Preached by the Rev’d Cindy Stravers
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Last Sunday after Pentecost: Christ the King – November 20, 2011
Being in this place – this space – is important for many of us. It’s an easy place for us to let go of things that are bothering us – things that hurt, things that confuse, things that we wish were different. There’s something soothing – something that seems to almost ooze from the stones that draws us closer to the holy – sacred space where we can find a little peace.
I’ve found myself coming in here more often lately. I’ve needed it more lately.
It’s not because there are especially hard things or new hard things in my life right now. But I have become aware of a sort of floating anxiety that can’t find a place to land. There are so many things going on right now – in our community, in our country and throughout the world these days that has spread a blanket of fear and disillusionment. Maybe you have felt it too – a thick dampness that produces a deep chill before we’re even aware of its presence, before we have any real idea about its source or its strength.
We wait, hoping for better news – a break in the cycle of oppression and violence – a new voice – a new vision.
Philosopher Immanuel Kant once said that all the interests of his reason, speculative as well as practical, combine in the three questions: “What can I know?”; “What ought I to do?”; “What may I hope?”
Advent begins next Sunday – a season of waiting, a season of wondering. What is the Kingdom of God that the birth of Jesus inaugurates going to look like?
The three questions posed by Kant keep poking their heads up into my consciousness as I’ve been thinking about this Kingdom.
What can I know? What ought I to do? What may I hope?
The first question, “What can I know?”, I just have to sit with. There’s so much that is beyond my understanding. But there are two things I have come to take for granted – two things that I’m pretty sure about: life is messy and change happens.
The second question, “What ought I to do?” keeps me up at night. If I believe change can happen even in the messiest of situations, is there something I need to be doing to at least encourage a chance for something better?
And then there’s that third question, “What may I hope?”
In our lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures, Isaiah expresses a hope that the enemies of Israel will one day be partners in the family of God. The Psalmist as well declares that all flesh will one day bless the name of the Lord. The God of justice, the God of peace, the God who is near will one day be known and worshiped.
These lessons suggest that God’s people over the centuries hoped for something beyond their own wellbeing. There is a desire expressed – a hope verbalized – that all of creation will move from war to peace, from scarcity to abundance, from oppression to freedom, from alienation to belonging.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, we see the same kind of hope expressed – but with an answer to the second of Kant’s questions “what ought I to do?” included as well. How are God’s people to live in order that their hopes may be fulfilled? Paul tells the Romans that they are to live in harmony with one another and welcome one another just as God has welcomed them if they want to live into God’s hope for the world.
The order of Kant’s questions, “What do I know?, what ought I to do?, what may I hope?” sounds like there’s a linear relationship between knowledge, action and hope. As I’ve been mulling all of this over, however, I’m wondering if they make more sense as an interwoven pattern where the answer to one sheds light on – and then changes the others. It’s hard to know, it seems to me, how one might act in any given situation, especially in a situation that is tainted by injustice, until one is able to identify and live into hope – to see new possibilities – to believe that there is a potential for a new reality.
Having hope – and then allowing that hope to be a part of what we know may be exactly what we need in order to understand what we ought to do. Allowing what we know to inform our hope is also a way toward knowing what we are to do. And doing always informs what we know.
St. Paul ends his letter to the Romans identifying God as the source of hope – able and willing to make us people of hope – people who have not given up but who look forward to the coming of God’s Kingdom.
As we approach the season of Advent, may the Spirit fill us with hope, give us courage to act and increase our knowledge as we discern how we are to be a part of the building up of God’s kingdom – today and in the days to come. Amen.