Sunday, January 17, 2016

Choosing Hope

Shady Grove Presbyterian Church
January 17, 2016
Micah 6:7-8
Luke 6:37-38

It is never a bad choice to be hopeful.

President Obama gave his State of the Union Address this week. It was his final State of the Union Address. It was optimistic and hopeful.  I felt both encouraged and challenged by what he had to say. He said, “We should not fear the future but rather, shape it.”
Too many times I have allowed my own fears to shape me. When that happens, I hide in the darkness where hope, optimism and encouragement are hard to find. In that place, I have difficulty seeing the good in me and I can't imagine it in others. When fear is in charge of my attitude and thoughts, I am shaped by it rather than faithfully shaping a better way.
I need to be reminded of how powerful fear can be. I need to be invited to return to the light where hope is found, where hope can be shared. I appreciated what our president had to say. There has been so much fear in the air, on television, on the internet and in our conversations lately. If our faith in the love of God is to mean anything at all, then now is the time for us to put it to good use by speaking hope into the fear that threatens to dominate our time, energy and relationships.
On Friday morning I attended a District Issues Meeting with Congressman Steve Cohen. There were about two hundred people there. Steve Cohen and his staff listened respectfully and patiently as person after person took the microphone and expressed their needs. Veterans felt underappreciated, their care at the VA Hospital was not as effective or as efficient as they needed it to be. Home health care workers told about working long hours and getting paid $7.25 per hour without any benefits. People with physical challenges told about their need for access to public transportation. Some people told about discrimination in their work places, injustice based on gender, race and age. One woman told about a friend, a senior citizen, being exploited by scammers. One man, speaking through a translator, told about families being torn apart by deportation.
It went on for over two hours. People shared their narratives and named their needs. It could have been discouraging. It might have left us feeling bleak. But it didn’t. We were not discouraged because somebody listened. Steve Cohen and his staff paid attention to what was said; they took notes and names. They told each person which staff person would be responding to their particular need.
If this is politics, I am for it. People need a place to share their needs and somebody who will listen and respond with help and hope. If it is a congressman, then thank God for congressmen! Being listened to is being loved. Listening to others is just, kind and humble. It is the way to create hope.
Last evening I went to Bridges for their second annual Youth Ignite Event. Young people imagine ways to make Memphis a better, safer, more hopeful place to live. They acknowledge a problem, imagine a solution and develop ways to make the solution a reality. Then they present the whole thing in five minutes with a power- point and ask for the support of the community. It is enough to ignite hope for the entire nation!
Those young people, high school students, were so clear about what the problems are. They were focused on solutions and so happy to have reliable solutions to offer to us. They were hopeful, pressed down and running over with hopefulness.
Eight presentations are selected for the event. Many students have great ideas and they all have exhibits on site, but only eight of them get to present for the gathered crowd. From those eight presentations a winner is chosen, voted on by the young people there. And there were about three hundred young people in the audience. The winner gets support to make their plan happen.
Last night’s winner was a young man who has been in juvenile detention. He told us that all the men in his family had spent time in jail. Men get involved in crime. That was all he knew until the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department introduced him to new people, new ways of looking at life, new hope. He got a mentor and he has turned his life around. He presented the idea of having peer mentors for every young man in juvenile detention, a program that connects young men to new role models, a brighter future and new hope.
The presentations included a program to address and reduce sexual harassment among students in our schools, community gardens to fight food deserts, sex education to decrease teen pregnancy, theater programs to give students in high- poverty schools an opportunity to shine, a support group for girls to increase self-confidence, SAT and ACT prep assistance for students in high poverty schools to give them a better chance at college entry. 
Can you feel it? The hope generated by these young people and their ideas? They trust the future to hold solutions. Their own solutions. They are busy shaping the future, too busy to allow fear to hold them back.
It is never a bad choice to be hopeful.
Tomorrow is Martin Luther King Day and many of us will be involved in some kind of service, doing something to make the world around us a better place, doing something to honor the life of Dr. King, doing something to help make his dream a reality. If you don’t already have a plan, you can go to the web site for Volunteer Memphis or the web site for Be the Dream and find a place and a way to share your own light tomorrow.
In his “I Have a Dream” speech, Dr. King referred to the story we call “The Good Samaritan.” You know the story. A man was going from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell into the hands of thieves who beat him, robbed him, and left him for dead beside the road. A priest walked by and passed by on the other side of the road. Then a Levite went by and saw the man lying beside the road. The Levite walked on.
But a Samaritan was traveling on that road and he went over to the wounded man. The Samaritan was moved with pity. He bandaged the man’s wounds, gave him water, took the man to an inn and cared for him there. The next day he gave money to the inn keeper, covering the expenses of the room for the next day. And he promised to cover whatever cost was incurred by the man’s recovery.
Dr. King points out, in his Dream Speech, that we do not know why the priest and the Levite did nothing to help the wounded man. Jesus didn’t offer that in the telling of this story. We only know they did not help. Dr. King suggests that the priest and the Levite might have been asking themselves this question: “If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?” Maybe the thieves were not gone. Maybe it was a very dangerous thing to stop and take time to help the victim. Dr. King says that the road between Jerusalem and Jericho is a rocky and twisted road, isolated… a good place for thieves to attack and rob a traveler.
We also do not know, Jesus does not tell us why, the Samaritan chose to stop and to go toward the wounded man, to look at him and invest in his recovery. Dr. King suggests that the Samaritan might have been asking himself this question: “If I do NOT stop to help this man, what will happen to me?”
Dr. King urged us then and I urge us today: “Let us develop a kind of dangerous unselfishness.” It is the only way to win a victory over our communal fears. It is the way to increase hope in our nation, in our city, in our homes, in our lives.
Howard Zinn, the historian writes: “To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage and kindness.”
It is never a bad choice to be hopeful.








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