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Sermons: “The Challenge of Hope

We have read for long years that faith, hope, love abide, but the greatest of these is love. But today, following a day like no other, raises hope to the pinnacle of these three sustaining human responses to life.

“A Promise through the ages rings” are the opening words of one of our hymns. I believe this, and today I believe that hope is the promise that through the ages rings. It is what has enabled people of African American descent to hold on to their faith in God and in life through their long years of slavery, and in the aftermath of oppression, injustice and inequality. It is what sustains all of us in our lives everyday, through the big and little struggles that confront us and challenge hope.

The hope that people have held for freedom and equality, for justice and respect has been beaten down time and time again in this nation by those who denied the Bill of Rights that affirms that all men are created equal. We are not yet to the place that Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed of when he spoke in Washington, DC, on August 28, 1963, saying “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’…That with this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.”

Last November we here in the United States went to the polls to vote for our next President. In the process of selecting Barack Hussein Obama as the Democratic candidate we had also affirmed in many ways Hilary Rodham Clinton as a viable woman candidate for the highest office in the land. It was a heady time for women and for African Americans, and by fiat, for all who had never dared to hope that one of their kind could attain that pinnacle of achievement. Hope was abounding in our souls, we began to believe that our hope for such equality and respect for people of color, for women, indeed for all, including gay/lesbian/bi and transgendered people could really happen this time.

Barack said, “Yes we can.” And so we did.

But hope has been challenged so many times before, and been brought to its knees battered and nearly destroyed by the realities of the hatred and prejudice that barred the way. None of us here can fully relate to the emotions Alice Walker evoked in her letter to President Obama, but we can stand beside her—and now, beside him and face the challenges to hope that now has a more powerful chance of survival than ever before in the history of this nation.

The challenges to this hope are cause for legitimate concern. Throughout our nation’s history proclamations and laws have been declared and enacted only to come to the harsh understanding that they did not guarantee what they decreed.

But as a Boston Globe editorial tracing the relationships between Martin Luther King, Jr. and various Presidents stated: “Much remains to be done to achieve racial justice, but on the eve of the Obama inauguration, progress needs to be acknowledged as well. As Obama said at the groundbreaking for the King memorial in Washington in 2006, ‘By dint of vision and determination, and most of all faith in the redeeming power of love… he finally inspired a nation to transform itself, and begin to live up to the meaning of its creed.’”

On Tuesday we empowered ourselves and this nation to live that creed. Now we must stand beside and behind President Barack Obama and do our part to meet head on the challenges to the hopes that this has instilled within the hearts and souls of millions of Americans, and around the world.

When then President-elect Obama spoke on Saturday, January 17th at the first Inaugural event at the Lincoln Memorial he told us what we need to understand as we prepare to rise to face the challenges that face us as a nation and him as our President. He said: “But never forget that the character of our nation is revealed not during times of comfort and ease, but by the right we do when the moment is hard..”

Amid the joy and elation, amid the hope in our hearts lies the hard knowledge of the realities this nation currently faces. We all know what they are. Many of us have personal experience with the loss of a job, college debt, low or no health insurance, loss of pension and 401K nest eggs, discrimination for who we are and discrimination in the places we work. These are personal. Then we add those of us who have ones we love in the military forces trying to do the right thing to protect this nation at home and to win a war far away. The challenges to hope are real. It is our task now to keep hope alive.

Where can we look for the reasons to believe that hope will prevail this time? What is required of us? We can understand that racism is not divinely created nor is it carved in stone into the human psyche. It is a human social construct that we can dismantle. President Obama has called us to continue “the long march of those who came before us, a march for a more just, more equal citizenship under the law… that what we have seen is that America can change. That is the true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope—the audacity of hope—for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.”

We are reminded that the Emancipation Proclamation was issued January 1, 1863. One hundred years and 7 months later Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. Forty five years later we have elected our first African American President. Progress may move slowly, but it does move. And for the freedom and equality of those who served as slaves in this nation, time has accelerated. The audacity of hope is a little less audacious today than it was just forty-five years ago. Today we have a tangible reason to believe and trust in hope.

But we are not in the promised land that Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed of. Yet, at this time, as a result of this election, the American people can look at the crushing challenges to hope and say, with the words of President Obama, “Not this time.” Not this time can our hopes be crushed and destroyed. Not this time can our hopes be ridiculed as unreasonable. Not this time can our hopes be doubted. Not this time can our trust in the future be broken. Not this time. Because we have crossed a river, a line, a barrier into a different future.

For us, it is time for our work to begin. It is time for us to respond to the call from our new President to believe in hope and to work for it. He said, “…the …thing that gave me hope from the day we began the campaign for the presidency… [is]a belief that if we could just recognize ourselves in one another and bring everyone together… then not only would we restore hope and opportunity in places that yearned for both, but maybe, just maybe, we might perfect our union in the process. This is what I believed, but you made this belief real. You proved once more that people who love this county can change it. As I prepare to assume the presidency, yours are the voices I will take with me everyday when I walk into that Oval Office. “…I ask you to help reveal [the character of this nation] once more, and together, we can carry forward as one nation, and one people, the legacy of our forefathers that we celebrate today.”

In closing, my prayer is that we will do the “right” thing in the hard moments ahead and work for justice, equality and equity, exercise patience in the long haul to bring about the change we need, and a modicum of humor to help keep alive the twinkle in President Barack Obama’s eyes, the engaging smile on his face and that audacious hope in his heart.

Copyright: The author has given Unitarian Universalist Association member congregations permission to reprint this piece for use in public worship. Any reprints must acknowledge the name of the author.

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Last updated on Monday, March 25, 2013.

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