Hope: A Sense of Community

Hope: A Sense of Community

November 24, 2021

By Rev. Dr. Heecheon Jeon, Superintendent Riverview Park District

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9 and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name”; and again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”; and again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”; and again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; 
in him the Gentiles shall hope.”

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

—Romans 15:4-13
When I visited Soweto, Johannesburg in South Africa with friends of GBHEM in 2017, it was an unforgettable journey to walk the historic street of Vilakazi on which Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu's homes were located. I tried to breathe in the spirit of hope and reconciliation, as I learned that so many people were fighting for freedom on the same street amid apartheid, a systemic racial segregation and discrimination. Soweto was created in the 1930s when the White government started separating Blacks from Whites. It became the largest Black city in South Africa. It is still a marginalized place. There were serious demonstrations that occurred in 1976 for racial justice and continued until the first multiracial elections were held in 1994 when Mandela was elected as the first President of South Africa. During those tumultuous years, these two moral and spiritual iconic figures led the country to a place where people might have hope in the midst of daily challenges and unavoidable despairs. Their spirit of hope has brought together a community in solidarity to change the whole world. 
St. Paul in Romans 15 also talks about the hope cultivated by a community in harmony with one another, whether Jews or Gentiles. Hope occurs within a beloved community, when we welcome one another, as Christ has welcomed each of us. The harmony is what God truly expects of us when we are connected to God and interconnected to one another. On the contrary, disjunction, division, inequality, and oppression produce so much of despair that we have seen in our world. Despair dominates our culture when we are disconnected from God and siloed from one another, a few staying in a comfort enclave of privileges.  
So, Paul reminds us that God’s hope is all-inclusive, encompassing, all-equal, and all-embracing. And there is no limit to God’s hope. It reflects on what prophet Isaiah said: “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles (ethne: the nations); in him the nations (Gentiles) shall hope.” The Messiah who would be the manifestation of God’s hope shall come for all nations and all people, including all minorities. In other words, God’s hope is communal, relational, liberating, and global in communion with one another.  Without God, there is no hope. Without God, there is no all-inclusive hope. “Hope in God reaches to the clouds,” Jurgen Moltmann writes, “and embraces the whole inhabited globe. It is all-embracing and catholic, in the literal sense; it crosses frontiers and is all-comprehensive,” because hope is rooted in God without limit.
Archbishop Tutu also emphasizes in his book, God Has A Dream, that hope comes from God and makes us truly human as equal beings in the interdependence of God’s family: “In God’s family, there is no outsiders. All are insiders. Black and white, rich and poor, gay and straight, Jew and Arab, Palestinian and Israeli, … all belong.” Jesus came to a deeply divided and polarized society, but what he did was to bring hope to those marginalized people that they were recognized as God’s family as well. Tutu continues to say that “The wonderful thing about family is that you are not expected to agree about everything under the sun…what is needed is to respect one another’s points of view and not to impute unworthy motives to one another…Our maturity will be judged by how well we are able to agree to disagree and yet continue to love one another, to care for one another and cherish one another and seek the greater good of the other.” Then he introduces ubuntu as the ultimate purpose of being human in harmony with one another, which is the hope of God: “In the end, our purpose is social and communal harmony and well-being. Ubuntu does not say, ‘I think, therefore I am.’ It says rather: ‘I am human because I belong. I participate. I share.’ Harmony, friendliness, community are great goods. Social harmony is for us the summum bonum—the greatest good.”
Finally, as Paul says that we might “abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit,” a people of hope are always on the move to passionately seek what God inquires of us as human fellows. St. Augustine sums up that “hope has two beautiful daughters—anger and courage. Hope depends on anger over what could be but is not and on courage to make it different.” The dynamic power of hope such as holy indignation and a wholehearted passion of courage for God’s justice is to liberate, to deliver, to pour, to stir up, to deconstruct, to overflow, to heal, to transform, to harmonize, and to make peace. 
O sisters and brothers in Christ, 
In this season of Advent, we are waiting. Active waiting brings forth a dynamo of hope to enlighten our places of despair. What would you do with the power of hope in this infinite waiting?
Let us pray:
God of hope, move us to a place where we are in harmony with one another, where everyone belongs, where all are respected as your family. Grant us a power of hope that may transform us into a new being in Christ, our Hope of all ages. Amen.