January 1, 2017 — Nancy Bancroft
Readings: Revelations 21:1-6a; Matthew 25:31-40
Last Saturday we had two beautiful Christmas Eve celebrations. Despite many people having debilitating colds we had a gorgeous church, wondrous music, angels, drummers, beautifully proclaimed words and together we all celebrated Emmanuel –God-with-us. And it truly was a celebration. The music and the liturgy brought home to us the many examples of goodness, kindness, and generosity that we experienced for ourselves these last few weeks.
Today we have two of many readings which tell us again and again Emmanuel. God is with us.
See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them. And,
Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family you did it to me.
God’s presence and actions is all around us – and every now and then we get glimpse.
And I don’t think that we can have too much reminding that the divine is with us and in us and all around us as we begin our journey into 2017. We have a tough slog ahead of us. The ideologues and billionaires who will be part of the next cabinet, coupled with the president-elect’s own tweets, foreshadow upheavals in policies, unexpected programs and surprising strategies in foreign relations and at home. There is a real possibility of restarting a nuclear arms race. We are in a time of uncertainty and danger most especially for people of color, immigrants, religious minorities, LGBT people, and women. And this cultural turmoil is not limited to our country. All over Europe conservative, self-protectionist leaders are gaining popularity. In many ways the world around us looks grim; which means, we are much in need of hope.
In the early 1960s, the German theologian Jurgen Moltmann wrote an incredible book called “Theology of Hope”. The primary message of the book is that Christian faith has a transforming effect on individuals, on society and on the world to the degree that it is rooted in a vision of hope. Moltmann states, “Christianity is hope, forward looking and forward moving, and therefore also revolutionizing and transforming the present.” In Moltmann’ s view, to live with a vision of hope gives a us the motivation never to settle for the status quo, but rather to challenge and work towards the transformation of any dimension of life that is not in line with that envisioned hope; that world view that Jesus taught about and modeled.
Signs of hope abound. Progressive, faith-rooted advocacy organizations, such as Faith in Public Life, Auburn Seminary and Sojourners, have all reported surges in donations and interest in activism since November. Meanwhile, periodicals are reporting that progressive Christians long absent from Sunday worship are returning to church in droves.
In a recent article entitled It Wasn’t All Bad Sara Van Gelder states that, even as we enter a time that could be quite dark, we need to recognize the signs of hope around us:
Gelder points to the North Dakota tribe, the Standing Rock Sioux, the people of Chief Sitting Bull, as a sign that we might be gaining a new respect for Creation. She states, “The vision and courage coming from the Native peoples gathered at Standing Rock are rippling out across the country. Natives and non-Natives are learning lessons about humility, nonviolent power, thinking about the seventh generation and about our ancestors, off-the-grid communities, and about protecting Mother Earth, one place at a time.” She continues, “Elsewhere too people see that progress cannot proceed at the expense of Mother Earth. Contaminate the water and the soil, and we poison ourselves. And we poison our own souls when we demean the animals who are our relatives. This wisdom, long part of the indigenous worldview, is permeating the broader society. Meanwhile, the people of Flint, Michigan, and other cities are stepping up the fight for clean, safe water. Movements led by Native people, farmers, and neighborhood leaders are fighting pipelines and fossil fuel infrastructure across the country.”
A second hopeful sign that Gelder points to is that we learned how to heal violence. “The water protectors at Standing Rock”, she says, “flipped the notion of what it means to be a courageous warrior. It is no longer about the capacity to inflict violence; being a warrior now means the courage to stand unarmed in the face of danger, to protect vulnerable people and places, and to be willing—as the veterans at Standing Rock said—to take a bullet to protect the sacred. Courage also means the willingness to apologize and forgive. Veterans and clergy alike made history at Standing Rock by apologizing for the role of the military and the church in the atrocities committed against Native peoples.”
And a third sign of hope this year is that we acknowledged the leadership of people of color. “Black Lives Matter continued to force onto the national agenda the issue of police shootings of people of color and, more generally, the continued issues around White, male, straight, cis-gendered violence and exclusion.”
Fourth, the country, though very divided embraced a presidential campaign based on economic justice. The surprising strength of Sanders’ insurgent presidential campaign showed the passion of many Americans for authentic economic populism. By filling stadiums with tens of thousands, raising millions with average contributions of $27, and mounting a powerful campaign Sanders showed that the grip of the oligarchy can be challenged.
And perhaps the most hopeful sign of all, what all of these movements have in common is that they are grassroots efforts. People did not stand idly by and depend on leaders to fix problematic issues. Young people, common people, people of color, minorities long ignored came forward and demonstrated that long held values, though probably for too long dormant in our culture still hold power and can influence decisions and propel action. These movements, these signs of hope can be an impetus for us. We needn’t stand idly by, feeling powerless as we see and hear upsetting things in our world. We can be signs of hope for each other. We can support each other by pointing to what is good, kind, loving, and generous around us and working to make a difference in our little corner of the world.
Today we celebrate the beginning of a new year. In Revelations we read, “See, I am making all things new.” and “See, the home of God is among mortals.” These are words of hope. Let us support each other this coming year by highlighting other the signs of God among us mortals and by being those signs of hope.