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
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 6:31-33 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
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.’
Two 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.
Last week we used the Psalms looking for what they had to say about hope. We were reminded that the Hebrew people also experienced hard times, including pandemics. Their hard times led to questions like where is God in the midst of our troubles? Yes, the Hebrew people asked hard questions, too, but they invariably returned to the hope that God would rescue them, setting them back on solid ground.
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. Today, we blessed blankets that the ladies of Loops of Love have made and are being donated to Sarah’s Hope, the women’s shelter in Reisterstown. Next week we will continue to gather food for the Soupper Bowl 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 sermon series on HOPE. Asking where do we find hope in the Gospels? 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 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. He 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 our orientation and stray from living the lives we know we should.
Sadly, though, that is not how we always live. Sometimes, we get our priorities out of order. We begin to think it is all about us. It is about our hopes and our dreams and what we want from life. Which, of course, means that everyone else must fit into our hopes and plans. Oh, we may love our family. We may even care about our neighbors, but it only goes so far. If our priority is our hopes and our desires, then others are only lovable in so far as they aid, or at least do not get in the way of, our plans. We may still have faith in God. But God is not primary, God only works in so far as God fits into our plans and dreams. The order is first me, then others, and then God.
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.” When we hear the word repent and we think of an angry preacher, pounding the pulpit, telling folks to get their acts together or else. But that is not what Jesus is saying. Jesus is telling us 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.
So, Jesus went to people whose lives were out of balance, whose lives were not working, who had given up and were living in despair, who doubted if God would even accept them after what they had done, and he talked about forgiveness. More than sixty times Jesus talked about forgiveness. Jesus did not condemn people. Jesus came offering grace. Jesus would say: Of course, God still loves you. God knows every awful thing you have ever done, and he still wants you. Come home. Come home with me. That is why he told stories about prodigal children, who were broken almostbeyond repair, and yet were welcomed home with parties, and made right again.Jesus reached out to people like Matthew who was a tax collector and always on the “take.”
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.
So, how can we take our minds off our worries? Jesus says that we should focus on our priorities. We should focus on loving God by spending time with God and growing deeper. We should love our neighbors by, as Matthew 25 reminds us, meeting their practical needs. In other words, we are to live as the hands and feet of Jesus reaching out to those who are struggling. When we do this, we are offering hope to those who are without hope. This is a reciprocal action — As we give the gift of hope to others, we in turn receive hope back from them.
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.
 Based on a message by Kim Fields, www.cupchurch.org