Lasting Hope (John 20, 12-23) by Paul Blankenship

The Bridge

His lips quiver. “There’s a girl on the bridge,” he says. “She threw a can of beer onto the river. It looks like she’s going to jump.”

Love is inscribed on the bridge. “Pat Loves Erica” is written in pink and purple chalk. In yellow and blue is an imperative: “Love Earth.” A heart is drawn in black sharpie next to the word “more.” Some people have merely written their names: “Jesse,” “Suzanna,” “Jungle Boy.” A small bomb is drawn into the word “revolution.”

She is wearing torn blue jeans, showing her olive knee, and a black jacket. A beanie covers her forehead. Her green eyes appear through clear glasses. There is acne on her chin.

“Excuse me,” she says rudely, “do you have any drugs?” I tell her I don’t. “Well forget it,” she says. I watch as a kind of gravity pulls her back to the ledge. Her hands clutch the concrete railing as she looks down at the river.

I am on my way to Cedar Coffee on Monroe. I planned to work on my dissertation about the spirituality of young adults living on the streets of Seattle. “Call us street kids,” they’d say. Incidentally, I am on the phone with a “street minister” from Seattle. We are having a conversation about an event we are putting on at the University of Washington. The event is about homelessness in Seattle and we are asking what religious organizations can to do help create a world in which people needn’t be homeless.

I tell the street minister I will call him back. “Just have a conversation with her,” he says.

Our eyes lock. I walk this gaze, trepidly, wondering where she is and what to say. Though she is standing in front of me, I don’t know precisely where she is. Though you are standing before me, I don’t know precisely where you are.

“I am going through spiritual warfare,” she says. “It’s real even if you can’t see it.” “I am so sorry,” I say. “What can I do to help?

“If you actually want to help,” she says, “then call my mother.” “Tell her,” she says, convulsing now, crying, “what she is doing to me.”

She leans down, takes frantic breathes from off the ledge. “Don’t misunderstand me,” she says, “if my mom hadn’t kicked me out of the house for using drugs, I wouldn’t have become homeless and learned who I really am.”

She wipes the mucus that’s dripped onto her lips. “Why aren’t you calling her?” “Okay, what’s her number?”

She walks to the ledge of the bridge as I take my phone out. She puts one leg over and then the other. She is sitting down. Her feet hang free. I look past her feet and onto the river, passed the river and onto my neighborhood of Peaceful Valley. “I am so sorry,” she says. “I am so sorry.” I wonder if she is apologizing to me or to God or to every living thing that she has ever wounded.

“If I jump, do you think I will be alright?” She is worried about the fate of her eternal soul. “You will be okay if you say,” I say. “I promise.”

The police came to the bridge and, despite her aggressive resistance, put her in handcuffs and drove her away. “Jesus,” she cried before she left, “please help me.”

I walked away from the scene and called the street minister. I told him what happened. “You saved her life,” he said. “Man,” he went on, “this really confirms the importance of our work.”

Ambivalence

I wasn’t so confident. I did not want to bless her suicide; I wanted her to remain in the world. On the other hand, however, I knew what coming back from the ledge would require: hoping that her mother would stop using, and that she would; hoping that there would be adequate medical care to address her obvious struggles with mental health and addiction; hoping that there’d be someplace safe to go, other than the streets or a dehumanizing shelter; hoping again in the kind of love written all over the bridge. Given that those services are often not available, and the broken state of her heart, was I cruel to offer her that hope? Might the rocks she’d have broken her head open on been kinder to her than the world she came back to?

John 20:19-23

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” When he said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Ezekiel 36:1-6

The hand of the Lord came upon me, and he brought me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.  He said to me, “Mortal, can these bones live?” I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus, says the Lord God to these bones: I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.”

What does Easter mean to us? Is it a debate about whether the story is true—whether a man who claimed to be God died as a criminal on a cross and then actually rose from the dead? Is Easter about what we take to be the fundamental nature of reality: that, despite the absurdity of violence and suffering, good will ultimately triumph over evil? Is Easter a banal social demand: something that has lost real meaning for us but that we go through every year because we almost have to? Does Easter signify the death of God and of religion? Or is Easter about candy, bunnies, and eggs?

I am compelled by what I have learned about the Quaker tradition over the past year. Primarily, I am compelled by the Living Light that dwells here. Quakers live by the divine light in and around us and believe that this divine light is radically democratic; that it is communicable and discernable to every person regardless of who has the microphone. I am also drawn to the Quaker tradition because it is a religion not merely of belief but of action. Though it emphasizes the centrality of direct and unmediated experience of the Living Light, it is not individualistic. Friends recognize that attention to the Living Light is best done in community. Strange as it seems to our western sensibilities, we don’t learn much about the Living Light Within unless we sit down and listen to The Silence with one another. I am also compelled to the Quaker world because it recognizes that it is our obligation and our privilege to help other people in the world, and especially the most vulnerable, whose needs are irrefutably greater than ours, experience the deep peace that the Living Light sows into our worried minds.

Evidence of the Living Light

There is evidence of the Living Light all around us. It is discernable in this very church: in our new sink, in the redecorated entrance, in the smell of new paint in the women’s bathroom. It is also discernable outside of the church: in the sunshine we have waited a long winter for, in the slow plant growth in our gardens, and in a new sense of hope emerging in our politics. It touched me when I proposed to Veronika in Hawaii a few weeks ago; I sensed it this week when I heard a faint whisper of truth spoken to power in the Mueller report.

We cannot control the Living Light. It is not like a pill or a diet plan. It is not a seed we can buy from the store and hold in our hands as we place it in soil. Though true, it resists even our best and most lofty theologies. We stand emboldened but dumb before it.

Light-taking Spaces

Though we can discern the Living Light, we remain vulnerable to the Great Darkness that permeates our world. This Great Darkness is in the fabric of our everyday lives. We see it on the news. Every day we learn about a new war, a new famine, a new disease. We sense it in our schools. 2018 was the worst year on record for gun violence in schools. We just learned that, in the coming wave of layoffs that will hit Spokane schools, low-income areas will be hit the hardest. We see the Great Darkness in our homes. Almost 1 in 4 women will experience severe domestic violence by an intimate partner in her lifetime. The Great Darkness is in our minds: roughly 20% of Americans suffer from mental health issues. Alas, it is in our veins. 130 people die every day from opioid-related drug overdoses. The Great Darkness is in the streets and under our bridges: the violence of our economic machine has prioritized profit over people and rendered more and more people residentially insecure and homeless.

The theologian Dorothee Söelle suggests that the crucifixion of Jesus is an ongoing reality: that it is happening wherever the poor and vulnerable suffer from brutalizing abuses of power. How can we celebrate the resurrection while so many people are dying?

Where do you go when The Great darkness surrounds you? Where do you go when the Living Light seems extinguished? Where do we go when the weight of the world has brought us to our knees? Are you breathing under a bridge?

The Church Without a Light

For thousands if not millions of years people have turned to the gods to experience the Living Light in the face of the Great Darkness. Increasing, however, people in the United States are turning away from the gods. They are turning away from the religions that claim to house them. The migration from religion is a complex subject and it is the result of several factors. One thing is clear, though: to many people in our peculiar country, religion is perceived to be a moral failure. It does not seem to bear witness to the Living Light that gives hope to a world that lives in conscious and unconscious despair. When the Cathedral in Notre Dame burnt last week, most were concerned about losing the art in the building, not whether people had lost a house of hope and a place of light amid the darkness.

Actually, the migration from religion is not all that bad. The Holy Spirit is clearly at work, beckoning some people out of the church so that She can be found in new and creative and beautiful ways. What I lament, however, is that people are living life without something we all need: a place to gather together to be dazzled and dared by the Living Light. We humans aren’t as complex as we seem. Our souls need the Living Light like a plant needs the sun. We need places where hope can be experienced as real and lasting—not an absurd fantasy that’s hidden in an afterlife.

The Church As A Light Bearing Place

In the Gospel reading for today, the disciples are gathered together after Jesus died. They are in fear that they themselves may suffer and die. They are in despair. They have lost their love, their teacher, their friend—not just to his death but also to their betrayal of him in his suffering. Despite their fear, betrayal, and disbelief, the risen Jesus comes to them. He offers them peace—not payback. The encounter was absurd—it transcended their human power to understand that Jesus was with them in the flesh though he had died and that he offered them peace when they wounded him. After Jesus shows them that he is real, he breathes the Holy Spirit onto them. This breath was not meant just to comfort them, though that was important. He breathed the Holy Spirit on them so that they would be empowered to continue his work in the world: to bear witness to the Living Light that shines in the darkness and to create communities where people can become more alive. That was—and remains—Jesu’s desires for the world: to dazzle and dare people with the Divine Light so that they can become more alive. The glory of God, St. Irenaeus wrote in the second century, is the human person fully alive.

Building the Infrastructure of Lasting Hope

Almost every day I walk the Monroe Street Bridge. I think about the woman I encountered. I think about how her foundation collapsed and why she became suicidal. Brick by brick, I ask what happened. I think about our culture, too, and how many people walk on a crumbling foundation and are a phone call away from jumping off a bridge. There are more than 1,100 suicides each year in Washington state. That makes it the eight-leading cause of death among people of all ages and the second leading cause of death for people age 15-34. Experts aren’t exactly sure why but, by once measure, suicides have increased 19% across the state and 24% in Spokane.

I asked you what Easter means and how we can celebrate the resurrection when so many people are dying without hope. I struggle to ask these questions because I don’t want to take any of the joy this day offers you and which we all need to go about living our best lives amid the Great Darkness. But I can’t escape the desperate cry that so many people in our world have and which we are obligated to respond to: not just in our minds and our prayers but in our actions and in our politics. Prayer is meant to move the world into the Kin-Dom of God, not merely comfort our troubled minds. Jesus is still breathing the Holy Spirit on us so that we can breathe the dry bones that build our culture to life. So that we can create the conditions in which people can experience the Lasting Hope that Jesus promised. The notion may seem absurd, utopic, and Pollyannaish. It isn’t. Belief in the impossible fact that life can emerge in the face of death is the bone and marrow of our faith. Jesus came so that we may have life and have it abundantly.

As a bridge into this abundance, I have prepared a few queries for us. I will read them both and then sit down to create space for us to respond if God so moves us.

Queries:

How might this meeting help me experience the Living Light more deeply?

How might God be calling our meeting to help the most vulnerable people in our city plant needs the sun.

athered together after Jesus died. They are in fear that they themselves may suffer and die. They are in despair. They have lost their love, their teacher, their friend—not just to his death but also to their betrayal of him in his suffering. Despite their fear, betrayal, and disbelief, the risen Jesus comes to them. He offers them peace—not payback. The encounter was absurd—it transcended their human power to understand that Jesus was with them in the flesh though he had died and that he offered them peace when they wounded him. After Jesus shows them that he is real, he breathes the Holy Spirit onto them. This breath was not meant just to comfort them, though that was important. He breathed the Holy Spirit on them so that they would be empowered to continue his work in the world: to bear witness to the Living Light that shines in the darkness and to create communities where people can become more alive. That was—and remains—Jesu’s desires for the world: to dazzle and dare people with the Divine Light so that they can become more alive. The glory of God, St. Irenaeus wrote in the second century, is the human person fully alive.

Building the Infrastructure of Lasting Hope

Almost every day I walk the Monroe Street Bridge. I think about the woman I encountered. I think about how her foundation collapsed and why she became suicidal. Brick by brick, I ask what happened. I think about our culture, too, and how many people walk on a crumbling foundation and are a phone call away from jumping off a bridge. There are more than 1,100 suicides each year in Washington state. That makes it the eight-leading cause of death among people of all ages and the second leading cause of death for people age 15-34. Experts aren’t exactly sure why but, by once measure, suicides have increased 19% across the state and 24% in Spokane.

I asked you what Easter means and how we can celebrate the resurrection when so many people are dying without hope. I struggle to ask these questions because I don’t want to take any of the joy this day offers you and which we all need to go about living our best lives amid the Great Darkness. But I can’t escape the desperate cry that so many people in our world have and which we are obligated to respond to: not just in our minds and our prayers but in our actions and in our politics. Prayer is meant to move the world into the Kin-Dom of God, not merely comfort our troubled minds. Jesus is still breathing the Holy Spirit on us so that we can breathe the dry bones that build our culture to life. So that we can create the conditions in which people can experience the Lasting Hope that Jesus promised. The notion may seem absurd, utopic, and Pollyannaish. It isn’t. Belief in the impossible fact that life can emerge in the face of death is the bone and marrow of our faith. Jesus came so that we may have life and have it abundantly.

 

As a bridge into this abundance, I have prepared a few queries for us. I will read them both and then sit down to create space for us to respond if God so moves us.

Queries.

How might this meeting help me experience the Living Light more deeply?

How might God be calling our meeting to help the most vulnerable people in our city live more deeply within the Living Light?

unconscious despair. When the Cathedral in Notre Dame burnt last week, most were concerned about losing the art in the building, not whether people had lost a house of hope and a place of light amid the darkness.

Actually, the migration from religion is not all that bad. The Holy Spirit is clearly at work, beckoning some people out of the church so that She can be found in new and creative and beautiful ways. What I lament, however, is that people are living life without something we all need: a place to gather together to be dazzled and dared by the Living Light. We humans aren’t as complex as we seem. Our souls need the Living Light like a plant needs the sun. We need places where hope can be experienced as real and lasting—not an absurd fantasy that’s hidden in an afterlife.

The Church As A Light Bearing Place

            In the Gospel reading for today, the disciples are gathered together after Jesus died. They are in fear that they themselves may suffer and die. They are in despair. They have lost their love, their teacher, their friend—not just to his death but also to their betrayal of him in his suffering. Despite their fear, betrayal, and disbelief, the risen Jesus comes to them. He offers them peace—not payback. The encounter was absurd—it transcended their human power to understand that Jesus was with them in the flesh though he had died and that he offered them peace when they wounded him. After Jesus shows them that he is real, he breathes the Holy Spirit onto them. This breath was not meant just to comfort them, though that was important. He breathed the Holy Spirit on them so that they would be empowered to continue his work in the world: to bear witness to the Living Light that shines in the darkness and to create communities where people can become more alive. That was—and remains—Jesu’s desires for the world: to dazzle and dare people with the Divine Light so that they can become more alive. The glory of God, St. Irenaeus wrote in the second century, is the human person fully alive.

Building the Infrastructure of Lasting Hope

Almost every day I walk the Monroe Street Bridge. I think about the woman I encountered. I think about how her foundation collapsed and why she became suicidal. Brick by brick, I ask what happened. I think about our culture, too, and how many people walk on a crumbling foundation and are a phone call away from jumping off a bridge. There are more than 1,100 suicides each year in Washington state. That makes it the eight-leading cause of death among people of all ages and the second leading cause of death for people age 15-34. Experts aren’t exactly sure why but, by once measure, suicides have increased 19% across the state and 24% in Spokane.

I asked you what Easter means and how we can celebrate the resurrection when so many people are dying without hope. I struggle to ask these questions because I don’t want to take any of the joy this day offers you and which we all need to go about living our best lives amid the Great Darkness. But I can’t escape the desperate cry that so many people in our world have and which we are obligated to respond to: not just in our minds and our prayers but in our actions and in our politics. Prayer is meant to move the world into the Kin-Dom of God, not merely comfort our troubled minds. Jesus is still breathing the Holy Spirit on us so that we can breathe the dry bones that build our culture to life. So that we can create the conditions in which people can experience the Lasting Hope that Jesus promised. The notion may seem absurd, utopic, and Pollyannaish. It isn’t. Belief in the impossible fact that life can emerge in the face of death is the bone and marrow of our faith. Jesus came so that we may have life and have it abundantly.

As a bridge into this abundance, I have prepared a few queries for us. I will read them both and then sit down to create space for us to respond if God so moves us.

Queries.

How might this meeting help me experience the Living Light more deeply?

How might God be calling our meeting to help the most vulnerable people in our city live more deeply within the Living Light?

 

This message was given to Spokane Friends Church by Paul Blankenship on Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019

 

 

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