"Dreaming The Impossible Dream"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - November 28, 2004

Isaiah 64:1-9; Isaiah 2:1-5

     This morning we lighted the Candle of Hope on our Advent Wreath.  The word “Hope” has the largest font on the cover of this morning’s bulletin.  Yet, if we try to define it, some of us would say that hope is a feeling of optimism when our world appears bleak.  Others might say that it is a positive attitude that remains a constant in our daily experience.  Still others might say that hope is a Pollyanna attitude that will get us injured or killed because we live in an extremely hostile world. 

     I enjoy studying Metaphysics because it is the study of the invisible sources of energy that have profound influences over the quality of our thoughts and emotions.   Hope is one of these qualities.  We cannot see it.  We can only observe the result when someone has it.  Behavioral scientists do not know where hope originates.  Hope is not necessarily associated with any religious belief since agnostics and atheists frequently experience it.  We do not understand why one person will choose to cling to it while another person simply gives up and surrenders to what appears to be the inevitable.  

     For example, one person can have a very difficult time during a divorce and remain bitter for over a decade. Another person might say, “What I’ve been through has been very sad, but I am hopeful that I will find someone who really wants to be my partner for the rest of my life.”  Where does this difference in attitude come from? 

     One set of parents can lose a son to cancer, spiral into depression and hold angry feelings toward a Creator who must allow such a thing.  Another set of parents can gather their energy and sponsor a golf tournament to raise money to find a cure.   

     Early this past Friday morning, I was invited to open such a tournament with prayer for Chris and Hannah Kelley.  Last year they raised over $25,000 for cancer research in memory of their son, Brice.  Ninety-four golfers showed up to help with this cause.           

     While visiting Glenn Swisher recently at Arundel Hospital, I was told that Johns Hopkins could not keep him because certain hospital protocols had not been met.  He told me that he was getting weaker by the day.   I told him not to give up hope.  He smiled and said, “Don’t worry about that, Dick.  Right now hope is all I’ve got.”  Fortunately, because of a new medication, Glenn’s hope has a new ally.           

     We could go on and on describing illustrations where hope has sustained people’s emotional stability and zeal for living while facing very formable circumstances.  Hope has inspired such statements as “This, too, shall pass.” Or “It is always the darkest just before the dawn.”  Hope gives people the ability to look beyond the emotional turmoil, doubts and fears of the moment to a day when all will be well.  Hope reveals our resilience as human beings.

     This morning our two lessons reflect that hope is a quality that has been found even among the most ancient of people.  Two authors, separated by more than a century, wrote the passages for today’s lessons even though their written material has been gathered and placed in the same book of Isaiah.  

     The first author wrote, “A day is coming when God will teach us what He wants us to do; we will walk in the paths God has chosen.  God will settle disputes among the nations.  They will hammer their swords into plows and their spears into pruning hooks. Nations will never again go to war and never again prepare for battle.”  (Isaiah 2:3-4)           

     This vision, this world-view was composed 2,700 years ago.  Isaiah understood more about the mind of God than perhaps most of us.  He knew that the will of God could not be interrupted by anything that we humans are capable of doing.  The fact that one-day world peace will happen was not in doubt by Isaiah.  The timing of this moment in history is beyond human comprehension, but the authors of both passages were confident that a day would dawn when men and women will have outgrown their need for hostility as a means of dealing with each other.           

     Think about this, 228 years ago early Americans declared their independence from England.  Consider some highlights from our history.  Unprepared settlers struggled through fierce winters for which they were unprepared.  There were inhospitable conditions as pioneers moved westward, a Civil War and a time when a major disease left few families untouched by death.  

     Americans have survived corrupt politicians, the practices of powerful big businesses and the rise of trade unions. Our history is like a chronicle of hardships and the deeds of unscrupulous people who grabbed the headlines much like they do today.  In spite of these conditions the collective will of the people prevailed.  

     228 years is insignificant when compared to Isaiah’s vision 2,700 years ago. Yet today, between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, America has become a teaming population mostly made up of people who hope that tomorrow’s world will be even better than the one we have today.  

     However, if we navel gaze and overly analyze what is happening in our communities and in the lives of the world’s people, we would swear that our earth is doomed, that we are facing problems we cannot solve and that fear will forever stalk the planet.  Such thoughts of “doom and gloom” have been present in every generation.  Our hope always carries us forward.  Even our worst fears are rooted in hope that one-day life will be better. 

     A friend of mine in Washington State recently sent a picture to me that was taken in 1954.  The caption of that picture reads, Scientists from the RAND Corporation have created this model to illustrate how a “home computer” could look like in the year 2004.  However, the needed technology will not be economically feasible for the average home.  Also the scientists readily admit that the computer will require not yet invented technologies to work, but 50 years from now scientific progress is expected to solve these problems.  With Teletype interface and the Fortran language, the computer will be easy to use. 

     The picture above this caption is fascinating when we look at today’s flat screen laptops being used by many of our junior high school students.

     If anyone is interested in seeing this monstrosity, the picture of the Rand Corporation’s home computer is hanging on the kiosk in the narthex.  This is one example among thousands that demonstrates how quickly humanity is capable of solving problems.

     Not only have we moved very quickly to solve so many technological problems, but we also have worked on what we want our communities to become.  America could have evolved into 50 individual countries. Americans opted, instead, for a centralized Federal Government and we call ourselves the United States.  We can travel to Maine, Florida, California and Washington and simply take what we find for granted.  Try doing that in Europe.  Try doing that in Africa. 

     The Isaiah scripture has been fulfilled in this country in 228 years even though there are many doubters.  Our states exist in peace.  Now radiating such a spirit is up to each individual.  We do not have standing armies in individual states.  Neighboring states have never attacked Texas or Pennsylvania because of their oil reserves.   Instead of hostility, another attitude and posture has been assumed.

     When we choose not to judge the whole by the misdeeds of the few, we will discover something wonderful that may inspire our hope even further. As a nation we have learned to share.  We have learned to serve one another through the jobs we do.  We have learned to hope for a future that is better than the one that we have today. This will not be a day that is given to us by God; this day will arrive when humanity awakens to the possibilities available to all of us when peace and cooperation reign.    

     Much of our culture has been the result of the faith of our founding fathers and mothers.  It took the collective will of those faithful to God thousands of years ago to foresee a day when the lamb will lie down with the lion.  We have large pockets of individuals living within our borders from nearly every nation in the world. What we have in America works for the majority of us.  When we serve one another, the idea of community flourishes.

     We have been evolving our sense of community for only 228 years. As we look at our nation’s foreign policies, America needs to stop pontificating about what other countries need to do within their borders. We have to recognize that not all people are ready for freedom or for the responsibilities associated with a democracy that no one handed to us. 

     It takes time for the wisdom of certain ideas to evolve within cultures, particularly within cultures that have never known individual or spiritual freedom.  We stand with Isaiah, however, knowing that one day God’s will for a peaceful world is what will unfold. 

     America’s best witness, our greatest gift to the world, is not Christianity, as awkward as that may sound.  In its current form, Christianity is too fragmented and confusing.  Newcomers to the faith have every right to ask, “Why is your ‘Body of Christ’ so divided?” 

     Try explaining to an inquiring Muslim the difference between a Roman Catholic, a Southern Baptist, and a member of the Assembly of God denomination.  Like governments, our religious leaders do not speak with one voice.  The hidden treasure lies within the collective will of people, not the leadership of the various religious organizations.  What Jesus taught is spreading.  The greatest gift we can give to the world is the cluster of ideas which enable people to live in community.

     For example, Christ may not be recognized in the hearts and minds of many people in China, but the seed of “serve one another” has been firmly planted there and it will spread.  Planting the seed of Hong Kong in China was a stroke of genius. China had nothing like Hong Kong existing within its borders.  The Chinese have had time to study that city and see how and why it works to get people clothing, food and shelter at the cheapest possible cost.  They are examining the results when people work together to create an environment we call a community, an environment where people serve one another.    

      Jesus invited his followers to become the leaven for the loaf and to be servants to each other.  His entire Sermon on the Mount was built on the foundation that God created us in God’s image and that we could display these qualities once we changed “me” to “we.” 

     People can be taught to contribute, to create and to build roads and bridges instead of machines of war.  It takes a new vision, a vision that Isaiah clearly discerned over two millennia ago.  Isaiah clearly had a vision that has unfolded in our lifetime.  We have what every generation has longed to see but our continued hope is that the future will be even brighter than today.

     Advent is the time when all of us look forward to the coming of one who would set the benchmarks for defining God’s nature, for defining our role and mission as human beings, and for providing a new definition for a community that is possible when “me” becomes “we.”

    We tend to look for the Holy Spirit working through our churches. We forget that when Christ was born, God was not working entirely through synagogues or the Temple. God was creating through a long sojourn of a very pregnant woman, during a period of taxation, to an inn that was too crowded. Soon a baby would be born in a barnyard that would begin a process that would transform the world.  God’s will is slowly unfolding.  All we humans can do through our continued hostility is cause that will to be delayed.

    This is why we light our candle of Hope.  The arrival of this child is what we eagerly await to celebrate anew, lest we forget what God’s gift communicates to all of us.  Dare we dream the impossible dream of world peace?  Believe it!  It is a sure thing because it is God’s will.  We stand with Isaiah and hope for that day to come, as our collective will increasingly understands the logic and wisdom of living the way God created us to be. 


    Eternal and ever faithful God, there are moments when we feel as did the people of old.  We feel uncertainty because our future remains unclear.  Guidance from you is frequently mixed with the other voices that call to us.  Our values clash with those who are not like us.  The demands of living pull us in many directions.  Yet we are ready to prepare ourselves for the coming of Light into our awareness.  While our celebration appears the same each year, enable us, O God, to prepare our hearts, open our minds and renew our spirits to the good news that hope does spring eternal in all things.  Surround us with Your Spirit to teach us that all is well with our souls.  As we prepare, may we communicate hope in our words and deeds.  Amen.


    What a wonderful time of year in which we find ourselves, O God.  It truly is a period in our lives when we are preparing for something wonderful.  Gradually, our homes become filled with seasonal smells.  Our communities find themselves alive with lights and symbols that announce to neighbors and friends that Christmas is coming.  Merchants put their best efforts into marketing the material things that we give to each other, making even our shopping centers places that are filled with music and color. 

    We pray, O God, that as we go through these moments of Advent that we will treasure your presence in all of it.  Enable us, even if only momentarily, to see through the tinsel, the hot sticky buns and the spiral-sliced hams to remember the great thing that you did by teaching us who you are through a form with whom we could identify. 

    We often fall short of the lofty achievements Jesus said we could accomplish.  Sometimes forgiveness is a challenge.  Sometimes we hurt others with our idle words.  Sometimes we leave unused many of the skills and talents that you gave us when we were born.  Yet Christmas reminds us that you came among us anyway because you could not stay away.  Bless us this season with opened eyes and a spirit that is more than willing to receive you anew.  We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .