A cup of coffee in one hand and my Kindle Fire in the other I sat at the kitchen table reading a novel.The sun was shining, the breeze was soft and warm. The novel, by one of my favorite authors, Amanda Eyre Ward, was engaging.
Suddenly, from the periphery of my eye I see a small branch, almost a twig, fall from the tree in the yard outside the sliding glass doors. Then, a second later, a squirrel falls to the ground. Apparently the small squirrel wandered out on a too small branch, small enough to break under the tiny weight of the squirrel, plunging both of them into a thirty foot drop. The squirrel landed with a loud thud on all four feet. It stood where it had landed for a couple of seconds. Then, as if testing its legs, it did that squirrel hop-run for about four steps, then stopped again. It stood still for a very long time.
I watched and waited, wondering if the squirrel was assessing the damage or catching its breath? I wondered if it would bound away or fall over. I could see its chest moving as it breathed deeply and looked straight ahead. It seemed to be monitoring itself. Legs, check. Bones, check. Muscles, check. Skin and fur, yup. Eyes still in head, yes. Breathing? Yup. Okay then, good to go, and off it scampered to a different tree which it promptly climbed as if nothing had happened at all.
The view outside the back of the Rectory offers us unlimited snapshots into the lives of the animals that live on or travel through this property. What we see is often hilarious, endlessly entertaining, sometimes sweet and precious, and occasionally violent - particularly when the hawks and falcons come looking for their meal among the birds, rabbits, and squirrels that inhabit the backyard. It’s a view into creation and the balance and order of life filled with hope and sometimes tragedy. Life is fragile and yet there is amazing strength in life as well. The lush green grass, trees, and multitude of wild animals, following this long harsh winter is a sign that hope and new life are inherent to creation itself.
All three of our scripture readings this morning reveal something about the nature of hope. In Genesis, Jacob is running for his life. He tricked his brother, Esau, into giving up his birthright as the first born son of Issac. Jacob and Esau have a complicated relationship typical of Biblical stories where the last becomes first and the order is turned upside down and backward. So Jacob is on the run, under the auspices of finding a wife in his father’s home country, but also, to save his life. And he has a wild dream about angels. A dream about hope. For in this dream God promises to be with Jacob where ever he goes. God gives Jacob the same promise God gave Abraham, Jacob’s grandfather. And Jacob responds that he will follow God’s desire. When Jacob wakes from the dream he is not the quite the same man, his intention is clearer, he has hope for his future even though he has no idea what his future holds.
Hope is our ability to hang on, refusing to give into despair, even though we have no idea how we are going to get through the day, the week, the year. This kind of hope is not simple, it’s not, “I hope it won’t rain” or “I hope I get that shirt, car, television, or whatever it is that I want.” This hope, grounded in faith and God, is a hope that prevails when everything seems to be stacked against us and by all indications, everything is going wrong. This concept of hope is also a theme in our reading from Romans and in the parable in the Matthew reading.
Paul’s letter to the Romans argues that even though life is filled with despair, God has other intentions for us, God instills in us a sense of hope, that God’s desire will prevail and life will somehow get better. Even when we feel that all is lost, if we can summon up patience and persistence, grounded in hope, we will get through it. And always, in time, life does get better.
When I was a little girl my mother use to call me Pollyanna. She thought I could be naively optimistic. However, hope has been my guiding principle. This is not simply because I want to be naive or optimistic. I think it’s something I tap into, something that is offered by God, something that affords me, you, all of us, the stamina to move through challenging times, trusting that life will get better, even when there is no evidence to support that hope. Our readings this morning offer some scriptural examples of this kind of hope - that we can trust in the spirit of God to be with us, sustaining us and leading us into new life.