Every so often, an email pops up in my inbox from the ELCA Advocacy Action Center.
Yes, our church engages in public policy and advocacy.
I signed up to receive their emails because I found that I was somewhat ignorant on issues and because I wanted to know what positions our church takes on certain issues and what we support in an official capacity. The Advocacy Action Center website currently lists 16 different issues that include, among others, safeguarding dreamers, the Farm Bill, which includes the food stamp program, and programs to protect the environment. The ELCA has policy analysts in Washington DC who review the issues as they relate to the good news of Jesus and then suggest ways in which we might take action. Many of the emails include a link to a form letter. With the simple click of a button you too can send a quick email to our elected officials.
I send these emails regularly because I’m told by people who know more than I do that letters and emails and phone calls matter and that they make a difference in the way our elected officials vote.
Or they should.
I say that because when I look at voting results, the way they vote seems to have more to do with their status as “blue” or “red” and much less with the good news of Jesus or whether or not I sent an email. It feels like a bad joke, like I’ve fallen into some sort of trap. And while these issues are no laughing matter, when the Advocacy Action Center asks me to send an email, part of me wants to respond with a, “Ha! Like this is going to make a difference!”
Too much disappointment in the past means a loss of hope for the future. Or, as a song by one of my favorite artists Ben Folds says, “hope is a liar, a cheater, a tease” (Ben Folds and Nick Hornby, Picture Window).
Is that why Abraham laughed that day when God told him not only that he and Sarah would have a child at their old age, but that they would be parents to a multitude of nations? Did hope feel out of place? Was his laughter an expression of disbelief? Ha! Good one, God!
Abraham has good reason to laugh at God. Abraham is 99 years old, for goodness sake, and Sarah is 90. There’s a reason God gives children to the young, right? And now, in their old age, God’s going to give them a child together?! That’s God showing a sense of humor for you!
But, there’s a raw edge to that laughter, for this promise comes after a history of infertility and waiting and hoping to no avail. Ha! Good one, God.
Too much disappointment in the past means a loss of hope for the future.
Paul says that Abraham’s faith was “reckoned to him as righteousness,” and that Abraham did not “weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead,” but I beg to differ. “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old?,” Abraham asks. “Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” Sure sounds like a lot more like doubt than faith to me. Ha! Nothing could sound so absurd.
But God’s promise is no laughing matter. Sure, they laugh. Sure, the name of their son-to-be Isaac means “laughter,” but God is not making a joke here as we find out by reading a little further into the story. God may say some things that sound outrageous, that make us want to laugh in disbelief, but when God makes promises, God is quite serious about fulfilling those promises.
An old childless couple will have a kid? Yep, God’s quite serious about this.
God will be born as a baby? Nope, not kidding.
God will die on a cross and then be raised from the dead? Total truth.
And through the promise of new life God will transform this world into one that more closely resembles God’s own kingdom? God is pulling this world toward resurrection through justice and peace? This is no laughing matter.
This is pure promise.And because of such promise, there is no such thing as lost hope with God.
I think I’m here to tell you this morning that if I didn’t cling to that promise and to that hope that I would have a hard time getting up in the morning. That promise and that hope are precisely why I get up in the morning and what sustains me. If I didn’t cling to that promise and that hope, I would most definitely drown in despair. But it keeps me going, and I would venture to say that it is also what sustains lots of people who are working to transform this world into the world God would have us inhabit, a world marked by justice, peace, equality, radical inclusion and hospitality, love.
Did the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School who traveled to their state and national capitals this past week to meet with their governor and president following the shooting at their high school–did they choose to have such meetings because they didn’t think anything would change? No! They were propelled by the deep truth that change is, in fact, both needed and possible. And though they may not have labeled it as such, we–those of us who follow Jesus–we call that which propels us forward and that calls for change and hope–we call that God. And we trust that when God makes a promise–a promise like the promise to bring life out of death–even though bodies all over the place are already as good as dead–we trust that God fully intends to keep that promise. Again, it sounds like the most absurd thing ever to grace our ears, but God’s promises are no laughing matter.
Though I certainly find humor in what God is up to in this world of ours (seriously, the platypus?) and am continuously surprised by God (you want me to do what?), there’s enough written down in the Bible, and I’ve experienced God showing up in enough life-giving ways to know–to really know and trust and believe–that change is possible, and that hope is real. God may not show up how we expect or how we think we’d like for God to show up, but God knows best, and God shows up and brings life again and again.
Before Abraham was Abraham, before he was plucked out of an obscure genealogy to become the ancestor of all of God’s people, he was simply Abram. But God chose him and Sarah to be the ancestors of many.
The significance of that is great. In the ancient times, people were chosen to become part of a family, or adopted into families that were not biologically theirs, in order to secure a lineage and an inheritance. It was like writing a will; if a person did not have any children, he would secure his inheritance by calling someone and naming him to receive it. That’s what God was doing with Abraham–he was naming Abraham as the inheritor of God’s blessing for God’s people and in the promise of a child to them, was also securing that blessing for all who would come after him. God had something precious–God’s blessing–that God needed to make sure got passed down through the generations.
The incredible thing about this Abraham and Sarah story is that we, too, are descendants of Abraham. And even if we’re not genetically descendants, Paul says that we get to be grafted on to that lineage anyway. We are inheritors of God’s blessing. But part of that blessing involves being a blessing to others, which means that God has chosen us, as theologian Kelly Nikondeha says, “to secure God’s own kingdom of love across the world.”* That’s both what we’ve inherited and what we are responsible for leaving as a legacy–God’s kingdom of love.
That’s our task. That’s what it means to live with hope. We continue to believe in trust that that kingdom of love will become a reality. Practically speaking, what that means is that I’ll keep calling and emailing and writing my elected officials, even when I don’t think it makes a difference, because if enough of us do it our voices will be heard. You’ll find the link to the Advocacy Action Center in your bulletin if you’d like to join me.**
But it also means maintaining hope in the face of doubt and unbelief. God keeps God’s promises and brings life out of death. I know we’re in Lent right now and we can’t say the A-L-L-E-L-U-I-A word, but even in the face of death and despair, we proclaim that Jesus is risen and the hope that it brings. SO, without saying the “A” word, when I say “Jesus is risen,” I want you to respond, in just a whisper for now, “He is risen indeed!”
Jesus is risen! (He is risen indeed!)
Because as long as Jesus is risen, there will always be hope.
*Kelly Nikondeha, Adopted: The Sacrament of Belonging in a Fractured World (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2017), 24.