"We Must Live Our Hope"
Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - December 2, 2007
Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:10-14
Fear is an enormously powerful stimulant that has the ability to rob people of every ounce of hope. We hear fear's indwelling presence when people say, This isn't going to work! I am not happy anymore! I don't feel comfortable in these circumstances! Hopeless is always about how people feel about their external circumstances. What an energy drain!
Who wants to be around someone who is looking for others to save them from the way they are choosing to process life. Apparently Jesus did by teaching his listeners how to transform the way they think.
People through the ages who have not learned how to survive and thrive in their circumstances have tended to look forward to the coming of a savior. These saviors can come in many forms. In former times, hope for a coming savior could take the form of a liberating army, or the rising to power of a just and righteous king.
In more modern times, we go to the polls on Election Day, hoping beyond hope that someone or group will help our society accelerate in a direction different from its present course. In other words, people in all ages have expected salvation to come from some external source, a source that will fix the problems that people face in their material world.
In our lesson today, Paul is urging people to awaken from their spiritual slumber. He wrote, When we will be saved is closer now than it was when we first believed. The night is nearly over, day is almost here. Was he really telling his readers that salvation was just around the corner? It might appear that this is so, but he started the passage with these words, If you love others, you will never do them harm; to love, then, is to obey the whole Law.
Salvation has to do with something people must do, some attitude they had to give away, some new habits that would form as a result of their new understanding about life and their relationship with God. This has nothing to do with Works verses Faith debate; rather it has to do with the spirit people exude in all of life's circumstances.
When the Jews were held captive in Babylon, for example, they longed for a savior. They longed for someone to rescue them. They longed to return and rebuild their Temple in Jerusalem. In the book of Jeremiah, God said, Stop hoping for such conditions. Build houses where you are and settle down. Plant gardens and eat what you grow in them. Then let your children get married, so that they also may have children. Work for the good of the cities where you are. Pray to me on their behalf because when they prosper, so will you. (Jeremiah 29:5-7)
Let us now consider the quality of Hope that Jesus demonstrated. It was identical to what God spoke through Jeremiah. Consider Jesus circumstances at the end of his life. He was betrayed by one of his chosen disciples. His closest friends abandoned him. As he hung on the cross, people on the ground mocked him, If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.
What was it about Jesus' circumstance that provided hope? Absolutely nothing. Hope was not found during this final chapter of his life; hope was inside his heart, mind and spirit. He was communicating what Hope looked like because he knew he had overcome the worst his enemies could do to him.
There is also the sunny side to hope. When we live the hope that God is with us, that God works through us and that God's will is being done in spite of what we think about it, there is a radiance that cannot be hidden from others.
Each time I find myself with a group of United Methodist pastors, I find men and women who are frequently discouraged. There is tension in many of their churches. Their people are not happy about one thing or another and many of these ministers personalize all these unmet needs of their congregations. Many pastors hemorrhage emotionally and spiritually. It is sad.
When I look at our congregation, you are not demanding of me. You are not throwing verbal spears at me when I fail to live up to your expectations. Why? If anything just the opposite has happened. I am one minister among many of you.
When Kendrick left, people offered their services to help fill the vacuum created by his departure. You are one amazing congregation. I am not telling you this simply to make you feel good. It is true. I am one of your biggest cheerleaders. Our congregation shows everyone what it looks like to give hope a visibility that helps people learn a better way to interpret their circumstances.
None of us is without our faults, but we are busy making hope visible in our committee projects, in buying and wrapping gifts for kids whose parent or parents are in our county=s detention center, in knitting lap robes being woven for our veterans returning from Iraq and in our preparations for Warm Nights when homeless people come into our church to be fed and spend the night in a warm and caring environment.
We could go on and on with our individual and collective roles as we serve people where and when we can. No one has time to carp about failures and perceived injustices in our midst. I am sure they exist, but as Paul wrote to the Romans, If you love others, you will never do them harm; to love, then, is to obey the whole Law. When hopeful people stand in the midst of others facing discouraging episodes in their lives, an opportunity is presented to them to change how they think. What may discourage someone who feels hopeless, may encourage someone else who is looking at a new horizon of possibilities.
We are not talking obedience to any law here; we are talking about an outlook, an attitude or living with a hopeful predisposition. If someone in our congregation is not as sharp in their communication and people skills as we would like, most of us respond with respect, understanding and tolerance. We are frequently inspired by a person who is filled with passion about something they want to see happen in our church. In fact, we applaud such creativity as we direct each other to express our passions in ways that create a stronger church family.
Having passion to change the thought patterns people were using to create their attitudes is what Jesus was all about during his ministry. He invited us to follow. As we come to the table this morning, let us be grateful and hopeful as we patiently wait Jesus= coming again into our lives.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Eternal and ever faithful God, there are moments when we feel as did the people of old. While the future is far from certain, we look forward to the unfolding of your will. We are people of faith. We are people who seek your guidance, trusting that we will become instruments of peace. Our values may clash with those who are not like us, but perceiving with hope is our witness to the world. Bad news appears everywhere, but our hope helps us to rise above what we fear. Be with us, O God, as we once again prepare ourselves for the coming of light into our awareness. Help us to find new meaning in our familiar Advent experiences. Send a shaft of light to pierce our hearts, minds and spirits with understanding. Help us to remember that hope molds the clarity of all that we experience. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
What a wonderful time of year in which we find ourselves, O God. These days are a remarkable period in our lives when we can sense the miracle of Christmas again. 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 transform our shopping centers into places that are filled with music, lights and color.
"What a wonderful time of year in which we find ourselves, O God. These days are a remarkable period in our lives when we can sense the miracle of Christmas again. 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 transform our shopping centers into places that are filled with music, lights and color.
We pray, O God, that as we go through the days of Advent that we will treasure your presence in all of it. Enable us to see through the decorated trees, the tinsel and the spiral-sliced hams to remember the great thing that you did by teaching us who you are through a form with which we could identify. Baby Jesus grew up to provide a window through which to see your nature. Thank you for such clarity and for the correction to the image of you that many early writers had created for their readers. Now we have hope that your love will never fail us.
During these days of refection, we recognize our poverty of spirit. Sometimes forgiving others is a challenge. Sometimes we hurt others with words we speak in haste. Sometimes we have left unused many of the skills and talents that you gave us when we were born. Yet Christmas communicates that in spite of who we have become thus far, your spirit became visible among us anyway. Bless us during Advent with a spirit of increased sensitivity that is more than ready to evolve beyond where we are at the moment. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .