Before Hope…

Isaiah 64:1-9

Mark 13:24-37

 

There’s this post circulating Facebook. The title is, “The Entire Bible Explained in One Facebook Post. This Guy Nails It.” The person who wrote this post starts off by saying, “Holy Bible: the TL;DR version (too long; didn’t read).” The TL;DR is a common phrase on the Internet. As that title hints, it means that something, whether a comment or story or other post, was too long and the reader, upon seeing how long the post is, didn’t read it.

(Here it is, in original form, but maybe not from the actual, original post)

The TL;DR version of the Bible goes like this:

GENESIS

God: All right, you two, don’t do the one thing. Other than that, have fun.

Adam & Eve: Okay.

Satan: You should do the thing.

Adam & Eve: Okay.

God: What happened?!

Adam & Eve: We did the thing.

God: Guys… (Whenever this is read, I imagine God is off to the side, facepalming. Facepalming, in case you didn’t know, is where you put your face into your palm in frustration, like so…)

THE REST OF THE OLD TESTAMENT

God: You are my people, and you should not do the things.

People: We won’t do the things.
God: Good.

People: We did the things.

God: Guys…

THE GOSPELS

Jesus: I am the Son of God, and even though you have done the things, the Father and I still love you and want you to live. Don’t do the things anymore.

Healed people: Okay! Thank you!

Other people: We’ve never seen him do the things, but he probably does the things when no one is looking.

Jesus: I have never done the things.

Other people: We are going to put you on trial for doing the things.

Pilate: Did you do the things?

Jesus: No.

Pilate: He didn’t do the things.

Other people: Kill him anyway.

Pilate: Okay.

Jesus: Guys…

PAUL’S LETTERS

People: We did the things.

Paul: Jesus still loves you, and because you love Him, you have to stop doing the things.

People: Okay.

PAUL’S LETTERS PART II

People: We did the things.

Paul: Guys…

REVELATION

John: When Jesus comes back, there will be no more people who do the things. In the meantime, stop doing the things.

THE END

In the comments section of this post, someone wrote, “That was still TL;DR, dude,” to which another person replies, “Guys…”

I think the only thing I’d change in that whole post is, “Guys…” I’d make it, “Y’all…” with the same tone and inclination. “Y’all” is just better. First, I’m from Arkansas, so it fits my Southern accent more appropriately. Second, I live in Texas now. “Y’all” is just as much Texas as it is Arkansas. Finally, it’s inclusive. “Y’all,” gives the opportunity to include everyone in the room. You’re not addressing just men, but women also. “Y’all” allows for that. It’s just “you all” shortened!

But that’s not the point of this post. I think a great point of this post is that we do the things. We do the things over and over and over. We do the things and all God can do is facepalm and say, “Y’all…”

 

When we look at this Isaiah text, we see the prophet pleading for God to come to earth. The people have lost their way, because God is not present to keep tabs on them. “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence… You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember your ways. But you were angry and we sinned; because you hid yourself, we transgressed.” Without God, Isaiah says, we do the things.

We have a benefit, though. We know the whole story. We know that Isaiah is pleading with God to send the Messiah. And while Jesus probably wasn’t exactly the Messiah Isaiah was pleading for, Jesus came to Earth for us. We have an edge on the Old Testament despair we find in the prophets.

But even after Jesus the Messiah comes for us we hear words like those from this section of Mark. “But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken… But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come.” Even after Jesus, the Son of Man, the greatest prophet ever, the Messiah of all humanity comes to Earth, we’re still warned that judgment will come; because we do all the things. I have a friend that has called the first Sunday of Advent, “Apocalypse Sunday.”

 

And now, when we look at the state of our world, I don’t think it is too hard for us to imagine ourselves in the world of Isaiah. In the time of prophets, Israel was burdened with injustice. The prophets lamented over inequalities with the classes. Immigrants were turned away from the temple. People were starving in the streets. The wealthy kept resources for themselves. If you were different from the people at the top of the food chain, you were an outcast.

Even in exile, the people at the top of the food chain in the Jewish community worked with their conquerors to ensure that a certain “pecking order” was sustained. There was no movement in society. Things were kept in place so that the people at the top could stay there. The ancient Israelite society was the opposite of what the prophets believed to be justice. Oppression was preferred over justice.

And here we are, in 2014, millennia after the prophets of Ancient Israel aired their grievances.

Here we are, after Jesus came to this Earth and showed us how to live.

Here we are, after we’ve been told not to do the things, doing the things.

Our society is rife with injustice. Everywhere we look, we see injustice.

We see it when people who strike for working wages are arrested. We see it when peaceful protests are met with tear gas and rubber bullets. We see it when prosecuting attorneys have closer relationships with those they should be prosecuting than the people who elected them. We see injustice when those that are sworn to protect and serve the public do not hold themselves to a standard higher than the common criminal. Injustice is everywhere. Our societal system is on the verge of a complete collapse.

 

We are at a moment when it could be easy to abandon all sense of hope. It would be easy to just give up. After all, the system of oppression is already in place. That system of oppression is already such a well-oiled machine that we could just let it continue to run. At least we’re used to that system. Plus, it would be a lot less effort. Let’s just sit on our couches and change the channels when things get uncomfortable. Let’s allow a police department to question a 12 year-old’s home life after a police officer shoots them. Let’s not question why stealing cigarillos is an offense punishable by death without judge and jury. Let’s not worry about police officers choking a man to death for selling loose cigarettes.

If we don’t question any of those things, then we take the easy way out. And it’s so easy not to question them, because we are again at a place where hope cannot be realized. We are at a time when hope is so absent, we don’t realize that hope could be born again. We are before hope.

Before hope, we have to face injustice.

Before hope, we have to deem that we are unworthy of anything hopeful.

Before hope, we have to know that our society is broken and irreparable.

Before hope, there is nothing that can be done.

Before hope, we have to know that we are done.

But out of those times before hope, hope is born. The Ancient Israelites constantly questioned whether a Messiah could come for them. The disciples had to watch Christ be tortured and sentenced to die. We have to watch the oppression succeed. And each time, something changes.

Jesus came for the world, out of the struggles of the Israelites.

The resurrection came for the disciples, who had their world shattered.

And now, movements come out of the unnecessary loss of black lives.

The change that is coming from the deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, John Crawford, III, and countless others is where we look for our hope now. All across the nation this past week, we saw the movement spread. From “Die Ins” to peaceful marches, we saw persons of all colors unite to fight injustice. In Oakland, protestors shut down BART. In San Francisco, a march disrupted the downtown tree-lighting ceremony. In New York, people flooded Times Square. In Chicago, countless neighborhoods are organizing to stop violence in their communities. Here in Houston, people marched from MacGregor Park, with the statue of Martin Luther King, Jr. looking on, to the University of Houston to support those in Ferguson. We have not seen this kind of movement in our country in 50 years.

Just when things get the most bleak, light breaks through.

Just when things seem to be at their worst, something good awakens.

Just when the chains of the oppressor are at their tightest, something breaks free.

And these are the reasons that we light this candle. Because we have a hard time seeing the hope, we light the candle. Because we exist in a time before we can believe in anything resembling hope, we light the candle. Because we want the world to be different than it is, we light this candle.

By lighting the candle, we start this season of Advent. We start a change in the world. We ask for change in the world. We desire change in the world. Lighting the candle is asking ourselves to live into the change. Lighting the candle is demanding that we have hope. Lighting the candle requires that we start anew, again. If we don’t light that candle of Hope on this first Sunday of Advent, then we say that everything has been for nothing.

We light the candle for the protestors. We light the candle for lives lost. We light the candle that no more lives will be lost. We light the candle for full and equal humanity for all persons. We light the candle so that, in the end of it all, we stop doing the things.

 

PostScript

On the drive back from church, I talked over the reaction from this congregation with Heather. First, I provided pulpit supply at Oaks Presbyterian Church here in Houston. This is a much older congregation. We don’t think they got the Facebook post idea. Like, at all. Just fell flat. Secondly, I came in hard with this sermon. I had no idea what the congregation would be like. Yes, I could have guessed that it was an older, white congregation, but I went with it anyway. Lastly, we think it could be accepted in our more progressive and familiar circles. I will gauge that thought from your reactions.

And if you want to get more involved, at least via the Internet, in the #Ferguson protests, I highly suggest following these folks:

@brownblaze

@deray

@MusicOverPeople

@Nettaaaaaaaa

@AntonioFrench

@solomonmissouri

@FeministaJones

@GeekNStereo

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