There’s an old song that starts with a night wind speaking to a little lamb and ends with a king speaking to people everywhere.
The refrain asks, “Do you hear what I hear?”
I wonder what you are hearing these days in the midst of natural disasters and natural wonders, rumors of war and protests for peace, tragic deaths and inspiring births, revelations of abuse and restorations of relationship.
There is certainly fear and doubt and division, but I also hear HOPE, and I’d like to invite you to the concert.
The Suffering of Incarnation as the Surprise of HOPE
The tears surprised me. We were enjoying an evening with friends this year, when a woman in the group asked a question. A friend of hers had participated in the Women’s March and wondered why more black women didn’t participate. Our friend brought the question to the group, and for awhile I listened to the conversation and couldn’t speak. Finally, I found my voice and was surprised at the tears that came with it. “To really know the answer to that,“ I said, ”would take you through a kind of death. And I’m not sure your friend wants to do that.“
Though I’ve still got a long road ahead, the last 26 years of my life have been a journey into other cultures and communities, and every once in awhile I realize how disorienting it has been. I have black friends who compare their work in white communities to Daniel’s service in Babylon. It’s been a “foreign country” experience, but they trust the prophet Jeremiah’s calling in Jeremiah 29 – the same passage that draws me to live in uncomfortable neighborhoods, build unexpected friendships, and believe that followers of Jesus should not isolate themselves but instead throw themselves into these disorienting times. My flourishing is to be found in the flourishing of my very different neighbors.
Lila Watson says it another way:
“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”
Some of my Latino friends, on Christmas Eve, pass baby Jesus around the room, with each person kissing the baby before he is placed in the Nativity set. They know the whole of history pivots on God entering the human experience as a baby. God is not only beyond us; He is with us. Being with us led Him to suffer death, and He invites us to do the same.
I hear HOPE when I see followers of Jesus from all backgrounds who humbly pursue cross-cultural and challenging relationships because they realize that those relationships will refine their understanding of the gospel and become an expression of God’s presence with us. In these disorienting days, so many of our friends at the Issachar Center are choosing to live generously and faithfully in “Babylon”, understanding that their flourishing is tied to the flourishing of their diverse neighbors.
I wonder where God is calling you to suffer (and find unexpected delight) as a friend, a parent, a neighbor, a leader – in order to understand, learn from, and carry the suffering of other people and communities? Let’s move toward that and not away from it. Let’s pursue the suffering that will surprise us with HOPE!
The Cross-cultural Community as a Sign of HOPE
Our pastor recently taught a series called, Waiting for a Sign. He observes that most of us are looking for a sign – a message of clarity or encouragement or hope – and he challenges us to not miss the signs that have already been given.
God’s story is full of signs. The flood was a sign. The prophets served as signposts. The Holy Spirit ’s arrival at Pentecost was a sign.
And perhaps one of the most profound signs was simply the community of God’s people. Israel was a sign to other nations. Jesus gathered a zealot and tax collector and fishermen, and his counter-cultural followers became a sign. The early church at Antioch distinguished itself from Judaism because it gathered Jews and Gentiles together and became a sign that people first recognized as “Christian.”
And when guests come to visit iSSACHAR on a Tuesday night, they encounter a sign that gives them hope. In a cacophonous world, they walk into Issachar and encounter a community of rich and poor, black white and brown, young and old followers of Jesus who wrestle with the times to know what God’s people should do. In the words of one urban ministry leader, “When I walk into Issachar, I have hope for the future of the church.”
Where is God calling your community to be a sign of the hope of God’s Kingdom? Let’s pursue a community that inspires HOPE in our culture!
The Joy of Resurrection as the Substance of HOPE
Suffering and a cross-cultural community might birth Hope, but something deeper needs to carry us home.
Allow me to introduce suffering and cross-cultural community to this passage from Hebrews 12:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great [CROSS-CULTURAL COMMUNITY], let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him, he [SUFFERED] the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
We are invited to the same thing that kept Jesus from “growing weary and losing heart”: JOY! The end of the struggle is resurrection and reunion with God.
The realities of death, inequity, war, and …. Leave many of us weary, angry, and mourning. Our lives cannot stand with a shallow hope, even one supported by the suffering of companions and the support of a cross-cultural community. The ultimate hope is resurrection.
And one of the most troubling responses of Jesus-followers during these cacophonous days is our fear over the future, our worry about the present, and the ways that we put our hope in politics, money, and personalities.
We say that God is sovereign, that we believe in Jesus’ resurrection, and that we trust the work of the Holy Spirt – but my life (and maybe yours?) is often driven by fear and attempts to manage and control things (for God’s sake!). Lord have mercy! I’m grateful to be part of a community at iSSACHAR that pursues resurrection joy in difficult journeys.
Where is God calling you to trust the substance of our HOPE? Let’s become a community of JOY this year!
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future
Scott Lundeen serves as director of the Issachar Center for Urban Leadership.