When There Is No Hope
Hope is the word promised to the Church. Hope was the word on His resurrection day. Hope when he ascended. Hope when the spirit descended. Yet, there was so little hope in her eyes.
I spoke with a number of people this week about the riots in the country. In each conversation, there was a tone of voice that I cannot shake off. This was most pronounced a couple days ago when a young, professional woman asked me for my thoughts about the situation. What word of hope can you offer to the people protesting this weekend? It was such a genuine moment. She was looking for hope. In fact, there was a slight tremor in her voice. Where is the hope?
I believe she spoke for the whole country at that moment. I suspect very few people, just now, actually have any hope. Even the most determined activists seem empty of hope. Two young men reached out to me since that conversation. They were angry. Angry at the police force. Angry at humanity. Angry at God. They were ready to pick up arms and fight for justice. But I do not believe they actually felt there was any hope.
Where is the hope?
On Pentecost Day, tongues of fire filled the room of the Apostles.
“And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:1-4).
Christ spoke of Pentecost Day in our Gospel reading this morning:
“If you love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it sees him not, neither knows him: but you know him; for he dwells with you, and shall be in you. I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world sees me no more; but you see me: because I live, you shall live also. At that day you shall know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you” (Jn. 14:15-20).
I recieved some ridicule about my statement on the news. My words were: “The truest activitists are the men and women in this country on their knees in prayer.” One young man wrote to me:
“Great. If everybody was Christian, especially Orthodox then we wouldn't have any problems. Woo hoo. As it stands, the police need to be smacked down for the murders they perpetuate and the government needs to be reevaluated for their part in the status quo.”
What do you think? Is he right? Should we be picking up our arms? Should we be storming the streets and demanding justice? His reply brought to my heart, with such clarity, the profound meaning of Pentecost Day.
Pentecost signifies the essence of the Christian life. There is no hope in this world. There is no liberation or justice here on earth, in societies run by broken men and women. So long as we are left to our own, the only thing that governments and social activism can do is perpetuate the brokenness, hate, and racism. There is only hope in the significance of Pentecost, that Christ has formed a Church where we can be remade.
There is only hope when we learn to fall on our knees and pursue holiness. Christ’s words were:
“In my Father’s house are many mansions…I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (Jn. 14:1-3).
What are the mansions? We are.
The Church is the new humanity-in-process. We are the mansions being prepared, broken down, reshaped, purged, and transformed. We are weak, afraid, incompetent. We are hypocrites, yes, and broken as much as anyone else. The world looks at us and laughs, but does not understand. We are the Church not because we are holy, but because we have accepted the fact that we are not holy. We are the Church because we have realized our humanity is bankrupt, that we must first learn to die to ourselves and live in Jesus Christ.
We see the fruit of this already in the saints. Only the Church has produced men and women holy enough to make a real difference in this world. St. Basil formed the first hospitals. St. Gregory set the gears in motion, which other Christians would pick up and later abolish slavery. Mother Teresa reminded the modern world that one simple, loving girl can do more good than all the institutions and governments and riots. We should take a stance in this world. Achieve holiness and only then will you make a difference for the good. Learn to pray, and you will become an activist of the truest kind.
I want to take a moment to read a poem by G. K. Chesterton about the Church. It is rather long, and I ask for your patience with me today. I believe this to be important, in the light of all our challenges, locally and internationally:
“The Kingdom of Heaven”
SAID the Lord God, "Build a house, Build it in the gorge of death, Found it in the throats of hell. Where the lost sea muttereth, Fires and whirlwinds, build it well."
Laboured sternly flame and wind, But a little, and they cry, "Lord, we doubt of this Thy will, We are blind and murmur why," And the winds are murmuring still.
Said the Lord God, "Build a house, Cleave its treasure from the earth, With the jarring powers of hell Strive with formless might and mirth, Tribes and war-men, build it well."
Then the raw red sons of men Brake the soil, and lopped the wood, But a little and they shrill, "Lord, we cannot view Thy good," And the wild men clamour still.
Said the Lord God, "Build a house, Smoke and iron, spark and steam, Speak and vote and buy and sell; Let a new world throb and stream, Seers and makers, build it well."
Strove the cunning men and strong, But a little and they cry, "Lord, mayhap we are but clay, And we cannot know the why," And the wise men doubt to-day.
Yet though worn and deaf and blind, Force and savage, king and seer Labour still, they know not why; At the dim foundation here, Knead and plough and think and ply.
Till at last, mayhap, hereon, Fused of passion and accord, Love its crown and peace its stay Rise the city of the Lord That we darkly build to-day.
We are the Church. Our work together here, now, in this parish, is absolutely critical. We have so many challenges ahead of us. We have to put up with one another, with all our shortcomings and misgivings. There will be times when we are tempted to leave, when we feel that we have had all we could handle. There will be times when our knees are sore and we simply do not want to kneel anymore. Yet, we must persevere. The world needs it so desperately. Our souls need it so desperately. Our hope is God, in him alone, in Christ’s ascension, in the Spirit’s descent, in the death of our egos and the birth of God in our hearts.
We should be activists, and that is why we need to learn to pray. We must make a difference here on earth, and that will only be achieved when we have learned to love God and the person directly in front of you.
We can only begin here, and now, in our parish community, and if we learn to love one another, that love will flow out into the world and conquer it. Today, Pentecost Day, our life in Christ is renewed and refreshed and we are brought back to our first calling. May God give each of us the strength needed in the days ahead to bow our knees and let God do His work.
Come Holy Spirit.