Beacons of hope

At this week’s Spring FOCUS, Steve Janowiak got to preachin’. I don’t mean that he got “preachy” – I mean that I heard some good news in what he was saying to a small group of new Valpo students. “We’re training you to be the kind of people who will build hope in your communities.” It fills me with warm fuzzies just typing it out: the image of thousands of Valpo alumni being sent out into the world with a great education and equipped to be beacons of hope. That vision is one of the best things I’ve got to counter the constant hum of bad news: the omicron variant, schools battling over how to educate our children, and – well, you know what I’m talking about. 

But when I say that Steve Janowiak got to preachin’, I also mean it in the Southern way – the way one of my Tennessee parishioners used to say it to me sometimes. She’d come out of worship, fix me with a hard stare (one that always made me a little nervous), and say, “You got to preachin’ today, Pastor.” It meant I’d given a sermon that made her feel like she had to actually do something in response.

Steve Janowiak got to preachin’ for me. His words reminded me that it’s not just students who ought to be training for hope-building – it’s all of us. And especially those of us who bear the name of Christ, the hope of the world. 

Jesus’ hope was so strong that he proclaimed blessings on people even as they were in the midst of some of the most difficult trials of life:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people revile you and utter all kinds of evil against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven… (Matt. 5:3-12)

The blessing is proclaimed as fact not because of what’s going on right now – but because of what will be. But it’s vital that we remember: Jesus didn’t just say, You’re blessed – God’s kingdom is coming! and leave it at that. In fact, what Jesus announced at the very beginning of his ministry was: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matt. 4:17). 

Jesus told us about the future, God’s perfect kingdom, and his blessings were rooted in hope and faith in that coming kingdom. And because Jesus was so confident in that future, he started to live it in the here-and-now. He said to those in mourning: you will be comforted when the kingdom comes – and he also offered them immediate comfort. He said to those who hungered (for righteousness or for food): you will be filled – and he offered them food and truth and moments of justice.

Hope isn’t only for the future – it’s also for right now. Hope is what gets us through the days when everything seems wrong. 

We can be beacons of hope for one another even in these shadowy times. And we don’t have to have a clear vision of how the pandemic will end or the future of the university in order to be hopeful. Instead, we focus on the smaller things that are already within our power. Showing interest in the lives of people around us. Music. Dance parties. Phone calls. Sharing food. Living generously. Reading our children silly bedtime stories. Standing up for one another. It is small things like these that shine hope into our everyday lives in the ways that we most need it. And small things, all of us can do.

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

Jesus Christ, you are the light of the world.

The light no darkness can overcome. 

Stay with us now, for it is evening

And the day is almost over.

Let your light scatter the darkness,

And shine within your people here.

–Holden Evening Prayer

Jan. 12, 2021

Pastor Kate

Rev. Katherine Museus Dabay takes turns writing weekly devotions with Rev. James A. Wetzstein at Valparaiso University, where both serve as university pastors.