After spending Sunday talking about finding hope in the desolate places, I got a call from our friend Ivan on Monday night. We talk at Church in the Cliff about how what we do is an ongoing conversation. Even though Ivan missed church on Sunday, which is fine, he somehow was plugged into the Spirit of our conversation. When I asked what he was up to, he said, “I’m just thinking about this political situation.” We all are, I think. I hope. Ivan proceeded to tell me that he felt like the tax bill was yet one more attack on him personally. For those who don’t know him, Ivan is a black trans man, so he has felt the weight white supremacy, police brutality, and transphobia on his neck. He’s also a millennial struggling to make ends meet, to have insurance and a decent place to live. When people ask me why I have to be so political, why I bring politics into the pulpit, it’s because for people I love, people like Ivan, “this political situation” is not abstract, not just a game for talking heads to play. It’s his life.
Jesus tells us in Mark 13 that we can know when God’s coming into the world is immanent just as we know that summer is coming when the leaves return to the trees. I remarked on Sunday that I’m always surprised when my fig tree bears fruit. It could be our wacky weather – there are buds on the ends of branches now, like it’s about to put out leaves! – but it may also be that I don’t know anything about growing things. If I wanted to know, I might ask a gardener or farmer. Similarly, if people like me, people of privilege, want to know about the signs given in the world, we should talk to people who know. This is part of our work during this season of preparation. Ivan lets me know.
Jesus tells me that God is about to show up where there is suffering. Pay attention to those who are close to suffering and you will soon see God. You will see people joined in a Spirit of resistance. You will see people joined in a Spirit of resilience. You will see people joined in a Spirit of lament. You will see people joined in a Spirit of hope.
Hope is possible, not because God will suddenly show up where God was not before, but because God is always there calling out to us. The Spirit of God hovers over the desolation of people’s lives and cries out, pleads with us to join in something new. We work and we prepare. The time and place of the event is unknown because it happens all the time. So we work and prepare always for the event that is always happening. If we see the signs or talk to those who do, we know when is the time. The solutions is not in decoding the text of the Bible, but in decoding the text of our lives, of the structures and patterns that encase us in suffering and injustice. We work and we prepare because the time and place of God’s coming into the world is near at hand and, in fact, is already here. We are, in our response to God’s call, the incarnation of hope in the midst of suffering.
So if we ask where we see hope in these troubled times, the answer is with us. Our work is to prepare. Our work is to watch and listen. Our work is to be the hope that the world desperately needs. Let’s not be caught by surprise – again.