October 29, 2017 – 21st Sunday After Pentecost
The Rev. Dr. Susan Kraus
Last Sunday I began a short sermon series on what have been known as the Three Theological Virtues – Faith, Hope, and Love. As I remarked then, the past is often helpful in supporting our faith. Our own past experiences as well as the witness of the countless faithful Christians who have preceded us are both sources of strength and courage as we live by faith, day by day and year by year.
Today I will speak about hope, and hope orients us to the future. Christian hope centers in God. As The Book of Common Prayer expresses it, our hope is “the coming of Christ in glory, and the completion of God’s purpose for the world” (page 861). We believe in and hope for the triumph of God’s love over hate, God’s justice over injustice, God’s freedom over bondage, community with God over separation, life with God over the power of death. We have many sources of this hope, chiefly the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. In the words of St. Augustine “we are a resurrection people and our song is ‘Alleluia’”. Christ’s resurrection is perhaps our most powerful sign that the final victory belongs to God and not to sin and death.
As individuals we hope for fullness of life with God, something we only partially experience now. We believe that every human being is a child of God and important to God. So I can believe that I am a child of God and important to God, just as you can believe that you are a child of God and important to God. We believe that God wants the health and salvation of all God’s children, and we hope to be finally healed, finally saved, finally at home with God. That is our hope for ourselves, our hope for the people we love, and, by God’s grace, our hope for all people. Christians also hope for the renewal of all creation. We look forward to a new heaven and a new earth. We hope for nothing less than the redemption of the world by God.
In her book, “Gathering at God’s Table: The Meaning of Mission in the Feast of Faith,” former Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori writes about living in joyful hope. I would like to share some of her wise words with you:
“Christian communities are places of hope. We’re all in the same boat – we’re looking for home, we want to belong, we want to be valued, we want to be welcomed in a place of safety and warmth by people who love us…. We gather as a community to catch a glimpse of a dream that’s big enough and encouraging enough to begin to drive out fear and where we can begin to experience a deep and abiding and transforming hope…. Hope – holy hope, even holy hope-filled boldness – is the only known antidote for fear, depression, boredom, abandonment, lostness, exile, grief. Hope is what our faith demands, and offers” (pages 186-189).
Our holy hope orients us to the future, but also guides us now, in the present. Genuine hope for – and faith in – the promise of the establishment of God’s kingdom forever will lead to love in action now. Because our faith and our hope make it impossible for us to accept the world of injustice and suffering as it is without doing what we can to bring justice, mercy, peace and relief to God’s children with whom we live in this time and this place.
Hope has the power to transform our lives. This transformation may come through asking ourselves this question: how does our behavior affect the hope of others? In the service of Evening Prayer in The Book of Common Prayer there is a series of suffrages or intercessory prayers (pages 121-2). They include these words: “Let not the needy, O Lord, be forgotten; nor the hope of the poor be taken away.” “Nor the hope of the poor be taken away.” How can we help make sure that the hope of the poor is not taken away?
You see around the altar gifts for the Christmas Program of The Maine Home for Little Wanderers. As you know, Little Wanderers supplies boxes of clothing, toys, and books to over 1,700 low income families in Maine each year. The program is totally supported by donations. Parents or legal guardians of children ages 12 and under must apply to receive a Christmas box, supplying information about the earnings of members of the household as well as about the ages and needs of the children. Applicants must agree not to accept Christmas assistance from any other organization unless it is for food. Imagine filling out an application for your child or grandchild in hope that the Little Wanderers Program will provide Christmas joy for a child you love! Imagine hoping that your application will be one of the 1,700 applications that are accepted before the cut-off number of applicants has been reached. Why is there a cut-off number? Because the donations are limited. That is where what we do intersects with “the hope of the poor.”
This is only one example of how our hope – our prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done” – can shape our lives today. Think of your hopes: for care and compassion when you are suffering with illness or grief, for companionship when you are lonely, for help when you are burdened by too much of your own work or when you believe passionately in work that requires the involvement of your community, in the church or in the place where you live or work.
We might also use gratitude for the blessings we enjoy as a source for imagining the hopes of others. Do you say a prayer to thank God for the food you eat? Extend that moment of gratitude to think of people who truly hope for daily food. No one here actually hopes for daily food. We can be confident of having food to eat. Poor people hope for food. How does their hope shape your life now? How might holy hope for the good of all God’s people transform you and your decisions today?
Katharine Jefferts Schori contrasted hope and fear. Thinking about the Little Wanderers Christmas Program and about the power of hope to drive out fear put me in mind of one of our most beloved Christmas carols, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Remember these words:
“O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie! Above thy deep and dreamless sleep the silent stars go by; yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
For Christ is born of Mary; and gathered all above, while mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love. O morning stars, together proclaim the holy birth! And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth.
Where children pure and happy pray to the blessed Child, where misery cries out to thee, Son of the mother mild; where charity stands watching and faith holds wide the door, the dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more.”
May the holy mystery of God’s love revealed through the incarnation of God in Christ and in Christ’s resurrection inspire us all with deep faith in God and with holy hope for the final establishment of God’s kingdom. And may our faith and our hope lead us to live in love today and all our days. In Jesus’ name. Amen.