Reflection: September 30

Published on Oct 2nd, 2018 by Webminister | 0

Scripture: Mark 9:38–50

         Among the many questions that I’m asked, a frequent one is about how to keep hope alive in the midst of so many troubling experiences, challenges and world events.  I know that among activists dedicated to curbing climate change, despair and cynicism has become very real; but we all face many personal challenges—loss, grief, depression, anxiety, PTSD, health crises, world calamities, and the possibility of major changes to our lives.  How do we keep going?  How do we keep hope alive?

         One way is to be uplifted by people who are able to articulate a sense of hope; many of my friends have a tagline on their email, a Howard Zinn quote that says, “To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty but of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness….”  We need constant reminding that the gifts of compassion, servanthood, courage—living with heart, and kindness—are all around and within us.  There are so many people who lift this up for us today, the likes of Brother David Steindl-Rast and Parker Palmer, Joan Chitister and Joyce Rupp. Mary Oliver and other poets provide this needed encouragement.  And when coupled with music, the transformation can be quite incredible!  We all need to be inspired!

         Jesus’ way was also to inspire change; he did so by reminding us that we embody fully the love of God in who we are, in how we live and in what we do.  That’s why we chose as our Purpose Statement: “We dare to live the Way of Jesus, embodying the Love of God.”  The first step in this is simply to recognize that we embody the love of God. I know that this can cut to the heart of how many of us feel about ourselves.  It’s one thing to affirm that we embody God’s love—that God’s love is enfleshed in us—but it is another thing to live it out with full conviction.  For those of us who lived through trauma in our childhoods or have experienced trauma at other moments, it can be difficult to affirm our bodies, let alone think that God is part of our flesh and bone. It can be a challenge to affirm that we embody God’s love in our beings.

         And yet, that is the nub of the spiritual life: to live in the world and try to live through challenging experiences with hope, affirming the compassion, kindness and love that exists in us and others.  We start each day this way, and when we lose hope a bit, as we do often—or at least, I do—we start again and we continue in this spiral of hope and love.

It’s interesting to note that all of the rhetoric in today’s reading from Mark’s gospel is just that; it is rhetoric to inspire people to live more fully, more hopefully, more in community, more compassionately.  Albeit, the words are rather harsh, but as the cultural historian Richard Rohrbaugh points out, people would have understood then that feet and hands refer to the things we do and the eye refers to our way of thinking.[1]  They also would have understood the reference to the valley of Gehenna.  And the basic teaching is that when we find ourselves engaged in behaviour that causes problems to others, we stop, reflect, repent apologize, and start again.

         At the end of this passage in Mark, Jesus said, “If salt loses its flavour, how can you make it salty again?”  Indeed, it is another rhetorical question because if salt loses its saltiness, it is no longer salt.  Salt can’t lose its saltiness.  And so, Jesus at the end of these hard sayings, said that becoming part of the community of God means that the salt is in us and won’t leave us.  Again, like Zinn, it is a reminder that we are full of compassion, kindness and love!

         Joanna Macy, a Buddhist, offers similar ideas; she has pointed out that for hope to flourish, we must be engaged in the work of transformation.  Jesus talked of being changed by the Spirit, of being changed by love.  Joanna Macy talks of choosing to engage a process that starts with gratitude, even in the midst of chaos, even if it is a small thing. The second “step” is to honour our pain, to be honest with our experiences of loss and challenge.  The third “step” is to begin to see with new eyes, seeing our interconnectedness and the sacredness of all life.  And the final “step” is to go forth and engage in the actions that call to each of us.  This isn’t a linear process but is a cyclical process of engagement, reflection, and transformation.  This is very similar to what Jesus taught and embodied.

         A third way to keep hope alive is to tell stories; that’s why we heard Esther today: it tells the story of Purim, the Spring festival of special foods and celebration that is important to Jews.  Esther is read during this festival in a way that celebrates the survival of the Jewish people.  Dr. Lisa Wolfe, whose study we watched in a “Living the Questions” series this Spring, says that it is a story of comedic hope, a self-defence fantasy for the scattered and persecuted Jews who not only survived but were victorious.  We keep hope alive by telling stories—fantasy, comedy or otherwise—that inspire us to live more fully, with more integrity and more hope—to truly embody God’s love.

         As I said a moment ago, music with words can really inspire hope in us; “Silent Night” is one of those Christmas songs that we all know; I remember the first time I heard Simon and Garfunkel’s overlay of “Silent Night” with a radio broadcast of the 7 o’clock news; this was back in the 1960’s and the presentation of the news was stark. It was an American newscast about civil rights, Martin Luther King, Jr., vice-president Nixon, the Vietnam war, mass killings and corruption.  Not much different from today.  And in their wonderful harmony, Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon sang “Silent Night.”  I wasn’t even yet a teenager when I heard it first but I was deeply moved by it.  There can be hope even in the starkest and bleakest of moments.  As humans, we hold onto this.  We cling to it.

         I don’t know what Simon and Garfunkel intended us to think, but “Silent Night,” a Christmas song about the birth of Jesus—a bit on the sentimental side, perhaps—seemed to say to me, “Even in the midst of the bad news in the world, even in the midst of the terrible things we experience, God still dared to enter this world, to be enfleshed in this world in a baby and in each of us.”  That’s daring hope.  Our faith leads us to a keen sense of being a follower of One who embodied peace and hope, and who continues to work through us to change the world, change our lives, and to live more fully in the hope of love.  I still believe it today even if that hope wavers from time to time!

         Amen.

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[1]Bruce Malina/Richard Rohrbaugh, Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospel. Page 187.

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