11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Reflection December 29, 2019
"New Year Hope 2020" - by Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
As we begin another New Year, we look back on what has been and glance ahead to what will be. A New Year is a clean slate, a blank page, an empty canvas, waiting to be filled. The days of this year will be uncovered one by one as we make our way through it. What will this year bring? What changes will be encountered? What hopes await birth? Which dreams will be realized, which will remain dormant?
This past year, 2019, was a year of significant changes to our beloved church. I’m certain this coming year, 2020, will bring new changes, new challenges. We lost so many of our members this past year that it’s hard for us to process the losses. Each loss is a new wound and I, along with the rest of us, find the wounds still open and unhealed.
And yet, each New Year finds me hopeful. This is an annual surprise as I have a natural propensity to pessimism, perhaps a remnant of my Irish lineage. It is easy to despair. In a world without much notice of God, despair is an understandable reaction.
We look at our politics and despair is our daily bitter food. As I mentioned this past Sunday, we’ve entered deeply into an age of rage. Rage pours forth from Washington. Rage pours forth from so many sources. Rage bitterly divides us. Our elected leaders don’t seem capable of the language of compassion or compromise. We live in truly frightening times.
Religion, which should bring us together, seems to have lost much of it power to unite us. So many of our sisters and brothers in the faith are angry and want to stay angry. I’ve grown weary of angry people who claim to have Christ on their side. Bitterness fills the air everywhere we look.
If our God is not working among us and within us, who would not live in a constant state of bitterness and gloom? It’s hard to be hopeful in our wounded world. Where should hope reside? In our technology? In our religions? In ourselves? Hope can only be found in God. I preached on hope the Second Sunday of Advent.
We must be continually instructed in hope. The German theologian Jurgen Moltmann rightly teaches us in his book, The Source of Life: “Can we learn to hope? I think we can. Because we don‘t bring this true hope with us from birth, and because our experiences of life may perhaps make us wise but not necessarily hopeful, we have to go out to learn hope.
“We learn to love when we say Yes to life. So we learn to hope when we say Yes to the future. This sounds very simple, but in the diverse circumstances of life it is very difficult indeed.” Hope helps us live into the future but we need to add our own individual and communal Yes to that future.
Who do I hope in? Myself? That would be laughable! My hope resides only in one place; the place where God is. I experience hope welling up within me because I know God has hopes for me. Even with my frailty and flaws and recent medical challenges, God keeps hoping in me.
This may sound egotistical yet it is exactly the opposite. I want to make something of my life not because I need personal acclaim, but in order to bring pleasure to the One Who Made Me and Sustains Me. In the midst of my own sin, God keeps encouraging me to fight against fear in all its forms. My hope is but a tiny reflection of the hope God has for me and for each person.
It’s God‘s hope which can heal me. It’s God‘s hope which will finally heal the world and every living creature. It’s God’s hope which will knit together all the fractured faiths and hardened hearts. It’s God’s hope that will save us from ourselves.
Hope happens when we learn to hear with our hearts. Hope happens when we stand against abuse, injustice, falsehood and every form of dishonesty. Hope happens when we acknowledge our prejudices. Hope happens when we loosen our death-grip on religious dogma and our crippling political certitudes. Hope happens when we abandon our addiction to being right.
Hope happens when we strip off our pretense of perfection. Hope happens when we lay down our weapons of wrath, our growing addiction to rage. Hope happens when we vanquish our constant need to control. Hope happens when we stop trying to stand in for God. Hope happens when we allow God to do what God does.
I’d like to add something from Moltmann which I’ve shared with the church in the past: “In front of me I see two angels. One is the angel of history ... His face is turned toward the past. Where we see a chain of events, he sees a single catastrophe, which unremittingly heaps ruin upon ruin. He has turned his back to the future, while in front of him the mass of history‘s wreckage rises up to high heaven ...
“The other is the angel of the future ... This is the angel of the covenant, the angel of promise. Mary heard him and trusted him ... This angel of the future doesn’t look back in grief or anger to our human history with its fields of rubble. He gazes with great eyes into the future of the coming God ... The tempest of the divine Spirit is blowing in his wings and garments ... He brings the birth of the future from the Spirit of the divine promise.”
So, hope is always with us, in the shimmering presence of the Angel of the Future. But we must not discount the Angel of History. We must gaze into the past, while not getting trapped there. Many of us see the “mass of history’s wreckage“ and discover ourselves sitting sorrowfully on the ash-heap, filled with rage and bitterness.
There’s much to weep over in our human history yet we must not allow our sorrow to strangle our sight. But if we stand only with the Angel of the Future, then what will we have learned from all the mistakes of the millennia? We must stand with both angels, seeing into the past while “gazing with great eyes” into the future.
No one can foretell the future - with the exception of God alone. God lives within a mysterious mix of past, present, and future. I pray for all of us at Morgan Park American Baptist as we face the future. Many in our congregation are facing significant medical challenges. We can all use comfort and consolation and continual prayer.
God is our hope. We are also God‘s hope. As Moltmann contends: “God is our last hope because we are God‘s first love. We are God‘s dream for the world and God’s image on the earth God loves. God is waiting for human beings to become truly human.” May this year of 2020 be the year when God‘s dream is finally realized! May this year, 2020, be the year we become truly human!
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor