The Miracle of Hope

Today we’re talking about the miracle of hope. Hope is not optimism. Hope according to Cambridge scholar David Newheiser is “a disciplined resilience that enables desire to endure without denying its vulnerability.”[1]

In other words, hope is the opposite of numbing. Optimism is more a short-term, individual outlook. Hope is a virtue. Hope has benefits beyond the self and is a more “we” instead of a “me” view of the world. Hope is often shaped by hardship and strengthened through relationships.[2] I think of Vicktor Frankel and what he endured in the unspeakable horrors of the holocaust. He came out and said, “If you have a why, you can endure any how.”[3]

The great two hopes of Congregationalism are autonomy and covenant.

Autonomy is the fact that you are an individual. This is the great thought experiment of the Enlightenment. You think, therefore you are. You make your own choices, have your own thoughts and opinions, and are largely in charge of yourself. We respect the autonomy of the individual.

Covenant is the fact that you are not self-made. You come from a family system, born into a society that you did not create. You are because others were. It is not good for us to be alone, so we seek out our people.

These are the two great hopes of the United Church of Christ which stems directly from our Congregational ancestors specifically the Cambridge Platform of 1646.[4]  . We keep these two things in dynamic tension. We have our own thoughts, yet so do others. We are created each in the image of God… and so is everyone else.

Often, we give up our autonomy because we have poor self-esteem. Or because we’re not an expert in something, so we make ourselves small. Or we think we’ll go along to get along, and we don’t want to rock the boat. Yet certain boats need to be rocked. Dare I say, certain boats need to be sunk. Boats that dehumanize and ferry folks to islands of violence and misery and hell on earth, those boats need to be sunk.

“In the end,” said the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Comments from your enemies may hurt; however, the hurt from friends not standing by and supporting you is forever remembered. I think that’s why racism and other social ills continues. We don’t want to lose a relationship or challenge someone, so racism persists. We also don’t want to live in “call out culture.” That doesn’t feel right. I want to try to learn “call in culture.” We call people into better ways of living. That is the work required of us. Like MLK did with the Letter from a Birmingham Jail; he called his fellow white clergymen into relationship with his struggle and the struggle of the bus boycott and the Civil Rights Movement in general. Just as Christ called people into relationship with God and their neighbor.

We need to use our voices and our actions to create a better world. No one is going to do this for you, you must seek it out and build it with your time, talent, and treasure. You can’t buy it. You can’t get it at a discount because this call to build a better, more just, more loving world will require everything from you. This is what Christ meant when he said, “You must take up your cross and follow me.” There will be pain in this, and it’s a pain you must face if you want new life.

I have met many folks who were completely autonomous.  I think of my grandpa. The problem with the world was everyone else. It is a miserable, isolated way of living. Pride goes before the fall. I also don’t want to veer into protectionism. Protectionism is the stance that “I know best and I’ll guide your life.” I don’t like that option either. Author Yaa Gyasi writes, “Weakness is treating someone as though they belong to you. Strength is knowing that everyone belongs to themselves.”[5]

The great hope of the UCC is to live in the dynamic tension of autonomy and covenant. The push and pull between the individual and the group. Living and thinking about this dynamic tension helps me be a better husband, a better father, and a better citizen.

My wife Kate is her own person. We have many things in common, but not everything. She sees money differently than I do. This dynamic tension helps us reflect on how we view and spend our money. What we invest in. The charities we give to. Sure, this can be a place of pain, but only if one of us (usually me) insists on their own way.

Maybe for you and your relationship there’s something you don’t see eye-to-eye on. Never have, never will. Maybe you tell time differently.[6] Maybe you’re of different political parties. Do not think of these tensions as a flaw of your relationship, think of them as a feature. You’ll find a lot of life and learning there. If you cease to learn from your family and friends, then do you really have a relationship?

This dynamic tension has helped me be a better father. I could insist that the kids like the bands I liked, do like I did in school, and get into all the same things that I’m into. This would be… ill advised for they’re doing this school thing way better than I ever did. Their worst report card would have been my best one. They’re way smarter. They’re also in a different era. A completely different context. After all, I was born in the 1900s. They were born in the 2000s. Completely different century! In more ways than one. They can teach me new features on my phone and new apps to download. I can teach them how to put down their phones, have face-to-face conversations, and be present. For the wise brings out both the old and new treasures together. These differences are not a flaw in our relationship, they are a feature.

I’m a better citizen as well. We’re living in a hyper-partisan and polarized time. I wouldn’t say “the most polarized time” for we’re not seeing people have duels like Burr and Hamilton. We’re not living during the Civil War, that would be THE most polarized time. They say “those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.” Someone once added the fatalistic “And those who do know history are doomed to be dragged into repeating it by those who don’t know history.”

I would like to humbly point out my hope. It seems the current hope of our two political parties is that if we just got rid of the other party, life would be great. We are acting like the two major parties are a flaw in our system, when really they are a feature.

The two-party system was introduced by our 8th president, Martin van Buren.[7] He eventually grew disillusioned with this system and tried to run as a third party candidate and kill this monster that he made. Yet it was like Frankenstein vs. the monster he created… it didn’t work.

The Republicans talk about small government. We need that. We need to empower individuals and trust that they know what’s best for them. Businesses thrive when people are free to create them and respond to needs. I like how our mayor talks about how the tax-dollar is sacred and he and our council encourage sharing and keeping costs down. This is needed. It is necessary.

The Democrats talk about justice a lot. We need that. We need to right wrongs. Sometimes individuals have a lot of prejudice, and this is a problem because it’s individuals who create business that leave people out. We need policies that will help us evolve as a society that lives into the promise “All people are created equal.” This is needed. It is necessary.

This is not a flaw in our country, but the feature. Because of this dynamic tension that goes back to our 8th president, we have put people on the moon! We have created some amazing businesses that have innovated. We made jazz and rock and roll which swept the world! Our movies are shown darn near everywhere! America was and is a city on a hill. A light to the nations.

We are not without our flaws. I confess that I’m rather sick of the partisanship. These folk who wish to remove the opposition have our country all wrong. This is a feature, not a flaw. To wish the other side out misses the entire point of our democracy. I take no hope in those arguments.

Instead, I hope that we will remember and live into our dynamic tension. It is a tension that is directly in the foundation of our congregational heritage. We are individuals who are free to make our own choices. We are also caught up in community and our choices have consequences. We are individuals. We are part of community. Both are true at the same time. The tension of psychology and sociology: individual and the corporate.

This gives me a lot of hope. For Christ came and was an individual like no other! We tell time differently because he was born! There was the time Before Christ, and the years of our Lord who is still speaking. Still coaching us. Still calling us to expand our sense of who is our neighbor.  Individual and community. To live in the dynamic tension without fear.

For we know the plans the Lord has for us. Plans to prosper us and not to harm us. To give us hope and a future. Here’s my great hope as your pastor. It’s been the foundation of my ministry and its destination. I’m here to rehumanize the church.

The church is not the building, the programs, the budget, the doctrine or anything else. The church has been and always will be the people who are trying to be like Christ to each other and the world. It is we humans who make up the church. It is in our best interest to be humane in how we are together. Anything that makes us less human… addiction, mental illness, family systems, trauma, and whatever you might face as an individual… there are people here and resources within our community that will help you begin to heal and will love you into being.

Christ says in John 10:16, “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” I take this to mean that I shouldn’t write off an entire group of people that don’t share my labels or live as I live. It’s God’s judgment that ultimately matters. My job is to love my neighbor as I would love myself. That throws me right back into the dynamic tension of autonomy and covenant; individual and community.

I would never say to my neighbor words I think about myself. In service to my neighbor, I can find a love of myself. I can grow to see myself as God sees me: a beloved child. And the God I follow has never met a stranger. Jesus sat and ate with everyone. Told parables to any who would listen. I love that about Jesus. It is what has helped me repent of so many fears and prejudice that I carried. I feel lighter because of this. I’m still a work in progress, still unlearning. Less hate, more love. Sounds so easy yet it’s so difficult.

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was met with a lot of hate in his life. Yet he once said, “Everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.”[8] So let’s go and be great church. Both as individuals and collectively. May we welcome, love, and serve all in our path… for that’s what we saw in Jesus. And maybe someday… we’ll see it in ourselves and others. I hope to see that day!

Works Cited



[3] Paraphrase from his quote in Man’s Search for Meaning: “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”

[4] If one wants to get super nerdy: Walker, Williston. The Creeds and Platforms of Congregationalism (Boston, MA: The Pilgrim Press, 1960).

[5] Homegoing, page 38.

[6] Easter Egg moment and shout out to Seven Minute Stories:



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