I’ve been thinking lately about hope, which seems to be in short supply at the moment. Where is hope in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, as infection rates continue to rise in some areas of our state, country. and world, unemployment rates are at historic highs, and the necessity of quarantining has canceled so many significant events and isolated us from others?
I have been especially grieving over the fact that high school and college graduations are not able to take place in person this year. Particularly inspiring is the story of Texas principal Virdie Montgomery, who decided that if his high school seniors were not able to gather for graduation, he would go to them. Virdie and his wife then put on their masks and proceeded to drive eight hundred miles over twelve days to visit almost every one of the homes of the 612 seniors. Virdie couldn’t stay very long at each home, but he spoke words of hope and encouragement, gave each senior a card and some candy, and took a selfie.
When asked, “What was the hope that you would get out of that?” Principal Montgomery said, “It’s pretty selfish. This is not for you all. You all are handling this fine. l just want to see you and let you know I care about you. This matters a lot.” Another senior who was visited said, “It’s good to know that somebody cares about you… giving people a sense of hope … like they are not alone.”
I have always been an optimistic person, clinging to hope as one of God’s most enduring promises. Many years ago, I gave a speech at my high school graduation. It was called Living in Hope. I still have a copy, which was hand-written during the height of the Vietnam War and then pecked out with two fingers on a manual typewriter. Here are a few things that I felt were important to share with my fellow students and their families in 1972. (Please forgive my lack of inclusive language in the era this was written. Quotes from the speech are in bold italics.)
“Are you living in hope? Are you looking to the future with anticipation or dread? Are you able to endure the trials of the present because of a confidence in the future, or are you so weighed down by life’s difficult problems that mean nothing anymore?”
“Hope is naturally directed toward God, for God is the ultimate source of hope. Only through faith and trust in God can we look to the future with confidence and anticipation. Hope can give us security in times of loneliness and faith in times of despair. Hope can free us from the life that binds us and lead us into a new kind of freedom, a freedom in which we know that the future is in God’s hands.”
“But what do we, graduates, who are the future of the world, have to hope for? The future looks very dim when we talk about the senselessness of Vietnam, the tensions in the Middle East, the growing arsenal of nuclear arms, the pollution of our environment, the overwhelming number of college graduates out of work, or such issues as poverty, ignorance, dissension, and prejudice.”
Decades later, we’re still lamenting the same problems. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us. Protesting injustice and oppression wherever they present themselves is part of our baptismal and membership vows as United Methodists and is the responsibility of every Christian as we work together to bring in God’s reign of shalom.
Near the end of my speech, I quoted from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. “I don’t know what will happen to me…. We’ve got some difficult days ahead, but it doesn’t matter to me now…. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the Promised Land. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
How could I have ever imagined the truth of this paragraph? I was just 17 years old. “We all have great hopes for the future, but that doesn’t mean we can ignore the present. Everyone must do whatever he can to make hope for the future a reality so that all people can live in happiness and peace.”
I graduated from high school just four years after King’s death and still remember the pit in my stomach when I heard the news that day. Several years later, when working on my speech, I realized that Martin Luther King Jr.’s words apply to me as well you. Like Mr. King, I don’t know what will happen to me after tonight. I know that my life will not be all happiness and that I will have to endure much, but I am still able to look beyond today toward a joyous future. I am not afraid because “I’m stuck like a dope, with a thing called hope.”
For what do I hope as a disciple of Jesus Christ in this year, 2020?
- I hope that we will be diligent in practicing social distancing until the pandemic has passed.
- I hope that we will continue to be creative and hopeful in our worship.
- I hope that we will be “living stones,” witnessing to the power of the gospel to transform lives.
- I hope that we will do our part to live in hope by reaching out to those who feel depressed, discouraged, or hopeless and using our collective resources to make a difference.
- I hope that we will keep connected with each other, with our local churches, and with our communities.
If you want a little dash of hope this week, I invite you to play this two-minute video of Mary Martin singing A Cockeyed Optimist in the Rogers and Hammerstein Broadway production South Pacific. Martin, playing a U.S. Navy nurse named Nellie Forbush, falls in love with a French plantation owner named Emile de Becque. People around the world were fearful about the outcome of the war, so Nellie reassures Emile that everything will turn out fine by singing.
But I’m stuck like a dope, With a thing called hope,
And I can’t get it out of my heart!
Not this heart, either.