Praise Leaders for Summer Institute 2017 at Duke Divinity School

Center for Reconciliation
Isaiah 40:21–31

Would you pray with me: God of silence, do you hear our cries? Do you hear our struggles? Do you hear our pains both spoken and unspoken? Are you going to be silent? Are you choosing to be silent? Lord, may the meditation of our hearts and the words of my mouth be heard and be acceptable in your sight, for you are our hope. Amen.

“Do you trust James? I mean he just have been your pastor for just few months.” Asked the grant approving officer to my church members.

My heart dropped. I worked incredibly hard for the past few months trying to convince my core church members that I have found a model to create a sustainable food pantry. Our food pantry was in financial trouble. And, this grant was the only option that I could think of. This was our last option. I focused my energy implementing a new model of food pantry because the grant would only be approved if I find a “sustainable” method.

So, I tried to introduce my church members to “food co-op pantry” model. I would refer you all to the book “Toxic Charity” for my inspiration. But, I was going no-where. And, on top of that, it was deflating to hear the words: “Do you trust James?” from a grant officer who knew me for the past three years. I mean, their grant paid my tuition to attend Duke Divinity School.

“Do you trust James?” asked the officer once more to my food pantry leadership team. Their answer was “no”, at least it was a polite “no.” So, the grant failed to materialize.

I am not going to lie. I was bitter. I was jaded. I was frustrated. All that work, all that effort, all the prayers and energy that went into designing this work was now in the trash just because the grant officer did not trust me, trust me that I was able to carry on the work.

Meanwhile, my church was going through a time of division because people were now fighting to keep their budgets items in the church budget. The fight dominated my first year in ministry. It divided my congregation. Some people left the church. Some people decided to quit their responsibilities.

So, through much prayer and tears, I decided that the only way to resolve this whole mess was for me to cut my own benefits. I found corners in my own benefit package that the church can save money and designated that money to the food pantry.

This “cutting my benefits” caused financial instability in my own home life. My wife and I struggle to plan for a family because of the financial uncertainty. And, I will be honest, that was the first thing that I looked forward to after I got a paid job. Now, it is postponed until further notice.

Here, I find my own dream paused, no where to turn, kneeling down in all fours crying out:

“My way is hidden from the Lord;

my cause is disregarded by my God”

Do I need to let go of my dreams? Do I need to let go of my vulnerable desires? Was I not trying to do right thing? As I repeated these words:

27“My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God”

over and over. Then, one night, I heard another voice:

28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?

I asked myself, ‘Do you not know? Have you not heard? What?’

Do you know? Have you not heard that:

28 The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Hope, Christian hope, is not something that is optimistic or positive. Christian hope is not about two groups holding hands and saying that everything is okay. In my best of understanding, Christian hope begins by realizing the brokenness, by being honest about our own brokenness, struggles, and limitations.

This Christian hope begins after embracing the limitations of ourselves. This Christian hope begins when we are able to name the realities of the situation and grieve. Walter Brueggemann calls this cycle: Reality-Grief-Hope. I honestly believe that we are able to hear the Christian hope when we are able to name the realities of the world and grieve over those realities first.

Christian hope begins after this honesty. Christian hope begins through naming the reality, reality that we are vulnerable, reality that we are not perfect, reality that we are not right all the time. Reality that we are broken. Reality that we might die…

And, in that moment of honest brokenness, God in mysterious way comes in and whispers the words, “Do you not know? Have you not heard?”

I hope it is okay to borrow the words from yesterday’s preacher: time is the cause of all wounds. I whole heartedly agree. Time seems to be working against us. Time seems to be deathly slow. I know from my experience, I don’t think there is hope of that beloved community in my lifetime. We will continue to struggle with injustice, hate, fear, and deception. This beloved community might not even be possible for the next generation, or the generation after that.

But, I still hear this voice, “Do you not know? Have you not heard?” That The Lord is the everlasting God? That in God’s time, this beloved community will be possible. Even though we are lost in the midst of this chaos,

“God will not grow tired or weary,

and God’s understanding no one can fathom.

29 God gives strength to the weary

and increases the power of the weak.”

We often read this portion and believe that God will provide a solution. Again, to my best of understanding, God giving us strength to the weary and increasing the power of the weak is not God finding a solution for our particular situation. God is not talking about a quick fix.

Perhaps, God is giving us the strength to be real, giving us the power to the weak so that we can continue to name the reality of the broken world and lament. It is a strange concept, we need an ounce of hope to lament and lament to find an ounce of hope. And so, we are not able to lament unless we have this foolish hope within us. The foolish hope that when we name the realities of our brokenness, somehow God will hear us.

Christian hope cannot be spoken without lament. Hope that we can name and we can see is not the Christian hope that we confess to know (Romans 8).

So, in that moment of brokenness, when we do not know where to go, when we cry out: 27“My way is hidden from the Lord; my cause is disregarded by my God”

May the Holy Spirit mysteriously come to us, so that we are able to hear the words of God, open our minds to remember the witness of Jesus, remember the honest struggles of the apostles, and hope that God would hear us because we confess and hope that:

God knows my name
 God knows my every thought,
 God sees each tear that falls
 And hears me when I call

Christian hope is rooted in this deep faith letting God hears us and embrace our brokenness so that we are able to soar on wings like eagles; so that we will run and not grow weary, and so that we will walk and not be faint.

In the moment of despair, in the moment of lament, in the moment of brokenness, we Christians find hope in that no matter what is going on because we somehow hold the faith that God still hears us, God still knows us…

God hears you, God knows you…