“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Creator of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6)
The letter to the Ephesians, written sometime in the mid-to-late first century of our era to a young Gentile church trying to find its way in the world, suggests that to be Christian means setting out on a journey with others, in one body, in a certain direction, trusting that together we will find the way of the one Lord, Jesus Christ, by the grace of God.
The direction may not always be clear. In fact, it hasn’t been. Christians have taken a lot of wrong turns since the letter to the Ephesians – using violence to assert the dominance of the one faith over others, attempting to limit access to God for people deemed unacceptable by those in power, placing orthodoxy, or right belief, over showing the love of God. The Church seems to lose its way too easily.
Ephesians wants us to see that the way is always toward hope. “You were called to the one hope of your calling,” the letter declares. God always leads in the direction of hope. The church is one body, created to find the one hope offered by God in Jesus.
Ephesians never lays out exactly what that one hope of our calling is, probably assuming it’s so obvious it need not be explained. I re-read the book a couple times trying to see if the author ever defines just what the “one hope” is – and they never do.
Here’s how I understand it: the one hope to which we are called is to trust that no matter our circumstances, or how far afield we have wandered in life, or whatever transpires in the world around us or presses in on us or oppresses us or makes us anxious and fearful – no matter all of that, we belong to God. We are not alone. God is with us.
Those are words we say at the font as we baptize. I asked church staff members recently where they see hope at Westminster, one of the educators said,
“Baptism comes first to mind for me. The sacrament involves our entire community and is filled with promises, all of which provide a sense of hope…I’m encouraged when families desire to raise their little ones in a faith community such as ours, and I am filled with hope when members of our church act on the promises made. It’s a remarkable thing to witness.”
We are called to the one hope of our calling. The direction our faith wants to take us, always, whether individually or together, is toward hope.
Other staff members invited to respond to the question about where they see hope at Westminster also referred to our ministries with children and youth as places where they see hope.
“I see hope in Westminster’s young people,” a pastor wrote,
“In the high school youth showing up for one another’s football games and helping one another with college applications; in the middle school youth who keep me on my toes with their good questions and commitment to justice; in the children at Children’s Church who sing and play together.”
Westminster has opened itself in many ways to children and youth in recent years. It may surprise us to learn that, in addition to church school and choirs and other ways we engage Westminster kids, when we add in the Scouts, the preschoolers receiving therapy and support at St. David’s Harman Center, and various community music programs, on average 420 children and youth are in our building any given week. Last week the number topped 500. This place is teeming with hope for children, youth, and their families.
In every circumstance or situation, however personal or collective, we who follow Jesus stand on and cling to hope. We hold fast to possibilities that may seem out of reach. We refuse to let realities closing in on us shut out the light of God’s love. Every one of us has somewhere in our lives, or something or, perhaps, someone, casting a shadow across our path. That’s especially true for many youth today. When trauma debilitates us and we can’t find a way forward, we do not lose hope, because the Spirit and those who love us join us in our struggle. We are not alone. God is with us.
The church is called to bear hope into the world, bringing healing where people are estranged or isolated, and there’s been a lot of that recently, or broken or wounded, and there’s been a lot of that, as well.
Another pastors writes about where they see hope at Westminster:
“The building was bustling on Saturday—hundreds of people in the sanctuary for a Minnesota Council of Churches event on Race and Reparations, the Minnesota Chorale rehearsing in the choir room, a wedding in the chapel, the Fall Women’s Retreat in Westminster Hall. The retreat drew 50 women, a potent mix of long-time regulars and first-time new attendees. There were moments of quiet connection in small groups. Afterwards I heard the same feedback repeating like an echo: ‘I learned so much I never knew about someone I’ve known for decades’; and ‘I feel as though I’ve become so close to someone I just met.’”
“As we emerge from the pandemic and re-form our patterns of relationship,” the pastor writes, “I found it incredibly hopeful to watch the connections unfolding.”
We saw the same longing in the new member class last week. “I see hope in the curiosity and commitment of our new members,” another pastor writes.
“People feel called to be part of this community of faith because of what they have experienced during the pandemic. There’s a yearning for connection and a readiness to invest in the ministries of Westminster in new ways. These new members will be part of shaping the church because of the hope they bring as they continue their journey of faith with us.”
Hope abounds when people of faith follow their calling to share God’s love. It happens wherever and whenever we gather. One of the pastors mentioned they had come across a group in the church kitchen the other day, preparing soup to be delivered to homebound members. They counted 38 quarts of soup; that’s 9.5 gallons of hope.
To follow Jesus – which is what we’re all trying to do, in one way or another – is to step forward, in the direction of hope, to be and do hope in the world.
That happens in public when we advocate for just policy, which never comes quickly or easily. When we sense that our efforts to help change the way things are in the world are making no difference, we do not lose hope, because we trust that the long arc of history bends toward the justice that God desires.
The church also brings hope in intensely personal moments – times of grief or when someone is facing death. When the end of life is near the church shows up, reminding them that we do not lose hope, because we trust in the power of resurrection.
One of our pastors writes,
“I received word that a family was requesting home communion with their loved one who was nearing death. It was my day off, so I had to go into church to get supplies. I just had a feeling, thank God, that I needed to bring as many communion elements and cups as possible. Sure enough, there were nine in the room when I arrived.”
The pastor prayed and said the familiar words over the bread and the cup and served the Lord’s Supper to the family – including to their dying loved one. “The hope eternal we all experienced,” the pastor said, “Was the unending love of God.”
After that call, the pastor heard of an additional need and visited a different church member in hospice. “It was another hope-filled moment,” the pastor writes.
“The person was not able to hear without the aid of special headphones. Again, by the prompting of the Holy Spirit, I played the anthem from the prior Sunday, Praise Ye the Lord. She wasn’t able to speak, but when the sound of the choir reached her ears, we could see peace and serenity wash over her. She closed her eyes and simply let the music envelop her in the calm and hopeful embrace of God’s love for her.”
Both church members died shortly after those visits. They died assured of God’s love for them. We are not alone. God is with us.
The church is in the business of bringing hope to the world, wherever we can, in public ways and in intimate moments. Hope for today, right now, right here, in the midst of whatever we face.
Hope is not merely a passive talking point meant to get us through a rough patch in life. It’s how we live as Christians, how we move through periods of collective trauma of the sort our community and nation face today, how we find resilience in times of personal crisis.
With those long-ago Ephesians, we, too, are “called to the one hope of our calling.” And as did they, let us also respond with willing and generous hearts, always moving in the direction of hope.
Thanks be to God.