Where do we find hope when our world is turned upside down? What do we hold on to when we are worried about our health, our families, our jobs? What can we count on in the face of uncertainty, isolation, fear and even death? For the next several weeks we will explore HOPE as found in the Psalms, the Prophets, the Gospels, the Epistles, and the Book of Revelation.
Not everything is cancelled… Sun is not cancelled; Spring is not cancelled; Relationships are not cancelled; Love is not cancelled; Reading is not cancelled; Devotion is not cancelled; Music is not cancelled; Imagination is not cancelled; Kindness is not cancelled; Conversations are not cancelled; Hope is not cancelled; And God’s love for HIS people is never cancelled. (from Mercy Health)
Finding Hope in the Gospels and the Epistles
A Reading from Scripture
Matthew 4:17 17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Matthew 22:37-39 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
Romans 8: 38-39 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
On this past Friday I visited one of our members who has been housebound since last March. Even though she has been “out of action” for almost a year, she was up to date on everything that has been happened in the world. She was very articulate about the inauguration of the new President and reflective on the poem The Hill We Climb by Amanda Gorman. Her adult children continue to help her with daily contacts and trips to the doctors. But many days there is little contact.
Despite the pandemic she has hope, especially since she has received her first Covid-19 vaccination. She told me just how much she liked the messages on HOPE during this most difficult time. Lula has a phenomenal memory and reminded me of a poem by Emily Dickinson: Hope is the Thing With Feathers. In this poem Dickinson equates the concept of hope to a feathered bird that is permanently perched in the soul of every human. The first line goes: Hope is the bird with feathers that perched in the soul and sings the tune without words and never stops at all. Her poem is very inspirational during these difficult times. After an hour and a half of my visit, I left with a joyful heart as I felt that I had been ministered to by Lula. We all need to listen to the quiet singing of the feathered bird of hope in our souls.
Three weeks ago, we began a series on HOPE. I am certain that all of you would agree that we are living in unchartered times. The world as we knew it is changing and has changed so much that we doubt that we will ever go back to the “old ways.” Sometimes, in the middle of these moments of radical change in shifting, it can feel like everything is moving under our feet and it is hard to get our footing. Our anxiety goes through the roof and there is a sense of fear that can overwhelm us. Many of us are looking for hope right now. The truth is that we are all looking for hope. We need hope. Hope is what keeps us going. Hope is what gets us up in the morning. Hope is what keeps us from giving up. Every human being needs hope to survive.
Last week we came to grips with a better definition — Hope is the conviction that despite one’s presence circumstances, that the future will, in some meaningful sense, be better than the present. Also, Hope is choosing to believe and act as if the future will be better than the present.
I am certain that we find God in the still small voice of a neighbor or a family member reaching out to us with God’s love. We are doing it through the caring phone calls members are making to each other; by delivering food and medicines to members who cannot pick them up for themselves; with the cards that people are sending; and through the meals and care items we give. We have helped twenty families with gifts of love in the desks that we made. These were gifted by the congregation. One of these days, if it ever stops snowing on a Sunday, we will bless blankets that the ladies of Loops of Love have made and are being donated to Sarah’s Hope, the women’s shelter in Reisterstown. We will continue to gather food for NESAP. These gifts are extremely important. And they have one thing in common. They are gifts of hope. They are gifts of hope and love from God’s people who are demonstrating God’s hope and love in the world.
Today, we are going to continue our series on HOPE. Asking where do we find hope in the Gospels and the Epistles. But perhaps I should begin by reminding us of what I mean by hope. Hope, like Love is an action word — action means that we have an important part in making Love or Hope come alive. Hope is choosing to believe and act as if the future will be better than the present. But it is more than that. It also includes sharing our hope. Once we have hope, sharing it is not really all that hard, because hope is contagious. If we have hope, we cannot help but share that hope with those around us. Hope reflects our attitude towards our life.
If that is what hope is, then the opposite of hope would be despair. Despair can be defined as choosing to believe and act as if the future will be as bad as, if not worse than, the present. For example: That the pandemic will continue for a long time. Or I am going to die anyway, so why take the vaccination. (BTW, I did hear that comment this past week) Notice, that in both cases, the definition includes the word choosing. We oftenthink of hope and despair as feelings, and they are. But they are feelings that arisefrom the thoughts that go through our minds. We cantell ourselves that the future is going to be better than the present or that it will beworse. If we convince ourselves, or allow others to convince us, that things will beworse, we will soon turn to despair. However, if we convince ourselves that it willbe better, then we soon find hope.
It is fascinating that the word HOPE is only mentioned two or three times in the four Gospels. How is that even possible? After all, hope is at the foundation of our Christian
faith. Paul in the Epistles described Christianity with three words: hope, faith and love. So, how could it be that Jesus only mentioned hope one or two times? Could it be that the reason Jesus did not talk much about hope is because he embodied it instead? Rather than just tell us about hope, Jesus lived it out. He gave hope to people by what he did. Let us look at several examples on how Jesus embodied hope in ways that passed it along to others.
Many of you have visited my office in the Tracey Building. Hanging on the wall is a large black and white print of Jesus in the Breadline. It shows Jesus in the middle of a line of people waiting to receive life giving food. As we read the Gospels, we will notice that Jesus spent most of his time with people in despair. These were people who had lost their way, who saw no way forward, who had largely given up on hope. Jesus spent his time with those people by helping them to find a way forward. And, if you think about it, isn’t that what hope is? Again, ask yourself, who did Jesus hang out with? He hung out with people who were in despair. If you asked them, they probably would have admitted that they had messed up or the economy rejected them or, they were excluded because of their race or gender. That is how life works. It does not happen all at once. It happens a bit at a time. We lose touch with what matters most. Our values shift. And when they shift far enough, our families, our work, and our faith become out of kilter. Our lives become disordered.
So, what does a life that is in order look like? What should our values be? Jesus was quite clear about that. Jesus said it really boils down to just two things: First, we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. And the second is much like the first. It is to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. Jesus was teaching what a godly, ordered life looks like. However, sometimes we lose ourorientation and stray from living the lives we know we should.
Jesus went to the folks whose lives had tumbled and fallen. These were the people who had focused their lives on themselves instead of God and others. The Gospels tell us that Jesus spent most of his time with sinners, prostitutes, and tax collectors. These were folks who had blown it, who had turned away from God, and may have even begun to wonder if God had any use or place for them.
What did Jesus say to them? In Matthew 4:17 Jesus began his ministry preaching: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” Jesus is telling us to have courage to change what we are thinking, because when we change what we think, we change the way we act. In time, our hearts will also become changed. Ultimately, we will find our lives reordered such that God is first, others are second, and we are living the lives God created us to live. Lives that are in balance. I remember the five-finger rule of life: God, Spouse, Family, Job, and one hobby or passion. If any of the final four start to take priority in our life, God is the first thing to fall off.
During my tenure as pastor, I have officiated at many funerals. A funeral is a time of lifting the grieving soul with the arms of HOPE. We are a people with hope. We believe that our loved one is not gone. Their life is not over. They are now in a place where there is no more sorrow, suffering or pain. They are reunited with those who have gone before. They are with God. Many times, I have worked with families who do not have a church connection. They may say that they are Christian, but the is little chance that they have engaged the Living Christ during their lifetime. They grieve, but not as those with hope. They grieve without hope. And that is hard. I always share with the families a particular verse from Romans that has always spoken to me. I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. — Romans 8:38-39
This is a faith gives us hope in the face of adversity. We live differently because of it. We live differently because we believe that the future will be better than the present we are experiencing.
It is our mission as Christians and members of PGUMC to do what Jesus did. We are to welcome all people and invite them to follow Jesus. Our message is that it does not matter who you are. It does not matter what you have done in the past. Jesus wants you. Yes, Jesus wants you. Jesus says to us, “If you let me help, I can reorder your life. I can help you get your priorities straight.” God is the God of second chances and Jesus comes again and again calling us to follow. The challenge is that following Jesus is scary.
Hope is the bird with feathers that perched in the soul and sings the tune without words and never stops at all.
 Based on a message by Kim Fields, www.cupchurch.org