Reopening our doors

Hope in public

Hope in public
December 11, 2016
Passage: Matthew 11:2-11, Luke 1:46-55
Service Type:

Then the tongues of the speechless sing for joy.


Mary is speechless. She is one of the voiceless ones, and yet she sings for joy. A young woman always assumed to be a peasant girl, she sings the Magnificat after sitting for a while with the remarkable news of the incarnation. Mary is one of the voiceless ones, and she is nonetheless given words of prophecy, words that proclaim hope to every generation.


Mary embodies hope. She sings of healing, economic justice, political transformation, and the end of hunger. She sings of all this at a time when none of those things were evident in the world in which she lived. And yet, she sings it as if it were true. Mary is full of hope and wonder.


The almighty has done great things for me. He has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things. He has remembered his promise of mercy, the promise that Isaiah sang about in his own song of hope: The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped.


What gives you hope? I’ve been asking people this question all week. Some talk about daily prayer, or our corporate worship, or the amazing consistency of the Sunday readings telling our story week after week. Some speak to the witness of history and the power, in times past, of goodness and mercy to triumph. Others talk about their own newfound spirit for activism, a sense of connection and energy about protecting the vulnerable from those who would push them further to the margins of society. Others talk about finding hope in the spirituality of resistance they see in other people, both now and throughout history. Still others speak to me of discouragement, of struggling to find hope. Their voices are voices of lament. Lament provides a witness as authentic as hope. This whole spectrum of prayer, lament, history, and joyful activism in the name of God is reflected in the sweep of scripture. In our lives in this time and place, we are continuing the story.


Isaiah, Mary, John, and Jesus all seem to agree on how to recognize hope. It looks like streams in the desert, sight for the blind, the lion lying down with the lamb, the deaf hearing, the hungry being fed, the poor being lifted up. But even more than that, hope looks like people giving their faith and their voice to those things. The Magnificat, called “the hymn of universal social revolution,” did not come into being during a happy, hopeful time. And yet, there it is. Here it is.


Twice this past week, in two different conversations about hope (and hopelessness), I heard quoted the wonderful words of Cornell West that some of you may have heard as well: “Justice is what love looks like in public.” I love that. Someday, perhaps I’ll preach a whole sermon on it. But those words got me wondering: what does hope look like in public? If love in public is justice, I’d like to suggest that hope in public is investment.


Mary invested her body and her voice. Without knowing what would happen. Later, John the Baptist, in jail, knows even less about what is going to happen and yet he is ready to invest his whole life to God’s promised Messiah.


Investment is what hope looks like in public. How can we invest in raising up those who are cast down? How can we invest in filling the hungry with good things? How can we change systems that keep people hungry and cast down? We can donate time and treasure to organizations that feed and house and clothe people living in literal, physical poverty. We can invest in organizations that teach people how to cook or give people jobs. We can invest in bringing spiritual richness out of spiritual poverty, in ourselves or others. We can invest in ministries here at St. Paul’s that seek to fill the hungry with good things, literally and spiritually. We can invest in ministries that seek long-term systemic change, by investing time and willingness to learn what that might look like here, on our block, in our city, in our nation.


In the age we live in, the norm for success is immediate, visible return on investment. But depending on the nature of our work for the reign of God, some of us may never see the fruits of our investment. Remember the builders of medieval cathedrals, individuals who spent a lifetime hewing stone in service to a vision they knew they would never see completed. That is an investment; each stone carried is a stone of hope.


* * *


I was at a meeting yesterday of a new Bishop’s committee on Social Justice. One of the committee members offered a little training, and began by asking: How many of you are in parishes that have a social justice committee? Everyone raised their hand except me. A guy at the end of the table who knows us said: “You don’t need a social justice committee. You’re an Anglo-Catholic parish. That stuff is all built in.” I loved that.


I like to think he knew that our understanding of the place of sacrament in our lives and in our world is both a sign and a source of such transformation and such nourishment that we cannot help but seek ways in our individual lives and in our common life to make all things and all people holy.


Our words, our music, our practices all speak of love and of hope. The way that we proclaim resurrection every Sunday, the way that we invest our time and treasure as a community in beauty and music is another source of hope. My hope is that every Sunday we can listen to the words we pray and the music we sing with new ears, and hear God speaking to us of investment and of justice, and calling us to make it visible. Let us, like Mary, sing all of this, and make it true.