Sunday, October 12, 2003

Once More to the Lake: Hope

Asbury First United Methodist Church

Text: Mark 10: 17-31

Jesus meets us today on the shoreline of real hope. At the edge of the water of life he invites us to wade out from the dry land of having and into the living water of giving. He is calling you from having to giving. He is inviting me to be a trustee of the future as well as the past. He is offering us a chance, a chance, a daily chance not only to conserve and protect but also to develop and enhance. Up here along the lakes.

The bright lights of a big city, Jerusalem or New York, may distract our attention from the 50% of Christ revealed along the lakeshore. Down south to Jerusalem the Jews went, including, we may suppose, those like Jesus and Mary and Joseph who lived ‘upstate’, for great autumn and winter and spring festivals (Sukkoth, Hanukah, Passover), as we go south to the Big Apple for the great autumn and winter and spring festivals (Thanksgiving, New Years, Easter). Mark remembers Jesus teaching, though, along the lake of Genessaret. Lessons for living along the lakeshore: once more to the lake! The Gospel in a word today is hope, past and present and future. We have a heritage of hope. Jesus Christ, today’s real presence, inspires hope. The future holds for us a collective hope.

1. We Have Heritage of Hope

In the first place, you are descendants of hopeful people.

Just to the north of Owasco Lake, in the historic section of Auburn, you may find time to visit the home of William Seward. Seward lived and practiced law along the northern shore of the lake. Unlike his Moravia neighbor, Millard Fillmore, he never became President, although he was the leader of the nascent Republican Party. He served as Secretary of State from 1861 to 1869, was nearly killed on the same day and by the same plan that took Lincoln, became a highly skilled international diplomat (how we could use his spirit today!), and was vilified in his own lifetime for an act of hope of uncommon proportion. William Seward, of the Finger Lakes, knew that hope is in the living water of giving not on the dry land of having, in the water of development not on the rocky shore of protection. He came from an upstate farm family, but he had the courage and genius to give, to generously invest in an unknown and unforeseeable future. More urbane leaders were more tepid. Not Seward. Like a poor woman with only a farthing to spend, he did spend; he did give, and did so with hope and grace. In a time of calamitous confusion—1867!—Seward bought Alaska for $7.2M, $2 an acre. For such courage he was persecuted and vilified. “Seward’s icebox”, the downstate press chortled. But his visionary generosity to the future, like that which built Asbury First, and that which will build our future, are gifts to an unknown future, and an unborn generation. Hope meets us at the shoreline of having and giving, at the point we wade out from conservation and protection into development and enhancement. Which brings us suddenly to Mark 10.

2. Jesus Inspires Hope

In the second place: Jesus the Faithful Presence inspires hope! In the city of Rome, under the thumb of Caesar, Mark in 70AD rehearses Jesus’ lakeside lessons. Gathered in secrecy, hearing news of a Jerusalem temple in flames, rightly fearing impending persecutions, Mark’s Roman Christians heard hope in these teachings, so frequently as today related to wealth. If you notice only one word in this passage, mark Mark’s inclusion of “persecutions” (vs. 30).

For there is an urgency to Mark’s passage that Matthew and Luke have left behind. Mark exudes raw energy under the pressure of apocalyptic expectation. Sell and give! Some will not taste death until they see the SON OF MAN. Notice the telltale apocalyptic marks: eternal life (the coming resurrection of the dead); this age and the age to come (the heart of Jewish longing); camel and needle (end of an age hyperbole); none is good but God (the apocalyptic distance of heaven from earth); the reign of God (the essential apocalyptic hope); persecutions (harbinger of the end); last become first (apocalyptic justice). But there is no mistaking the primary announcement: life is found in the lake of giving, not on the shore of having. Yes, you must honor the past, including the commandments (though Mark’s Jesus lists only the second 5). Yes, we must conserve and protect. But as LT Johnson told us this week: “the tradition of the church is meant to open the future!” Conserve what you can and protect what you must, then give—develop, give—enhance, give—and open the reign of God! This is what life is all about.

At the end of this month’s remarkable election in California, a Mexican American Democratic leader in LA memorably implored his people to look to the future: “Think of your future. Look to the next generation. See what is out ahead. Why if you vote for (candidate x) it would be like a chicken voting for Colonel Sanders!” He could speak apocalyptic.

Speaking of apocalypse and chickens, it is like the old story of the Methodist Ham and Egg dinner. A hen and a pig stopped in to the church and were so impressed by their welcome and welcoming space that they offered to help. The pastor saw the hen and pictured eggs. She saw the pig and pictured ham. “Well, we could use you both, but for one of you this would be a significant contribution and for another it would mean real sacrifice!” She could sing apocalyptic.

Jesus spoke more about money than about almost anything else. Here as elsewhere he offers a word of hope. Giving does most for the giver. Over a lifetime you will be happiest about what you give. You only possess what you can personally give away. What possesses you, and the rich young ruler, you do not want. You want freedom, the freedom to give.

It is hard not to be had by what you have. So the good news counsels, “Store ye not up treasure on earth...” At a meeting Tuesday Tom Fassett quoted Wordsworth: “The world is too much with us, late and soon. Getting and spending we lay waste our powers. Little we see in nature that is ours. We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon.”

Peter, the disciple whom Mark loved, provides the counter example to the possessed man. He has left everything and received everything. He has been inspired in Jesus the Christ to live in hope. Peter has found the hope to risk building a kingdom that does not yet exist. He is learning to swim on the lake of giving after standing for so long on the shore of having.

To learn to swim you have to trust that the water will hold you up. It will. We have a role as trustees of our church. All of us are trusted in our time with a future time. What becomes of this congregation in 2020 is being determined right now. As trustees we bear responsibility not only to conserve and protect the past but also and more so to develop and enhance the future. There is an irony here, too. The only way you can really conserve and protect the past is to develop and enhance the future. Like Jeremiah buying land as the city burned, Peter invested in faith as calamity overtook him. We can too. Let’s. Jesus inspired hope in Peter and he can do so in us today. Which brings us upstate in 2003.

3. Ours is a Collective Hope

In the third place, the good news gives birth, the Christian gospel gives birth, to the blood spattered, umbilically tethered, tiny cherub of hope, weekly, in its reading and hearing and interpretation. Over against our upstate economic malaise, we are forced by today’s reading to consider the horizon of hope for our region. This passage lays hold not of what is wrong but of what is right!

Hope is not optimism. Hope is realism with ears and eyes. Finger Lakes New York is becoming poorer by the minute. I have clippings from this calendar year of manufacturing demise in Corning, Binghamton, Oneida, Syracuse, and Rochester. Glass, computers, silver, air conditioning, caskets, film—let us conserve and protect as much as we can. Hope, though, has ears for what the future is saying too. Not only to conserve and protect, but also to develop and enhance.

Hope is realism with ears. Hope hears the analysis and knows its partial truth: our infrastructure is too old; our schools are too rowdy; our elderly are too expensive; our taxes too high; our manufacturers do not speak Chinese (literally, figuratively, or monetarily); our cities are too rusty; our farms are too rocky. We would be better off downstate, in Jerusalem, or in Diaspora, in Texas.

Hope is realism with eyes, too. Eyes that see a new future being born. It is a good lakeside future! With God all things are possible. Be grateful for what you have been given and so give to the future in hope! Here are five fingers of hope, like the slim fingers of the lakes themselves that beckon us in hope.

You have an exquisite, glacially sculpted lakeside geography like no other. Flaunt it!

You have a tough, varied, post-modern meteorology, including snow and ice, like no other. Market it!

You have a progressive, human friendly, Rockefeller republican culture like no other. Cherish it!

You have a proven, compassionate, historically liberal political heritage. Support it!

You have a flourishing, ecumenical, broad spirituality more vibrant than nearly any world wide. Invest in it!

Geography, meteorology, community, history, spirituality. Not wealth, perhaps, but just maybe treasures akin to those of heaven. Enjoy, savor, and appreciate, live!

Have dinner at the Aurora Inn. Buy some skates. Or skis. Read Reynolds Price along a quiet lake. Look up Vaclav Havel in a local library. Make a reservation at one of the following: Chautauqua, St Bonaventure, the Abbey of the Genesee, Colgate Chapel House, Jordanville Russian Orthodox Monastery, New Skeete Priory, Stella Maris, Casowasco, Willard Chapel in Auburn. New York State is Spiritual Smorgasbord and some people are going hungry! Here is another: Join Asbury First. And tithe!

I want to conserve and protect all manner of our manufacturing past as much or more than any other. In Webster, the next word below manufacture is manumission. Our future in Upstate New York is spiritual, though. Not only manufacture but also manumission. Manumission: freedom, liberation, emancipation, the reign of God. It would not surprise Hiawatha, or John Dempster, or Frederick Douglass or Harriett Tubman or Franklin Roosevelt.

God has a different, more modest, yet truly wonderful purpose for upstate. We are maturing. We can move from achievement to enjoyment, from manufacture to manumission, from materiality to spirituality. In our lifetime. We will earn less. We will have more jobs per home. One said: “I know the economy is getting better and there are more jobs because I have three of them now, not just one.” Well. The future will be different, but it will be good. This is the meaning in part of Mark 10: there is hope for our region.

Call to Faith

We may be less comfortable with real hope than we are with real despair. Things are much easier, in one sense, if there is no hope or future. We have no responsibility, then. If our regional future, or even part of our future, lies in spirituality, religion, faith, manumission, then this church is center stage, across the Finger Lakes, for century 21. Then we have a leadership role to play. Then we really do need to invest in the future. Then hope will involve not only conservation and protection but also development and enhancement. No, the canal is not coming through, nor the railroad, nor the highway. That is the past. But a canal culture of natural grace? A railroad of personal freedom? A highway of spiritual emancipation? Everything north of Yonkers is one gracious beautiful garden. You have the good news to share that will help a future generation to get off the highway of having and get into the garden of giving.

I have a hope that you will hope too. It is the hope that the spiritual, Christian love I have known at Asbury First, in all its liturgical, didactic, and missionary excellence, will be available for my grand children. Growth always requires the risk of change. And not small change, either.

50 years ago this month ground was broken for our sanctuary. Your pastoral team and households are making a challenge commitment to build our future calculated to remember these 50 years. It is our hope that with Peter of old we together can step out from the dry land of having and wade in the water of giving.


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