Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Hope and Jesus
distributed 4/6/12 - ©2012

During Lent, Eco-Justice Notes is examining several aspects of hope, and how we can cultivate that quality in our lives, our churches and our communities.

The series has included reflections on hope and community, commitment, resistance, 'a long view', Sabbath, and 'enticing expectation'.

Through this year's season of Lent, I've been reflecting on multiple aspects of hope, a theme that seems terribly important in these tumultuous times of eco-justice crisis.

Today, on Good Friday, I wrap up the series with thoughts about hope and Jesus. There are two very different approaches to that topic, and I'm only going to deal with one of them. We will be looking at Jesus as the one who most fully lived a life of hope -- as an example and model for us. For today, at least, I won't get into the complex and doctrinal matters of Jesus the Christ as the foundation for our hope -- as the one in whom we place our trust.

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Throughout these seven weeks, I've been stressing that hope is different from optimism. Vaclav Havel wrote that hope "is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out." The Christian story of Holy Week shows us that distinction clearly. It is a week where many things don't turn out well, and yet it all makes sense on a different level.

After dinner with his disciples and friends -- a meal where he named the betrayal and denial that were soon to come from those that he loved and trusted -- Jesus went to the garden to pray. His well-known words are an expression of the sort of hope I've been writing about this spring. "Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want." (Mark 14:36)

Even for Jesus, there was a tension between his own desire for life, and the contrasting path of bold, faithful witness that was leading toward his death. He faced an agonizing choice, and he had the freedom to walk away from it all. The centering voice of hope is the one that says, even at such a crucial moment, "Not what I want, but what you want."

Hope guides us with a conviction about what is genuinely, ultimately true and right. Hope puts our more personal and immediate desires into a much broader context. What we'd like for ourselves is seen in relationship to deeper truths and larger goals. Hope claims the greater goodness as the controlling one, the right one, the one that defines our choices.

The agonizing prayer of Jesus in the garden is not the only place where we see how totally he lived in that hope, of course. He is our model and guide because all of his life was shaped by hope -- a very specific, detailed hope.

A scene from the start of his ministry tells us how he understood his calling. In the synagogue, he reads from Isaiah:

"The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor." (Luke 4:18-19)

From that day forward, the story of Jesus is about the way that he seeks to embody the realm of God in word and deed. He lives and acts on the basis of hope: on the conviction that God's realm of righteousness and shalom is the true shape of the world.

Jesus acts to bring healing to the brokenness of the world, and he names the distortions and deviations that hide and hinder God's realm. In all that he says and does, God's justice is celebrated, community is proclaimed, and sufficiency is affirmed. Liberation comes by opening the way to God's shalom, and by turning lives away from false truths. His ministry brings joy and reconciliation by announcing the truth of God's realm, already present among us and still to be realized in fullness.

Tom Sine, in the book Wild Hope, says that the passage from Isaiah not only defines the ministry of Jesus, but guides all who would follow him, too.

What the scriptures seem to imply is that, for Jesus, being the Messiah of God meant quite simply devoting his life to working for the purposes of God. ... One doesn't have to read much further to discover that, for Jesus' disciples, following Christ meant not only committing their lives to God, but also working for the purposes of God in the world. ... They committed themselves to a new vision and a new vocation that had priority over their own aspirations, economic security, relationships, social expectations, or anything else.

For the disciples and for us, living in that hope, committing to that new vision, joins us to the prayer of Jesus in the garden: "Not what I want, but what you want."

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We live in a time that calls for profound hope, because our world is in profound distress. On every side, we see how our society is contrary to the realm of God that Jesus embodied.

Those who have a sense of what is genuinely good and right are filled with grief and anger by the desecrations that are so commonplace. Obscene wealth is celebrated and desperate poverty is ignored. We are urged to serve the Economy through a consumerism that make us dissatisfied and selfish. All of creation -- people, animals and land -- are exploited. Earth is polluted and degraded. Peace, justice and joy are rare.

In such a world, we need to be intentional about cultivating and focusing our hope, because the lies and turmoil around us distract us and degrade our convictions. We constantly need to remind ourselves that it is God's realm of peace and justice for all creation that is ultimately true. God's realm is the model for right relationships among all creatures, with Earth, and with God.

For Jesus, and for all of us who seek to follow him, our hope is tied to God's realm. We celebrate the life and ministry of Jesus, because he so fully embodied the realm of God. We join with him, today, as we confront the hurts and evils of this world with joyous good news of God's shalom.

Especially on Good Friday, we know that living in such hope does not guarantee that life will be comfortable or convenient. Living in hope will probably take us to places that are difficult and dangerous. We will have to wrestle often with the question, "my will, or God's?", and unlike Jesus, we may not always choose so well.

Vaclav Havel wrote that hope "is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart. ... It is an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed." As followers of Jesus, we find that orientation of the heart, that ultimate goodness, in God's realm of love and justice. God's realm is the truth that will guide us -- personally, as communities, and as a society -- away from death and exploitation, and toward life and justice for all of creation.

May we live always in that hope.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

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