Sermon Archives

Sunday, December 4, 2016
Advent 2 (Year A)
The Rev'd Areeta Bridgemohan
Hope as Surrender

May God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can, and wisdom to know the difference. Amen.

Churches across denominations prepare for Christmas using a variety of traditions. One tradition is to associate each week of Advent with a different Christian virtue, usually: hope, love, joy and peace. Today’s reading from Romans and our candle lighting liturgy highlight hope as our theme for our worship today.

The whole season of Advent, from the Latin adventus, meaning arrival, is about expectation and anticipation as we journey towards the birth of the Christ child.

Paul says in his letter to the Romans: “Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?” (Rom 8:24b).

Hope by definition is directed towards the unseen and the as yet unknown. Hope stands between the present and the future.

Of the four virtues often associated with Advent – hope, love, joy and peace - hope is the one I find most challenging. 

What if what you hope for doesn’t happen? What if you are disappointed when you do get what you hope for? What if hope puts blinders on you and prevents you from being fully present and seeing the beauty of what you already have?

As a student chaplain in the hospital, I visited with a patient on the palliative care floor. She was a stage 4 lung cancer patient. I met her as she was walking around the floor with her walker.

I learned that she was diligent about her exercise. She did long sessions of meditation every day. She refused pain medication. She was on a strict regime of her own making consisting of various natural remedies and a healthy diet. She deflected any probing into her thoughts or feelings on death. This patient hoped against hope that her health and spiritual practices would cure her lung cancer.

One of the chaplains who accompanied her in the last days of her life described the patient’s anger as it became clear to her that she was dying. She became furious about the unfairness of her circumstances and about this outcome she could no longer deny.

Yet her hope allowed her to fight tooth and nail to the end. It made her faithful in her meditation practices and exercise that possibly increased her life span and perhaps made her last month more comfortable than it would otherwise have been.

Hope is also a powerful and driving force for change in our society.

Without hope, would the Jesus movement have survived Roman persecution?

Without hope, what would the women’s suffrage movement have accomplished?

Without hope, what would the civil rights movement have achieved?

Scholar, chaplain and therapist, Pam McCarroll studies hope. In her research, she identifies different kinds of hope.[1] She calls the hope that I’ve been describing so far, “hope as fight”. It is the flavour of hope we are probably most familiar with, the type of hope most valued in this society.

Another kind of hope that she identifies she calls “hope as surrender”.

At the ordination of my priesthood, The Rev’d Susan Bock preached a wonderful sermon. Some of you were there. This is how her sermon began:

“When Jesus returned from his time on the earth, all the heavenly host welcomed him back with wild, mad rejoicing. Finally, when things quieted down, they gathered round him and asked, “So how did it go? How did you leave things?” 

“Oh, good, I think,” said Jesus. “I left them to do what I’d been doing - to go and gather that whole sad and broken world, and everyone in it, home to God’s heart.”

“Great! Terrific! Perfect!” they all shouted, high- fiving all around. “So how many were there?”  

“Oh, well, let’s see, there was Peter, James, John, Mary, other Mary, other Mary, Martha, Salome, Andrew, Thomas…maybe about 16?”

There was a cosmic gasp, and then, “Well, but they were scholars, right? Philosophers, politicos, people of influence and means?” 

“Oh, no. They were just regular folks,” he said, “fishermen, mostly, homemakers…”

The stunned silence was deafening.  “Well, what if it doesn’t work? What’s your plan then?” 

“I have no other plan,” said Jesus.[2]

This story presents Jesus’ hope that the disciples, (that is, us) would go and gather the whole broken world home to God’s heart. When Jesus describes the unexceptional nature of his disciples, I imagine a tone of deep trust in those he commissioned, despite the skepticism of the heavenly host.

Could it be that we ourselves are an expression of God’s hope?

Our brokenness, our limitations and all those things that make us seem unqualified for the task, are seen and understood by God. Yet, our task doesn’t change.

We are still called to continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers.

We are still called to persevere in resisting evil.

We are still called to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.

We are still called to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbours as ourselves.

We are still called to strive for justice and peace among all people and to respect the dignity of every human being.

Along with our mission, we are granted free will. God hopes that we will work towards these sacred tasks. But God also gives us the freedom to mess up, to ignore the call, to refuse, and in that way God’s hope is a hope of surrender. A surrender to God’s own love for us, who accepts our limitations and offers us grace in abundance.

I can’t imagine that that surrender is easy. In line with the thoughts of the heavenly host, it seems like a foolish plan, but God’s primary commitment is to love, not to control.

This surrender is not a defeat, it is not a passive acceptance of the way things are, but is an expression of trust. God trusts our capacity for love and for good.

In 2008, NPR interviewed Basim, an Iraqi who worked as an interpreter for American troops. He took the job believing that the Americans represented hope for his country. But when Abu Ghraib showed Iraqis that Americans could be as brutal as Saddam’s police, Basim’s efforts to bridge the two cultures brought death threats against him and his family and they were forced to flee their country. The interviewer asked him: “Was it naïve to believe that you could stand in the middle like that?” Without hesitation Basim answered, “No. It wasn’t at all.”

If reconciliation is going to happen, he said, there must be people who are willing to live in the tragic gap and help the two sides understand each other.”[3]

This Iraqi interpreter lived in the tragic gap, hoping for reconciliation, hoping for something yet unseen, while acknowledging the possibility of danger to him and his family.

Hope as surrender allows us to hold the tension between reality and possibility in a life-giving way. It enables us to stand in the tragic gap and witness with our own lives to another way of living, trusting God to transform us and our part of the world into something that looks a little more like the kingdom of heaven.[4]

Hope as surrender requires us to live out our baptism again and again. We die to ourselves, by letting go of our will and choosing to place our trust and our hope in God.

Jesus’ death is an example of hope as surrender. In the Garden, Jesus prays: “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want.” (Matt 26:39) We see Jesus’ internal struggle against what he knew was going to happen, aware of the will of the authorities and the people.

But his struggle was transformed into surrender to his Father’s will, as he placed his hope in the eternal unchanging all-powerful and loving nature of his Father, and handed his life over to the authorities. And that surrender was redeemed, as hope became reality in his resurrection.

As we prepare our hearts for Advent, may the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing, so that we may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom 15:13). Amen.

[1] McCarroll, P. R. (2014). The End of Hope--The Beginning: Narratives of Hope in the Face of Death and Trauma. Augsburg Fortress Publishers.

[2] The Rev’d Susan Bock. Sermon for December 12 Ordination, 2015.

[3] Parker J. Palmer. Open Heart: Living with faith and hope in the tragic gap. Weavings XXIV:2.

[4] Ibid