"Why Hope Eases Our Fears"
Sermon Delivered By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - November 29, 2009
Psalm 25:1-10; Luke 21:25-36
There has always been
speculation and theological disagreements about references to the The
Second Coming of Christ, teachings that have become highly protected
sacred cows among many Christians. A number of biblical scholars,
however, believe that such references in the Gospels were only
attributed to Jesus.
Our passage contains a verbal formula about the end times that is repeatedly found in the apocalyptic literature written during the 400 years between the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. During this Inter-Testamental period, times were so uncertain for the Jews that many of them were convinced that the end of world was eminent. God was going to send The Son of Man who would come on the clouds of heaven with the authority to execute judgment.
A number of scholars reason that it is probable Jesus never said these words because the world did not end as he predicted. A secondary point was that Jesus’ mission was to speak the truth about the Kingdom of God, a consciousness he was bringing into the world. (John 18:37) He did not use his teaching and healing ministry to talk about what he intended to do by coming back again. Jesus would have totally lost credibility among his followers. Any discussion of such points and counter points, however, is totally unproductive because there is little anyone can do to discern the truth in such a way that it would be satisfying to both camps. The hope that Jesus was teaching, however, is that human history is evolving in a unique direction according to the will of God.
Hope is a very powerful spiritual tool. This morning we are going to consider this theme in light of Jesus teaching that people should be full-participants in the world but they must not allow themselves to succumb to the world’s pressures, worries and cross-currents. Many of us have a very challenging time clinging to hope when we experience life-changes that evoke our worst fears.
A number of years ago a man named Melvin Konner sat with his brother in a waiting room just off the elevators in a Los Angeles hospital. His brother’s wife, Ronnie, was in the ICU where she was fighting for her life. His brother had given up hope that she would survive and had already moved on to dwelling on depressed thoughts of how he was going to manage without her.
As the two brothers sat there, the elevator doors opened and the movement of people caught Melvin’s attention. To his surprise, Jesse Jackson and his entourage got off the elevator. They headed down the corridor to visit Bill Cosby’s mother who was in one of the rooms on the same floor.
Melvin’s brother asked, “Do you think we could get him to say a prayer for Ronnie?” Melvin responded, “I don’t know. Why don’t you ask him?” Melvin’s brother got up and stood outside of Mrs. Cosby’s room. When Jesse came out Melvin’s brother said, “Excuse me, Rev. Jackson, my wife is in Intensive Care and she may not make it. I was wondering if you would stop in to see her for just a moment and perhaps offer a prayer for her. It would mean a lot to her and to our family.”
Jesse kept walking and asked about the nature of Ronnie’s illness. He asked about the family and the children. Instead of stopping at the elevators, he walked into ICU. “You can’t do this,” one of his aides said, “We have a flight to catch and we haven’t a moment to spare.” Jackson kept walking. “Rev. Jackson,” he persisted, “if we don’t catch this flight, we won’t make our connection to Chicago.” Jackson did not respond.
When Jesse entered Ronnie’s cubicle he invited only the family to join hands around Ronnie’s bed. Jesse had learned that the family was Jewish and this is part of the prayer that Melvin remembered:
O God! You parted the Red Sea and helped Daniel in the lion’s den. You performed many miracles for your people long ago, and we pray that you will perform a miracle again for Ronnie and her family. Touch her room. Touch her life. And give strength to her and to us all. In your name we pray. Amen.
When Jesse finished praying, Ronnie’s husband began to cry. He had been a Jew by race but not a Jew by belief or practice. In fact, he spent most of his life wavering between agnosticism and atheism. The power of the moment was so filled with love’s intensity that he could not stop sobbing. Jackson had a flight to catch but he put his schedule on hold. He took Ronnie’s husband into his arms and held him tightly as the man completely lost control. Only when the man stop crying ten minutes later, did Jesse say goodbye and leave. Everyone in that room had their hope rekindled. Ronnie pulled through her medical crisis.When our lives are supported by hope, we are in possession of a remarkable skill of the spirit. Only when we forget who God created us to be, do we succumb to the world’s pressures that can shake the foundations of our hope.
Israel’s hope enabled the Jews to look forward to the coming of a messiah. Imagine how hope sustains us when members of the medical community are scanning our bodies for what is causing our symptoms. Hope lifts us. Hope gives us courage to face anything. Hope gives us vision. Jesus said, “Be on watch and pray always that you will have the strength to go safely through all the things that will happen to you.”
Our fears often make us believe that we must still search for what we already have. Jesus knew that the consciousness he was teaching was an awareness that would take years before humanity would collectively awaken to its presence.
We expect a lot from God when we utter our fearful prayers. We want God to remove our loneliness. We want God to lead us to a greater fulfillment in life. We want God to help us win our life’s battles. How could God do all of the things we expect without taking over our lives, an act that would rob us of the spiritual awareness that God created us to find, develop and use? Perhaps we are looking for God in all the wrong places. Perhaps we are expecting from God what God never intended to give us. Jesus was telling his listeners to wake up to their spiritual nature.
In 1993, Billy Joel wrote and recorded a song that was number one on the charts for a long time. Its title is “In the Middle of the Night.” I thought Billy was truly inspired when he wrote that song. One sentence was very insightful of what hope, trust and faith look like. Here are his words, “I’m searching for something, something so undefined, that it can only be seen by the eyes of the blind, in the middle of the night.”
Those words communicate through a powerful metaphor, one that creates a vivid visual image in our minds! Among the things for which we search is total confidence in our hope that allows us to be certain of the things we cannot see, as the author of Hebrews 11:1 once wrote.
Since we are fresh from our celebration of Thanksgiving, it is appropriate to reference the hope of the early colonists to settle in a strange land. When the Declaration of Independence was written and later our nation’s Constitution, the creators of those documents did not experience the results of their hopes and dreams for America. However, they sure did know how to plan for the arrival of a day when people in the future would carry the torch of freedom to new levels of expression. Because of their ability to dream of possibilities, we have what we have today.
The first Sunday of Advent celebrates our looking forward to the birth of Jesus who grew up and taught his listeners about their possibilities once they awakened to their spiritual, eternal nature. No one before Jesus had ever taught this. During Jesus’ day the Jews were taught to look to an external God for deliverance, obey an external Law code and engage in living a life of total obedience to the Laws of Moses.
Our hope is that God’s presence can become visible through us, that God is in charge of creation and that the salvation of each of us is totally up to God’s will. God’s love cannot be earned, nor can it come as a reward because of what we believe. Our awareness of God’s eternal love, however, does support our journey by protecting us from being trapped by the disappointments and frustrations of this life. Knowledge of our eternal destiny keeps fueling our hope. When we radiate that hope, we influence everyone around us.
THE CONGREGATIONAL PRAYER
Eternal and always faithful God, there are moments when we feel as did the people of old. We experience uncertainty because our future remains unclear. Guidance from you is frequently mixed with other voices that cloud our perception. Our values can remain invisible to those who hold different points of view. The demands of our schedules pull us in many directions. We are more than ready to prepare ourselves again for the coming of what renewed the minds and spirits of humankind. Truly Christ was the leaven for the loaf. While our celebration appears the same each year, each of us can drift from Jesus’ guidance for remaining in community with each other. Surround us with your spirit, O God, so that we might let go of our failures and hurts for the sake of the larger responsibilities to which we have been called – to love one another. Amen.
THE PASTORAL PRAYER
Loving God, we come into your presence this morning hoping to renew our lives as we experience the unfolding themes of Advent. All of us have moments that challenge our sense of security and control. We experience events that create stress. We walk through valleys created by our losses and life reversals. We have learned that permanent change can come in the blink of an eye. The miracle in the midst of change is that you created us with the potential to fill our minds, emotions and spirit with hope. Just as change can evoke our fears, so it can also create new opportunities to radiate our faith and trust in you.
Thank you, loving God, for inspiring us to remember who we are, and how you equipped us to bring the vitality of your presence into each moment, each drama and each relationship. As we prepare ourselves to welcome again your son into our world, we do so remembering how he carried himself every day with the radiating hope of your daily presence. He taught his listeners attitudes of being. He pointed to a God-consciousness that became our pearl of great price. Thank you that through him we have learned that by loving others just as they are, we demonstrate our love for you who created them.
Help us to realize that our faithfulness to you becomes the source of our strength and the channel through which your spirit achieves form in our world. We pray these thoughts through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .