I do a lot of supply preaching and guest preaching around Ohio. In mid June, I was invited to preach at Martin Luther Lutheran Church in Youngstown Ohio. Luckily, I didn’t have to drive from Columbus to Youngstown that morning, but over from my mom’s house in the Cleveland area.
As a person who regularly does guest preaching, I have my routine in the car. Get my coffee, eat my breakfast, practice my sermon. Toward the end of my sermon… I said
We are called not to cynicism or bitterness but instead to hope. Not a naïve hope that everything magically works out. But a gritty deep down hope – A hope that surpasses all understanding, a hope that is grounded in the cross.
As Paul Says, Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
We can HOPE! We must hope. We have hope in a God who created the world We have hope in a God who walks with us – even in death. We have hope because we have a God who lifts us and pushes us and invites us to help reconcile the world.
As I recited these words, and was thinking through how I wanted to say them in worship that morning, I drove past the Youngstown Chevy Cruze plant. A few months earlier, the plant, once again ,shut its door dealing yet another knock out punch to the Mahoning Valley community. I began to cry. Bawling. Tears running down my face.
How can I walk into a congregation - living this economic crisis day in and day out - and preach hope?
How can we have hope in the shadow of such economic despair? Hope in the midst of broken political promises? Hope in an economic system that just doesn’t work for most people anymore? As I exited the Highway, I saw nobody in Youngstown. No moving cars, nobody walking - just emptiness.
I had no idea how I was going to end my sermon with a message of hope, because I didn’t see any hope on the horizon for the economic strife that plagued the entire region.
Until I arrived at the Church.
At the church, there is life - gardens, a field ‘bombed’ with wildflower seeds, office space being used with community programs and outreach ministries. There is hope in the Church.
Does our hope mean to sit back and wait, No. in the face of economic crisis and political abandonment by our state and national leaders, the small community of Martin Luther Lutheran Church has dug down deep to find hope and to live out that hope in service to their community, by advocating for their community, and organizing for their community. The work is not easy. The work is gritty and deep. Their hope begins at the foot of the cross, and carries them forward to deal with the real challenges of life.
Too often we see the response to desperation is a desire to ‘return to the good old days’ . The reality is that we can’t ever go backward in time, and the ‘good old days’ weren’t always that good for everyone. Regret draws us backward, hope draws us forward.
The only way out of the shadow of desperation is to have hope in building up new community where all are welcome, all will be fed, and all will have the opportunity to blessed with a hope for a better tomorrow.
Hope isn’t easy. Hope is hard. But in our world today, it where we are called to be to break through the shadow of desperation