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Lutheran bishop finds hope in the area and world

Address Spokane Interfaith Thanksgiving Service:  Harvest of Hope

St Mark Lutheran — November 24, 2005

Grace and peace to you from our friend Jesus Christ, Lord of this place, and God’s deepest hospitality for all. As I look at you I think I see a Christmas morning crowd, what we call in our house “the A team,” the small gathering of friends who year in, year out observe the festivals on behalf of others!

I am your brother, Martin.  I have the privilege to serve as bishop for the 108 congregations of the Eastern Washington and Idaho Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  I bring you the greetings of these congregations spread from Lake Chelan to Jackson, Wyoming.

Though our presiding bishop hopes we will be transformed into something better during his leadership, we are, for now, the shy people of Lake Woebegone.  When it comes down to it, and all seems to be lost, we drink thin coffee and comfort ourselves knowing, “It could have been worse.”  The playwright Jean Kerr speaks for Lutherans and hope:  “Hope is the feeling you have that the feeling you have isn’t permanent.”

I am delighted that you could join us here in our family’s home congregation, even as I am dismayed and heartsick that security concerns necessitated the move from Temple Beth Shalom. 

I join my prayers with yours, that there will be a day soon when all are secure in God and human hatred and fear will be a thing of the past.  Until then, let us keep vigil for our Jewish brothers and sisters and all others who suffer for faith.

Today we gather in Thanksgiving to observe the harvest of hope all around us.  For many, today’s hope is illusive and so we must look more deeply and harvest that hope for them, giving thanks and showing a way so that all may reap the abundance of our day.  Author Elie Wiesel has said, “…just as despair can come to one another only from other human beings, hope, too, can be given to one only by other human beings.”

Let us then, by prayer and thanksgiving, bring those here who yearn for hope:

We don’t have to go too far into a list of the world’s needs to raise our own anxiety do we?  We live in times of dramatic change and realignment and many in the world are paralyzed by fear and denial.  A favorite cartoon stuck to our refrigerator shows a middle-aged man begging on the street.  His sign reads, “Missed the last paradigm shift, whatever the hell that was.”

For people of faith the paradigm that doesn’t shift is thanksgiving. Thanksgiving for life; for others to love;  for the security of shelter and food; or the glorious prospects of a new tomorrow by the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with others.

The author Barbara Kingsolver has written, “The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for.  And the most you can do is live inside that hope…not admire it from a distance, but live right in it…under its roof.”

From the tradition of Martin Luther this means identifying the god you worship.  Luther would say that your god that that which you ultimately trust, that place where your heart reclines and finds rest.  This is the place where hope is thick and durable as opposed to the thin optimism so many would sell us today.

Today we gather as people of many faiths and none, joining our hearts together in goodwill for our community and in the hope of a common trust.  This is our commonwealth and it is a binding force of great promise.

So let me invite you into my own thanksgiving and hope as a way of binding us together and encouraging one another.

This is the beginning of the season of hope for Christian people.  This Saturday is our “New Years Eve” as Sunday begins a new liturgical year, the first Sunday of the season of Advent, the season of hope and expectation which leads to the birth of the Christ child. 

Into the very darkest days of the year comes the Light that no darkness can overcome.  This is our hope; we trust this One who comes to take away the sins of the world and to restore us in peace.

I find hope in the fertile land all around us, and in the prospect of next year’s farmer’s markets.  It is a sign of hope to invest during these fallow days in Community Based Agriculture, the small farmers who, if we support them today, will bring us food next year.  For all our farmers, we give thanks.

I find hope in the persistent investors who are leading us in restoring our downtown core.  Though I have many questions about a raw capitalism that the Mother Jones editor calls “economic Darwinism,” there is the feeling that these investors mean us well and are searching for that next economic engine that will sustain real jobs for people eager to work.

I find hope in the bicycle champion Lance Armstrong’s dogged persistence against cancer.  Even more I find hope when David Letterman is undone, preaching in his introduction of Armstrong, “Never give up, never give up, never give up!”

I find hope in a gathering of men who meet for “Haircut Sunday” once a month, to talk over local politics and issues before the community.  Yes, this has all the smell of an “old boy’s network,” but think how few porches we sit on these days to mull-over, in patience and goodwill, the good of our community.

I find hope in the number of weddings that have been celebrated this year, one I did for Katy and Brian in this very sanctuary.  It is a source of hope for all of us that people still make life-long promises of fidelity, setting aside the manic individualism of a culture that normally refuses public commitment.  For those searching for hope I can think of nothing better than attending a wedding.

Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr has said, “Nothing worth doing is completed in our lifetime; therefore we are saved by hope.”

What do I still hope for?

--Honesty in our public life: We have not been true with one another about the real costs of life together.

In a small ways that relate to these larger issues, my church hasn’t been true in it finances, and I’m the CEO!, so this is my confession: My work car just died and had to be replaced. We had no fund to replace the car because we skated by over the last several years paying just the insurance, gas, and maintenance. But the true cost of using up the car was never accounted for and so now we are behind and will have to borrow from the future for costs that should have been  accounted for yesterday.

In how many other ways have we pushed debt forward in order to avoid a cost today? We have millions of people who are tonight very anxious about their pensions, or, in the case of Kaiser, United Airlines, already trying to rearrange retirement…whatever that is and will be in the years ahead,

We can either face these realities or continue a cultural immaturity that sacrifices our children’s future for our enjoyment today.

For what do I still hope?

--For saving conversation, conversion, and amendment of life for our Mayor before he dies, and healing for all who have been hurt.

--That we, as a community, would look up once in awhile and realize where we live and the beauty all around us: 

--That we might be a community that can imagine a way to address the scourge of methamphetamine and its complex victims.

--A community that gains hope and confidence and operates from what Bible scholar Walter Brueggeman calls a practical theology of abundance rather than the choking, death--encouraging, and hopeless ideology of scarcity.

Shall we hope together?

Shall we take the stunning story of the Great Lake Missoula Ice Age floods, a story of cataclysmic natural forces that shaped and bequeathed us a legendary place to live; our water, our lakes, our spectacular waterfalls, and the ability to say to  our Willamette Valley brothers and sisters farming south of Portland that their rich soil is our scab-land legacy to them!

Shall we take that breath-taking story and let it suffuse us with a spirit of adventure and imagination that is our legacy when we are at our best? 

This is a wonderful community that can inspire our young! I know because my daughter Maggie will be coming back to take her place in leadership. She believed the consultant that Mayor Powers hired a few years ago…it really is about “commitment to place,” whether we are willing to mean our community well over generations of citizens.

We do hope together and because of that hope we give thanks.

The Lord bless us and keep us. The Lord’s face shine on us and be gracious to us. The Lord look upon us with favor and grant us peace. Amen.  So be it.

Soli Deo Gloria — Martin D Wells


The Fig Tree - © November 2005