It’s a question that keeps coming up. I often ask it of myself, like I ask it of congregations in transition. “What are you living for, in detail, and what keeps you from living fully for the thing you want to live for.” It’s an especially good question in a crisis, when some condition or way of life comes to an end and an important decision must be made, one that will determine the trend of the future for better or worse, like the many tiny crises we face each day, as life changes and we must decide how to change with it.
Aging is a slowly unfolding crisis. As I grow in years, I’ve got to choose new ways of being in the world or I’ll stagnate and die. Our communities are in crisis, and we must choose new ways of being in healthy relationship.
Our nation is in crisis, and we must choose if we will, in Lincoln’s words, “with malice toward none, with charity for all, . . . do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” The world is in crisis – our house is on fire, as Greta Thunberg reminds us – and we must choose to stop our headlong rush toward an environmental collapse of our own making. In every such crisis, something old is falling away and something new is emerging to take its place. Whether that something new works for good or ill depends in significant measure upon the choices we make.
And, of course, the congregation here at Good Shepherd is in a kind of crisis, as you grow into new relationships with newer members and look for a new pastor to offer spiritual leadership for the future. You’re going to make some important choices that will determine the trend of the future, for better or worse. And the choices you make now – about your priorities in ministry, your financial stewardship, your growth in discipleship, and your full involvement in the transition process – will influence the degree to which you lay hold of your greatest hopes.
Your responses to the question I asked earlier this month – “What is your greatest hope?” – along with responses about your greatest need and most urgent question, are helpful. The Church Council will get its first look at them this week, then you’ll get to see them. They’ll do a lot to show how you answer the question, “What are you living for, in detail?” They’ll even give some insight into what’s keeping you from living fully for the thing you want to live for. They’ll tell a lot about what will be on the other side of this crisis of transition. And the degree to which you participate in the transition process, like in the event coming up on Oct. 12, will determine how – and whether – your hopes for tomorrow start becoming a reality today.
This letter to Timothy (see 1 Tim. 6:6-19) gives us good advice about how to live in crisis, how to live in transition. The writer starts off referring to money and how “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil” (v. 10). But he’s really telling us that valuing anything more than we value God and God’s purpose leads to small, unfulfilled lives. Letting anything come between us and our greatest hope drives the realization of that hope further away. So how do we keep the way from here to our greatest hope clear and unobstructed?
First, listen to what the letter’s author urges. “But as for you,” he writes, “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness” (v. 11). Elsewhere, St. Paul wrote, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8).
Focus your mind completely on your greatest hope, and on things that will make that hope real, to the exclusion of everything that stands between you and your greatest hope, and you will begin today to live into that great hope. Remember, as Stephen Covey said, that “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing,” and you will begin, today, to realize the good news of Jesus that the time is fulfilled, your waiting is over, and the abundant life you’ve been hoping for is at hand (cf. Mark 1:15-16).
Do what the early church did. During a time of explosive growth in numbers and in faith, Luke says, “they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). If you do anything to realize your greatest hope, do these things: devote yourself daily to Bible study, individually and in small groups; don’t neglect to meet in regular fellowship with one another; join in regular meals together, including the Eucharist; and pray constantly, alone and with others. It’s the foundation on which a life of faith is built, and it’s what carries us toward our greatest hope.
Second, keep in mind that your greatest hope, when it’s fulfilled, is unlikely to look anything like what you expect. The religious community at Qumran were certain they knew where and how the messiah would appear, and they were certain they knew how to prepare for his coming. So they retreated to the northwest shore of the Dead Sea to wait faithfully without distraction. They waited, almost within sight of the road the magi would have followed on their way to Bethlehem. They missed their greatest hope because they were looking for something else. The kingdom of God, Jesus said, is spread upon the earth, and people don’t see it (Gosp. Thomas 113). It we don’t see it, it’s because we’re looking, hoping, for something else.
There are many good prescriptions for a life of faith. Maybe you can add important things to what I’ve said. But whatever the faithful life you live, do this. “Fight the good fight of faith; so that you may take hold of the life that really is life” (1 Tim. 6:12a, 19b).