Making the Shift #5: From Cynicism to Hope

Isaiah 40:21-31
 November 15, 2015
Rev. Todd Weir

 

My dialog with God on Saturday morning after the Paris bombing, thinking about Isaiah 40.

 

Have you not known? Have you not heard?

    Has it not been told you from the beginning?

    Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?  Isaiah 40:21

 

Yes, God I have heard and seen and its been told to me, but I have a hard time understanding. It has been on my list to talk to you.  I know your goodness.  I am impressed that you “stretch out the heavens like a curtain, and spread them like a tent to live in.”  You are the seamstress of the universe, knitting the creation together- a compelling image for a deity.  You may know my wife knits too, and I can see that it is not easy.  Which brings me to my point.  Your ball of yarn seems rather tangled here on the third planet from the sun, which we call earth.  And I have been wondering, if it isn’t too much trouble with all the galaxies out there to deal with, when you might do something about this.

 

I’m sure you remember Isaiah, God, I’m talking about the prophet in exile six centuries before Jesus, chapter 40 to be precise.  He was very impressed by you, and I quote, “

[God], that’s you, brings princes to naught, and make the rulers of the earth as nothing. Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.”  That does sound very much like our Congress, O God.  Is this what you had in mind?  Actually they are not scarcely sown, we seem to have presidential candidates taking root everywhere.  They are not withering, because they are well funded.  Have you heard the debates?  I know we don’t allow you to endorse candidates, but a hint would be nice.  If you want me to vote Republican, you may have to strike me with lightning, gently please.  I’m OK with Hillary, but she does seem to come to her convictions late in the game.  Bernie is great, he spoke here at First Churches last year.  But I worry if he is up to foreign policy, and neither of them seem to get how technology and social media is changing the world.  They seem to struggle with email.

 

Speaking of social media, have you notices all the selfies, how do we build community if everyone is looking at their phones?  This Sabbath thing is getting hard, because –soccer, football, brunch, snow birds and work.  We started Thursday night farm-to-table dinner church, so you can see we are trying.  I understand that your hands in the world are often attached to my wrists, but people now use the word “organized religion” as a bad thing, and I don’t even feel very organized.

 

God, I am grateful for the beauty of every new morning, and the lunar eclipse when the moon turned red was inspiring.  But I still wrestle with cynicism.  Greed, materialism and selfishness are everywhere.  I continually have to re-write my sermons on Saturday morning because someone is always shooting innocent people.  God bless the people of Paris, and the Syrian refugees, and if you talk with Allah, or if you prefer to be called Allah, this violence in your name is truly awful.  I know we really messed up the Middle East, and the planet, but as Isaiah said, we are like grasshoppers before you, stuck in the pesticide infused fields.  I would like to write my sermons and not be weary, walk without the weight of the world on my shoulders.  I am practicing mindful waiting upon you O Lord, seamstress of the universe, and I’m even willing to take up yoga if that would help too.  Those eagle’s wings sound awesome.  Now would be a good time.  Your friend, and tiny life form on third planet from the sun called earth, Todd.

 

*****

 

Have you not known? Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

    the Creator of the ends of the earth.

God does not faint or grow weary; God gives power to the faint,

    and strengthens the powerless.

Even youths will faint and be weary,

    and the young will fall exhausted; 

but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,

    they shall mount up with wings like eagles,

they shall run and not be weary,

    they shall walk and not faint.

 

Isaiah wrote these words to a people scattered by conquest and war.  They were in exile, refugees in a foreign land, hoping to make the trip home, but home was a destroyed city with no walls.  Returning home and rebuilding would require all the strength they had and then some more-God’s strength.  So Isaiah is not just being a motivational speaker urging people to make their dreams come true, he is showing them God’s horizon, and a divine blessing on the hard work ahead.  He was addressing their toughest challenge, which were not material but spiritual – feeling world weary, cynical and just plain tired.

 

I have had a journey from cynicism to hope.  While cynicism remains a major temptation for me, hope makes my heart and soul feel like I have strong and powerful wings that can lift me to a higher, better, bolder life.  But it is never easy.  I would say I am a hopeful person, perhaps even an 8 on a scale of 1-10.  But it wasn’t always so for me. Cynicism can seem like a logical disposition because there are so many things wrong with the world, wrong with people.  What are they thinking?  I was a journalism major in college and worked in a TV and radio newsroom for a couple of years.  Sarcasm became my primary mode of discourse.  I was born into cynicism.  Being a baby of 1964 means I missed all the idealism of the 1960s.  The first president I was aware of was Richard Nixon, I was taught to put my math book over my head in case of nuclear attack, and the oil shocks and farm crisis wiped out the world I knew for the first 10 years of my life.  I came by my cynicism naturally.  Ask me to explain almost any situation and my default explanation is to follow the money.

 

But something happened along the way.  I am not cynical today, despite occasional lapses in sarcasm.  The world did not get any better, and my BS detectors are still well calibrated.  I cannot point to a precise moment or experience that changed me, but I am a tamed cynic.  Here is the real deal.  About a decade ago I realized that cynicism is a losing game.  I decided it was better to be hopeful and wrong, than to be cynical and right.  If it is all bullshit, then what is the point?  If that is what you want to see, there is plenty of it out there.  A little cynicism may even be healthy, but as a comprehensive outlook it is a form of intellectual laziness.  A cynical attitude is a way to sound worldly and realistic, like I’ve been there and got if figured out. I know how the game is played.  But cynicism can become a crutch, an excuse to not attempt anything hard or risky.  It can become a refusal to be responsible for my own life, a refusal to love and do the right thing, go the extra mile.  For me, cynicism is often a cop out.  It is placing blame on circumstance, history and other people, when I don’t want to admit that I’m fearful, or afraid to fail, too tired, thinking I’m just not good enough or other people won’t approve.  Hope takes the courage to face my fears and just do the right thing that is in front of me today.

 

Those who wait upon the Lord renew their strength.  It is not a passive waiting, but a daily engagement with God, while continuing to act.  Hope has to be planted and watered and the garden has to be weeded, despite crappy weather, bugs and weeds. And then we trust that the miracle of the seed happens.  Do our best and then trust in God to use it.  God’s kingdom comes in inch by inch and row by row, and we have to celebrate every little green shoot as a reminder of Eden.  Paradise is lost, but it can be regained.

 

Have you not known? Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

God does not faint or grow weary;

God gives power to the faint,

and strengthens the powerless.

 

How does that work in real life?  To quote Mother Teresa, it works like this:

 

People are often unreasonable, irrational and self-centered.

Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, interior motives. Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.

Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere, people may deceive you.

Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.

Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.

Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten.

Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.

Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God.

It was never between you and them anyway.

 

Mother Theresa