“Hope Is Our Choice”

Sermon Delivered By Rev. Dick Stetler – December 2, 2018

Centenary United Methodist Church

Psalm 25:1-10; Luke 21:25-36


    This morning a number of us might be confused by our lighting the Candle of Hope when Lois read a punishing, life-threatening Gospel lesson. This morning, we are going to look at this passage rather critically because the probability is great that Jesus never shared thoughts like this with his listeners.  This was not Jesus' orientation toward life even though such a teaching was part of his religious heritage.

    A number of Biblical scholars have made this conclusion because the world did not end as Jesus allegedly predicted.  (Luke 21:32) Secondly, Jesus taught that the Kingdom of God is within all people. (Luke 17:21) Yet, in Luke 21:31, Jesus reportedly said, "When you see all of these tumultuous events occurring, you will know that the Kingdom of God is about to come." (Luke 21:31) 

    Our Luke passage is almost word-for-word of what appeared in documents like the Book of Enoch that was written during the 400-year period known as the Apocalyptic Age between the writing of the Old and New Testament. Why would Luke insert this violent passage into his writings?  Besides being one of our lectionary Scriptures for today, why are we considering it as we light the Candle of Hope?

    Luke was a Greek physician who wrote Luke and the Book of Acts in answer to an inquiry made by a Roman nobleman named Theophilus. Luke is the only Gospel writer that was not a Jew.  He was a very careful writer who tried to gather as many data-points as he could for Theophilus about the life of Jesus and the growth of the early movement of Jesus' followers. 

    The end of the world was a circulating theme among the Jews and that belief became associated with the growth of another tradition that Jesus would come again as the curtain was coming down on Creation. 

    However, nowhere in any Gospel is there an explanation of what more Jesus had planned to accomplish that was not covered during his teaching ministry. It was assumed theologically that the purpose of his Second Coming was for Jesus to gather his followers in preparation for some Final Judgment after the world was destroyed.  

    A lot of drama was associated with these circulating fears. What Luke encountered were vivid descriptions from early Christian authors that the righteous would be taken bodily into heaven and meet Jesus in the clouds. (I Thessalonians 4:15f) Luke describes two people sleeping in the same bed.  One will be taken and the other will be left behind.  Two women will be grinding meal.  One will be taken and the other left behind.  (Luke 17:34f) These predictions were only circulating among the Jews.  The rest of the world's people knew nothing about any of this.

     We have to remember that no Biblical writers of the New Testament ever considered that they were writing words that were coming directly from God. That understanding became part of Christian doctrine by a decision of an early Church council in its attempt to give the Bible divine authority.

    Advent in recent centuries has carried a consistent theme of loving-energy coming into our world in a form that people could readily understand.  Rather than God destroying the world, Jesus came to teach people how better to live in it.

    Advent celebrations have nothing to do with themes that were circulating in the lives of people living thousands of years ago.  Jesus replaced such images with his understanding that God's nature is love, compassion, and forgiveness, not condemnation and destruction.

    What the world's expanding populations needed to experience were patterns of loving energy that surface in their lives. This morning we have lighted the Candle of Hope.  Most of us need a refresher course that God's spirit is alive and moving among us in spite of our being fed a steady diet with negative breaking news.  Most breaking news is not life-enhancing or positive in its content.

    There is no limit to the remarkable deeds that are being done by people all over the world while many pastors remain worried about their church's budget and their shrinking congregations.  God's spirit is not confined to the four walls of worship centers. 

    We know that the fires of California have destroyed over twelve thousand homes, making the fires the most destructive ever recorded in the United States. Among the ashes and the resulting tears, there are stories that give us hope that love never leaves us in spite of what is happening in our world.     

    The town of Paradise experienced near total destruction of all the homes and many businesses.  It so happened that earlier in the summer, the girls' volleyball team of Paradise won their division's high school championship.  The team had made up its mind to go to the final competition on November 10 that would determine the overall champions of their division.  Even though the team had lost their uniforms and equipment in the fire, they remained determined to show up in Auburn, California dressed in whatever they still had to wear. 

    When they arrived, the opposing Auburn team had made uniforms for each of the Paradise girls.  They had purchased new shoes and pads for them.  They made arrangements for a pre-Thanksgiving meal to be served to both teams following the competition.

    Further, they supplied each of the girls with $300 gift cards and gave them a large bag of supplies and clothing.  Finally, they presented the team with a check for $16,000, an amount that the Auburn girls had personally raised for them.  The girls from Paradise lost the game but the winners from Auburn gave the world an event that demonstrated that love and compassion are alive and well.

    What is not being learned in Sunday School by unchurched people is being learned by the experience of joy that comes to them by giving through their random acts of kindness, by cleaning up our beaches after a holiday, and by painting our bus shelters.  God created us with the potential for the very qualities that were packaged inside of Jesus. 

    Even though Jesus displayed these qualities in one of the most obscure parts of the world, his teachings survived in much the same way that causes other stories of love and compassion to survive.  People share good stories that embody the best in us.  Yet, we are constantly bombarded with unnerving events that are being performed by a miniscule minority.  Such events do not define who we are nor do destructive events define the nature of God.

    We need to ask ourselves what causes someone to donate a kidney to a stranger who has been made a prisoner by a dialysis machine for the rest of his or her life?  What causes highly educated physicians to join Doctors Without Borders? What is it that feeds our desire to give to those who have personal needs that we have never had?

      Ken Langone is one of the three founders of Home Depot, a chain of 2,200 stores in the United States that sells everything from cinderblocks to crockpots.  He recently gave 100 million dollars to New York University's Langone School of Medicine.  This money will provide free tuition to students who want to become doctors but do not have the financial means to finance their dream.  Ken often speaks about what happens to him spiritually each time he gives.  He has learned how to keep his life's energy flowing to others in service.  He never has a bad day.

    Numerous writers of the Bible remained focused on the ignorance of human beings.  Their answer was that God would intervene by destroying everything that God once called "Good."  Those writers were preoccupied by the sinful nature of people.

    When Jesus came, he had a radically different message to teach because he had a radically different understanding of the nature of our Creator.   God was never going to punish anyone for their choices.  People remain the kind of people that they have chosen to become.  Instead, God inspired teachers to guide others to produce more satisfying results with their lives.

    The Candle of Hope celebrates Jesus' coming into our midst to teach people that the potential to experience peace, kindness, and compassion is inside of them. The only way anyone can say, "All is well with my soul" is to know that it is and stop worrying about it.  Worry and fear have never led anyone correctly.

    When we nurture generosity, patience, compassion, and forgiveness, we glow in the dark.  The more we allow the divine qualities within us to take charge, the more opportunities come to us to be of service. The more we give, the more our vision changes so that we can see with greater clarity what to do.  Hope is our choice that forms the basis of our confidence and trust to live life with abandon.



Eternal and always faithful God, there are moments when we feel like the ancient Hebrews.  Uncertainty is everywhere.  Guidance from you is frequently mixed with other voices that cloud our perception.  We are more than ready to prepare ourselves again for the coming of Jesus into our lives. Clearly, he taught us that there is more to life than what we see. Renew our hope that life only gets better when we replace our doubts with our trust in your guidance.   Bless us again as we enter Advent together. Amen.



Loving God, we come into your presence this morning hoping to renew our insights into Jesus' purpose for coming into our world as we experience the unfolding themes of Advent.

This morning we thank you 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 as we remember how he embodied hope.  He taught his listeners attitudes of being.  He pointed to an awareness that had become our pearl of great price. We thank you that through him we have learned that by loving others just as they are, we demonstrate your love of 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. There is nothing in the world like knowing that we are a part of the created order where we, your children, are the central actors.  We are your angels-in-the-flesh and your presence in the material world at this unique time in human history.  We pray that we will live up to the hope that Jesus had in all of us to make his life and teachings known to others.  We pray these thoughts with grateful hearts, through the spirit of Jesus, the Christ, who taught us to say when we pray . . .