Sunday, October 23, 2022
Pastor Jason Bryan-Wegner
Ephesians 6:10-17, 23-24
In the spring of 1969, Fred Rogers, known to millions of children for Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, testified before Congress. He and the Public Television Network were seeking $20 million dollars to support publicly funded, educational television for children. Up to this point, he had been producing his show on a meager $6,000 budget. He didn’t come to Congress with flow charts and an arsenal of facts to convince these powerful men that they should give him money. He came armed with an imagination and vision of hope for the children of America. Rogers said, Children don’t need animated bombardment to experience drama. In my program, he said, we deal with the inner drama of the child. I deal with haircuts, and the feelings you have about brothers and sisters, and I give children a sense that they have control over their feelings. I give an expression of care to each child to help them know they are unique and special just the way they are.
After his brief testimony, the committee’s chairman John Pastore, a gruff and sometimes irritable man, responded, “I’m supposed to be a pretty tough guy, but I’ve got goosebumps…It looks like you’re going to get your $20 million dollars.” Rogers’ five-minute testimony launched fifty years of programming aimed at shaping the social and emotional wellbeing of children.
It might be easy to look back with nostalgia and think, oh, if there were just another Mr. Rogers to speak to our kids or remind us all of our common humanity once or twice a day on TV. Odds are it wouldn’t have the same effect. Too much has changed. You cannot resuscitate the past. But we can learn from it and practice resurrection.
When I interviewed for this call here at Augustana almost a year ago, the stories I heard and the impact you’ve had over the years on one another, community organizations, and global mission partners were inspiring. Together, you’ve raised up young people to serve as pastors and leaders for today’s church. You’ve equipped interns to be sent to the wider church to make a difference in their communities. The worship life of Augustana has inspired and grounded thousands of people in faith and hope found in Jesus. You’ve given generously of time and financial resources to address hunger and poverty, faith formation, and spiritual care. I said it in my interview, and I still believe it today, “there’s no limit to what Augustana can do”. Though given the trials and challenges of the last few years, we’re going to need to lean into imagination and cultivate together a vision of hope for the future that doesn’t try to resuscitate the past, but practices resurrection.
Over the last couple of years, you’ve experienced more change than Augustana has had in 50 years. Two long serving pastors concluded their call among you. A pandemic upended all of our lives. We continue to examine our systems of power and the fragility of relationships between people of different races and political affiliations. All of these things together call us to ask questions we haven’t had to ask before, and to seek a way forward that we haven’t yet envisioned. Perhaps one of the takeaways from Mr. Roger’s testimony all those years ago, is that it is time for imagination and a commitment to seek a vision with hope for where we all go from here. Hope is not a fragile thing. Hope is the fuel of imagination and the lens by which we see the future.
Professor Marty Stortz distinguishes between two kinds of hope. False hope, which is based on a kind of magical thinking or fantasy. It focuses on outcomes. Americans are really good at this kind of hope. It’s the hope of winning the lottery or thinking we can change things that we have absolutely no control over. This hope is fickle and frail, and rarely comes through for us when we seek it most.
On the other hand, true hope holds us when we have no other options. It calls us into community and mutual relationship. Stortz says this kind of hope is crowded. It is rooted in something or someone, and holds outcomes loosely.
Stortz shared how much false hope she had when her husband was diagnosed with glioblastoma, a wicked form of brain cancer. Those first few months she lived in the false hope that there would be a cure, that everything would at some point or another return to the way it was before. But eventually they both realized there was no going back. The question became “How do we live this day as well as possible?”
At one particularly difficult doctor’s appointment, when scans showed growth from just the week before, her husband asked the doctor, “If I was your brother, what would you do right now?” The doctor replied, “I’d drop my practice and take you skiing.” Hoping for a cure and expecting things to return to normal was no longer realistic. Their hope became rooted in living in a particular story – they clung in community to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. People from every aspect of their lives prayed for them, not for a cure, but as an act of solidarity in trusting that God’s strength and compassion would buoy them through the difficult journey they were on. Together, they put on the armor of God, in being steadfast in the truth, in being quick with peace, in holding faith when Marty and her husband couldn’t, and most of all, relying on the promise of salvation – that the resurrection promise was not just a theoretical exercise, but that it was true and true for them.
One of the ways I’ve seen us practice resurrection this year is at our Thursday community meals. This has been a new ministry this year, that emerged out of COVID and the changing economics of our community. Every week, cars start lining up about 4:15, forming a line through the parking lot and down Emerson Ave., sometimes wrapping all the way around and down Robert. What we’re learning in serving these meals each week, is that we’re not just serving food, we’re setting tables for community and relationship to be built, not just here but all over the area. One community member picks up twelve meals and brings them to a low-income senior apartment building. She has the manager set up tables in the common area so that they all can have dinner together so no one eats alone. One of our members picks up three meals, and brings them over to her sister and brother-in-law’s house, where he is caring for his wife who is experiencing dementia. Moreland Elementary administrators and teachers have expressed gratitude for this meal because they have a resource for families who are struggling to cover the rising costs of groceries. We are starting to have conversations with other community agencies to see how this weekly meal can help support and address the many challenges people are facing today. More than food these meals are serving up hope and connection.
This next year we want to be able to serve at least 20,000 meals to continue to share community and hope with our neighbors. A significant portion of the expenses for Thursday Community Meals will be included in our annual budget because this is the ministry God is calling us to do. It’s core to who we are. Your regular giving to Augustana will support this ministry and so many other ministries that share hope among our congregation and wider community. When we set out to serve a weekly meal, we had no idea what kind of imagination others would have for it. We had no idea that tables would be set, and relationships strengthened, and lives changed, if for just an hour a week.
Christians are people of this kind of hope. Hope that is sturdy, communal, committed to the One who promises to weather every storm with us, and who is not interested in the stale expectations of resuscitation, but leads us to practice resurrection – new, whole, and unexpected life. Amen.