Sermon delivered Sunday, November 8, 2009 at St. Andrew’s Anglican Church, Lewis Center, OH. If you would like to hear an audio version of this sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
What is the Human Condition?
Good morning, St. Andrew’s! After a week’s respite to celebrate All Saints Day last week, today we continue our series of sermons on stewardship. You recall that we define stewardship as involving more than just our care of money. God has created humans to be stewards of his creation and this means we must be stewards of all his gifts, not just his material blessings. In this sermon series I have talked about the importance of our stewardship of time and prayer because how we spend our time and the state of our prayer life (or lack of it) reveals what we think about God and the kind of relationship we have with him. This week I want to focus on your stewardship of hope and its cognates: trust and faith.
So in what or whom do you put your ultimate hope, trust, and faith? Many of us seek to build up a nest egg so that we can live comfortably while we work and in our retirement. Implicit in this is the assumption that adequate financial security is worthy of our ultimate hope. But last year’s stock market crash and the dismal state of the economy let the air out of that balloon, didn’t it? Many of us are now forced to work longer because our nest eggs disappeared almost overnight.
Others of us put our ultimate hope and trust in our health and physical good looks. I was like that when I was younger—they didn’t have mirrors back in those days and I never understood what people meant when they kept telling me that I have a face only a mother could love—but sooner or later our looks and our health go south, even amongst the most beautiful people.
Still others put their ultimate hope and trust in science and technology. It is true that both have improved our standard of living in this country on one level, but it is also true that both can sometimes exacerbate decisions about quality of life as we grow old and infirm. Yes, technology and medical science can help us live longer, but at what cost?
I read this past week that tarot card readers and fortune tellers are surging in popularity these days because of our sagging economy. People are flocking to them in desperation to get a word of hope about their employment opportunities and their economic future (http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,572246,00.html). This latter instance is particularly sad because it indicates just how desperate we have become to find some hope and security. It seems that we humans will resort to almost anything to which to give our ultimate hope and trust.
Where is God’s Grace?
But that is not the basis of hope we find in today’s Scripture readings, is it? Before we look at this, however, it is important that we understand exactly how the Bible defines hope. When we use the word, hope, we usually equate it to something like wishful thinking, e.g., “Gee, I hope I get a new iPhone for Christmas” or “ Gee, I hope Fr. Kevin doesn’t preach one of his long-winded sermons this morning like he usually does and make us late for breakfast again” (yeah, like that’ll happen!). And it would also seem that our hope is often based on immediate gratification as evidenced by the desire to “make a quick buck” or making a trip to your local psychic so that you can know immediately about your future.
However, the writers of the NT, especially Paul, used hope differently. The Greek word for hope, elpis, found in the NT means to anticipate something, usually with pleasure, or to have a confident expectation that something is going to happen, like the Risen and Ascended Lord returning again in power to finish what his death and resurrection had started. It does not mean wishful thinking at all; rather, it connotes a confident expectation.
And as today’s Scripture readings make abundantly clear, we are to put our ultimate hope, trust, and faith in God because only God has the power to deliver. But to be good stewards of our Christian hope, we have to learn to develop an eternal perspective about life. If we do not see life as being more than biological existence and all that surrounds it, then we have no basis for real hope because all biological existence is finite and mortal. No matter how “healthy, wealthy, and wise” we are, eventually those gifts will pass away, never to return.
So what is the basis of our hope and how are we to be good stewards of it? We can find our basis for real hope in our passage from Hebrews this morning. The writer reminds us that Jesus has taken care of the problem of sin once and for all. In his death, resurrection, and ascension, Jesus has dealt with the problem of alienation and separation that our sin has caused. We are no longer alienated from God or separated from him by our sins because Christ has borne our punishment on the cross. He has offered redemption and salvation for all those who believe in him, and when he returns again, he will finish the work he started through his death, resurrection, and ascension.
The writer of Hebrews does not articulate what this will look like but the writer of Revelation and Paul do. When Christ returns again in glory, heaven and earth will be fused into a New Creation. We will get new resurrection bodies and never again be subject to any of the awful things that can happen to our mortal bodies. And best of all, we will get to live directly in God’s presence and he will wipe away our tears and sorrow forever (Revelation 20-22; 1 Corinthians 15:35-57). Paul and the writers of Hebrews and Revelation had this hope, this eager expectation, because they believed God’s promises to put to right all the wrongs of this world, and they had an eternal perspective of life, a perspective that transcends biological existence.
Likewise, in the first chapter of Colossians, Paul articulates a glorious hope based on the work of Jesus Christ and the wondrous love of God the Father for his sinful and rebellious creatures. If you have not read Colossians 1 for a while (or ever), I encourage you to read it, reflect on it, and ponder its gracious message. At verse 27 you will find Paul summarizing the basis for his hope and ours: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” Do you have that basis for your hope? If you don’t, what’s holding you back? If you do, are you embracing it so that you have power to help you persevere even in the midst of life’s most difficult situations?
From our other readings this morning, we see how the biblical notion of hope is manifested in the lives of God’s saints, ordinary men and women who had this confident hope and expectation in the God who loved us and gave himself for us. In Ruth, we see that hope does not manifest itself in some kind of introspective navel gazing. The story of Ruth is especially poignant because she found herself in an ostensibly hopeless situation. Ruth was a foreigner living in an alien land and had little hope of ever surviving, let alone prospering, because of Jewish kinship laws and customs. Yet, she lived her hope by doing what Naomi told her to do and in doing so, God took care of her through Boaz. Indeed, God did more than take care of her. He used her offspring to eventually give us Jesus, God’s promised Messiah. What a magnificent manifestation of hope! So the lesson from Ruth is for us to do our part, to live our lives in confident expectation because when we have Christ, our hope of glory, living in us, God will never disappoint or abandon us.
Likewise, in today’s Gospel lesson we have a contrasting picture of two different kinds of hope. Jesus warns us about the scribes who put their hope not in God but in wealth, and consequently were doomed for condemnation because their false hope drove them to exploit the most helpless in society and to seek selfish aggrandizement and power. The widow, on the other hand, showed her absolute trust in God by giving her last two cents. She trusted God to take care of her and she literally put her money where her hope was. Mark does not tell us what happened to that widow but it is not hard for us to guess because she put her ultimate hope and trust in God, and it is the testimony of countless Christians that God does not disappoint.
From the story of the widow’s mite, we learn that hope does not mean we are going to live the good life by society’s standards or be immune from suffering or bad things happening in our life. Rather, it means our hope is based on a relationship with the Source and Author of all life. It is a relationship that transforms us and gives us power to live our days because we have Christ, our hope of glory, living in us. He gives us grace to live joyfully, and with faithfulness and patient endurance amidst life’s most difficult challenges (Revelation 13:10b; 14:12).
This is where an eternal perspective of life is needed because we realize that our biological existence and all that surrounds it is fleeting and will pass away. When we have Christ, our hope of glory, living in us, we remember that our mortal existence is but a drop in the comprehensive ocean of eternity and we rejoice that we have a God who loves us so much, he gave himself for us on the cross so that we could live with him forever. We understand that life’s problems are fleeting and temporary, whereas our relationship with Christ is life-giving and forever, and that helps us live with patient endurance and hopeful expectation.
Where is the Application?
So how do we cultivate our Christian hope? First, we must become familiar with it and work to always keep it in the forefront of our lives. That means we need know our Bible. Memorizing verses that remind us of our hope in Christ is an excellent way to help us remember our hope in the midst of difficult situations. For example, when I was living through the darkest days of my life ten years ago, I kept reciting Jeremiah 29:11 to help me to hang on.
Second, as we saw in Ruth and today’s Gospel lesson, we must live our hope. We must give God a chance to prove he is trustworthy and can deliver. We do this by seeking the will of God in prayer. When we do God’s will, we can be certain that he will deliver on his promises. The next time you are faced with a difficult situation that threatens to destroy your hope, ask God to show you how you might bring him glory in the midst of your trials. That might entail healing. It might mean that you are given a chance to share your Christian hope and trust in the midst of your suffering. My wife did this yesterday. She is visiting her dad and it is not good. Yet in the midst of her pain in watching her dad suffer, she stopped and told me that she knew he was going to ultimately be all right. Her very voice changed and I could hear Christ, her hope of glory living in her, manifest himself. It is still terribly painful for her to watch her dad struggle with sickness and infirmity, but she has a deep and intimate relationship with God, and she knows he can be trusted. There is a joy, a peace, and a confidence in us that is not ours when we have Christ, our hope of glory, living in us.
Third and finally, connect with other faithful Christians and share your hope with each other. God can and does use Christian fellowship to strengthen us and remind us of our hope. When we have real relationships with other faithful Christians, God can use us to help each other in times of trouble, simply by being there for each other when we need desperately to experience the human touch, or by helping us remind each other of our hope that is in Christ.
So in what or whom is your ultimate hope? If we put our ultimate hope and trust in material things or in the quality of biological existence, we have no real hope and are deluding ourselves. But if we have an eternal perspective of life and focus on putting our hope in our relationship with the Risen Christ, we can live life with confident expectation. For you see, this God of ours is faithful and his promises are true. He loves us passionately and has promised us a life with him that is glorious beyond are ability to comprehend or imagine. But we don’t have to wait until we die to have that kind of relationship with him. It’s available to us right now and he has given us his Holy Spirit to help us become more like him, despite our weakness and infirmity. When we have Christ in us, our hope of glory, we have power to do just that: to live life with joy and confident expectation that nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 8:37-39). It is a promise that is ours for the taking if only we embrace it and make it our own through faith. That’s good news, folks, now and for all eternity.
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.