-Rev Melissa Fain-
25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon, and stars. On the earth, there will be dismay among nations in their confusion over the roaring of the sea and surging waves. 26 The planets and other heavenly bodies will be shaken, causing people to faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world. 27 Then they will see the Human One coming on a cloud with power and great splendor. 28 Now when these things begin to happen, stand up straight and raise your heads, because your redemption is near.
Luke 21:25-28 CEB
As I've been saying, picking an ornament for our tree has become our family tradition. I love being able to look at the twinkling lights, and see our history in tiny ornament form. With that in mind, there are two ornaments that are not on our tree. One never existed, and one broke soon after moving into our current home. More about them in a minute. First, let me explain the ornament pictured above.
I've volunteered in churches my whole life. I've been paid staff in churches or some form of religious programming since 1999. I was ordained into a denomination as a minister on Valentines day, 2010. I remember it was a packed house. Friends I hadn't seen in years showed up. Choosing Valentine's Day perfect. It expressed how vital my relationship with the church had been. In the brokenness of my childhood, the church was there to pick up the pieces. Everyone sitting in the pews that ordination day already knew where I was going, and they wanted to see it come to fruition.
When I accepted a call as a full time minister in a small rural Kentucky church, everyone celebrated with me. Getting out of the Georgia region was going to be good for me. As Rev. Kathy McDowell aptly put it, "There's a reason Prophets don't prophecy in their home towns."
As my husband and I talked about our yearly ornament I just knew it had to be church related. Not only was it the realization of my hard work, it was symbolic for my hope for the future of the church.
Now let me tell you something about me. If I could sum up my "call" in any field it would be this: "Taking jobs where the system is not working in a natural way." Years ago, I wanted to start my professional Christian journey as a Camp Staff at Christmount. I emailed just in time to discover all the positions for that summer had been filled, but they needed Kitchen Staff, It was a simple answer. They needed it, so I did it. Time and time again, my church calls have not been to healthy churches or easy/fun positions. I'm drawn to things that need fixing.. Even as a sub, I'm more drawn to subbing knowing there is a need for reform. I've told teachers that I don't want to be certified, in part, because I see what they have to deal with, and I don't want to deal with it. If I can be even more honest, that's not the major reason. I see they are doing a great job, and I don't see a need for me to be part of a great collection of people. I purposefully enter broken systems to fix the systems.
My first full time ministerial job, conversely, was supposed to be a healthy system so I could get a feel for helping future broken churches. That was the hope when we got this ornament.
Flash forward two years later. It wasn't a healthy church, it was a broken church hiding their wounds. My hope was crushed into fine powder. What ornament do we put on the tree when that's the moment of the year? I knew. I wanted to craft a church on fire. There would be flames licking the steeple, and fire shooting through the windows. "Goodness, Melissa! A bit dark, isn't it?" my husband remarked. I responded, "Tell me a better option, and I'll listen." He remained silent, because we all knew that was the best ornament for that year.
I never made it. It still exists in my mind, invisibly hanging from our tree. It can't help but mentally exist. It was the ornament for that year. Some day, when I'm ready, I'll go downstairs and craft it. It will exist as a sardonically humorous reminder of a different time.
The other ornament I mentioned was purchased for the following year. It's a set of luggage. We moved three times in one year. This was the result of being thrown back into Georgia, with nowhere to call home. Everything was chaos, including our living arrangements. When the ornament broke, I searched for it's copy, but never found it. It too remains invisible on our tree.
There are very big thinkers that would tell me and you hope is pointless. The destruction and loss was the truth, and the hope was a lie. They would tell us to not hope, because hope keeps people from dealing with the hard truths of life. Hope keeps us from reality.
There can be nothing further from the truth. The stained glass ornament remains on our tree because without hope we are left with no anchor. Hope remains even when you know your hope can leave you lost and alone. Hope remains even when everything tells you it is foolishness. Hope remains because even in failure, the potential is still out there, within our grasp. Hope is out there to throw our failure on the ground and use it as a stepping stone towards a better future. Do not give up on hope because you know some hope will be unfulfilled. Give into hope because the potential will always exist, and somewhere it will be found.
Let us pray:
Dear Lord, help us find that hope in the midst of hopelessness. Help us trust you, as you lead us. Amen.