What Gives You (Me) Hope?
March 31, 2011
Richard R. Crocker, College Chaplain
We are inviting a number of people to speak very personally this term on the topic, “What gives me hope?” It is a searching question to consider, especially in the season of Lent, as we examine ourselves, and in Easter, when we celebrate the hope represented by the resurrection of Christ.
Now we are in Lent – a somber season leading up to the crucifixion of Christ – a season when it is permissible – even necessary – to admit and confront the forces of hopelessness – a season when it is OK to admit that we are not always hopeful.
As I have thought about this question, “What give me hope?”, I first of all have been aware that I do not share the hope that so many people around me seem to have, or say that they have. Here at Dartmouth, it seems to me, and in most of the world that we inhabit, the major engine of hope is wealth, power, success, and skill. People come to places like Dartmouth because they have already experienced the gifts of wealth, success, power, and skill, and because they hope they will, at Dartmouth and places like it, acquire even more. Now I do not want to be misunderstood. Enough wealth is better than poverty. Having some power over one’s life is better than being powerless. Success in attaining worthwhile goals is better than perpetual failure. Skills and knowledge are better than incompetence and ignorance. But seldom do we pause to ask the important questions: how is our wealth (or skill or power or success) acquired, and what is it used for? That’s why the Bible, and in particular the teachings of Christ, challenge such hopes. The love of money is the root of all evil. The greatest among you is the servant of all. Love your enemies. The one who is forgiven is the one who forgives. That is why the Tucker Foundation’s advocacy of experiences that call into question our wealth and power and success and skill are so important in a college that trumpets with pride the fact that our graduates are, on average, the highest paid in the nation.
Don’t get me wrong. I hope to have enough money to pay my bills. I want to be successful. I think knowledge and skill are really important. But having a huge amount of money is not what I hope for. It does not give me hope. Being seen as “successful” doesn’t give me hope. Having some skills in putting words together is a gift for which I am thankful, it is not the basis of my hope.
Power, however, is another question. I am very interested in politics because politics has the potential, in my way of thinking, to make the world better for everyone. Therefore I fall prey to putting my hope in princes - exactly the thing that the psalm warns us against. I have hoped that elections can result in public officials who act steadfastly to promote the well-being of everyone. Alas, I have been constantly disappointed. Although occasionally I find hope in the aspirations of a particular candidate for office, my hopes are often dashed by the compromises that such candidates seem inevitably to be forced to make, or choose to make. The audacity of hope is often dashed upon the rocks of entrenched self-interests.
Even as we meet today, we must be aware of the troubling and threatening events that shape our world. Our nation is now involved in three wars. The greed of our financial institutions remains unchecked, unpunished, and unrestrained. Earthquakes in Haiti and New Zealand; earthquakes and tsunamis in Japan and Thailand, the threat of radioactivity poisoning our planet, our inability to address issues of global warming – all of these show the limits of our power and skill.. Certainly they are not obvious sources of hope. Even the generosity that attends disasters, such as the one in Haiti, seems to be only a candle in the wind of such major poverty and destruction.
I expect (but do not hope) that by now I have made you rather somber – as we should be in Lent. We live in a world that is groaning in pain – but those groans, as Paul said, are labor pains attending the birth of a new creation. They are evidence of hope. The pain that we experience, the suffering that we see, the distress that we feel is fuel for the hope that we have – the hope that somehow death – the deaths that surround us in Japan and Libya and Afghanistan and even here – the deaths that we rarely acknowledge at Dartmouth but experience in silence and solitude –all those deaths are not triumphant. In Lent, we seek hope from the belief that suffering can be meaningful. When Easter comes, that hope is renewed.
So what gives me hope? Christian faith. Not the hateful Christian faith that declares that God hates homosexuals, or the exclusive Christian faith that takes pleasure in the damnation of others, but the Christian faith that hopes and works for the redemption of the world. We do not always see it. We hope for it. “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope….But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
What gives me hope? Faith, such as that expressed in Psalm 146– a psalm that tells us who God is, and that assures us that, no matter how it looks, this is what God will do: God executes justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry, sets the prisoners free, opens the eyes of the blind, lifts up those who are bowed down, watches over the strangers, upholds the orphans and the widow, and brings wickedness to ruin.
This is what we are waiting for. We do not always see it. But we hope for it, and wait for it with patience, and work for it. Some suffer for it. This is what gives me hope - that there are people like you, who wait with me and work with me and pray with me and hope with me. We build each other’s hope, as we wait and work together. This is what gives me hope. Even though our leaders fail us, God’s purpose will not be changed. Even though we fail ourselves by setting our hope on lesser things and seeking satisfaction in things that cannot really satisfy, true hope lives on and renews our life. Even though injustice and greed and war are sometimes all we can see, they are not what will prevail. We hope. We wait. We work. We live in hope. And we die, maybe before we have seen the promised land. But the land is still there, it is still promised, and our lives in their finitude and in their eternity – our real lives - are part of that hope which we wait for, but which is a sure and certain hope.
You know, I cannot judge the faiths of other people. I really only know Christianity. But one of the reasons I have affirmed Christianity as the basis of my hope is because it places, right at the center of our faith, our hope, a cross, an emblem of suffering, shame, dashed hope, death, disappointment, condemnation, despair. And that cross, that symbol, has become, for us who know it, a symbol, not of despair, but of hope. It tells us that God is with us is all the disappointments. God is always there. Hope is always there. And our hope will not disappoint. “Suffering produce endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produced hope – a hope that does not disappoint us. (Romans 5:3-4) That’s what gives me hope. Thank God. Amen.