Sermon preached April 19, 2015
Texts: I John 3:1-7; Luke 24:34b-48
Dusty Springfield, “Wishin’ and Hopin’” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ycbgHM1mI0k
Wishing and hoping and thinking and praying and planning and dreaming each night of his charms; that won’t get you into his arms. “Hope” can often come across as a rather weak concept. To say, “I hope I can do this,” often betrays a lack of strong confidence that you really can do it. The American Heritage Dictionary, in its first definition of hope reads: to wish for a particular event that one considers possible.
Hope can seem as weak as “Pie in the sky.” It can be like the television character George Castanza pondering his career options following quitting his job impetuously – perhaps he could be the general manager of a baseball team, or an announcer – except he has no experience, or a projectionist – except he doesn’t know how to run a projector, or a talk show host – except he has no idea where to begin (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2LCggmsCXk4).
When our Capital Campaign Steering Committee met a few days ago, and, by the way, just because we moved the active part of the campaign until fall does not mean I am going to mention it every week until then, when we met we were discussing theme ideas, and the word hope was part of our conversation, but someone noted the possible weakness of that word, “hope.” We can understand why.
But hope that is little more than wishing is not biblical hope, not hope as hope is seen in Christian faith. See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are…. We are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.
In the Bible, hope is not a passive mind game, sitting around wishing the world were different or our lives were different. Biblical hope is a deep trust that God is up to something in our lives and in our world. We are God’s children, the people of God, and God keeps working in our lives, and there is more ahead. Such hope moves us to think, dream, imagine and live differently.
The Greek word used for “hope” here, is a word the Greek philosopher Plato used to talk about an impulse toward the good, something active. The other key word in this passage is “pure,” and again the Greek is interesting. The root word for pure here has something to do with that which awakens awe. Hope is an active power and energy moving us toward the good, the beautiful, toward God’s dream for the world of peace, justice, reconciliation and love. Hope is an active power and energy moving each of us toward our most awesome self. Those who have this hope purify themselves.
Biblical hope is not merely wishing. German theologian Jurgen Moltmann, who spent a number of months as a prisoner of war in World War II, has written powerfully about the biblical concept of hope. Moltmann argues that Christian hope is “the divine power that makes us alive in this world” (Love: The Foundation of Hope, 4). He writes that Christian hope is a hope which does not deceive or limit us in our human freedom but opens up for us new horizons of the future… which incites us for the future, emboldens us for freedom, inflames us for the possible, thereby subduing our depression and melancholy over the present state of our lives and society (The Experiment Hope, 16).
There is a great deal in our world that leaves us with feelings of melancholy. ISIS in Syria, Boko Haram in Nigeria, Al-Queda in the Arabian Penninsula in Yemen, school killings in Kenya and Pakistan are all reminders of our volatile world and of how far away peace seems to be. Recent incidents in our community and nation have reminded us of the tenacity of racism. We are becoming much more aware of the issues of sex trafficking – the awareness is a good thing, but the reality of human trafficking should haunt us. The sociologist Robert Putnam, who will be speaking at an event sponsored by the Duluth-Superior Area Community Foundation, in his most recent book Our Kids, writes about the widening opportunity gap in the United States. The opportunity gap has widened dramatically, partly because affluent kids now enjoy more advantages than affluent kids then [1950s], but mostly because poor kids now are in much worse shape than their counterparts then (29). Poor kids, through no fault of their own, are less prepared by their families, their schools, and their communities to develop their God-given talents as fully as rich kids (230). We wish the world were different, and are disappointed that we have not made more progress. Our public discourse has moved from the ideas of Franklin Roosevelt who advocated for a second bill of rights which would include: The right to a useful… job; The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation; The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living; The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad; The right of every family enjoy good health; The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident and unemployment; The right to a good education; or the ideas of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society - The Great Society rests on abundance and liberty for all. It demands an end to poverty and racial injustice, to which we are totally committed in our time. But that is just the beginning. The Great Society is a place where every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind and to enlarge his talents. It is a place where leisure is a welcome chance to build and reflect, not a feared cause of boredom and restlessness. It is a place where the city of man serves not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community; to much more diminished horizons. We wish it were different.
More personally, many of us have struggled with issues in our lives that seem to hang on tenaciously, habits that we would like to break, new patterns of behavior that we would like to begin that we just can’t get started. We wish it were different.
But biblical hope is not just wishing it were different. It is a power and an energy rooted in God’s love for humanity and God’s grace toward humanity, that moves us to think, dream, imagine and live differently.
For me no sermon on hope would be complete without a reference to Anne Lamott, who articulated my favorite definition of hope: Hope is… about choosing to believe this one thing, that love is bigger than any grim, bleak [stuff] anyone can throw at us (Plan B, 275). But for Lamott it is more than choosing to believe, it is choosing to believe and act on that belief. She offers this idea of hope in an essay describing her trip to Park City, Utah with her friend Sue who had terminal cancer. It is an essay about love and death and hope and Easter. The thing about Easter is that Jesus comes back from the dead both resurrected and broken, with wounds from the nails still visible. People needed to see that it really did happen, the brutality, the human death. He came back with a body… a wounded body (272). Death and pain and brutality are real, but so is love, and hope is believing that love is bigger and stronger and can be embodied in flesh and bone, too.
Easter hope is a power and an energy. It is trusting that love wins, and so we love. It is trusting that the arc of history bends toward justice, and so we do justice. It is trusting that beauty is tenacious and timeless, and so we create beauty. Hope opens up for us new horizons of the future. It emboldens us for freedom, inflames us for the possible. Hope is the divine power that makes us alive in this world, and so we live fully alive. Hope is, to use the words of a hymn, the fire of love in our flesh and our bone.
One last story. This past Thursday, a friend of mine, and fellow United Methodist clergyperson, Lyndy Zabel came to Duluth to get a sense of some of the mission opportunities in the area. He is currently part-time Director of Missions for the Minnesota Conference of The United Methodist Church. Lyndy wanted to see Ruby’s Pantry. He also wanted to find out more about CHUM and Harbor House so I arranged some time with Lee Stuart of CHUM and Barb Certa-Werner of Harbor House. As Lee was describing some of the work of CHUM, Lyndy asked about the faith-base in the staff. Lee said that many of the staff had a faith community, and many others did not. Then she said how doing this kind of work, work which began for her in the South Bronx, really heightened her desire for and need for a faith community and a lively faith. She needs the energy and enlarging perspective of her faith to help her do her work. She told me I could share this story. What she describes is biblical hope, the power and energy to work toward the good and beautiful and just, even when one confronts a lot of grim bleak stuff. It is not simply wishing things were different, it is working to make them so, and trusting that the good done is never lost.
We are God’s children right now, but God has more in store for us and for our world. What is yet to come remains on the horizon. Hope is an active power and energy moving us toward the good, the beautiful, toward God’s dream for the world of peace, justice, reconciliation and love. Hope is an active power and energy moving each of us toward our most awesome self. May it be the fire of love in our flesh and our bone. Amen.