“The Lord said, ‘Rise and anoint him; for this is the one’”
(I Samuel 16:12b).

In 1862, Emily Dickinson penned the poem “Hope Is the Thing With Feathers.” Like much of her poetry, the poem is both imaginative and evocative, comparing hope to a bird that perches in one’s soul. For Dickinson, hope continues singing and “never stops — at all” despite the tumult of life. In the last stanza of the poem, she describes this great gift that inspires her freely, without demanding “a crumb” from the one who hopes:

I’ve heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest Sea
—Yet — never — in Extremity,
It asked a crumb — of me.

Hope continues to sing in the difficult, most chaotic of times and, in so doing, strengthens the poet’s resolve to keep moving, despite what life may throw at her. It demands nothing but sweetly sings and keeps one “warm” in the bitter cold.

One wonders if Samuel felt the same about his hope. In the reading from I Samuel for this week in Lent, Samuel is sent by God to anoint a new king after Saul has been found wanting. Fearing Saul’s vengeance but hoping that God has a new plan for his own safety and the safety of his people, Samuel journeys to the house of Jesse, where God reveals the young boy David to be the chosen one.

Is hope “the thing with feathers” when we’re confronted with such circumstances? Certainly, hope and trust in God inspired and encouraged Samuel. In hope, he undermined Saul by traveling with intent to Jesse’s house. In hope, he listened to the voice of God in seeing in David the leader God had chosen. 

Samuel’s hope was obviously “perched” deep in his soul, but it was far from an undemanding, free gift. The hope of Samuel was a challenge, forcing him to confront his fears of Saul and his own preconceptions about what a leader ought to look like. His hope for the future of Israel demanded that he let go of his own safety and his own perspective and see the world as God sees it: “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (I Samuel 16:7)

The fasting that so often accompanies Lent is, in some ways, training in learning to hope. In fasting, we are reminded of the many challenges that confront us and our world. Seeing these, we are inspired with ideas about what a fully reconciled future might look like in the reign of God. Yet, the story of salvation in the Bible is often the story of God challenging human preconceptions. For Samuel, as for Jesse, the idea that God’s chosen one would be not the oldest, strongest or most important of the seven sons but instead the youngest, smallest and least likely, David, challenged their ideas about what it takes to be a leader. Yet, in hope and trust, Samuel anoints David, and so begins a new era in the history of their people.

Hope and trust were not easy, either, for David or other leaders called by God to play important roles in the unfolding of God’s will for the people. Yet, hoping for the future promised by God, they took up the mantle of leadership, difficult and unexpected though it might have been. The hope fostered in the season of Lent is a challenging hope that demands much from us. It calls us to let go of our prejudgments and preconceptions.

It invites us to see as God sees, to give ourselves over in hope and trust to the role God has called us to play.For Jamie Stark, a lay mission developer in the Bay Area of California, that call to play a role in God’s plan began when he first learned about Holy Communion and the idea of “food as a gateway to God.” Inspired by the work he saw in El Salvador, Jamie moved to the Bay Area and co-founded Farming Hope, a farm-to-table job-training nonprofit organization, which is supported by ELCA World Hunger and the Sierra Pacific Synod of the ELCA.

Farming Hope provides transitional employment and job training to unhoused and low-income people in the community. As part of the program, participants learn to farm, grow and cook food — job skills and life skills that can help them earn a living to support themselves and their families. Farming Hope works with hiring partners to hire graduates of the program after they complete it.Farming Hope might not look like a church, but as Jamie describes it, “it is a holy place,” a place where relationships are formed and community is nurtured while basic vocational needs are met. 

Jamie’s vision of food as a gateway to God and the restoration of relationships that God intends is at the core of Farming Hope’s work. “When I sit at the table at Farming Hope’s restaurant in San Francisco (Manny’s), if I open my eyes, I see communion exactly as Jesus of Nazareth intended it to be — friends, eating intentionally ... we’re all welcome.”

For Jamie, seeing communion for what it is — a table at which all are welcome — and being inspired by the work he witnessed in El Salvador fostered hope that, by focusing on relationships built through food, Farming Hope could create opportunities for both jobs and community in San Francisco.

“The best place to start is at the table, breaking bread together,” he says. “That’s where you learn about one another — our needs, our hopes and dreams, our past and future — that kinship and camaraderie, the actual practice of those things. Jesus is the best example in history of this, how you create those opportunities for everyone to be a leader in their own way.” 

In a world where many images of leaders show people of power and resolve, brusquely making decisions and increasing the value of their organizations, Jamie shares a vision of an older, more authentic understanding of what it means to lead.