131201 – Hope for Africa

Yr A ~ Advent 1 ~ Psalm 72:1-7; Romans 8:18, 22-26

Wishing and hoping are not interchangeable words. Wishing is how you interact with the lottery. Hoping is how you interact with God. Wishing is a part of hope, but there’s much more to it.

Hope means “a wish or a desire accompanied by the confident expectation of its fulfillment”.  We’re all over the “wish and desire” part.  Our lives are bursting with wishes and desires.  But what about the other part of hope – the bigger part – the part that elevates it beyond being just a wish or a desire?  When your wish is “accompanied by the confident expectation of its fulfillment” – then it’s elevated to hope.hope-africa

I love that phrase – “the confident expectation of its fulfillment”.  Hope isn’t based in maybes – it’s based in certainties.  Hope is more than a wish – it’s the absolute, assured, believe-it-in-the-core-of-my-being, definitely-gonna-happen, better-get-out-of-the-way-‘cause-it’s-coming-any-minute-now, conviction that the deep desire I feel will be fulfilled.  You cannot say, “Gee I hope that happens” and walk away with butterflies in your stomach.  If it’s really hope, then it’s grounded in “the confident expectation of its fulfillment”.  You cannot hope that you’ll win the lottery, or that the Leafs will ever win the Stanley Cup because hope must be grounded in the confident expectation of its fulfillment!

Hope is a prominent theme in our scriptures. It appears 71 times in the Hebrew Bible including 16 times in Job (!), and 26 times in the Psalms – “my hope is in God” – and then it appears 69 times in the New Testament with Acts, 1st and 2nd Corinthians, and Romans being the ‘hopiest’.Here’s that hopey passage from Romans 8 again:
“Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” [Romans 8:24-25] Waiting with patience – sounds like Advent!

The other scripture reading for today doesn’t appear to be about hope at first glance, but I think it is. Psalm 72 is actually a song written to be sung by the priests at the king’s coronation, and then possibly on that anniversary each year.

It challenges the incoming leader to stay true to the roots of God’s radically counter-cultural subversive justice system – a way of seeing the world that said you’re judged by how you take care of the lowest not how you lavish praise on the highest – a way that calls on the leader to nourish the people like rain nourishes crops – a way where justice and righteousness flourish.

It’s vitally important to go back to verse one in this psalm and read it carefully. This is the piece we often miss. This is the reason our leaders so often fail, despite the good intentions that they may have had at the outset. The problem is that they get fooled into thinking they’re the answer – that they have what it takes to effect change or make a difference. They miss verse one:

“Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son.” (Ps 72:1)

The coronation psalm begins with asking God to give the leader a measure of God’s sense of justice. ‘O God, pour your justice into this leader because only you know how much he or she needs it!’

In Hebrew it’s “Give the king your mishpat, O God.” Mishpat isn’t just fairness or being good. Mishpat is a special form of justice – it’s God’s justice. You may remember that love has many words in Greek and the one that talks of God’s kind of love is agape, which is different from romantic love, or friendship love, or love of chocolate chip cookies!

So too is mishpat a special kind of justice. It’s God’s desired state of affairs. It’s a society in which everyone is valued, where the poorest are cared for, where the needy are delivered, where everyone has enough. Pour that into our leaders, O God! And similarly, “righteousness” as it’s used in this Psalm isn’t smug goodness; the word means being in sync with God’s ways, embodying God’s will. It all starts with God.

Now, it stands to reason that if the people want God’s justice they will cry out for it and demand it of their leaders. ‘Cause deep down that’s what we want, right?

A couple of days ago it was Black Friday – an orgy of consumerism with people literally climbing over one another to get some “thing” that they want. As long as that holds the centre of our attention there’s no room for God’s mishpat. We may want to lift up the poor, but first we want to save 50% on the stuff that’ll end up filling up our garages.

Leaders tend to reflect the people. If we really valued justice and righteousness like they sang about in that coronation Psalm our kings and queens and politicians would be forced to listen. So we need to start by asking God to pour that dream into us in deeper and fuller ways, and then we’ll have a shot at moving the leaders.

As I was putting this message together and reflecting on the African theme, I kept thinking about what kind of leader Africa needs, and of course the name Nelson Mandela popped into my head. And then I had a deeper thought: Wouldn’t it be great if we never even heard of Nelson Mandela? Not because we wish he didn’t make the social justice stands that he made, but because we wish he never had to!

Why couldn’t those humans with pink skin see that they were really no different from those humans with dark skin? Except for the opportunities of an education, an economic system, and access to technology, they were and are the same. What made the one group think it could oppress and take advantage of the other group? And to top it off, South Africa is ostensibly a Christian nation. How did the oppressors read the same scriptures we read and come to such radically different conclusions?

Bishop Desmond Tutu said, “When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said Let us pray. We closed our eyes. When we opened them, we had the Bible and they had the land.” I think this is profoundly true. I’ve never been to Africa, but I know people who have, and they invariably tell stories of how joyful and hopeful the Africans are despite their too prevalent experience of poverty, oppression, and illness – especially in the central part of the continent.

It seems that the bible really does speak truth and hope to the poor and the oppressed, and sadly wealth and power seem to close ones ears.

How does this tie in to Advent here in the suburbs of Clarington? Advent is about waiting and preparing. It’s about expectation and desire for the birth of light within humanity. We who are wealthy and powerful are praying in hope that our ears may be opened and that light may be born or born anew in each one of us, in humanity. It’s not just a wish – it’s something we feel deep in our bones that really could and should happen. It’s something that we know God wants because that light that illuminates all life is the very nature of God.

As light is born anew in us it moves us into harmony with God’s way – God’s way of justice and righteousness – God’s subversive and counter-cultural dream for the world. And we’re not just moved to want it, or to wish for it, we’re called to enact it. We’re moved to make it happen, but it doesn’t happen magically.

We live in the confident expectation that God’s dream of justice can happen. How? Like verse one of today’s Psalm the light we celebrate at Christmas is being poured into us so that we can in turn pour it out on others.

So, is there hope for Africa? Absolutely! And it’s shaped like you and me!  Look, this isn’t supposed to be a guilt trip. My purpose is not to make you feel bad about your situation in life so I can extort money out of you to fuel my pet causes.

We are people of faith. We either believe this stuff or we don’t – and no, I don’t mean head believe I mean heart believe. We either are followers of Jesus or not. We either buy in to God’s subversive and counter-cultural dream for the world or we don’t. There’s no kinda. There’s no ‘yeah, I guess’.

So I have to assume that because you’re here, week after week, year after year, that God’s dream for the world is yours too. So this “let’s drill a well in Africa” thing isn’t a guilt trip at all – it’s an opportunity for us to celebrate this beautiful dream. It’s a tangible way that we can express our love. It’s a demonstration of our hope in God, that God’s dream is best for the world, and that by doing something like giving clean fresh water to people half a world away we’re staking our claim that it isn’t just a good idea – it’s worth sacrificing to make it happen.

This is the fourth year we’ve adopted the Advent Conspiracy theme and initiated a fundraising drive for drilling a fresh water well in Africa. Together we’ve funded 4 new wells in Liberia and Nigeria and repaired one in Haiti. That’s truly awesome!

The Conspiracy message is about us conspiring to do Christmas different than the Black Friday fueled consumerism that is so rampant. And now it’s become a tradition here. What a fabulous tradition!

Each Advent we remind ourselves to spend a little less on stuff that people don’t really need anyway, to make gifts of our selves or our time or our creativity instead (which tend to be more special than a sweater), and to take some of the money that we’re not spending on stuff and give the gift of life to people who without clean water are dying.

[play AC video]

And as we demonstrate God’s love maybe more and more people will be inspired by it and we’ll bring God’s dream of justice and righteousness to fruition all over the earth. That is my hope for Africa. And it’s my hope this Advent season – not just my wish, but my confident expectation of fulfillment – that God’s dream will be reborn in me, and you, and everyone again and again.

Amen.