Year B, Proper 19 September 13, 2015 The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
“For waywardness kills the simple, and the complacency of fools destroys them; but those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.”
So you all know that I do not have a particularly rosy outlook on the world. Not in the near term at least. Not rosy at all. I spend a lot of time with our own American internal refugees out on the street and I have had no idea, my privileged life did not prepare me for the depth of the suffering in the world and close that suffering is. It is right here. In this room is tremendous suffering in heart and mind and body. Twenty yards outside of that door you can find some of the most profound and preventable suffering I have ever witnessed. And what is it, 15 or 16 murders in Eugene-Springfield this year? One, might be two this past week? On Thursday I helped preside at the funeral of one of the first Opportunity Village residents, Mike Torrey. He died off of Pearl Street a couple of weeks ago, its been in the paper, he was very possibly murdered. And the refugees flowing into Europe, over the sea to Australia, across our own southern border. Talk to John Orbell about climate related migration… this is just a foretaste of what might be coming when the ice sheets start sloughing off in earnest. Epic rains in Japan, Biblically significant sandstorms inundating the Biblically significant suffering across Syria… all read through the diminishing maturity and increasing vitriol of our political process. I feel another of my litanies of the demise of civilization coming on.
Seriously, I haven’t always been this way, an alarmist, a Henny-Penny the sky is falling kind of person. That kind of began the day before I started seminary 14 years ago, 9/11/01. That’s when things began changing more rapidly and the Empire was released from any sense of decorum or appearance of decency. That’s when I started to get nervous, and it has worked out worse then even the most pessimistic of us activists protested, predicted or warned of.
The past couple of weeks we have been hearing from St. James, the brother of our Lord, and his insistence that faith without works is dead. Carole preached very well on it last week, and I the weeks before. And that message is echoed by Our Lord and Savior in this morning’s Gospel, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” That’s the gospel truth, but I confess, that too often I leave it there. This is what we need to do, x, justice, and we need to do it because God requires it. But too often I leave it at that and that is just not enough. I forget about the salvation part of Jesus’ exhortation. I forget about the hope. Faith without works is dead, yes, but works without faith, without hope… that’s not much better. What the saints and prophets of old had, what Jesus Christ brings to the light for us more then anything else is that: Hope.
Hope. Hope is the most fleeting, slippery, misunderstood, most potentially misleading places that we as humans are capable of inhabiting. Hope, Christian hope at least, is not a wished for state; an attached to dream of the future. “I hope I win the lottery!” “I hope the test is negative!” “I hope that she is going to be OK.” Those are wishes, projections on an unknown future and they have no bearing on or reflection of God’ will. If you don’t win, or if its positive or if she’s not OK, that is not about God, it is not about how good or prayerful or deserving you are, good things happen to bad people and vice versa and that’s got nothing to do with God, just re-read Job for a refresher on that lesson. We can’t, won’t, don’t know why what happens happens… and that is exactly where the brilliant light of hope, of true Christian hope begins to shine.
“For waywardness kills the simple, and the complacency of fools destroys them; those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.” That little line from Proverbs, that is a reflection of the idea of Christian hope. The “me” in this Proverb is specifically Wisdom, hokmot, in Hebrew, which is translated as Sophia in Greek, which is the same name we give to the Holy Spirit, to God. “…those who listen to God will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.” Isn’t that the definition of hope? The confidence that it will be ok, that in the end, everything is going to be just fine, it is going to end up the way it is supposed to be? There will still be disaster but hope frees us from the dread of disaster. That’s hope. That’s the hope I am sometimes desperate to feel. That’s eschatological hope, the “Hope of the Resurrection” that we speak of so clearly at funerals. Hope.
As I said, I was part of a funeral on Thursday, the funeral of Mike Torrey. I met Mike about three years ago. He and his wife Linda were the first people we interviewed to enter Opportunity Village. I really loved Mike, and Linda is still down at the Village, I love her, too. Mike lived hard. As hard as you can live; living the way he did killed him at age 54 in an alley in downtown Eugene. Remember, you all have but one degree of separation from Mike through me. He was part of our community. So we had this funeral down at First Christian, and a lot of people came. There were a lot of advocates, members of the social safety net who knew and worked with, tried to help Mike, and there were a whole bunch of people there who live out on the street, unhoused people, many living as out of control, as broken, as at risk a life as Mike did. This could have been simply an occasion for lamentation, for wailing and gnashing of teeth at another needless death; there was that. This could have been an occasion for rage; one man expressed that emotion. Mike made his choices, no doubt, addiction so often begins with bad choices, but then it is no longer a choice. And by the end, Mike had very few options left, no where to run, no where to hide, no where to find the next drink or bag let alone food or shelter.
There were tears. Speakers choked up. I did. But as I called out those words at the commendation, “For so did you ordain when you created me, saying, ‘You are dust, and to dust you shall return.’ All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” And through the tears that abounded, and these are Eugene street activists and homeless, not a churchy group, even there, hope shone forth. “Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” At the edge of the grave! It is not that Mike didn’t die in vain, he did. Michael Torrey died because communally we won’t admit that some people just can’t take care of themselves and we refuse to account for that in organizing our society. Mike may have died needlessly and badly, AND his death happened in the hope of the Resurrection, that in the fullness of time, in God’s time, everything is going to be OK. And that is true. Maybe most particularly true in extreme cases like his.
This is the mystery of the church, it is the heart of the faith, the faith we practice week after week as we gather around this table, the faith we practice as we read and study, as we learn with others, as we pray and as we work helping those who need our help, receiving the help we need from others. That’s the holy economy of hope. And it is, for us, as Christians, rooted in the deep mysteries that we bump into all over the place, in dark places, in light places, in people we love, in people we fear, and probably most intentionally we encounter these mysteries in the sacraments. And what is the source of the mystery we encounter? What is the heart of our religious life and imagination? What is the symbolic and incarnate center of our Christian consciousness, the source of all of our being and hope? Jesus Christ. All hope radiates out from the life and person of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. St. Mark writes, “Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.” That makes no sense; not a lick, that that, great suffering and rejection and death at the hands of the powerful, that that led to life. To the source of all light and life and hope. When Jesus Christ fulfilled His own prophesy it is not that something changed in the world, but everything was different. “I am Resurrection and I am Life, says the Lord. Whoever has faith in me shall have life, even though he die. And everyone who has life, and has committed himself to be in faith, shall not die forever.”
That fabulous proclamation of our faith does not mean that we won’t die, that our bodies won’t perish. They will. It is no assurance that we won’t suffer: we will. That we won’t fail: we have. That we won’t disappoint everyone we love, including, if it were possible, God: already done. And it doesn’t abdicate us from our responsibility to help restore the creation to the glory which God intended, to shine light in the darkness, shed love upon the un-loveable, help upon the un-helpable: we must. What this fabulous proclamation of our faith means, what “I am Resurrection and I am Life” means is that hope must spring eternal, that in the end everything is going to be exactly how God intends, exactly how it is supposed to be. In the fullness of time the hopeful faith of Christianity is realized. In the words of St. Julian of Norwich, “If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love.” That is the hope of which I speak. That is the hope preached by Jesus Christ in word and action, in the deep mystery of His dying and rising for you. But maybe the hope we need to get us through each day, each loss, each death, maybe it is a lot simpler. Maybe it is a lot less complicated or mysterious. Maybe it is a lot more hopeful, and is summed up in Dame Julian’s more famous saying, “All shall be well, all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well.” AMEN