ON THE EVE

BY BISHOP STEVE BREEDLOVE

OCTOBER 31ST, 2016

Disclaimer: This is longer than a typical Bishops Corner. In my defense, I have been thinking and praying about this particular article for over six months. It has turned out to be a full-blown essay, not just spiritual encouragement or exhortation. Thank you for taking the time to read it. 

 

This past year, we have been occupied with the development of the Diocese of Christ our Hope. We established our name and mission in Fall, 2015: The mission of the Diocese of Christ our Hope is to plant, equip, and multiply disciple-making Anglican churches, and to serve and support their people and their leaders in Christian life and mission. Starting January 2016, we began creating the values, systems, structures, and teams that enable us to fulfill our mission.

 

Throughout the year we have been occupied even more with the spiritual substance and reality of that calling. We are the Diocese of Christ our Hope: we are to be a people of hope with a Gospel mission in the world. Substantial hope, based on secure realities delivered to us by God through the redemptive work of Christ. Hope because we know that the center of human history is settled. The worst thing has already happened, and it did not work. Jesus rose from the grave!

 

Hope has been on my heart all year long. But this year, another current has been flowing that has been hard to reconcile with hope. The political and social climate of our nation is chaos. At the risk of offending anyone who believes that there is a right candidate in this election (not just a way to vote against the other one), this has been a tawdry and discouraging election year. More than that, the political process has unleashed forces of fear, anger, and division. Coincidentally, racial division has reared its ugly head.

 

In terms of US politics, I struggle to see any light at the end of the tunnel, any hope that on November 9, I will wake up anticipating anything good. Relief that it is over, yes, but good? No. As a citizen, how can I stand in this mess? As a bishop, how can I speak into this mess? As recently as this past Thursday night, I asked one of my wisest pastor friends, one of the most well-read men I know, “What will you say to your people about the election?” He said, “I have nothing to say.” I get that.

 

This is hardly the first time in history that Christians in a particular political environment have had no basis for hope from king, president, or premier, or tyrant. In fact, what has been exceptional is the recent idea that Christians can expect the government to do anything like the substantial work of the Kingdom of God on earth. In our own country, the idea of the government having our back as Christians in any reliable way is surprisingly new, less than 100 years old. Christians across all ages and all political environments have realized that St Augustine was right: there is a City of Man and there is a City of God, and they have distinct, separate agendas far more than overlapping ones.

 

God speaks about three human institutions in Scripture: the family, the Church, and the state. In his plan, the state has a limited role to directly further his purposes. The state is called to insure justice and to punish (limit) evil and to establish and preserve peace (and thereby make room for the work of the family and the Church). Psalm 82 indicates an historic mandate to the leaders of the nations to provide for the poor, the needy, the weak, the orphan, the stranger, and the helpless.[1] When the state and its rulers do these things, the City of Man and the City of God overlap in their agendas. But all too often, states fail to fulfill their direct mandates, and few rulers maintain godly concern for the poor. Sadly, most states end up undermining the very work God has given them to do. Many of us would conclude that is the situation we largely face in our current political agendas, right or left. Bottom line: our hope lies elsewhere.

 

The New Testament books of 1 Peter and Hebrews have informed my study of hope this year. Both are crammed with hope. (If you’re going to get much out of this article, I’d encourage you to have your Bible open from now on.)

 

Concerning Hebrews, take a moment to read 4:16, 6:11, 6:18-19, and 10:23-25. Now that you’ve looked at those texts, remember that Hebrews was written to a people on the verge of apostasy because they were suffering relentless persecution for their faith.

 

Peter wrote his letter under the hot breath of Nero, a couple of years before he was crucified upside down. His letter was written to Christians suffering direct persecution from their local governor with Rome applauding heartily in the background. With that in mind, take a glance at 1 Peter 1:3; 1:13; and 3:15.

 

It is Peter’s letter that has especially given me a roadmap for navigating our political future. In the first chapter and a half he details the substance of Christian hope: what do we actually mean when we say “We have hope?” What future are we looking forward to? What eternal realities anchor our souls?

 

First, there is the hope of our final, completed, eternal salvation: 1:3-13. We stand in the middle of the story of God’s redemption, headed for a resurrected life in the New Creation that mirrors the life of our Savior and Brother, Jesus.

 

Second, we have the hope of personal transformation – of becoming more and more holy. We share the DNA of our heavenly Father: 1: 14-16. Furthermore, God has marshalled his resources to help us by the gift of his Holy Spirit to walk with us every step of the journey. Therefore, we have the incredible promise of becoming who we really are in this life. This provides motivation for making the daily choice to live a holy life.

 

Third, we have the sure hope of a family, a household of faith to share life with: 1:22-23. From a practical, flesh and blood standpoint, we need never forge out life on our own. (The text from Hebrews 10: 23-25 is especially helpful at this point.)

 

Finally, we have the hope of a purpose, a message of mercy that offers resurrection hope, transformation hope, and the promise of true family to a broken and wounded world: 2:9-10.

 

Peter walks through these four foundations for a life of hope, and then turns to the question of how to live as the people of hope in the world. He speaks about surviving capricious, unpredictable, and unjust political leaders (2:13-17). He comments on living Christianly in oppressive and abusive work environments (2:18-25). He teaches wives and husbands how to build a home even if their spouse is difficult, unsympathetic, or unbelieving (3:1-7).

 

Peter begins to sum it up in 3:8-9: “Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may inherit a blessing.”

 

Contextually, these words are a call, not to relationships within the Church but to our attitude and conduct in the neighborhood and workplace. Peter calls Christians to have sympathy, brotherly love, tenderness, and humility toward their neighbors. What we may experience in the world, even anger, scorn, persecution, or mistrust, comes from people whose hope is misplaced or missing. Rather than arousing defensive anger, how about a little sympathy and humility? After all, if we have been given hope instead of despair. The mercy and generosity of God toward us “while we were yet his enemies” is the source of our Gospel.

 

Furthermore, we have a promise of obtaining blessing for all eternity. We have no need to hoard blessings. They are not fragile or limited. Be generous in every sense of the word.

 

This text is the New Testament corollary to the famous passage in Jeremiah 29:4-14. To the Jews living in exile, ripped away from home, family, livelihood, and worship, living under the scorn and mockery of their captors, the word is this: “Live and pray for the welfare for the city where I have sent you.” How much more for disciples, scattered as salt and light into the darkness of our cultural context?

 

1 Peter 3:13-15 rounds out the discussion: In the end, our lives should express such indomitable hope that people are compelled to ask, “How is this possible? Please explain yourself to me.”

 

What impresses me about Peter’s exhortations are two observations. These are imminently practical ways to live out our hope in politics, workplace, our homes, our neighborhoods. And then, living as people of hope is not just imminently practical: it is imminently local.

 

Our community is a huge proponent of “buying local.” Everything is “farm to table.” I believe God is calling us to a “farm to table life of hope.”

 

Few of us will ever be part of the big system of shaping culture and politics. But I am privileged to have conversations every week with people living “farm to table” hope in everyday life.

 

Last week I talked with a recently retired clergyman transferring into our Diocese. He told me the short version of his story. He and his wife adopted two children (they couldn’t have their own). They have had lifelong difficulties with the son, but they have never doubted they were called to serve him with relentless love. With calm cheer, he added that they are now raising their son’s son, a significantly autistic 16-year old.

 

In the meantime, this man’s parents’ health began to fail. He decided to remodel his beloved backyard woodworking shop into an efficiency apartment for them, and the past several years, he and his wife have given them constant care. His wife cares for two other elderly people in similar ways. She drives them to every doctor’s appointment, every trip to the grocery store, every visit to Walmart.

 

I said, “Sounds like you’ve invested your whole life in the least of these.” A big smile spread on his face: “Yes, isn’t it wonderful that we’ve been able to do what God has called us to do. This is all I want to do till the end.”

 

I am grateful to realize afresh that we are called to be the people of hope in practical, local life and ministry. And I am grateful that nothing that happens on November 8 can change that.

 

[1] This is not to say the state has no other possible legitimate functions. It does. Basic services, such as transportation systems, public utilities, etc., are all normative activities of the state. In general, public schools, hospitals, and many other programs are arguably necessary for public life, even if we disagree about the scope and details. In other words, I am not promoting libertarianism. What I am saying is that the God-given priorities for the state are true justice, lasting peace, and protection and provision for the poor, the needy, and the helpless. 

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