Christian Hope

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May in Grand Haven gives me pause to think about the freshness of “pure Michigan.” From the raw, chilled mornings, Lake Michigan breezes and ever-changing beachfront views—to the dense wetlands, sleeping dunes and chatter of sand cranes, this is truly a wonderful place to live as a new season comes alive from under the blanket of winter.

Such natural beauty for the eye to behold is akin to a perfect piece of literature created by one of the  great spiritual writers of all time.  If I could capture my feelings about this month in one piece of writing, it would probably be that of Thomas Merton, from “Rain and the Rhinoceros” in Raids on The Unspeakable.

“I had better get this said before rain becomes a utility that they

can plan and distribute.  By ‘they’ I mean people who cannot

understand that rain is a festival, who do not appreciate its

gratuity, who think that what has no price has no value, that

what cannot be sold is not real, so that the only way to make

something actual is to place it on the market.  The time will

come when they will sell you even the rain.  At the moment

it is still free, and I am in it.  I celebrate its gratuity and its

meaninglessness.

…I came up here from the monastery last night, sloshing

through the corn fields, said Vespers, and lit the Coleman.

The night became very dark.  The rain surrounded the whole

cabin with its enormous virginal myth, a whole world of

meaning, of secrecy, of silence, of rumor.  Think of it, all

that speech pouring down, selling nothing, judging nobody,

drenching the thick mulch of dead leaves, soaking the trees,

filling the gullies and crannies of the wood with water, washing

out the places where men have stripped the hillside….

Nobody started it, nobody is going to stop it.  It will talk as

long as it wants.  As long as it talks I am going to listen.

But I am also going to sleep.  Because here in this wilderness

I have learned how to sleep again.  For here I am not alien.

The trees I know, the night I know, the rain I know.  I close my

eyes and instantly sink into the whole rainy world of which I am

a part, and the world goes on with me in it, for I am not alien

to it.”      (Excerpts from A Festival of Rain – Raids on the Unspeakable/The Abbey of Gethsemani, Inc  New Directions Publishing Corporation. http://rmc.sierraclub.org/pandp/1999- 06/page06-2.html)

Whether you view Merton as a domestic hermit, contemporary mystic, poet, monk or spiritual guru, his musings about the “meaninglessness” yet significance of the rain is what makes this work speak to us.  Rain connotes so many things.  Especially at this time of year. It is not only a source of communication, with its “speech pouring down.” It is a means of cleansing, of life sustenance and refreshment.  Yes, it is a “festival,” as Merton states.

Since we are not “alien” to the rain, neither are we “alien” to what typically comes after the rain—a rainbow, a metaphor for Christian hope.  Why is the concept of “hope” like “rain” such a powerful testament to our faith?

“We are at a time in history where we need more Christian hope.”  Yes, agreed.  I hear this all the time from not only people in the congregation but also from friends, Facebook messages, Twitter feeds and from the lips of witnesses to current tragedies as they unfold in the media.

We need Christian hope, albeit faith, for United Methodist churches to succeed… for millennials… for ministering to the missing generation, the none’s, the Boomers, the greatest generation and more.

When I think of rain, I also think of God pouring out His sustenance to a parched world that is in need of hope.  It is hope that we have in this life and the next, eternal life, that gives us a reason to get out of bed each morning and face the day’s challenges.

Hope, as expressed in the Book of Romans, is a culmination of suffering, endurance, and character:

“Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this

grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory

of God.  More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing

that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces

character, and character produces hope, and hope does not

put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our

hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” –Romans 5:2-5

 We can also look to the words of the Methodist church founder John Wesley, in order to gain insights into the transformative power of hope. Wesleyan theology shows a motivation by “an eschatology of hope,” according to the website www.fwponline.  When John Wesley delivered his sermon on “Scriptural Christianity,” for instance, he quoted Isaiah 2:2-4, and 11:6-12, as well as Romans 11:25-26, as primary descriptions of that Christian world.  He preached:

“Against hope believe in hope.  It is your Father’s good pleasure yet to renew the face of the earth.”      (www.fwponline.cc/v25n1/The Hope of a Christian World.html:  An Overview of Wesleyan Eschatology.)

 This website goes on to explain that “This hope of a Christian world motivated the early Methodists and their movement spanned most of the eighteenth century.  No other revival has lasted so long nor has had such a widespread international influence.  From 1773-1790 the American population increased 75% and during the same period Methodism increased 5,500%.  By 1850, the Methodists were the largest Protestant church in America and one-third of all church members were Methodist.”

Like rain, Christian hope renews the earth.  May everyone enjoy the gracious outpouring of God’s sustenance as it renews the face of a hopeful world.

-Pam Mettler, Director of Adult Ministries

April 2013

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