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A Hopeful Musing Aug 26, 2020

Hebrews 11:1-3

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

Do you remember Leonid Brezhnev? He was a Soviet statesman and Communist Party official who became the leader of the Soviet Union from 1964-1982. Brezhnev’s rule was during the height of much of the Cold War. It was also during a time when the Soviet Union persecuted individuals of all faiths and officially endorsed the path of atheism.

When he died in 1982 world leaders flew into Moscow for his funeral. One of those leaders was then Vice-President and later President George H. W. Bush. In 1987, he gave the commencement address at Albion College in Michigan. In that address, he noted some of the most amazing things he had witnessed in his lifetime. To the surprise of many in the audience one of those amazing things he had seen occurred at Leonid Brezhnev’s state funeral. Mr. Bush shared the following in his commencement remarks:

“At the funeral of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, things were run in military procession; a coldness and hollowness pervaded the ceremony – marching soldiers, steel helmets, Marxist rhetoric, but no prayers, no comforting hymns, no mention of God.

The Soviet leaders took their places on the Kremlin Wall as the Brezhnev family silently escorted the casket around to its final resting place. I happened to be in just the right spot to see Mrs. Brezhnev. She walked up and took one last look at her husband and there – in the cold, grey center of that totalitarian state – she traced the sign of the cross over her husband’s chest.”

Think about it…for days and nights, the mourners had been filing by his open casket in solemn procession. First ordinary citizens, then party functionaries, then military leaders, ambassadors and members of the Politburo and finally heads of state of foreign lands. All had come to pay their respects to a man, who—depending on where you stood—was either widely loved or widely feared.

And last of all came Brezhnev’s widow. An honor guard of elite soldiers in full dress uniform stood at attention, ready to close the casket. The eyes of all were upon Madame Brezhnev as she stood in silent reflection.

And in that moment, where it would seem there was no hope, this woman made the sign of the cross on her husband’s chest. In her pain and grief, something welled up in her soul and she could not do anything but hope…hope that her husband was wrong. Hope that even for the man who had run a godless bureaucracy that God might still be gracious.

Last week in my sermon I talked openly about getting into good trouble. I stated my belief that “Sometimes being faithful means stepping outside the lines. Sometimes it means protest and civil disobedience. Sometimes it means calling out lies and idolatries. And sometimes the most radical thing you can do is speak truth and offer hope and love. Even if it means doing the things the world would call crazy. You know—subversive things like giving of your hard-earned and well-invested money to the poor, offering food to the hungry, loving the sinners, giving chances to those society has given up on like the prisoner or parolee or the addict.”

However, after reading this story I have also come to realize that believing in hope can be its own form of good trouble. In fact, I think this act of hope was possibly one of the most daring — and profound — acts of civil disobedience ever committed.

And hope is rarely found when things are going well. In fact it is most needed when times are hard.

As historian Howard Zinn states in his book A Power Governments Cannot Suppress -

“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, kindness.

What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.

And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”

At the end of the movie Shawshank Redemption, Morgan Freeman’s character Red decides to break parole and go searching for his friend in Mexico.

His friend, who escaped the horrors of Shawshank Penitentiary after serving years for a crime he did not commit, had once spoken to Red of the power of hope. Red however disparaged even the concept of hope, calling it a dangerous thing.

But now as Red crosses the US-Mexico border it is hope that leads him on. He says as the movie concludes,

"I think it (my journey to Mexico) is the excitement only a free man can feel, a free man at the start of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain. I hope I can make it across the border. I hope to see my friend and shake his hand. I hope the Pacific is as blue as it has been in my dreams. I hope.”

May we each live with the same hope – a hope that we know is true because God sent his only son, Jesus of Nazareth, and he lived among us, was crucified, buried and then when all hope was gone rose again. Conquering death. And because of that we can live as a people knowing grace is true and that we are assured of that promised day when every tear will indeed be wiped away.

Thanks be to God. Alleluia. Amen.

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