This Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent, a Sunday when Christians around the world reflect on the theme of Hope. We thought it would be a great timing to share this recording from our closing service at the recent GS Fall Virtual Retreat. This is our Director of Operations, Nadia Vanderkuip, preaching a gritty, "seedy" sermon about what hope might look like in a year like 2020. If you prefer to read instead of watching, you'll find a full transcript below (all embedded photos stolen from Nadia's own Instagram account). Enjoy, and blessings as you enter the season of Advent!
Well, friends, it's an honor to be sharing with you this afternoon. I love how GS ends these retreats with a worship service like this after learning from such great speakers, like Pam and Jeff, who called us into being more Christ-like, who calls us into being both revolutionary and evolutionary in our face and in our lives. I had the privilege of sitting in on three amazing workshops, that called us towards wholeness, that helped us deconstruct our faith using the story of Jonah, and talking about important things in our lives like queer health. I'm sure most of you also enjoyed some great worship or workshops. I also was lucky enough to be part of an affinity group where truth and wisdom and vulnerability was shared, and I hope that you all had those kind of moments and those kinds of experiences, this weekend. I'm grateful to be with you here today. I'd like to invite us just into a moment of prayer before we start, so let's pray.
“God, this is a prayer for the hope-filled and the hope-starved. The hope-resistant and the hope-seekers. May we be open to the mysterious movements of the Spirit which dwells among us and within us. Teach us to imagine to create, to prophesy, and to call forth a new way of living, that reminds us that we are beloved, and that we belong in this wild and uncertain world. Amen.”
I don't know about you. I don't know what your dreams were for 2020, when you're sitting there January 1, but for us, 2020 was supposed to be a year of new beginning and new hope for our family. We moved back to Canada at the end of 2019. (Thanks be to God!) right before the crazy election year and the global pandemic hit the east coast of where we were living just outside Philadelphia. It was just - it was a decision we made as a family to honor our kids’ desire to come back home, and to help support the healing of our eldest daughter who is suffering from the effects of a brain injury.
And there have been some very positive effects about moving home. Both the girls are thriving in different ways. But if we were totally honest it's not exactly the life we were hoping for. A lot of that obviously is due to the pandemic. Quarantine with teenagers is terrible for everyone. Most of my family are extroverts, I'm hardcore introvert. And you can imagine the joy of teenage angst plus deep extroversion plus a tiny house equaling just a lot of tense times where I am the one that is holding back all the fun that we could possibly be having, “Mom! Will you just stop.” Please note, I'm preaching from my bedroom, my door's locked, someone actually just banged on my door right now. My sermon is balanced on top of my sock drawer and this feels all very on-brand for 2020.
Some of our attention comes from not being in working community in ways that we have, or that we were hoping for. This is especially true for my partner who works a tremendous amount to keep our family going and who misses our life in the US the most. And as we entered the deep, dark, and freaking so rainy season of BC, hope seems elusive in our daily lives as we enter into a second lockdown in eight - of the eight months.
So when I was “voluntold” to preach for this retreat back in September by my ever loving colleagues, I wondered what - like what could I possibly offer to this community. Once I agreed, I began to open myself up to what the Spirit might have me speak about.
And the message of Hope kept bubbling up. It was the overarching theme of the Evolving Faith conference that I was lucky enough to attend virtually in October, it appeared in books I was reading and Instagram accounts I was following. And quite frankly, it was just pissing me off. I was just super annoyed by it because I am not wired for hope. That is not my default position in this life, it is not a descriptor that anybody in my life would use for me. But as it often happens when I sat with this idea of hope, I realized that my narrative for what I thought hope was, was really inadequate.
I came to the church as a teenager in the early ‘90s, I don't come from a family of faith. The early ‘90s was an era of rapture movies, the Left Behind series, terrible, terrible, terrible Christian music and youth pastors who had goatees and played guitar. It's like, amazing that I even made it through that mess to still be in faith today. It was also a time where if anything wasn't perfect or toxically positive, it was inherently sinful. Everything could be solved by more prayers, or quiet times, a phrase that still is super triggering to me today. Hope was presented as fragile and fleeting, based on emotions and good feeling. Delicate, and ethereal, seemed elusive, and only given to the best of us.
I learned early in life that hope was dangerous, untrustworthy and painful; things I hoped for rarely came to pass, so I grew hope-resistant. For me as an Enneagram 5, I would rather research and learn and arm myself with knowledge than trust in hope.
But, if 2020 has taught me anything, it has taught me the truth about hope. Hope is not a delicate flower, easily crushed by reality. Hope is a white-knuckled warrior, bruised and bloody. It can be an ember that glows deep with inside of us or a raging fire that bursts out of our pores. It is gritty, dirty, messy and passionate. Hope is resistant to the ways of the world that continue to push forth harmful narratives and binaries that seek to smother who we really are. It is active and moving. It is participatory as Barbara Brown Taylor says. It is intangible, it's intentional and tangible. It's creative and creating. Hope does not seek perfection; it longs for us to practice. Hope is not just about joy. Hope has room for anger, and sadness, and doubt, as well as contentment and love. Hope allows for vulnerability and hope allows for strength. It allows for dreams and it allows for death. There is no one way to hope.