Monroe Congregational Church
May 13, 2001 - Pastor Diane Schmitz
Do you remember as a young child the magic of those moments before you blow out the candles on your birthday cake? When you make a wish and hold that desire close to you in a sense of hope? Then, after taking a big breath, you energetically blow out all the candles so that your wish will come true?
My teenage son, now 17 years old, told me how for years he had made a birthday wish that he would be able to play hockey. His birthday wishes for that started when he was 6 years old. Although he did not tell his dad and I he had named that privately as his birthday wish, he became increasingly vocal about his desire to play hockey. We gently, but firmly, steered him in other directions, telling him "maybe when you are older." He persistently took every opportunity to try and change our mind. At age 13, seven years later, we let him start playing hockey. It was then he told us how every birthday he had continued to use his birthday wish to silently voice that hope. "Finally, it paid off," he said.
Perhaps it is a gift of childhood that allows children to hold on to hopes that do not immediately materialize. Their world is still big enough to hold endless possibilities; their experience of the world still positive enough to not be narrowed into cynicism caused by disappointments of life. Their will is strong and they fiercely hold on to their intentions.
There was another factor in my son's experience. He was unwilling to sit passively by and wait for an outcome. We were bombarded with examples of why it would be good for him to play hockey, he subscribed to hockey magazines, and he hung up posters of hockey stars in his room. He went to hockey games and watched the players to better understand how to play the game. He practiced skating, got a hockey stick and hit a plastic puck around the cement slab in our backyard.
He gave energy to his hope undeterred by the fact that it was not yet a reality. He did not rely on a present picture for his vision of the future. He was preparing for the moment when his hope would become a reality.
We all have had hopes passionately desired over the years. Some of them have come to pass; several have not. Regardless of the exact hope, most hoping involves some kind of change, a transition into something new.
This morning's reading from Revelations gives a historical glimpse of a time when the early Christian community was trying to form; something new was trying to be born. It was a time of transition and uncertainty and the community is offered these words of encouragement and reassurance: "The home of God is with you. God will dwell with you wiping tears away and crying, mourning and pain will be no more. There will be a new earth and a new heaven." In the midst of trying times God says to God's people: "See, I am making all things new; these words are trustworthy and true."
Every one of us this morning harbors hopes about something: for us as individuals, for us as a church community, for our world.
And at moments we likely wonder: "Is our hope foolishness?" "Is our hope naïve?" "Can this chaotic life, this violent world, this struggling relationship, this challenging job, this painful grief, really be made new?"
"Yes!" is the Easter response. As Christians we profess a deep belief in the possibility of new life. We confess God's triumph over death even as we acknowledge the world is filled with hate and death. We are called to live and act out of our different expectation for the future undaunted by the fact that it is not yet a reality.
That expectation comes from a gospel picture that tells us God is in our lives inspiring and guiding us to create a world where all people are loved and respected.
The reading this morning tells us that the chance for something to be made new comes from the mutual indwelling of God and the people of God. A trustworthy and true hope relies on a faith in God AND a response to that faith. Sitting passively amidst life circumstances with optimism that God will make it all better is a risky hope. Listen to this story:
A priest was sitting at his desk by the window composing a sermon on providence when he heard something that sounded like an explosion. Soon he saw people running to and fro in a panic and discovered that a dam had burst, the river was flooding, and the people were being evacuated.
The priest saw the water begin to rise in the street below. He had some difficulty suppressing his own rising sense of panic, but he said to himself, "Here I am preparing a sermon on providence and I am being given an occasion to practice what I preach. I shall not flee with the rest. I shall stay right here and trust in the providence of God to save me.
By the time the water reached his window, a boat full of people came by. "Jump in, Father, " they shouted. "Ah no, my children," said Father confidently. "I trust in the providence of God to save me."
Father did climb to the roof, however, and when the water got up there another boatload of people went by, urging Father to join them. Again he refused. This time he climbed to the top of the belfry. When the water came up to his knees, an officer in a motorboat was sent to rescue him. "No thank you, officer,' said Father, with a calm smile. "I trust in God, you see. God will never let me down."
When Father drowned and went to heaven, the first thing he did was complain to God. "I trusted you! Why did you do nothing to save me?"
"Well," said God. "I did send three boats, you know."
Hope that is blind to the opportunities God sends before us is hope that remains stagnant.
A woman told me recently how her mother always instilled in her a sense of hope. When she would be disappointed in an outcome and feel that a door had closed on her desire, her mother would say, "Look around, look around! There's another door opening somewhere. Look around!"
What it really comes down to is this: "Do we believe God is truly at work in our lives?" Do we believe God continues to open doors for us?" When our lives take twists and turns we didn't plan we so easily assume that our hope for something has been thwarted. In fact, it may simply have been redirected because a vision God has for us or for our world may be down a different road at a place we have yet to experience.
When something comes before us unexpectedly and our immediate response is to reject it, it may be helpful for us to ask, "How might this fit into God's hope for me, for my neighbor, for my church, for our world?"
One way to question the authenticity of hope is whether our hope is also hope for our neighbors. Hope is not only for the fulfillment of individual life but also for the fulfillment of life in society. If our hope is to live comfortably financially and materially without paying attention to our brothers and sisters who are homeless our hope becomes a self-centered endeavor.
If our hope exists at the expense of others we will always live anxiously. The gospel clearly tells us that hope which excludes the outcasts; the poor, the lost and lonely, is not part of God's vision for our world.
To act on our hope takes courage for we are venturing into a vision not yet experienced; we have no guarantees. We risk speaking honest words that we know may not be welcomed by others. We risk making choices that go against the values of our culture and the expectations of our family. We challenge the powers of institutions knowing they will strike back. We become vulnerable knowing that the decisions we make may not produce our hoped-for future. But, we act because we must, because God calls us to bring God's vision alive. We do not act alone. We move forward because the Spirit compels us to and God's love does not abandon us when others do.
A sense of hope that has God at its foundation is a trustworthy one. If we awake each morning hoping that our job will improve, the world will change and relationships will heal, without inviting God into the hope, we are limiting the possibilities for new life. If we awake each morning with a hope and a prayer that we will hear and act upon God's voice leading us, our lives will be transformed.
Imagine that today is the birth-day of a new sense of hope. Imagine a huge cake lit with hundreds of candles with all of us standing before it. Imagine that bold dreams of a better world for all fill our hearts and we wish together for God's guidance to create that new earth. We know that it may not happen this year, or next year, or even in our lifetime, but we also know that each step we take brings the dream closer to a reality. And so we take a deep breath and blow out together an enormous and powerful "Amen" that reverberates throughout all Creation.