Always have eyes to see the best, a heart that forgives the worst, a mind that forgets the bad, and a soul that never loses hope.
Thank you for walking with me these past several weeks as we all explored and meditated on the above prayer. It has been a transforming experience for me because it gave me the opportunity to ponder over certain aspects of my own life, one which needed some attention. I thought about a former neighbor of mine who called the cops on me because I parked in her driveway. I thought about the betrayal of a friend and the contempt I endured as a kid from some of my older siblings. During this time, the question has been, "Have I forgiven them?" Yes, I have. "Do I see the best in them?" Yes, I do. More to the point, "Do I ever lose hope?" No, I don’t. This is because I am hopeful about a future that's abundant with possibilities.
My life has been one where I try as best as I can to see the best in you, the best in every situation, and the best in myself. I see the best in myself because I can forgive myself, and I do forgive myself. And because I can forgive myself, I train myself not to necessarily forget the bad experience, but to use them as a guidepost for the future. All of this is humbling because it points me to the hope I have - and this hope isn’t dependent on me. Rather, it is dependent on the one God who promises and invites us into a hopeful future with Him.
Listen to what the prophet Jeremiah says:
“...For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
This prophecy came at a time of immense distress for the people of Israel who were in exile. The challenges of being in exile may be similar to the challenges that we have recently faced with the ravages of COVID. Amid their hopelessness, and ours, God interrupts all our lives with the eternal promise of hope. The challenge, really, is to hold on to hope - no matter what!
I’d like to share a story about Catherine Whittaker and Onyx Williams. During the height of the pandemic, they came to the Parish Hall to pack school supplies for the children of Lake Elkhorn Middle School. After packing and moving boxes from the first floor to the basement, both were sweating up a storm. They looked tired and exhausted. Looking at them, I couldn’t help but ponder, "This is a time when many families are in their homes trying to stay safe. Why are they doing this work? What is motivating them to do it?"
Their experience reminded me of a hymn, O’ it is hard to work for God. The hymn isn’t in the 1982 Hymnal we use, but it is in the Ancient and Modern Hymnal. I went for my copy of this hymnal and there’s a particular stanza that I’d like to draw your attention to:
Work man of God O’ lose not heart
But learn what God is like
And in the darkest battlefield
Thou shalt know where to strike.
I shared the hymn with both Catherine and Onyx with the profound reminder that, indeed, it is not only hard to work for God, but we sometimes lose heart, give up, and lose hope - especially when expectations go unmet.
It takes an incredible amount of hope to believe in what is right, to believe in the best in you and others, to believe in the story of human possibilities and in God’s eternal dance with you and me, in order not to lose hope in the face of adversities.
The Christian story has always been a hopeful story. It doesn’t sugarcoat adversities and trials; it helps us find a path forward. After all, remember what the Shepherd Psalm says: “Ye though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for thou art with me. Thy rod and staff they comfort me.” It is one of the most hopeful statements in scripture.
Reading that verse feels like driving in the night in pitch darkness. Remember, your headlights never shine all the way to your destination; they provide only a few hundred feet of light at a time. But that doesn’t deter us from moving toward our destination, for we trust our headlights. All we have ever needed is enough light to keep us moving forward. All we have ever needed is enough hope to keep us moving forward.
As many of you know, we are at the homestretch of our annual pledge campaign. This is the time when we commit ourselves to continually supporting Christ Church. You have supported Christ Church over the years, and for all that and more, we remain eternally grateful.
For me, any pledge of support isn’t only an expression of your belief in what this community of faith stands for, but it is an indication of your hope in the future that this sacred space offers to all people.
The zeal of Catherine and Onyx, and of so many of you, remind me of the saying that no one plants a tree for today. We plant a tree for tomorrow because we believe in the hope that tomorrow offers. We will all bring our pledges together on Pledge Sunday, November 6th, and offer a prayer of thanksgiving for our blessings and the hope that holds all our lives together.
Denzel Washington once said that “A bird sitting on a tree is never afraid of the branch breaking, because her trust is not on the branch, but on its own wings.” Thanks be to God, the father of our Lord Jesus Christ, for being our wings, for carrying us through the storms of life, and for giving us the hope that anchors us in His providence.
My prayer for you is: Always have eyes to see the best, a heart that forgives the worst, a mind that forgets the bad, and a soul that never loses hope.