A Trail of Hope
by Tim Mooney
A Trail of Hope is woven through scripture. I will highlight only a few turns on this trail. The Trail of Hope leads to God’s place, where the Presence of God resides.
“In the beginning” God created out of nothing, or more accurately, out of God’s Being creation came into being, and God said, “It is very good.” The universe, and all the life in it, is of God. But humans, symbolized in the story of Adam and Eve, wanted the Presence for ourselves. We ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and we found ourselves East of Eden. The Trail of Hope was lost, or so we thought.
Then comes along conniving Jacob, stolen birthright in hand, running for his life. He has a dream – angels ascending and descending between heaven and earth, and he realizes, “Surely God is in this place and I didn’t know it!” This is a trail sign! God was in this place, but not just this place; every place. There is no place God is not.
Then, out of a bush, blazing but not consumed, Moses encounters the great “I Am.” Being itself, in a bush, the great “I Am,” in all things. And the “I Am” cares for an enslaved Hebrew tribe. The Hebrews are soon freed, but driven into the wilderness. They are provided manna, but desire to return to Egypt. Sometimes it’s easier to be enslaved, than be free. Jesus, too, is driven by the Spirit, into the wilderness, but he refuses to be enslaved to power, magic, and his Son-of-God-ness. The wilderness, untouched nature, is God’s place; it tests us, but only to make us see, to make us free.
Moses went up the mountain, and returned with the 10 commandments. God now resided in laws written on stone tablets, put in an ark. The Hebrews entered the Holy Land. Israel was allowed to have a King, a temple was built in Jerusalem, and the stone tablets were put in the Holy of Holies. Surely this was God’s place! But Kings were corrupt, Judges padded their own pockets, greed reigned, and justice suffered. Jerusalem, God’s place, was destroyed, and the people were hauled off into exile, several times. The Trail of Hope was nearly lost. But in Isaiah’s words we find the lost trail. He says to return to Jerusalem, to the temple, but not just to the place, but to the ways of the place, so “God may teach us God’s ways, and that we may walk in God’s paths.” And what are those paths? “Beat swords into plowshares, spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” This is the Trail of Hope: not a place, but the ways of love, compassion, justice, peace.
To realize this Presence of God in all people, and in all things, changes how we live.
In the beginning, all of creation, life itself, was of God, and how we treated everyone and every thing was based on the sacredness of all being. But we lost the Trail of Hope. We started to believe only certain places, certain foods, certain people, certain things were the place of God’s Presence.
Then comes Jesus, this child of questionable ancestry and birth. Love God, he says, and love your neighbor as yourself. He heals, and redefines the neighbor as the one who needs healing. He erases the lines between sacred and profane, he says the Kingdom of God is here in our midst, he identifies himself with the least of these. When he dies, the temple curtain is torn open. God’s place is not in the temple. God’s Presence is not containable, it is everywhere, as it was in the beginning. The Apostle Paul discovers the Trail of Hope when he hears Jesus say, “Why are you persecuting me?” Peter discovers the Trail of Hope when he hears, “What I have called clean you shall not call profane.”
The Incarnation is not just about Jesus, it is about the reality of all life. Matthew 25 points to this. When did we see you? The least of these, the ones who we think are the farthest from God, are where God resides. This is our trail of Hope. God is in all life, or even better, all of life is in God, “the one in whom we live move and have our being.”
Celtic Christianity put this beautifully when it spoke of the Big Book and the Little Book. The Big Book is nature, all of creation, the entire universe – it’s of God, full of God. The Little Book is the Bible. The Word of God is not just limited to the Bible. To say it another way, Jesus, the human, is a blue print. He points to the reality of Christ, the Presence of God, in all that is.
Jesus is a window and a mirror. As a window, through him we see the heart of God in his loving words and actions. As a mirror, when we see him, we see ourselves, all people, all creation. This is who we are. This is the Trail of Hope.
Where is God? Everywhere. In whom is God? That’s the wrong question. For it is God in whom we live, move, and have our being. And the ways of God, ask us to value and care for all life and all that supports life.
Earlier, we sang “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”. Emmanuel means “God with us”. How can we say “O Come, O Come” to the One who is already and always with us? Is this not a way of saying, “Awaken us, O God, to your Presence in all of life, in each one, in all things”? To realize this Presence of God in all people, and in all things, changes how we live. We will beat swords into plowshares, the lion will lie down with the lamb, we won’t learn war anymore. Jesus’ birth shows us who we are: Incarnations of the very life and love of God. Let us follow the Trial of Hope: the Spirit Incarnate in us, in creation, in all life. May it be so. Amen.