When I started in ministry, a mentor told me: “Jay, you only have to do two things when it comes to Sunday worship. One, keep it to an hour. And two, leave people more hopeful than when they came.” Over the years, I’ve had varying degrees of success with the first one. We clergy do go on.
And I’ve aspired to the second goal, because everybody needs hope. Which brings me to current events:
When I preached on the Sunday before election, I issued a call to gentleness and compassion, because I said that after Tuesday, November 8, half of us would be filled with hope and half of us would tend to despair. It’s dangerous to preach. I didn’t imagine I’d be in the latter segment. Perhaps pride does come before the fall.
Yesterday, I went to church not only because it’s my job. I was also looking to get a dose of hope myself. Here in a state which went red, reaction to election results were mixed between high fives and kleenex. I suspect that’s true in many regions in this close election. In the spirit of full disclosure, I was in the group going through boxes of kleenex, occasionally uttering expletives to be deleted, for reasons I’m glad to discuss off line. I’ve been shaken. I’ve wondered about how to move forward. So yesterday, I went to church. For my job. For my spirit.
I preached yesterday on the collect, printed below, which speaks about scripture. It calls us to go deeper in scripture, in that marvelous progression that asks us to hear, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the words from the Bible. This is one of my favorite collects, surfacing once a year. It reminds us that the point of reading scripture is not to be biblically literate, or to be good at religious stuff, or to be holier than thou, or to use scripture as bludgeon on people who disagree with us. The point of reading scripture is to hold on to hope.
Over and over, the transformative, powerful stories of scripture aim to leave us ever more hopeful. The hope of Abraham and Sarah who wandered and wondered if there would even be a next generation. The hope of Moses’ mother who put her infant child in a basket in the river, trusting him to God’s care. The hope of Israelites enslaved in Egypt. The yearnings of the psalms. The hope of exiles longing for home from Babylonian captivity. Yesterday, we read a passage from Malachi, who spoke of the hope that came with the one risen with healing in his wings, a line included in a Christmas carol. (Hark, the herald angels…) It’s the hope of St. Paul writing from prison where every other word is a call to rejoice. The hope that at times in our lives, it may in fact feel like Good Friday but Sunday is coming.
Hope kept showing up. At one service, a small choir sang an anthem which has sustained me at critical passages in my life. The text: “Surely it is God who saves me. I will trust in him and not be afraid.” At another service, we concluded with Hymn 665: All my hope in God is founded. It’s a beautiful text, set to a tune composed by Herbert Howells. The tune is called Michael, dedicated to the memory of Howells’ son who died at the age of nine. (The first two stanzas are printed below.) As I sang the hymn, I thought, if this guy can hang on to hope, I guess I can too.
I’m grateful for a day when prayers, hymns and scripture bolstered my heart, offering comfort and perspective and community. I consider it all to be a gift of the spirit by which I was left more hopeful than when I started the day.
On this Monday morning, I’m hoping that the Spirit is leading you in paths marked by hope, so that by the end of the day, you will be more hopeful than when November 14th began. No matter how you voted.
And in case you’re wondering, yesterday, worship was done in under an hour.
Rev. Jay Sidebotham
RenewalWorks is a ministry of Forward Movement.
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