9 Nov 2008
“We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have fallen asleep, so that you may not grieve like the rest who have no hope.” (1 Thess. 4:13) In the name …
Fr. Randy Calvo
I don’t know if you remember or not, but we had a pretty important election this past Tuesday. And in that same election there was a ballot question about de-criminalizing small amounts of illegal drugs such marijuana. The day after the election I’m heading off to Hadley to visit a couple of ladies in nursing homes. I ask Sharon that morning if there’s anything she wants me to pick-up at the grocery store while I’m over there. She writes out a quick list for me; the list I have right here. The second item on the list says: “dinner – pot pie?” I tell my wife, “I don’t care if Massachusetts says it’s legal. I don’t want any part of your hippie-drug-culture. I will not share in your pot pie. Keep that marijuana away from me.” This is how Sharon’s Wednesday started.
But we all know that what made Tuesday’s election so important wasn’t Ballot Question #2. Americans came out to vote in record numbers in Massachusetts and throughout the country to vote for a new President. And people all around the world watched. I saw in the paper on Wednesday morning that a man from Vietnam was following our election. His comment was: “As a soldier [John McCain], he came here to destroy my country, but I admire his dignity.” Sen. McCain’s concession speech was noble and patriotic in the highest sense of the word. I have a lot of respect for the man. I read on Wednesday of the people of Moneygall, Ireland whose claim to fame is that Barack Obama’s great-great-great-grandfather lived there before immigrating to the United States. In the local Irish pub a folk band was singing their new hit song: “There’s No One as Irish as Barack Obama.” And the one I enjoyed the most was the comment about Sen. Obama’s election: “It allows us all to dream a little,” and the reason I enjoyed this one the most is because it was uttered by Oswaldo Calvo, in Caracas.
For whichever candidate we voted, a universal theme was hope. Because of the economy, the environment, our two wars, voters were looking to someone new as a source of hope. Hope is a special kind of beast. It’s not so much based on what we know, but on what we expect. Take today’s Lesson for example. In four short chapters, Paul tells the Thessalonians “you know” seven times: you know what kind of persons we proved to be; you know that our coming to you was not in vain; and so forth five more times. After all those “you know’s,” Paul goes so far as to say that the Thessalonians have been “taught by God.” But then only a couple of breaths later, Paul is telling the Thessalonians, “We do not want you to be uninformed brothers and sisters.” The seven repetitions of the phrase “you know” and Paul’s declaration that they have been “taught by God” makes that much louder his state-ment what they do not know. With all their understanding, what is that they missed, and why?
It was hope. At the beginning of the Epistle, Paul praises the Thessalonians for their faith, love and hope, (1:3) but then half way through the letter he tells them that Timothy has just returned to him with news from Thessalonica and that he “has brought us the good news of your faith and love.” (3:6) What happened to hope? All those “you know’s” and even the amazing statement that they have been “taught by God,” but hope is missing. Hope doesn’t come from “you know’s.” Hope isn’t something learned; it’s something trusted. Hope transcends what is learned. In the Thessalonians’ case, it was the hope that life continues after physical death. They had seen their loved ones die. The reality of death couldn’t be avoided. And all of those “you know’s” couldn’t get them over the hurdle of this harshest reality of human life, so Paul had to write to them and remind them of Jesus’ message of hope. Logic, reason, “you know,” tell us loud and clear that death is the end of the line, but hope says there’s more. Hope isn’t learned; hope is trusted.
This First Epistle to the Thessalonians is the oldest book in the New Testament. We can barely reach further back into the Christian experience than what we have right here in this book. And right here from the beginning is evidence that as people of faith we have long found it difficult to give ourselves over to hope. Hope is often counter-intuitive. The less reason we have for hope, the stronger it is. Hope isn’t learned; it’s trusted. It’s not limited to what makes sense. That’s what’s so powerful about hope. Whether we here are hopeful or discouraged by the election of Barack Obama as our next President, I think we can appreciate the overwhelming sense of hope that swept-up especially many African-Americans. I remember as a teenager how excited many Polish-Americans were by the candidacy of Edmund Musky; and I imagine that the same emotions are now being felt by African-Americans. To hear their comments about now believing that anything is possible in America, that this is a unique land of opportunity, that this couldn’t happen anywhere else but here, whether we share those feelings or not, that’s what hope is about. The world the day after the election is the same as that of the day before. The same problems still exist, but add to that logical reality of our world the gift of hope and all seems changed, and new, and better. Hope can do that. Hope is that powerful.
Hope is a gift from God that can change everything, but it challenges everything else too; and that’s why to be a people of hope is so difficult, that’s why it’s been a challenge since the beginning of the faith. We don’t want to seem naïve. We don’t want to give ourselves over to something that seems impossible. But unless we do, unless we absolutely trust in hope, we will end up short-changing our faith every time. We won’t trust enough to believe enough. We’ll crack the door open for Jesus, but we won’t let Him in. A lot of Christians can pass the test of Paul’s “you know,” but how many of us trust enough in hope so that our lives will be changed? Christian hope is always going to challenge us. That we may see it through so that it may also change us, for this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. +