Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Cross Called Hope (RCL Lent 2B, 1 March 2015)

RCL Lent 2B
1 March 2015

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC

A Cross Called ‘Hope’

            It’s no secret that I love books.  My love is so apparent that once, several weeks after doing a presentation in Nelson, I received the gift of t-shirt with a man surrounded by books.  The caption reads, ‘So many books.  So little time.’  It shouldn’t surprise anyone that I have, over the years, cultivated a relationship with Hager Books on 41st Avenue.  I rarely pop my head into the store without leaving with a book.

            A few years ago one of the staff took me aside and said, ‘I know the perfect book for you.’  She handed me a copy of William Dalrymple’s, From the Holy Mountain:  A Journey in the Shadow of Byzantium.  Dalrymple is a Scottish travel writer and, in this book, he retraces the journey taken by Moschos, a Byzantine monk in 587 c.e.  Moschos’ journey took him to many important Christian communities in the Middle East in the century before the rise of Islam.  Dalrymple decided to retrace Moschos’ journey some fourteen hundred years later.

            As you can well imagine, the Middle East has changed since the days of Moschos and Dalrymple documents the decline and disappearance of Christian communities through the countries that once formed the heartland of Eastern Christianity.  One of the more poignant stories is that of a Christian woman who is the last Christian living in a small village in Turkey.  She is protected and cared for by a Muslim family who consider it their duty to ensure her safety and her well-being until she dies.

            As I have been watching events unfold in the Middle East over the past weeks and months, Dalrymple’s book kept re-appearing in my thoughts.  We are witnessing, I believe, an organized effort to rid the Middle East of its Christian population by whatever means seems most effective --- terror being the preferred option.  How this effort can be brought to an end without the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of people, Muslims and Christians, I do not know.  What I do know is that it puts the cost of being a Christian into perspective.

            34 [Jesus] called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.  (Mark 8.34-35 in The New Revised Standard Version)

            What does it mean to take up our cross in a world in which Christians have become targets of oppression and murder?  It must mean more than what we tend to say as people living in relative safety.  For example, how many of us have heard or have said, ‘That child is the cross I must bear’?  Or perhaps we’ve heard or said someone refer to some trivial difficulty in their life as the cross that they bear.  As I have struggled to understand this phrase, I realized that there must be something I was missing.  And then I found what I was looking for in Paul’s letter to the Romans.

            18 For I reckon that the sufferings we now endure bear no comparison with the glory, as yet unrevealed, which is in store for us.  19 The created universe is waiting with eager expectation for God’s [children] to be revealed.  20 It was made subject to frustration, not of its own choice but by the will of him who subjected it, yet with the hope 21 that the universe itself is to be freed from the shackles of mortality and is to enter upon the glorious liberty of the children of God.  22 Up to the present, as we know, the whole created universe in all its parts groans as if in the pangs of childbirth.  23 What is more, we also, to whom the Spirit is given as the [first fruits] of the harvest to come, are groaning inwardly while we look forward eagerly to our adoption, our liberation from mortality.  24 It was with this hope that we were saved.  Now to see something is no longer to hope:  why hope for a what is already seen?  25 But if we hope for something we do not yet see, then we look forward to it eagerly and with patience.  (Romans 8.18-25 in The Revised English Bible, alt.)

            You and I are called to bear a cross called ‘hope’.  What we hope for is what Paul describes:  we hope that the whole universe, visible and invisible, human and non-human, known and unknown, will be freed from its shackles and enter upon the glorious liberty of the children of God.  We hope that every person, Christian and non-Christian, believer and non-believer, will come to share in that fullness of life which is God’s intentions for all of us.

            Holding on to this hope in a world which sees daily the deaths and exile of innocent men, women and children is not easy.  Holding on to this hope in a world in which the rich are getting steadily richer and the poor steadily poorer is not easy.  Holding on to this hope in a world in which many consider people of faith part of the problem rather than as key to the solution is not easy.  Holding on to this hope in a world filled with charlatans who offer snake oil instead of truth, snappy answers rather than wisdom, is not easy.

            Bearing the cross called hope compels us to share this hope with people who sometimes think of us as well-meaning but delusional.  Their rejection weighs upon us.  Bearing the cross called hope compels us to do what we can to help a few even as we witness the suffering of many.  The frustration burdens us.  Sometimes, in our darker moments, we may even contemplate lifting the cross off our shoulders and finding some other way to face each day.

            But hope is what God has given us to carry.  Hope is what empowered Jesus to carry his own cross to his death.  Despite all the appearances to the contrary, God’s last word to us is ‘life’ not ‘death’.  When Muslims surround a Jewish synagogue in Norway, hope is renewed.  When a Muslim family in Turkey care for an aging Christian woman, hope is renewed.  The weight of the cross called hope is not the weight of despair in the face of this world’s pain.  The weight of the cross called hope is the weight of the glory promised to all God’s children.  It is a weight we gladly bear, in good times and in sad times, because it is the only weight worth carrying for the life of this world.

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