Finding Our Way: Hope

Biblical hope is something different. The hope of our ancestors is something different. Hope is something different than we have been led to believe.

Somehow it has gotten into our minds and in our culture that hope is clean and pure. To hope means to be untethered to reality and unfettered to the tides of time and current events. No. Hope has dirt on it. Hope has grit. Like I quoted Rebecca Solnit’s phrase about hope last Sunday, “Hope is not a lottery ticket you can sit on the sofa and clutch, feeling lucky. It is an axe you use to break down doors in an emergency.”

Emily Dickinson wrote “Hope is a thing with feathers that perches in the soul
and sings the tune without the words
And never stops at all.”[1]

I like how the tune never stops. Hope doesn’t stop. But it is not a thing with feathers. I like Caitlin Seida’s poem entitled, “Hope Is Not a Bird, Emily, It’s a Sewer Rat.”

Hope is not the thing with feathers

That comes home to roost

When you need it most.

Hope is an ugly thing

With teeth and claws and

Patchy fur that’s seen some [things].

It’s what thrives in the discards

And survives in the ugliest parts of our world,

Able to find a way to go on

When nothing else can even find a way in.

It’s the gritty, nasty little carrier of such

diseases as

optimism, persistence,

Perseverance and joy,

Transmissible as it drags its tail across

your path

and bites you in the [butt].

Hope is not some delicate, beautiful bird, Emily.

It’s a lowly little sewer rat

That snorts pesticides like they were

Lines of coke and still

Shows up on time to work the next day

Looking no worse for wear.”

Hope has dirt on it. Hope that has context and grounding is the most powerful hope we have. The bible was not written in a vacuum. It was written by real people in real places experiencing the real world. Highly organized societies that these people had the intelligence to navigate. If we were to take a time machine back to their world, we wouldn’t be able to survive. What we call camping, they called daily life. We wouldn’t know the first thing about finding food and water, let alone navigating the complex social relationships and realities.

The Isaiah passage is hope with dirt on it. It’s a sewer rat sort of hope. Whether written before the exile or during it, the hope remains that Jerusalem will be the place people gather for peace. Disputes are settled. Swords are beaten into plowshares and the ways of war forgotten. This vision is given by a prophet in a certain place in a certain time. That’s hope with dirt on it.

Our Advent and Christmas readings are full of this sewer rat sort of hope. In fact, John the Baptist reminds me of a sewer rat. Looking shaggy, wet from the waters of the Jordan River, eating locust and wild honey that civilized folk turned their noses up at. He’ll give a message of gritty hope.

Mary getting the news. Her song of the Magnificat of worldly powers being thrown down and God’s reign coming true are prophetic words given in a certain place: her cousin’s front porch. Mary is in the real and biological process of pregnancy. Specific. Tangible. Real enough to feel the kicks of the child. Living and incarnated hope. Yet births are not something you can really set your watch for. Especially this birth with smelly shepherds showing up and foreign astrologers and a whole motley cast of characters.

About that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven. Only God. The Matthew passage if taken out of a time and place can be read through the lens of rapture theology. It gives a scary image of two people working then one is suddenly gone and the other is left behind. This guilt-inducing reading then would require you to make sure you believe all the right stuff to ensure you’re the one taken and not the one left behind. It’s an unfortunate take, and one I don’t subscribe to as it has too much fear in it and can lead to some unhealthy places. Yet if we put dirt on it… if we read it through the lens of a sewer rat or a hope like an axe and not a lottery ticket, then we see something else.

When hope bites us, we are flung. We are taken and shaken and flung. I had no plans to live in Medina. I had no plans to live in Sylvania or Lancaster or any of those places. I was working the counter at my old job with another guy. I found hope in my church and I was flung into seminary. Hope took me and left the other guy. His name was Steve and I sincerely hope he’s doing well. Maybe he’s found his own hope and is somewhere that surprises him as equally as it surprised me.

You might have a similar story of hope. You heard a message and you had to do something. Take more courses. Watch a few documentaries. Hit the library and read books. Build houses here for Habitat or in Costa Rica. You heard something, and hope got its teeth into you and you were taken, and others were left. I don’t know how that works, only God does. Not even Jesus might have known how it works—he was more than likely surprised at who ended up being his disciples and who said no to him.

And it’s surprising to me who I keep finding God in. I get to see Jesus quite often in you and your stories shared after worship, at coffee hour, at funeral luncheons, or in bible studies. Therefore keep watch, because you do not know what day your Lord will come. And if you’re not looking for Christ in your neighbor, you may not see Christ. That’s the type of gritty hope we are called to have.

My gritty hope. As we hear of the lion and the lamb lying down together, I hope we can figure out how to get the donkey and the elephant to do the same. I pray that they put forward candidates who won’t bow to the extremes but instead make decisions for the common good.

I hope that every LGBTQ+ person feels safe. After the shooting at a gay bar in Colorado Springs, it is apparent that those safe spaces are needed now more than ever. I hope that Medina is a safe place to be oneself at any age, and our love for the neighbor translates to policy that welcomes and protects and doesn’t try to explain it away to the bullies and those who don’t understand through either ignorance or willful ignorance. Hope that folks can walk down the street holding the hand of the one they love without fear. That’s my hope.

I hope for no more mass shootings. I hope that people from all backgrounds are no longer slandered and attacked. I hope we end the madness and beat our rifles into plowshares, and our guns into garden tools.[2] I hope the day will come where we will have no more ALICE drills in our schools. No more lock downs. I understand the need to have them, but I hope the day will come where they are a thing of the past.

I hope that we can learn of the gritty hope of our black guys, gals, and nonbinary pals. The gritty hope that loves this country with its history others try to deny or write off. How they persist. How they hope. How the expression of faith from the black church is a gift with its gospel and jazz and theology.  I hope for the day black folk don’t fear that getting a speeding ticket might be the end of their life. I hope for the day that every police officer does not fear that this could be their last patrol and they might not come home. I hope we enact policies that provide police the support they need to be community resources and neighbors, and not so heavily burdened.

I hope that those struggling with mental health can get same day help and not a three week wait list. I hope for affordable housing and emergency shelters in every community. I hope that those with addiction keep taking it a day at a time and those still in denial have the courage to face what needs facing and begin their recovery.

I hope that we can learn how to disagree and not fight. I watched the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony thanks to Kathi Kavouras’ recommendation. The song writing team of Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis have produced some amazing hits for Prince and Janet Jackson among many others. Jimmy said of Terry, “In all our years together, we have never fought. We have disagreements. Fighting means there’s a winner and a loser and I never want to win something where Terry loses.” I was floored.

I have spoken before of the great resignation of pastors. It is because in this fraught political climate where folks are fighting over masks, policy, and what their pastor wears, pastors have had enough. Pastors are up and quitting. I won’t. Because I believe that we are learning to disagree and not fight. I don’t want to win if it means any of my committees, teams, or members lose. We can disagree, but I refuse to fight. That’s the climate we’re going for here, and I hope it’s already in place.

My hope for you is that you go from here and be ready to meet God. That this time here has inspired you to look, and I hope that you will be ready when the Son of Man comes at the hour you do not expect him. And may that be a blessing to you and all who know you.

May you wield your hope like an axe which breaks down doors and barriers and rescues people. I want you to chop down the constructs that traumatized you and keep you bound. I want to chop up the misunderstanding and misinformation that’s used to keep you ignorant and complacent. Moreso, I hope you find the John the Baptist, smelly shepherds, unwed pregnant teenager type of gritty hope that just cannot be killed. When you find that sewer rat, you know it for what it truly is. Hope is not a thing so easily killed. It changes the world and it is undeterred by the set backs. It hopes for the day that all people are set free, all of us; because none of us are truly free until all of us are. Thanks be to God. Amen.

Works Cited


[2] Isaiah 2:4

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