The Candle Flame of Hope

Sermon for Sunday, June 12, 2022 || Trinity Sunday C || Romans 5:1-5

This is another sermon about hope. I’ve been preaching about hope a lot lately because hope seems to be in short supply these days. I look inside myself and I see my hope candle guttering. It’s still lit – miraculously  – but the small flame is floating in a sea of wax. I want to believe that my hope candle will never actually extinguish, that no matter how much or how little wax is left, the wick will always hold a flame. I want to believe that, and I think I do…which is ironic because it seems like I need hope to believe I will always have hope. And maybe that’s how it works. Perhaps hope reignites itself like a mythical phoenix rising from the ashes.

I want to talk about hope on this Trinity Sunday because the Holy Trinity is both the source of our hope and the culmination of our hope. 

The Trinity is the source of our hope because the Holy Trinity is the source of everything. We believe that before Creation came to be, there was God. Only God and nothing else. And yet, we also believe that God is love (1 John 4:8). Love manifests as relationship. So God must have loved something. But since there was only God, the only thing God could love was…God. And that’s why we use the relational words of the Parent and the Child (Father and Son) to speak of this loving relationship. And we name the love flowing between them the Holy Spirit. This loving relationship of God with God was perfect, which meant that, while there was a Trinity of persons, a Unity of being was the ultimate reality. This Unity of being was the home in which the three persons dwelt: the Parent, the Child, and the Love between them.

Our hope finds its source in the perfection of the Holy Trinity. You and I (and all of Creation) are imperfect because we are not God. But we can feel in the same depths where our hope candles burn that perfection calling to us, leading us to become the people God yearns for us to be. And so the Trinity is also the culmination of our hope because the Trinity beckons us to find ourselves at home in the Trinity’s perfect relationship. The Trinity invites us to model our own loving relationships as closely as we can on the perfect love flowing among the three persons of the Trinity.

So we have hope candles burning inside us, we have the perfect love of God molding us into who we will become, and we have the life of the Trinity leading us home. That sure sounds like it should be enough – enough to keep us going. And yet, on the days when fear tricks me into focusing on scarcity, I have trouble remembering these three blessings of hope, love, and life. I don’t despair, necessarily, but I do shut down. I do narrow my world to what I think I can control. I do turn off my compassion. And who knows, maybe that’s what despair looks like.

But that tiny candle flame just refuses to go out. No matter how scarce I think the fuel might be, the wick stays lit. As St. Paul says today, “Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

Hope does not disappoint us, but we can still tend our hope, and cultivate it through the steps that Paul lays out. It’s no wonder Paul starts with suffering. Paul himself had undergone plenty of suffering and caused it too. He says, “Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”

At its most basic, suffering happens when things are not as they should be. Having a rock in your shoe produces suffering. And so does, say, a system in which wealth concentrates around a few people, leaving a mass of poverty at the bottom. Or a culture that cares more about selling weapons than the lives of the people those weapons kill. Everyone suffers in all sorts of ways. Some suffering is more acute. Some suffering is more systemic. Some suffering passes after a time. Some persists. Paul would I agree, I think, with the first Noble Truth of Buddhism: “Suffering is.” But while this sounds dire, it helps us to name a reality that we all face – that the way we experience life is transient and temporary. We desire permanence, and there isn’t any. We desire certainty, and there isn’t any.

And that’s why we have hope. Hope burns in place of permanence and certainty. The candle is God’s grace. The wick is God’s faithfulness. And the light shines on all that we need to let go of in order for our hope to shine brighter. We let go of everything the world tells us to cling to: the grubbing for stuff, the need for security, the desire to top the hierarchy. And instead we embrace God’s dream that can imagine the possibility of another world, a better world, a world that feels the draw of the perfect relationship of the Holy Trinity.

Poet Aurora Levins Morales dreams of this better world in her beautiful and hope-filled poem “V’ahavta.” She wrote it in 2016, but I stumbled upon it recently. I’d like to share some of it with you:

(Please read the poem on the poet’s own website and then continue reading the sermon. I quoted aloud more than I am excerpting below. Or watch the video above to see how I wove the two together. Find the full poem here.)

When you inhale and when you exhale
breathe the possibility of another world
into the 37.2 trillion cells of your body
until it shines with hope.
Then imagine more.

This is the hope candle burning within each of, tended by the love of God, and shining on the life of the Holy Trinity. This is the life that pulls us toward itself. And as we merge our lights together to shine upon this life, we imagine this new world the poet speaks of.

And Morales concludes with this stirring, defiant, and hopeful call:

Don’t waver. Don’t let despair sink its sharp teeth
Into the throat with which you sing.  Escalate your dreams.
Make them burn so fiercely that you can follow them down
any dark alleyway of history and not lose your way.
Make them burn clear as a starry drinking gourd
Over the grim fog of exhaustion, and keep walking.

Hold hands. Share water. Keep imagining.
So that we, and the children of our children’s children
may live

This is our hope, and “hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

Photo by CHIRAG K on Unsplash.

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