I looked out the window at about 2:30 this afternoon and it was as dark as night. Thunder boomed, the wind blew, and rain swept sideways across the parking lot. Now, an hour later the Beech Grove is bathed in dappled sunlight. From light to darkness back to light in an hour’s time.
That rapid shifting back and forth in extremes is indicative of how many of us may be feeling these days. I’ll be feeling pretty good, then I’ll watch the news and plunge into despair. From conversations with others I realize I am not the only one feeling this way these days. Back and forth, back and forth we go.
Despair seems an appropriate response to much of what is going on in our country now. Last week we passed the 150,000 death mark from COVID-19. The economy plunged as more people lost their jobs. We look to the government for help and there is precious little. Our president couldn’t be bothered to offer even a fake comment of remorse at the horrific death toll. The Senate went home the day an increase in unemployment benefits expired. Many of our national and state leaders seem to have abdicated their most basic responsibility of caring for their people. Despair and numbness is real in the face of so much horrific news, so much grief, so much fear of the unknown future.
Scripture has something to say to us in such a situation. The Old Testament prophets often speak to people whose hope is gone, who live in numbness and despair, who cannot believe that any new beginning is possible in a community that is in ruins, who fear that the way things are is the way things must be. Into such situations the prophet is called to speak a word of hope.
In his book The Prophetic Imagination, Walter Brueggemann writes that the “only way to overcome numbness and despair is through the public presentation of hope.” The kind of hope of which Brueggemann speaks is not a false optimism. It doesn’t come from turning off the news and refusing to face reality. We are called to hope because God is real and God’s self has been made known to us through the stories of Israel and in the person of Jesus.
Hope based in faith does not deny reality; it proclaims that with God the future can be different from our present crisis. One of my favorite prayers in the Book of Common Prayer puts it this way:
O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church, that wonderful and sacred mystery; by the effectual working of your providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection by him through whom all things were made.
That kind of hope can give us the eyes to see new things being raised up, even in the midst of hardship and despair.
In a Zoom meeting with clergy last week Bishop Wright was talking about hope and amazement in our present reality. He asked this question: “Even though grief, loss, and hardship are real, how have you been amazed by God in this season?”
His own answer to the question surprised me. He cited St. Dunstan’s and things we have done since the pandemic began. In an earlier conversation he lifted up our RIP Medical Debt campaign for recognition. This time he praised our setting aside funds to help parishioners financially affected by the pandemic as an example of “doing a new thing” that offers hope.
When I stop to think about it, I can cite several ways I have been amazed by God in the last five months. The most powerful example is one I’ve talked about many times — the Sandy Springs pop up food pantries begun by mothers who were afraid school children and their families would go hungry in the pandemic and decided to do something about it. The pantries offer so many moments of amazement. Restaurant owners who give free space, congregations like us who donate food and money, teachers who spend their free time making deliveries of food to families who have no transportation, fresh produce delivered from community gardens, Hundreds of small acts coming together to create hope for so many. And we are part of it.
How have you been amazed by God in this season? Where have you found hope? What has sustained you?
The community of St. Dunstan’s provides that for me. Joe mentioned during announcements yesterday that it was the 16th anniversary of my beginning here. That length is not the norm for the Episcopal Church; four or five years is the average tenure for a rector. The fact that this community has so often given me hope is the primary reason I am still here after 16 years. For that I am deeply grateful.
See you at Compline tonight at 8 (the service sheet is attached).