“Hope-Tellers”

August 18, 2019
Jonathan Rumburg
Micah 4:1-5

Introduction

“Hope must be told, in image, in figure, in poem, in vision. It must be told sideways, told as one who dwells with others in the abyss.”

          This quote comes from the book “Disruptive Grace” by biblical scholar and theologian Dr. Walter Brueggemann.

Brueggemann continues, saying…

          When the prophet Micah gave voice to his astonishing vision of a future in which the nations would ‘beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks’ (Mic 4:3), the likelihood of realizing that vision was arguably no more and no less than it is today.  It is only a poem, a vision, a hunch, a hope.

          And yet… such a hunch on the lips of a bold poet is enough.

          It is enough, firstly, because God is faithful and God’s dreams for humanity will not be thwarted.

          But secondly, Micah’s vision is enough because the many folk who show up for the poetry hunch the truth and wait to have it given voice.

          In other words, God’s desire for peace also pulses deep within us, the hearers of the word.  Yet to awaken such a dormant hope—a newness breaking into the world we no longer thought possible—the community needs an image, a song, a vision.

          God’s future rests on the lips of the hope-tellers.”

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          Hope-tellers.  In a world filled with violence, racism, and divisive gas lighting rhetoric, Hope-Tellers are what people need.

The people of the world today are waiting for the hope-filled truth that God’s dream for humanity will not be thwarted.  The people of the world are waiting for the hope-filled truth to be given a voice in image, in figure, in poem, in vision—that this world can be better than it is.

The Church must give this truth in image, in figure, in poem, in vision.  We must tell it sideways, from all angles—telling it to those who dwell in the abyss as those who are in the abyss also.

Hope-Tellers are those who know God’s dream for humanity will not be thwarted.

Hope-Tellers are those who give voice—in image, in figure, in poem, in vision—that this world can be better than it is.

This is the work of the Hope-Tellers.

Which forces us to ask the questions…

Is the Church a Hope-Teller?  It’s supposed to be.

Is this church a Hope-Teller?  It’s supposed to be.

Are we Hope-Tellers?  We’re supposed to be.

Move 1

Mid-morning on Aug. 3, a gunman attacked shoppers at a popular retail store in El Paso, Texas— claiming the lives of 22 people, including eight Mexican citizens.  The suspected shooter, whose name I will not say, is in custody.

22 people dead, ages ranging from 90 to 15 years old.  Two of them, young parents who died shielding their 2 month old child.

Less than 14 hours later, another gunman attacked a crowd at a popular Dayton, Ohio entertainment district— killing nine and injuring 27—doing so in just 32 seconds.  The suspected shooter, whose name I will not say, is also dead.

Nine people dead—one a father who was celebrating with his son and soon to be daughter-in-law.  Another, a mother of two, who just had her second baby last month.

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          I get it is hard to hear this.  And I get that perhaps some are upset and maybe angry to hear me talking about this from the pulpit when you come to church to be lifted up and filled with the spirit.

Yes, Church is about such…some of the time.  But Church is also about facing the harsh realities of this world, remembering the lost, remembering the brokenness and hopelessness of others, and then being moved to respond.

Church cannot be a place where we come and forget about life for a while—not when life is being mercilessly taken away.

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But I get it.  I am touching on controversial issues, issues that can and have driven a dividing wedge between people and church—the issues of: guns and gun control, immigration, radical right and radical left, mental health, and all the trickle down controversies and divisions that accompany them.

And I get that some would prefer their pastors not bring up these issues so as to stave off conflict and division and keep the status quo.

But that is of the same voice that on the first Palm Sunday told Jesus to have his people be quiet and stop the disruption they were causing.  To which Jesus responded, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”

The Church cannot be silent when life is being mercilessly taken away.  The Church cannot be silent, it cannot turn away, it cannot ignore because there is no Hope-Telling in doing that.

Hope-Tellers are those who know God’s dream for humanity will not be thwarted.  Hope-Tellers are those who give voice—in image, in figure, in poem, in vision—that this world can be better than it is.

Is the Church a Hope-Teller?  It’s supposed to be.

Is this church a Hope-Teller?  It’s supposed to be.

Are we Hope-Tellers?  We’re supposed to be.

Move 2

To date, there have been 257 mass shootings in the United States, outpacing the number of days in 2019, which today is the 230th day—this according to the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive, a research group that defines mass shootings as four or more shot, not including the shooter.

I should note there is no widely accepted definition of a “mass shooting”.  This definition is just for this research group.

In 2018, according to Gun Violence Archive, based on their definition, there were 340 mass shootings.

One of them occurred on October 30th, in Pittsburgh, the home town of my wife and the current home to many of our family members, occurring at the Tree of Life Synagogue.

The shooting was fueled by racism and hate, which breaks my heart and boils my blood, yet it was also… a town I know… where I have family.  It was at yet another house of worship—during a time of worship.

I was once again torn by the senselessness and with a question fueled by hopelessness, “When is this going to stop?”

I was compelled to give voice to these feelings which resulted in me writing a letter to Rabbi Hazzan Myers and Tree of Life Synagogue—a letter I told no one about, not even my wife, because I didn’t write it for anyone other than who I wrote it to.  I have, however, kept a copy of the letter out around my office, where now and again I see it and am reminded of what I said and pledged.

In light of the El Paso and Dayton shootings, and once again torn by the senselessness of it all, and fueled by the hopelessness in asking, “When is this going to stop?” I feel compelled to share with you that letter.

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November 1, 2018

Dear Rabbi Hazzan Myers and Tree of Life Synagogue,

This past Sunday during worship, one day after the atrocity that befell your synagogue and community, the congregation of First Christian Church of Stow, Ohio held you in our prayers. We prayed for the eleven people who were murdered and so cruelly taken from this world.  We prayed for those who are left wounded by this heinous act.  We prayed for the countless lives shattered.  And we prayed for God’s grace and peace to be poured out upon Pittsburgh, Stow, and all around the world, praying God’s Spirit would enfold each of us—God’s children everywhere—moving us and motivating us to end hate and allow God’s love to reign.

We are so, so sorry this atrocity happened. Our hearts are broken for you.  Our tears continue to flow.  Please know we here at First Christian Church continue to keep your synagogue and community in our prayers. Please also know, however, we will not stop with just prayers. We will go further and do more.

As the Pastor of this church, and as a Pastor called by God, I have vowed to preach and teach and share God’s goodness and grace; God’s hope, peace, joy, and love, in a broken and fragmented world. I have vowed to do this so all might begin to find healing and wholeness and new life through the Divine.  And so I aim to lead my congregation in efforts that go beyond thoughts and prayers, beyond words of anger and discouragement.  I do this because I know that with the great privilege I, and my congregation, has comes great responsibility.  And among that responsibility is to teach and show and live the truth that there is no place for bigotry; there is no place for racism; there is no place for hateful behavior; there is no place for religious prejudice; there is no place for violence; there is no place for conduct that demeans, excludes, or perpetrates acts of aggression upon any person; there is no place for casting blame on another in an effort to absolve oneself; and there is no place for any act that devalues the Divine breath within each one of us.  This we know.  And this we will teach, show, and live out.  That is our pledge to you.  To do this as we stand with you, and partner with you, in sharing God’s goodness and grace; God’s hope, peace, joy, and love with all.

So may God’s peace surround you. May the dawn of a new creation be seen in each new day.  May a ray of hope spill upon your synagogue and community and lift your hearts to continue to give praise to the One who creates order out of chaos and brings forth new life.  And may God’s goodness and grace; God’s hope, peace, joy, and love come to us all.

Sincerely,

Rev. Jonathan W. Rumburg

Pastor, First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), Stow, Ohio

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          I have read and reread this letter, to myself and now to you, to remind us we are to be Hope-Tellers because the world we live in today, the country we live in today, is not God’s vision.

Violence is not to walk in the name of the Lord.

Mass shootings is not to walk in the name of the Lord.

Looking the other way, saying it won’t happen here is not to walk in the name of the Lord.

Racism and white supremacy and xenophobia and homophobia and sexism, and fear-mongering is not to walk in the name of the Lord.

Walking in the name of the Lord is to be a Hope-Teller.

And Hope-Tellers are those who know God’s dream for humanity will not be thwarted and then give voice—in image, in figure, in poem, in vision—that this world can be better.

Is the Church a Hope-Teller?  It’s supposed to be.

Is this church a Hope-Teller?  It’s supposed to be.

Are we Hope-Tellers?  We’re supposed to be.

Conclusion

The violent acts…the blatant racism…the divisive gas lighting rhetoric is all part of the abyss we all dwell in.  And all who dwell in this abyss must be told there is hope to be embraced and new life to be found.

This world, as it is, is not God’s dream for humanity.

But God’s dream for humanity—as envisioned by the prophet Micah who dreams of a day when the world will “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks” and war will be no more—is God’s dream for humanity.

It’s a dream of hope, peace, joy, and love.

And I know—I know!—that dream pulses deep within each of you just as it does me, because we are hearers of the Word.  And hearers of the Word are Hope-Tellers.

We are a church of Hope-Tellers.

How will we tell the world of the hope to be found in God’s dream that will not be thwarted?  How will we tell?  Amen.

Pastoral Prayer: August 18, 2019

Lord, in our shock and confusion, we come before you.  In our grief and despair fueled by hate, in our sense of hopelessness in the face of violence, we lean on you and yearn to hear again your Word of hope and catch a vision of the world you dream of—a dream, we need to be reminded, that will not be thwarted.

 

In the wake of more mass shootings, we come before you Lord, and again lift to you our prayers.  Prayers…for the families of those who have been killed.  For the communities that have lost members—their anger, grief, fear—we pray.

For the shooters and those who perpetuate the hate—help us to pray, Lord.

We pray for the churches striving to be your light in the abyss that is beyond our comprehension.

But Holy God, we know we cannot stop at thoughts and prayers, we know there must be more, there must be a faithful response that spreads a message of hope, peace, joy, and love.

So in the face of hatred, fueled by the sin of racism, may we claim love, Lord.

May we love those far off and those near.

May we love those who are strangers and those who are friends.

May we love those who we agree with and understand, and even more so, Lord, may we love those considered to be our enemies, those who we perceive to be on the “other side of the isle.”

Help us Lord God, to be the church you would have us be—a church that unites together to share the hope filled Good News that through your love and grace this world, all of us, can be better than we are, and we can find our way out of this abyss to days filled with hope, peace, joy, and love.

Let us share with you now the prayers of our hearts, through this time of Holy Silence.

All this we pray in the name of Christ Jesus who taught us to pray, saying, “Our…”

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