A Future With Hope: The Rev. Anne Jolly's Convention Morning Prayer Sermon
November 19, 2018
The dust kicks up off the road, as a caravan of people approaches – as far as you can see, there are people in disarray – carrying all the possessions they have on their backs – shod in shoes none of us would wear for a journey of hundreds or thousands of miles. Some are singing, some are crying, there are children carrying other children on their backs, and strong people helping the weak. They stop at intervals to rest, encouraging each other on.
Home had been good once, but if they are honest with themselves, they will find that it had been hard for some time. But now, staying where they are is no longer a tenable option. For there to be life, life must change.
This is true for Brenda Escobar from Honduras, traveling with two children, who was kidnapped and raped by a gang member, and beaten by another. Brenda, and the others in the caravan are forced out of their place of refuge by poverty and violence. They have no idea if their journey will bring them safety or more danger. Once jarred out of what was home, they are desperately seeking survival. They long for life over sure death. They are scared and things have been so bad that they are afraid to be hopeful.
The prophet Jeremiah speaks to God’s people in Exile – who have been violently forced out of their homeland. His frightening tale of wandering for up to 3.5 generations is one that has always sounded horrible, but was hard for me to envision outside of the abstract. Now it is an image I can’t get out of my mind or my heart.
The Israelites may have worn sandals and carried their belongings in cloth bundles while the refugees in the caravan wear flip flops and crocs and carry their belongings in back packs, but we know they are the same in so many ways. We can see the fear and desperation mixed with the dust on the roads they all walk.
Jeremiah’s message to the refugees is that their journey will be long, and filled with challenges and peril. Yay. Thanks, Jeremiah. But then he reminds us of God’s love and hope. “I will come to you” – wherever you are – even if you don’t know where you are, and you often won’t, God is there. “I will hear you when you pray” – even in the middle of nowhere, when you are surrounded by strangers in fear, I will hear you. “If you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me”-
This message of hope encourages the refugees to keep seeking God’s love and hope with every step of their journey to a new life– around every bend, in every bush and tree and ditch. God is present and will NOT give up on God’s people, even as they try to find a new way of living in the world. The exiles, in carrying God’s love and hope, become the bearers of that hope to the world. The people in the caravan who are interviewed by reporters traveling with them seem to have internalized Jeremiah’s message. They DO have hope. And people along the road are supporting them and sharing what they have in love and hope.
Despite my despair about how our country seems to respond, despite concerns for what is going to happen to them, the caravan has tangible proof of Christ’s body in the world, and they continue to seek God with every step. Ironically, THEIR hope for the future – their belief in humanity gives US hope.
And if there is hope for all of these people seeking a new home, despite what we know about what is waiting for them at the border, then surely there is hope for the church. It really isn’t that much of a stretch to look at ourselves, the church as a people in exile. No, our personal lives aren’t on the line, but our institution is. We had a way of life that we thought was comfortable, but was really not as secure as we thought. Huge changes have forced us out of that comfort zone despite our loud protests.
We are a people seeking a new way of being in the world, a new way of life – without any certainty that our quest will end well. It is scary, and the world doesn’t always seem hospitable, and the path isn’t clear or straight.
German Theologian Henri Nouwen says, “As we let the Word of God settle into the center of our being, it becomes the ongoing incarnation of God in our world.” So as we work together and try new ways of being church, placing our hope in God, we BECOME hope incarnate. And at first it sounds perhaps like Pollyanna, but then we look around this room. We meet people who are doing creative things, who aren’t afraid to change, and we are part of a diocese that offers workshops and roundtables, and genuine support – all opportunities for us to explore how we will settle in a new land.
We have been jarred out of our inertia balanced way of operating, and offered traveling companions, and the kindness of people we meet as we go. Together we have the courage to pray, and search, and hope for new ways of being Christ’s hands and feet in this world. For there to be life, life must change. Looking at who we are and how we can continue to share the Good News of Jesus Christ in this crazy, and oh-so-broken world is all of a sudden an exciting possibility. We reimagine how to remind this broken world we have a savior who loves everyone, especially those that the rest of the world finds different and scary. Our ability to change so we can share this truth matters. It matters to us, and to the caravan, and to caravans to come. As we travel on our journey, changing together, we will spread that hope and love and grace to everyone, sharing God’s good news with the words of the prophet Jeremiah ringing in our hearts, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”