A Critical Hope

Posted: July 19, 2016 in Uncategorized

A Critical Hope

Luke 7: 36 – Luke 8: 3

Pentecost 4C 12.6.2016

The title of today’s address is A Critical Hope and it is my attempt to give an understanding of hope that is not about something that is tentative and more about something that is rooted in the possibility of the impossible, less in the individual and more in the collective and less about what if and more about certainty. I want to suggest that a critical hope is a hope that is deeper than desire, broader than the individual and contains the transformative power to change suffering, injustice, evil and apathy into meaning. A tall order not in terms of what hope can do or be but rather in our ability to think beyond dualisms, or either-ors. I want to suggest that we might see the opportunity to fuse hope and fear, and even suffering into the courage to be able to live out the prophetic role of active love.

Research says that hope is based in our belief in our ability to reach a goal. It is more than a maybe. It says that we understand our ability as that which is based on our past history, the perception of our own skill level, and the amount of motivation or agency we have. Our past, our perception and our providence. This suggests that the idea that we can get somewhere in our thinking or in our action is based on whether or not we can see a way of getting there. It also suggests that we distinguish the difference between hope and optimism by the way in which we deal with failure and mistake. Optimists often distance themselves from failure while those who hope are willing to admit mistakes and failures. In other words, optimism pushes aside mistakes and failures and hope enables them to be opportunities for learning and growth.

Two stories I want to link to hope this morning are an event that happened in the UK and our reading from Luke.

The first story is about Drummer Lee Rigby of the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers and when he was attacked by two men as he walked back to his barracks in Woolwich, South London a few years back.

Rigby was hit by a car before being attacked by knives, and dragged into the road where he died of his extensive injuries. Amongst all the sorrow of the day, one of the most iconic images that remains is that of the three women who confronted the two men who attacked Drummer Rigby. They went to his aid, they went to be with him. It’s possible that it would have been dangerous for any men to have attempted this but the compassion and courage shown by those three women is beyond description.

Their courage and compassion is made even more incredible because many in this world would have walked by on the other side. I am sure that we can all recall some little incident or time when we have walked by, It is also possible that we have looked on with envy as others display selfless acts of faith and generosity. Sometimes we might even realize that we can avoid embarrassment by wallowing in our own self-pity or in our self-imposed busyness.

The fact of this story is that it is raining tears the day Drummer Rigby died and the three women understood the relationship between suffering and hope and they acted out the critical hope that motivated them. This story also reminds us that this critical hope is more than the individual. Victor Frankl likens suffering to a gas that is released in a jar. If there is a small amount of gas it will still become distributed throughout the jar though in a smaller concentration than it might if more gas were placed in the jar. So it is with suffering. Though we may not have experienced the degree of suffering Rigby or the women experienced, we have experienced it and we know its ability to impact our lives. It is not the amount of suffering we endure that matters but rather our awareness of it and what we do with that suffering. The other thing to note here is that the women’s actions, in experiencing Rigby’s suffering confirm the importance of relationships and community in finding and maintaining hope. They affirm that community is an important aspect of being human. Psychological studies show that involvement in communities may be essential to the act of hoping. That as individuals we learn hopefulness within the context of community. The three women received by being three the confirmation that their brave act, their courage, was hope-filled by being a threesome. Collective motivation provides agency toward a shared goal. Together they could make a difference.

The second story the one from Luke’s gospel is as fantastic. It too is hard to read because it is also challenging, convicting, and courageous. Could I do it? Probably not? And would I be brave enough? One thing we can be certain of is that faith grows. It develops. It flourishes. It dies back. It revives. It changes. It goes in new directions. It is always alive and changing. The challenge is that our faith seems always, to be still, only a short way into the journey. That’s why we can be glad that faith, hope and grace walk hand in hand. And that so often it is women who lead the way!

I want to approach this story from Luke, a little differently by giving you a summarized version….

  • An alabaster jar!
  • What an extravagant item for a “woman of the city” to possess!
  • Was she rich?
  • Or did she sell all for this mysterious anointing?
  • This was no spontaneous act, “having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house.”
  • It doesn’t take a prophet to surmise from her weeping, feet kissing, and hair wiping that she’s not your average dignified matron. “Her sins were many.” Neither does it take a prophet to sense that she “loves much.”
  • Where did the tears come from?
  • Can you cry easily? Can you turn on the tap when needed?
  • Or do tears need to come spontaneously and from a genuine place beyond self control?
  • The woman’s strong emotion is undeniable.
  • But tears of repentance?
  • Perhaps.
  • But think about her careful preparations: the alabaster jar, the purchase of expensive ointment, the planning it took to insinuate herself into the dinner party.
  • Is her deep emotion because she wants to be forgiven or that she knows she has been forgiven? “Then he said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven.’
  • But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves,
  • ‘Who is this who even forgives sins?’
  • And he said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’
  • This last word seems like it is meant as a clarification for Simon, for the murmurers at the party, for the woman, and for those of us listening in on the scene all these centuries later.
  • “Your faith has saved you.”
  • Your faith has saved you, not now, on the floor kissing my feet, but this morning when you bought the alabaster jar as a sacrifice of gratitude.


Critical hope is a hope that moves from desire towards action, from idea to outcome, from law to love. A critical hope is living out love relationally through our actions. The woman’s hope of transformation is lived out by her extravagance, -an Alabaster Jar filled with expensive oils no less! Her hope is critical in that it challenges the status quo, -your sins are forgiven. It goes against the expectations of the society as placed upon a women, -a woman of the city? was she rich?. It unveils right living in that it motivated forgiveness, -your faith has saved you, go in peace. It reveals an equitable living in the extravagant giving, – an Alabaster Jar filled with expensive oils!


What is the church for, if it is not to enact this hope? The church is the ideal location for enacting this critical hope, an ideal place to live as though one lives with and in a certain hope. The church’s task is to form communities of critical hope and in so doing it invites others to engage in this adventure. In combining this theory of critical hope with liberation pedagogy and with political theology the church can create a positive direction.


In other words a hope that is deeper than desire, broader than the individual and contains the transformative power to change suffering, injustice, evil and apathy into meaning will create a better world. It is about being willing to fuse hope and fear, and even suffering into the courage to live out the prophetic role of active love.


The challenge of these two stories is that we must replace a theology of orthodoxy with a theology of orthopraxy, theology is of little value unless it is applied in action, and action is of little value if it is not undergirded by theology. The task then, is to fuse futility into utopia in such a way as it becomes a meaningful, embodied hope, and this is to fill lives with purpose, develop and enrich relationships, create and sustain community, and embrace a critical hope as a way of living. Amen.

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