7 Pentecost A—7/19/20
Wisdom of Solomon 12:13, 16-19; Romans 8:18-25;
Pr. Scott Kramer
One week ago I joined seven teammates on the Pacific Crest Trail. This is the fifth year in a row that we’ve chosen a section of the trail, with the goal of completing all 500 miles in the State of Washington. This year’s plan was to hike the 99 miles between White Pass and Snoqualmie Pass.
We usually leave in early August, which has been practically ideal for weather and trail conditions. Our schedules this year wouldn’t coordinate for that window so we began our hike almost three weeks earlier.
I knew snowpack was a strong possibility this time of year and sure enough, right away on the first day we encountered deep, slushy snow on the trail. The second day was much worse—treacherous, even. We found ourselves slipping and sliding on steep grades, and “postholing” while crossing streams. Reluctantly, we decided to cut our trip short and exit on the third day at Chinook Pass, just outside Mt. Rainier National Park.
Two of today’s readings caught my attention because they speak of hope. But what I find most challenging is the connection between hope and two essential elements of hope: waiting, and…repentance.
In St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, he writes: 24For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
My team was disappointed that we weren’t able to finish the hike. I was less disappointed because I had already done this 99-mile hike by myself. Not all at once. I did it in pieces over several years, which required patience. I was the only one of us who had seen the whole trail. I didn’t hope to see the whole trail. I’d already seen it!
The rest of the team, however, must be patient to see the whole trail. Two days after we cut our trip short at 25 miles, most of the team went back out on the trail to complete another 29 miles at the end of the trail, finishing at Snoqualmie Pass. But, they still have 45 miles in the middle that they haven’t seen. They may not finish this year. They must wait for it…with patience.
Patience doesn’t come naturally for many of us. It’s a learned skill. It doesn’t help that we live in a culture that doesn’t value or practice patience. We want, and expect, instant results or instant gratification. When we’re faced with a persistent virus, we either make ourselves unhappy and maybe make poor choices through impatience. Or, with patience, we wait for relaxed restrictions and in time, a vaccine.
Deep, abiding hope depends in part on patience. Waiting—patience—whether on the trail or in the midst of a pandemic, can be a matter of life or death.
Patience is lifted up in our other reading for today. In the Wisdom of Solomon, the writer offers to God a song of praise. 18Although you are sovereign in strength, you judge with mildness, and with great forbearance (patience!) you govern us; for you have power to act whenever you choose. But there’s more: 19Through such works you have taught your people that the righteous must be kind, and you have filled your children with good hope, because you give repentance for sins.
In this passage hope is tied not only to patience but repentance.
If patience is difficult for modern Americans, repentance may for many be just as hard. Repentance in the Bible, as many of you know, is not simply admitting wrongdoing, confessing one’s sins. It doesn’t always have to do with guilt and shame. It means, literally, a “change of direction.”
On our hiking trip, through maps, apps, and careful planning, our team had plotted a course from beginning to end, complete with campsites and water stops. Along the way, however, we were forced to adjust our plans. Trees had fallen. Snow and ice blocked our path. These were mostly inconveniences, but gradually we realized that conditions were too dangerous and instead of following our plan we finally exited the trail. It was a significant change of plans and change in direction. It was, frankly, a disappointment. It was also a humbling reminder of our limits and how little control we have over many parts of our lives.
19Through such works you have taught your people that the righteous must be kind. You have filled your children with good hope, because you give repentance for sins. Hope for followers of Jesus Christ is based on God’s generosity, God’s grace, God’s love, God’s patience. But what use are these free gifts, the author asks, if we are on the wrong path and refuse to change course? We can hope for what we want all we want, but without a change of direction—without repentance—hope is more like a dream.
The times in which we live have forced most of us to press the pause button on the routines of our lives. Patience is required. While this may sometimes feel uncomfortable and even scary, it can be a window of opportunity for soul-searching and self-reflection. Much of the time in ordinary times our lives are on autopilot. We may rarely question our direction, habits, choices and priorities. But in this pandemic, we have time to reflect on our priorities and values, use of time and energy, relationships—individually, as church communities, and as a nation–to discern whether course corrections are needed. Maybe, in some cases, so much is at stake that, as we found out on our snow-covered hike, we may be on the wrong trail. Getting off the trail altogether may be the best call.
What habits and patterns have we followed in the past that are no longer life-giving? In other words, what might repentance look like?
An example of repentance for our particular faith community is our current conversation with REACH Center of Hope. Is it possible that this space which for the entire history of this congregation has been used in particular ways can be reimagined and repurposed? Through patience in conversation, through change of direction, might there be hope for a revitalized mission and future?
I hope you see, dear friends, the goodness of God in this question. Repentance is not always about guilt and shame. A change in direction can be a choice freely made in response to the movement of the Holy Spirit–maybe difficult at first–but which leads us in new and life-giving directions we never knew possible. And if that’s possible for a local community, what new life might be possible for a nation that changes direction in regards to questions of race, equality, and economic justice?
20/20 is the term we use to describe “normal” vision. In this year 2020, we don’t need ordinary vision. We need extraordinary vision. We need God’s vision. It is in this that we place our hope. Through patience and change of direction we find our way into God’s future!