverley knew the timetable, it was that her hearing was so acute that she could hear a train coming when the rest of us were not aware of its existence. To me "Hope" is like that. It is the ability to see and hold on to unseen eternal realities.
First.... the ability to see the flowers among the weeds. Our media gives us endless bad news. Children beaten. Wars and unrest. People ripping off the hospital system. You name it, there is an endless procession of bad news. People we encounter do bad things and keep making stupid decisions and cause suffering to themselves and others. Sometimes the best of us can be evil, selfish and nasty. "Hope" though is the ability to see past the suffering and evil and remember, celebrate and exalt the good. For every mum or dad who beats their kid there are hundreds who are responsible loving parents who would die for their kids. For every war there are thousands of people who through their involvement in their communities make for peaceful, harmonised and wholesome community life. For every time I am nasty, there are times when I, even I, can be kind generous and loving. Will Rogers said, "I have never met a man I didn't love." If I stop and think about it, in spite of all the bad news, virtually everyone I know is basically a good person who has qualities I can cherish. Hope is the ability to see, celebrate and hold on to the good, beautiful and lovely all about us. The Apostle Paul, sitting on death row wrote... "fill your minds with those things that are true, noble, right, lovely, and honourable."
Second.... "Hope" is the ability to see the immense power that there is in love, friendship, kindness, generosity and forgiveness. I had an "uncle" (husband of my father's cousin) who lived near us when I was a teenager. He had nearly an acre of ground and a big vege garden. After dad died he decided that he would grow veges for our family and I went up to his place on Saturdays to help him. We would work away there, and every now and then he would take a break, sit on the bank for a smoke and pat the ground next to him and say, "Take a rest laddie." He sat there puffing on his cigarette, telling stories, (from his youth, from his war experiences, from his working week) or asking me questions about my week. When I grew to adult hood I discovered I did not agree with everything he said, but it was his simple friendship that helped me get through teenage years, and helped shape me. I have read many books, I have listened to many sermons, but again and again it is simple acts of friendship, love and kindness that have changed me and helped me to grow and be different. We often think the world's health depends on the rich and powerful. Military power or authority and influence will change the world, ...we think. Hope though is the ability to see that simple acts of self-giving love are the most powerful dynamic to change people, society, history and the world. Jesus died on the cross helpless and forgiving. From the world's perspective a stupid act. But that self giving has unleashed world changing love on the world. Every act of friendship and kindness impacts on the world and like the ripples in a pond after a stone is thrown, that goodness spreads beyond itself. Jesus said, "The kings of this world have power over their people... but this is not the way it is with you; rather, the greatest one among you must be like the youngest, and the leader must be like a servant." Martin Luther King said, "Love is the only power that can change an enemy into a friend." "Hope" is the ability to see that and trust it.
Thirdly.... "Hope" is the ability to know that there is a "presence" or "layer of reality" at work in the world. One of the few things I do well is facilitate groups. I have learned that when a group of people get together in openness and honesty, some sort of unseen "spirit" guides them toward truth. The truth "emerges" amongst them. I have run debriefs amongst emergency workers, and again and again have discovered a caring "spirit" leading and guiding. I have run a community Christmas Day Dinner for twenty years and NEVER been short of money or volunteers. I have experienced "nudges" and "challenges" and "affirmations" and "callings" in my own journey that are timely gifts-of-grace that I cannot explain. I look at history and see this mysterious presence at work, bring change toward justice and wholeness. Bishop Desmond Tutu, in the middle of the struggle against apartheid could tell his suffering people that he knew that their cause was just and truth would prevail. Paul could say, "he is in all and through all." and "In Him we live and move and have our being." "Hope" is to believe that there is a presence, among us, within us and within the world that nudges us toward love, freedom, justice, and harmony (shalom)
Tomorrow is 2009... I pray that I will live it "hopefully". Happy New Year and all the best for 2009. I promise not to include a sermon again... unless I am "nudged". (Photo: Beverley