"Hope Helps Us See Clearly"


Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - December 3, 2000

Psalm 25:1-10; Jeremiah 33:14-16


     How many of us can remember the major drama that was taking place in our country a year ago? We did not have the Presidential election still undecided, but we had the Y2K issue. A number of authorities on the subject were issuing statements cautioning that a major computer glitch might cause possible oil shortages, problems with air traffic controllers, and confusion in some of our financial institutions.

     One of our neighbors had several cords of wood delivered. Some of us probably withdrew a little more cash from our savings than we normally do. The majority of Americans, however, engaged in something called "hope." They felt confident that if problems occurred, our country was well equipped with capable people who would make the necessary adjustments. They could not be bothered with fears to the contrary, and they gave the subject only a passing consideration. The media made it seem as though we were on the verge of a global shut down. We were not.

     The stores were not depleted of toilet paper. Grocery stores had no sudden drop in their inventories. Only a small percentage of people hoarded supplies. Life went on. The well-known saying, "This, too, shall pass" was true as it always is. Hopeful people are the ones who are always saying it. Unpleasant days come and go.

     This morning we are going to be looking at how hope energizes our perceptions. Everyone loves to be around hopeful people. They lift our spirits. They help us see that nothing could be as bad as we seem to delight in making it. They energize us with their "Everything will work out" attitudes. They see well beyond the horizon while we are concentrating on a life-issue that we fear is not going to go away. They tell us, "Come on! You are too self-absorbed. Life is bigger than what you are looking at!" And, if we are smart, we will listen to them.

     One of the remarkable pieces of our nation's history surfaced during the days when owning slaves was justified by the wealthy as "a God-given right." Many slaves recognized that freedom was not going to come in their lifetime. And yet something about them was not held captive by such a fear.

     Their minds and spirits were not confined by their physical captivity. Instead their hope inspired the Negro Spirituals that became their signature. Their spirit became the roots that gave expression to many forms of music that have become unique to American culture. At harvest time, the cotton fields were alive with the sound of music. Hope was in the air.

     The same was true in Jeremiah's time. Babylon was on the rise and Jeremiah knew that eventually his people would be enslaved. The book of Jeremiah ends with the Babylon's army removing the people of Judah and taking them into exile. In preparing his people for this, he wrote of God's plan for salvation. He wrote that a king would come who will rule with righteousness and justice. It was this hope and vision that sustained them during their captivity. Sometimes only a dream sustains us for a future we shall never see. Yet there are times when we are in the dream and remain asleep.

     Recent generations are living in a world that was dreamed about by our ancestors. For thousands of years, people looked forward to times of sustained peace and prosperity for the majority of the world's people. They looked forward to a day when people would have enough food, where jobs were plentiful, and where nations would help each other during a crisis simply on the basis of a request.

     Today, people are increasingly experiencing a world at peace. In America, most of us have a home to live in, a job that needs us, no armies threatening our borders, and still a number of us appear lost in despair. People who do not have hope as the means of seeing clearly, will always find issues about which to worry. Angry people always find new issues that will anger them. Judgmental people will always find new flaws on the landscape. For needy people, nothing will ever be good enough and no one will ever live up to their expectations. It takes people of hope to see clearly. It takes people of hope to appreciate and live in our world with joy.

     This does not mean that painful episodes will be absent from our lives. It means that we have a horizon that is far more energizing and powerful than the pain of a momentary upset. Our children will one day grow up. Partners of a broken marriage eventually do move on. Toxic people at the office will eventually experience the consequences of their attitudes. Our lives do change and the unexpected is only that and nothing more.

     The source of our hope is the same as it was in Jeremiah's day. God is with us every moment of every day. There is no experience that will not serve us by helping us become more skilled and refined. That is how God designed creation. When we understand that God is with us every moment, we experience creation much differently. It is God's process of refinement that we are experiencing. When Jesus said, "Follow me," he never meant that we would be doing so alone.

     Our fear will take every opportunity to tell us, "You have failed! You have nothing to offer! The world is filled with terrible people! You have lost favor with God!" When we have hope, it destroys such a false, self-defeating, self-destructive voice. Hope helps us see clearly.

     On this first Sunday of Advent, we need to wash out our ears with the invitation to look beyond any circumstance that may currently be holding our attention. If we have missed learning how hope can energize our vision, we need to revisit it. Circumstances are messes only because of our judgment about them. To people with a hope-guided vision, such circumstances represent opportunities. Hope helps us see clearly. Hope gives us perspective. Hope reminds us that God is always with us.

THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER

     We thank you, God, for creating us with the ability to have faith. For faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, and to be certain of the things we cannot see. Yet we live in a world where our understanding is clouded by fears. We trust in relationships that change. We place our security and comfort in what is tangible. Our appetites guide us away from what would nourish. This morning we pray for the faith that will heal our spirits. May we wait upon your coming with thankful hearts. May we enjoy what we have instead of dwelling on what we lack. May we see our hurts as stepping stones to growth. And may our hope rest completely in you to guide us safely through all that we experience. Amen.

THE PASTORAL PRAYER

     Loving God, we come into your presence this morning hungry to renew our lives as we experience the unfolding themes of Advent. All of us have moments that challenge us. We experience events that evoke stress. We walk through the valleys of our losses. We encounter times when our world is not what we would like it to be. Yet you created us with the capacity for hope. We can embrace the lesson in each challenge, rise above our stress, know the valleys so we could enjoy the mountain peaks, and be in a world that needs light.

     Thank you, loving God, for helping us to remember who we are and how you equipped us to bring to each moment the vitality of your presence. As we prepare ourselves to welcome again your son into our world, may we do so with grateful hearts. Thank you for his coming to us. Thank you that through him we have learned how to love each other. Thank you for his invitation to follow so we might live in his world and thus be the leaven for our own.

     May our faithfulness to you become a point of entrance for others to learn about you. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .