Sunday, July 07, 2019

A Lesson on Hope from the Exotic Marigold Hotel

Sermon preached at St. Mark's Church Penn Yan, New York on the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, July 7, 2019:  Galatians 6:7-16, Luke 10:1-11, 16-20

           A favorite movie of mine is The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  The manager of the hotel is a naïve young man; at times he is inept, but he is always enthusiastic.  At several points in the movie he says,

In the end all will be well,
And if it is not well, it is not the end.

           It is a message about hope, of course, and it hits the nail of hope on the head because hope in the short-term is often elusive.  When it comes to hope, we must learn to play the long-game.

           Three phrases in the readings this morning are good examples of playing the long-game of hope.  The Gospel reading gives us the phrase, twice, “The kingdom of God has come near to you” (vv. 9 & 11).  That is the message the seventy disciples are to proclaim on their mission trip.  But more than proclaim, it is also the message that they themselves are to experience and help others experience.  For Jesus, the kingdom of God is not some abstract notion.  It is something to be on the lookout for, noticed, and experienced.  Walter Brueggemann says of the kingdom of God,

God is about to bring well-bring into the world that will displace the kingdom of Rome and every other exploitative power. … This good governance is displacing the governance of defeat and despair that is sponsored by Rome or any other [combination] of ruthless power and oppressive money. …We can trace the emergence of that new governance [in] the life of Jesus.[1]

           The Gospel gives us another long-game phrase from the lips of Jesus when the seventy return. Do not rejoice in the power you experienced on the road, he says, but “rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (v. 20).  This is not meant to articulate a belief that no matter what happens in this life there is “pie in the sky in the sweet by-and-by.”  It means that God’s love and mercy are things we can count on now and forever.

           And lastly we have from Galatians a message from Paul that is basically, “don’t sweat the small stuff.”  “A new creation,” he says, “is everything” (v. 15).  Again, a long-game view of hope.

           Now none of these things have been achieved, although they are all glimpsed from time to time, and even experienced from time to time, enough so, that they remain strong promises for us.  They remain for us “the hope of things unseen,” or Christianity would have died out a long time ago.  We learn to play the long-game in faith because we have seen who God is in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

The kingdom of God has come near to you.
Rejoice that your names are written in
A new creation is everything.

           Having said this, it is not enough, of course. All is not well among us, not well with violence, with hateful prejudice, with greed, with anxiety, and the exploiters of anxiety.

           So what do we do? We have this long-game hope, on the one hand, and on the other hand, our experience of a very different, broken, alienated, competitive world.  The current state of our national government, continued regular instances of gun violence, the less than dignified treatment of those seeking asylum in this country from a dangerously chaotic Central America, the Middle East in tension and outright war from Syria to Iran to Yemen.  How can we play the long-game in this dangerous short-term which testifies less to hope than to despair?

           Three things:

1.    First of all, I have to hearken back to the epistle for Independence Day from the Letter to the Hebrews (11:13-15), which said,

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth, for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country.

It is vitally important to be alert, to know that we never reach perfection, that we strive always in our life together for something better. This means being honest about our flaws, the ways we fall short of God’s dream for us. Brueggemann says,

We belong to a tradition that notices, that exposes, that insists, that tells the truth about failed reality, failed reality in the neighborhood and in the larger world. … Right in the midst of the [struggle], we make insistent claim for better.[2]

2.    The second thing we long-game hopers can do in the short-term is to act in concrete ways to participate in God’s transformative mission in the world.  Hope is grounds for action, not passive waiting. So the disciples are sent out with specific instructions, and they report back, “Hey, this stuff works!”  Then Jesus says a very odd thing:

I have given you authority to tread on snakes and scorpions, and over all power of the enemy; and nothing will hurt you. (verse 19)

Brueggemann says,

This is not a mandate to handle snakes!  It is rather to say that the power for life given to the disciples will be authority to make life possible where death seems to have the last word.  The demons want to negate life, want hate to win, want fear to prevail.

Disciples of Jesus refuse this way of death.

3.    Lastly, again to Paul,

So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith (verse 10).

On my way home from church in Rochester most Sundays I would travel through the intersection of East Avenue and Goodman Street. For many years there were a handful of people on that corner holding signs protesting the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.  I stopped once and talked with a man I had seen there most Sundays.  “How long will you keep doing this,” I asked.  “Until the war is over,” he said.

We live in a “me first” world, and any act for the common good, from which I get no reward, is a radically Christian act.

           So we are called to play the long-game, with the unshakeable vision that

The kingdom of God is near.
We can rejoice that our names are written in
A new creation is everything.

           We live in a world that does not share those values, and, in truth, we struggle with them ourselves, because at times the long-game seems way, way too long.

           But Jesus and Paul give us short-term ways to keep on keeping on in the long-game:

Be critically alert, and be honest.
Act daily in ways that transform death to life.
Work for the good of all.

           Interestingly enough these perfectly align with three of the promises of our baptismal covenant:

We will persevere in resisting evil, and whenever we sin, repent and return to the Lord.

We will seek and serve Christ in all people, loving our neighbor as ourselves.

We will strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.[3]

           Short-term ways to play the long-game of hope.

In the end all will be well,
And if it is not well, it is not the end.

           It is rather, the time to be disciples.

[1] Brueggemann, p. 178.
[2] Brueggemann, p. 180.
[3] The Book of Common Prayer, p. 304-305.

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