Sermons

Genesis 18:1–15, Romans 5:1–8, Matthew 9:35–10:8

It was another hard week in the news.  The fire in London, the gun violence in Washington and San Francisco, Philando Castille, and this morning in the Guardian, an article about rising tensions over an island in the south China Seas.  The island is called Pag-asa, which translates hope.[i]  As we sit here today, there is a battle over hope in the south china sea.  There is a battle over hope in the world.  There is a battle over hope in my heart.

The word “hope” has been the focus of much national attention lately.  According to the former director of the FBI, James Comey, the president said to him, referring to the investigation of former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

Since then, there have been articles written about the meaning of the word hope.  Is it a directive?  Is it a wish?  Is it both or is it neither?

I’ll spare you the dictionary definition and the original Greek uses of the word hope as I draw your attention to Saint Paul’s use of the word in his letter to the Romans.  He writes, “we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

I’ve never particularly liked this passage of scripture.  Taken out of context, it can sound like justification for abuse, or that is makes the tolerating of abuse holy, of God.  It seems to say it is okay that we suffer, for we suffer for God.  It is okay that we suffer, because Jesus suffered. 

The problem of this, of course is that we believe that Jesus suffered once and for all.  He died on the cross so that we don’t have to.  There is nothing inherently holy or special about suffering.  God does not ask us to suffer.  Jesus shows us that God joins us in our suffering, and stays with us, leading us to find new life, and healing on the other side of it.

So this passage from Paul bothers me.  But what I think he means in this passage is that the community to which he writes, who are suffering because of their desire to follow Jesus, can boast that the suffering being heaped on them will not have the desired effect.  Those who seek to silence these new followers of Jesus will not win.  These followers will not give in because they are being made to suffer.  They will continue to follow because the one they follow showed them, and us, that the worst the world can do to us does not have the power to stop the love of God from working in the world.

No one can change that love.  That love is eternal.  So let the world bring its worst.  Standing firm in our understanding of our belovedness before God, we cannot be moved.

And so a core sense of my belovedness in God is my hope. That is my hope for me.  That is my hope for you.  That is my hope for this world that seems to act so much more quickly out of fear and insecurity than any shared sense of a common belovedness.

And there we are.  Back at hope.  An overused word that is central to our very identities as followers of Jesus.  We are a people of hope.

I don’t know that the answer to the question of what hope means for us as Christians can be found in a dictionary, or in the ancient greek.  And I doubt very much that the meaning of hope for us will be found in the investigations and testimonials of our leaders in Washington.

Our hope lies somewhere between the empty tomb on that first Easter morning and our today.  Somewhere in there is the understanding that, in the end, love wins, joy wins, peace wins, justice wins.  When our today stands in sharp contrast to the glory of that first Easter morning, we wait for yet another Easter.  We wait.  And we hope.

A woman I will call Deidre called me on Tuesday morning.  I have known Deidre for almost nine years, as long as I have been here.  She is not a Sunday morning parishioner, but she has been as regular a part of this community as anyone.  Over the last nine years, I have had the great privilege to walk with Deidre through her journey of addiction and illness, her struggles as a single mom and her terminal diagnosis.  For several years, I have, on behalf of you all, provided Deidre with Ensure drinks, keeping her weight up, to keep her health up, to keep her son at home and her hospital stays at bay.

Tuesday morning Deidre called.  I assumed she need some Ensure.  She did not.  She called to ask for $35 for food for her and her son for a bus trip to North Carolina. 

“Vacation?” I asked.

“No.” She replied. “I don’t have much time left, it turns out.  I’m going to North Carolina to move, so that when I die, my son will be able to live with my sister.”

She came to see me shortly thereafter.  We hugged goodbye.  We thanked each other for being in each others lives.  And then she left.

She left to face her death, but even in that heartbreaking act, she left in hope for her son. 

Even death could not quench the hope that had been at the core of this courageous woman’s journey for as long as I’ve known her. 

With very little evidence that life would turn out at she might have wished, there was every evidence for her that it would turn out as she now hoped.  That her son would be cared for by family. 

In the face of suffering, she dared to hope.

That might not be the dictionary definition of hope.  It might not fit in ancient Greek and it might not be what the special investigators and language experts determine was meant in the White House.

But Deidre’s hope is the one to which Saint Paul invites us to boast.  It is a hope I can learn from.  It is a hope for which I can long.

There is a battle over hope in the world.  There is a battle over hope in my heart.  But because I know Easter is coming again, I still have hope. 

We still have hope.  “5and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts.”

AMEN

© 2017 The Reverend Jeffrey W. Mello[ii]



[ii] While all direct and indirect quotes are always cited, there are sources I read regularly in preparation for sermon writing.  Chances are thoughts have been spurred by these sources and so I list the usual suspects here:  David Lose, In the Meantime, The New Interpreters Bible, Sacra Pagina .

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