In the Interim: Reverend Terry Sweetser

In December we celebrate what it means to be a people of hope. We ask ourselves what we dare and how we can help each other, to live the love we wish we could. Hope is about, and this is my message for the month,  hope is about the impatience it takes to jump in and do what needs to be done for love.

Faith, wherever it develops into hope, causes not rest but unrest, not patience but impatience. It does not calm the unquiet heart, but is itself this unquiet heart in [all of us]. Those who hope...can no longer put up with reality as it is, but begin to suffer under it, to contradict it. [True hope] means conflict with the world, for the goad of the promised future stabs inexorably into the flesh of every unfulfilled present.”
Jürgen Moltmann, Theologian

It’s not always easy to hear well this time of year, especially when it comes to hope. The dominant messages are about hope offering us calm: “The light will come.” “A new day is on its way.” “Justice and joy are growing in the womb and will soon be born.” Hope, from this point of view, is a voice that reassures. It’s a welcomed whisper that says, “Yes, the sky may be dark now. Yes, the road you’re on at this moment may be hard. But trust me, just over that horizon, there’s a new world waiting for us all.”

This soothing message comes to us as a gift. During dark days, we all get tired. The fruits of our efforts are hard to see. We feel alone. The promise that things will change offers us relief. We are released from the burden of believing that “it is all up to me” or that it all must be solved now.

It’s a beautiful and needed message. But, as Moltmann and others remind us, it’s also only half of what hope is trying to say. Hope doesn’t just whisper “It will be different,” it also shouts “It should be different” and “It can be different.” Yes, it speaks soothing words about trusting and waiting, but it also takes the form of a holy impatience that declares, “Enough is enough. The time is now!” As Moltmann puts it, hope is not just that which calms the unquiet heart; it also is the unquiet heart.

Hope doesn’t just promise us that change will come in the future; it also changes who we are in the present. When we believe that a new day is dawning, we don’t just sit down and wait. We get up and go out to meet the light. When hope convinces us that there are unseen forces working for the good, we begin to look around more closely, and in doing so we notice that darkness and pain are not all that is there. When hope’s holy impatience gets into our bones, we start acting as if we deserve that new day now. Which in turn changes others by convincing them that we all have waited long enough.

Above all - listening fully to hope, makes you dangerous, not just soothed! It doesn’t relieve us of duty as much as it reminds us that wind is at our back and unseen reinforcements are at our side. Yes, hope reassures, but it also emboldens. It doesn’t just offer us a promise; it gives us a push.

But all of this only happens if we listen fully. So maybe the most important question this month is: “Are we listening to everything hope has to say?”

Here is a spiritual exercise to try this month: Spreading Our Stories of Hope!

Spend some time remembering how you’ve been saved by hope. And then bring that story of hope to one of your holiday gathering.

Hope rarely descends or magically appears. Most often, it’s passed on. It comes to us as a gift. We don’t find it, as much as we receive it. And almost always, that gift comes in the form of a story.  Hearing tales of others finding their way through the dark helps us trust that light is waiting at the end our tunnels as well. Listening to others talk about their sources of hope helps us notice the many resources available to us. Simply put, hope can’t spread without our stories. Light doesn’t travel through the dark on its own. It hitchhikes on the tales we tell each other.

So this month, let’s give each other the gift of hope by sharing the gift of our stories. We all have them. Some of us will talk about that person whose belief in us enabled us to believe in ourselves. Others will talk about how we held on through depression for the sake of kids. More than one of us will name that moment when we realized that the darkness was not our enemy but actually contained a gift. At least one of us will likely talk about the magic of “faking it until we made it.” Still others may share their experience of stumbling upon one of those beautiful “It Gets Better” videos.  In the end, the details of the stories are less important than the act of bringing them all into the room. Surrounded by each other’s stories, a gathering can’t help but become lit up.

Blessings and see you in church!

Reverend Terry