Written by Pastor Ed
We’ll Always have Hope
February 21, 2016 – Lent 2
Phil. 3: 17 – 4:1
Luke 13: 31-35
One of my pastors growing up would often comment in the course of a church meeting or conversation that was becoming bogged down or turning pessimistic, “Well, at least we’ll always have Hope.” It was really a play on words, because while I’m sure he was convinced of the hope we have in Christ, he was also playfully referring to my mother, whose name was Hope.
What is it that gives you hope? Or are there times when hope seems far away? We know that one of the consequences of depression that often leads to suicide is that persons have lost all hope and see no way forward. I recently read the little book entitled Laughter is Sacred Space by Ted Swartz, half of Ted and Lee whom you’ve seen from time to time in skits I’ve shown, who deals honestly with the suicide of his partner, Lee. Even in the midst of a seemingly fulfilling career and life of faith, depression can ;ead to despair and loss of hope.
Yet, hope is a big word in scripture. When Paul in I Corinthians 13 recalls what will endure, he cites faith, hope and love. And in numerous stories of difficult times we hear how hope was vital. Some of us heard Amanda Lindhout speak several weeks ago and her story, while often seemingly hopeless, was filled with hope as she struggled to maintain her sanity during her time of captivity.
In order to have hope, we need to see some possibility for the future, some sense that today is not the end of the world as we know it. And sometimes that’s difficult. Especially in a world that tells us every day about the threat of danger that is posed. Never mind that much of the danger is hyped by the media and politicians to push their agenda, there are real dangers out there, although most of the real dangers, like pollution, climate change, and so on, don’t get talked about.
Instead we are told to fear other people’s agendas, immigrants, terrorists, anything that isn’t “us.” If you watch the news, read the newspaper or follow news online, you would get the impression that we might as well give up now and just retreat into our own little world and not let anyone else in. It’s sometimes very hard to find stories of hope, even though they are happening all the time.
But that’s not new, and we sometimes forget that the people of most every age have felt that way, sometimes in even worse situations. The exiles in Babylon in the days of Ezekiel or the 1st century populations of the Middle East who were under the oppression of the Roman rulers all felt despair and often could find little hope. And yet, the scriptures which come from those periods are full of hope.
“The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” writes the Psalmist. In the face of an army, or even the rejection of parents, the psalmist sees God as the source of hope and a way forward. Paul, writing to a church in Philippi, urges them to stand firm even in the face of persecution. And Jesus weeps over a Jerusalem who has forgotten where their hope lies, and vows to continue his work, even in the face of threats from Herod.
As we tell our stories, what do we choose to focus on? The things that cause us fear, or the things that give us hope? As Amanda Lindhout told her story she told of the desperation of her situation, but then as a crucial moment, at the time when she thought she might lose all hope, she began to focus not on the desperation of her situation, but rather on even the tiniest of positives. She began to see her captors as humans who were also suffering, she began to notice birds singing. And as she focused more on the positive, as little as there was, she began to have hope.
When you read the stories of the martyrs throughout the centuries you find some of the same emphases. We don’t read the Martyrs Mirror much these days, but it is filled with stories of people who went to their deaths because of their faith. Yet it is a book filled with accounts of people filled with praise to God because they, like the Psalmist, knew that there was a victory far greater than this life.
That’s maybe hard for many of us to imagine and yet it is indeed what we are called to. And I would challenge us this morning to think about what gives us hope and how we can portray that to the world around us that is desperately in need of hope.
This morning we pledged our support and prayers to Ben and Mamissa and Sikila, as we have done with the other children among us. That’s a sign of hope. I recall discussions with friends back in the 70s who said they were not going to have children because the world was in such a mess that they didn’t want ot bring children into a world that had so little future.
Bringing children into the world is a sign of hope, just as planting trees or caring for the environment is a sign of hope. All of those acts look into the future, even though we may not be there to see the results. In his famous “I have a Dream” speech, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. talks about the dream he has, although he acknowledges that “I may not be there to see it with you.” I find it amazing sometimes to think of people who began massive projects – cathedrals, things like Mt. Rushmore – who have little hope of seeing the project brought to completion.
Hope looks beyond the immediate and takes a longer view of life and history. One of the questions I was taught to ask in counseling is, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” It’s an interesting question to pose to ourselves when we find ourselves losing hope. And you can’t just stop with the first simple answer, but keep pushing it – and if that happens, what’s the worst that could happen?
Ultimately we discover that the thing we were most afraid of isn’t all that scary after all. And what’s the worst thing most people can think of? Well, usually it’s death. But as Paul reminded the Philippians, “Our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.
That’s what this season of Lent is all about; remembering the story of one who faced death and conquered it. Death has been swallowed up in victory, Paul says in I Cor. 15 and therefore it is no longer to be feared. If that’s the worst thing we can think of, then we have little to fear for if we believe that Christ has been raised; if that that’s the story we tell again and again from year to year, then death will have lost its sting.
Then we too will be able to say with the Psalmist, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” One of the interesting things to me is that it is often those people who are in the direst situations who are able the most fully to embrace that thought. Such is the history of the next hymn, often called the Black National Anthem. Written by two brothers at the turn of the 20th century, it speaks to the struggle of African Americans and their hopes, but it is much more than that, for it voices the Christian hope of all people.
In the spirit of the psalms, the first verse is a song of praise. The second speaks a lament for the struggles of life, and the third verse voices a prayer that we might stand firm, even in the face of ongoing struggle. Ultimately it is a song of hope, knowing that the future is in God’s hands, and therefore we need not fear.
As noted last week, each week there will be a time for response and today that time comes during our sharing time. While you are free to share prayer concerns, I would invite a number of you to also share your response to the question, What gives you hope? Where do you see signs of hope around you?