Scripture for this Sunday: Isaiah 1:1, 10-20; Psalm 50:1-7; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40.
Mythology recognises the role of hope in dealing with anxiety and fear: for example, the story of Pandora’s box is about temptation and curiosity, as well as about how hope helps to heal the evils that have been unleashed on the world. The truth of such mythical stories is in their meaning: this story recognises that we dare to hope in the face of all kinds of difficulty and suffering.
In the imagery of the poet, Emily Dickinson, the small, but powerful bird of Hope perches in the soul and gives warmth in the face of danger. For the Christian reader, this has to be tied up with the faith that lets us dare to hope; the faith that makes the little bird so strong and robust; the faith that is the true antidote to anxiety and fear.
There is no shortage of anxiety and fear in the world around us. Yet Jesus encourages us to look away from perceived danger and instead towards God’s kingdom. This kingdom is both present and promised: present in lives lived with faith in God’s purpose, in hope in a future shown by Jesus, in love reaching out to stranger and friend. This now-and-not-yet kingdom is something we can begin to implement in our own lives, and that comes to full realization in God’s future.
Jesus told his followers to be ready: this was not just for some future apocalypse, but for encounters with Jesus in the face of friend or stranger whom we meet in need; to be ready to make a difference, one small step at a time.
In God’s kingdom, we are asked to have faith, to trust in God, directing our effort to do something about what causes us anxiety – to begin to make a difference to those who are hungry, homeless, dispossessed, isolated; to begin restitution for what we have done that has harmed or hurt, or not done that might have healed.
The key to all this, exposed by the writer of Hebrews, is to step back and look beyond our desire for instant gratification. It is to embrace the world of the prophets to have faith that we can trust in God’s ability to take and shape human effort beyond human limitations. Abraham and the other examples of faith lived in faith that God’s promises would be fulfilled, even if not in their lifetime.
This is what Christian faith adds to the hope of Pandora’s box: Christ has given us a vision of God’s kingdom, and shown through his life, death and resurrection that God can prevail in the end. This gives extra strength to the little bird of hope described by Emily Dickinson, and gives assurance and conviction to our lives. It encourages us to be ready for Christ to come before us unexpectedly, and it makes it worth responding to the opportunities he presents in even small ways.