There are some places in this world that invite one to ponder and to consider things that they had never given time to before, and over the last ten weeks of my Sabbatical, my life has been full of them. While I’ll go into sharing about my Camino journey and travels in a few weeks, one of the sites I saw while walking a portion of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela came to mind as I prayed through the text this week. The Cathedral of Leon is one of the most spectacular sights to behold; it was the first national monument of Spain and has played an important role in Spanish Christianity through the years. These days, one can walk through the Cathedral with an audio guide that tells the stories woven with stained glass and stone. And ancient statues stand next to pots full of fresh-cut lilies, asking the seer to lean into the truth that God is in found in the unchanging stone as much as God is found in the wilting flower. This cathedral is awe-inspiring and powerful to see, but it’s not it’s prominence in the city or it’s beauty that reminded me of today’s lesson from Hebrews, it was the story of how it came to be.
The version that stands before you as you ascend the hills that surround it, began in the early 13th Century, and although there was a fifty-year period of delay, this holy site was finished at the turn of the 14th Century. In less than 100 years, the people of the Kingdom of Leon built what would become a sign for future generations of the hope that they lived, of the faith that they had. I imagine for the people of Leon it was, as the author of Hebrews puts it, the faith of things hoped for, and the assurance of things not seen that drove them to craft such a transcendent masterpiece.
When Hebrews was written, it was the lives of Abraham and Sarah that marked faith so deeply convicted that they and generations after them would live in foreign lands, that they would never live to see the promised land. Just like the generations of those who spent their lives building that Cathedral in Leon, the author of Hebrews tells us that they never got to see this joy up close. For Abraham and Sarah and for the generations that followed, their distance from this promise to come was not an issue, because they were seeking a homeland, a better country, a heavenly one.
A thing about faith that I don’t think we talk about enough in Christian circles today is just how foolish faith looks from the outside. Here we have Abraham and Sarah lauded as great examples of pillars of faith; they are the ones upon whose shoulders we stand, and it doesn’t take much cynicism to begin to wonder if they were really all that smart in continuing to live a life as a stranger in a strange land, when they were given the opportunity to turn back, to return to all that was waiting there for them. It doesn’t take much cynicism to begin to wonder if the people of Leon were wise to spend the whole of their short medieval lives building a church in which they would never pray. And it doesn’t take much cynicism for us to begin to turn those questions on ourselves as well.
There are many things for which I hope and many things about which I am convicted, but let me tell you, I don’t think I’ve felt as hopeless as I have about the world than I have in the last year or so. And I wish I could whitewash it so that it could take on a shiny veneer, but the truth is, hope has been hard to come by, because when natural disasters wreck whole communities, a war wages on, a recession happens, and viruses spread when we aren’t prepared for them, I begin to feel a little lost. I begin to feel a little lost and cynicism sneaks in and hope begins to slip away.
So today, we have this—this opportunity to return to our stories, to see the ways in which those Christians in whose steps we follow, begin to light the way. I cannot say that I have the faith of our Hebrew ancestors Abraham and Sarah, or even of the Christians in Leon, Spain, but I know that when I look to their stories, I don’t see white-washed veneer that hides a darkness, I see a lived and embodied hope that was their guiding light.
I know that when I look to the stories of the Christians that have come before me, whether in Spain or in my family history or even here at Christ Church, I know that I am not just seeing determination and choices to work toward something greater than themselves. I know that when hope feels far away, it doesn’t take much faith to know that I am seeing the assurance of things hoped for. Because we are not surrounded by stained glass and stone and wood, but rather by the things hoped for and yet unseen for past generations.
The question for today, then, is what hope is here? Not metaphorical or the quote unquote ‘right’ answer. What literal hope is guiding your life? What hope—what real and tangible and unseen hope—is guiding ours as this church that meets on the corner of 12th and State?
Having hope in times like these is not easy, but in the same way that it doesn’t take much cynicism for hope to slip away, believe me when I say that it doesn’t take much faith for it to flourish, either. And hear me when I say that we do not have to be models of faith for future generations to let the faith of things hoped for light our path.
As I mentioned, there were so many spaces in which I was invited to cultivate this hope while traveling on my Sabbatical, but when I left in May, something you may not know, this church held one weekly meeting of Narcotics Anonymous during the week, and when I returned, there were three on the calendar. Three! That’s hope; that’s hope that’s found a home in Moore Hall where we’ll eat breakfast this morning. Hope that found it’s home in the space we share; hope that is changing lives.
I think of hope as light: when you are in complete darkness, a little goes a long way, but when the light surrounds you, it changes everything. I wonder how we will be changed as that flicker of hope begins to widen; how that tiny pinprick of faith in the hopelessness that surrounds us can shake it all lose.
Now, I don’t think we are, or at least most of us, meant to build a cathedral, but I know that we are invited to an unrelenting hope that can only be found in the crucified and resurrected Messiah. I know that each day, we get to choose how we live, not all the aspects of it, but whether we lean toward cynicism or lean toward faith. And I know that none of it means that we are guaranteed a good or easy life, but I believe that hope is to what we are called. I believe that our faith will carry us in hope, even when it means we might look a little foolish on the outside. I believe that faith can pull us on a journey and faith can build a cathedral and faith can offering belonging to those who struggle with addiction, but it is hope—the hope of things not seen, hope shared with those around you, hope that will change us—this hope is what will sustain us.
A sermon delivered on Sunday, August 7, 2022 to the people of Christ Episcopal Church in Bowling Green, KY for Proper 14C on Hebrews 1:1-3, 8-16.