What’s Wrong With Us? We Have Hope.

Star Wars Rebels is a wonderful animated television series bridging the gap between Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (where Anakin Skywalker completes his transformation into the evil Darth Vader), and Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (where Luke Skywalker rises up as a Jedi and leader of the Rebellion against the Empire). Star Wars Rebels tells the stories of a small band of rebels from the planet Lothal who resist the Empire with small scale vandalism and interference with imperial activity, but who at this point have not (yet) inspired or led a wider movement against the Empire.

Nonetheless, for their careful attacks and the presence of a Jedi among them, this band of rebels has garnered the attention of the Empire. Targeted several times for capture, they have skillfully eluded the Empire, but have also failed in their attempts to strike a bigger blow against the Empire.

In Vision of Hope, Ezra – a young boy among the rebels who is a padawan, or Jedi apprentice – rides a roller coaster of feelings. Early in the episode he has a vision that ignites in him hope that they can strike a significant blow against the Empire. Yet, the mission that forms from his vision – involving a senator the rebels thought was sympathetic to their cause, but who turned out to be working for the Empire all along – turned out to be a failure.

Screenshot from Vision of Hope: Ezra speaking with Hera

Screenshot from Star Wars Rebels episode, Vision of Hope. Ezra speaking with Hera on boarding platform of their ship, The Ghost.

At the end of the episode Ezra sits down with Hera, the pilot of the rebels’ ship. Reflecting not only the sense of failure from this mission, but from their several failed attempts to thwart the Empire, Ezra is dejected.

“What’s wrong with us?” Ezra asks.

“We have hope,” Hera responds. “Hope that things can get better. And they will.”

I love that Hera’s response to Ezra’s gloomy question – “What’s wrong with us?” – is not an answer about tactics, or manpower, or funding for their mission. And more, Hera doesn’t deny that something is wrong with them.

But instead, when asked, “What’s wrong with us?” Hera responds with a straightforward answer – “We have hope.” That’s what’s wrong with us. We have hope.

We have hope. That word hope looms large in the Star Wars canon, with echoes of Princess Leia calling out to Ben Kenobi in a holographic message in the original Star Wars movie, A New Hope. “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.”

Hope. Hope looms large in the Christian faith. Christians have a hope that all will be made right in God’s promised future. Isaiah 25 looks forward in hope to when all will gather at the Lord’s holy mountain and feast on rich foods and drink well-aged wine. Revelation speaks of a new heaven and a new earth. Paul writes of Christians being made into new creations. Mary proclaims of her yet-in-utero son that he will lift the lowly up and fill the hungry with good things, while knocking the mighty off their thrones and sending the rich away empty. And Jesus himself gives a glimpse of his power by healing the sick and raising the dead, offering a hope that what they done in his miracles will be commonplace in the coming Kingdom of God.

Yet, having hope can feel like a liability. “What’s wrong with us?” “We have hope.” Yes, in a world saturated in cynicism and self-reliance, having hope in a God who promises a future where death is no more and tears are wiped from our eyes is a bit strange. Belief in a God who forgives sin, raises the dead, and grants grace freely and even recklessly – well, that’s just plain bizarre. Most of what we see around us could cause us to lose hope, yet as people of faith we are also people of hope.

What’s wrong with us? We have hope. We have hope because we refuse to believe that what we see is all that there is to see … and to know, and to believe. We have hope because we know that what we see is not all there is. We have hope because we know that sin and death and brokenness are not the end of the story, but that there is a resurrection on the other side of the grave. We have hope because we know that weeping lasts for a night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30).

We have hope. That’s what’s wrong with us. We have hope, in a world filled with despair.

God is Doing a New Thing

Baptism of our Lord
Isaiah 42:1-9; Matthew 3:13-17
Sunday, January 9, 2011
Preached on the day following the shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords

Baptism of our Lord – Year A 2011

A few months ago,
    when comedians Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert held a rally on the Mall,
    a lot of people dismissed their efforts as little more than a publicity stunt
    and thinly-veiled politicking just two weeks prior to the election.
Part satire, part political demonstration,
    these comedians lampooned our nation’s broken politics,
    and assailed its hateful, vitriolic political rhetoric.
Comedians did this, because few others had the guts to do so.

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It Doesn’t Matter What You Came Here To See

Third Sunday of Advent
Isaiah 35:1-10; Matthew 11:2-11
Sunday, December 12, 2010

 

Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, who was, and who is to come.  Amen.

Steve Martin, the noted actor, comedian, and writer, is a funny guy.
Find videos of his performances on YouTube, and you’ll be laughing for hours,
    often at jokes and references that are not entirely appropriate for church.
Tickets sell out quickly when he does live appearances,
    because people will gladly pay big bucks to have this living legend make them laugh.
And so when Steve Martin agreed to do a live appearance at the 92nd Street Y in NYC
    it was a surprise to no one that tickets sold out quickly.
Now, this particular appearance, back on November 29, was not a stand-up comedy act.
Rather, it was billed as an interview between Mr. Martin and Deborah Solomon,
    a columnist for the New York Times Magazine,
    about his most recent book, An Object of Beauty, which is about the art world.
Perhaps not the most scintillating of settings or topics,
    but about 900 tickets were sold, for $50 each, to benefit the work of the Y.
Even if Steve Martin were standing on stage reading a phone book,
    it would probably be worth watching.

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Now is the Time

Lectionary 33 (25th Sunday after Pentecost), Year C
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-19
Sunday, November 14, 2010

Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, who was, and who is to come.  Amen.

Growing up with the last name of Duckworth,
    and having all sort of nicknames based on the root “Duck” –
    Ducky, Duckman, Duckhead, Duckface, Ducker, Duckaramma, Ducker Doodles –
    I take special interest in all things Duck.
And so at the end of certain political cycles my Duck feathers get ruffled, so to speak,
    as we hear about the fate of “lame duck” politicians.   
There is nothing “lame” about ducks, that you very much.

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Certain Promise, Certain Hope for Uncertain Times

Lectionary 29 (21st Sunday after Pentecost), Year C
2 Timothy 3:14:-4:5
Sunday, October 17, 2010

Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, who was, and who is to come.  Amen.

In our second reading today we read excerpts of a letter from Paul
    to the younger Timothy,
    a co-worker with Paul in proclaiming the Gospel and building the church
    in the decades following the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.
It was a scary time for the early church.
We can easily romanticize the early church,
    view it as some sort of frontier religion with Paul establishing Christian outposts
    in a pagan world, outposts that would later thrive as centers of a vital, new religion.
But the reality was much more grim.

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God with us, in darkness and death

Lectionary 18 (10th Sunday after Pentecost)
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23; Psalm 49:1-12; Colossians 3:1-11; Luke 12:13-21
Sunday, August 1, 2010

Grace to you and peace, from the one who is, who was, and who is to come.  Amen.

Let me tell you …. Pastor Scott [the Senior Pastor at my church] sure knows how to pick his Sundays off!
    These readings today … wow.
In our first reading we hear from Ecclesiastes,
    the only time in the church’s three-year calendar of readings
    that we read from this book.
And perhaps this is why –
    the author of Ecclesiastes considers pretty much everything
    to be an absurd, futile vanity, a “chasing after the wind.”
    And in an adjacent verse omitted from today’s reading,
        the writer admits that he “hated life” (vs. 17).
As if to confirm this pessimism, we read in vs. 13 that
    “It is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with.”
The Gospel for today is equally pessimistic.
Jesus tells a parable about a rich man whose land produced an abundant crop.
Not sure what to do with all his bounty,
    the man decides to tear down his small barn and build a larger barn,
    so that he can store his crops and ease into retirement,
        a plan not unlike the 401(K) plans many of us hold …
But God calls such a man “a fool.”
Ouch.

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We look for the resurrection of the dead

We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.  Amen.
– Nicene Creed

Yes, Jesus was raised from the dead.  The stone was rolled away, and our risen Jesus appeared, variously, to the women, to two of his followers on the road to Emmaus, and to his disciples.  To a doubting Thomas, Jesus revealed his wounds.  Jesus ate fish to prove he wasn’t a ghost, yet he also appeared among his disciples, even though the doors of their room were locked.  The resurrection of Jesus.  This is what we celebrate in the season of Easter.

We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

But it is more than an amazing act of God.  Jesus’ resurrection is a conquest of sin and death to reveal the awesome and life-giving power of God.  Indeed, the resurrection of Christ shows us God’s intention for all of creation.  The resurrection of Jesus is not a one-time thing, an isolated anomaly in the spiritual fabric time and space.  No!  The resurrection of Jesus is not a once-and-done event, but a debut, a first-of-many.

We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

St Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:

But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died.  For since death came through a human being, the resurrection of the dead has also come through a human being; for as all die in Adam, so all will be made alive in Christ. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, then at this coming those who belong to Christ.

Christ is the first fruits, his resurrection is the first act in a holy drama that has yet to end.  But this much we know – what has come to Jesus in the resurrection is promised to us.  For at St Paul writes in Romans 6:

For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.

We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

What is so great about Easter is that it its story of our Lord’s resurrection we see a reflection, a telling of another story – the story of what God promises to do in and for us.  Just as the stone was rolled away from Jesus tomb, so too will God’s angels roll the stones away from our tombs, breath new life into us, and make all things new.  Death will be no more.

We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

Indeed, the hope of early Christians was not a hope for a spiritual heaven, a disembodied world of ghostly apparitions floating in the clouds. The hope of the early church, of the first generations of Christians, was a hope in a new flesh-and-blood life, a life like Jesus’ resurrected life, a life of death defeated and sin conquered, a life where that which breaks us down is itself broken down, and a New Creation springs forth in joy, love, and peace.

We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

And since our hope is set on a renewed flesh-and-blood reality, our Lord sends us, not looking to the heavens, but looking to the world, for it is in the world where God’s promises will be fulfilled.

We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.

So may we be Easter people in these days –
People who look for the dead to be raised. 
People who look for the new world to come to this world. 
People who look for God to live and dwell among us. 
People who look for our Lord to appear to us in the breaking of bread. 
People who, with doubting Thomas, proclaim the presence of God in the midst of wounds and deathly scars. 
People who look to the cross and all its misery … and see hope.

We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.

[Reposted from my column in the April 2010 edition of my congregation's newsletter]