Monday, April 22, 2013

Sermon, Easter 4C

Hope.  What exactly is hope?  On the one hand, hope reflects a personal desire – we hope for ponies, skateboards and Red Rider BB guns at Christmas.  We hope we passed a test.  We hope we get that job.  We hope we raise our children right and we hope they manage to avoid mayhem, abuse and scandal.

But hope also goes deeper than ponies, skateboards and Red Rider BB guns.  Hope is one of the three theological virtues – faith and love being the other two.  Hope is confidence in God’s goodness.  Hope is the end result of a process that, as Paul says, begins with suffering.  Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.  And the hope that follows is confidence in God’s goodness.

This confidence in God’s goodness can be stated as a belief that God’s promise to work in the future is more important than what he has done in the past.  And this belief in a more important and more involved future can be stated in one word:  resurrection.  Through the power of the resurrection we walk in newness of life.  Through the resurrection, our old self has died to sin and we are no longer enslaved by sin.  Through resurrection we are given eternal life.

This is the living hope, through the resurrection, that helps us see the important works of God in the future.  And this living hope permeates all of today’s readings.

In Acts, Dorcas has died.  She was a friend to many, a faithful disciple, and used her talents for the benefit of the church.  Her friends call for Peter to come.  It’s not clear what they expect him to do, but simply being there is apparently comforting.

I’ve been there.  I’ve been called to be with the family as their mother, brother, father, wife, husband and friend has died.  I’m sure they don’t expect me to lay hands on the deceased and raise them up.  But they do expect me to confirm their hope that God is doing a far greater thing now and to soothe their pain.  This is our hope in the Lord, and we shall never hope in vain.

Peter showed Tabitha to be alive.  Through our hope in the resurrection, through our ancient words and prayers, we show the lives of the faithful to be alive in Christ.

Today Jesus is again talking about his sheep hearing his voice.  He doesn’t say, “They have heard my voice,” but, “They hear my voice.”  Hear is active and shows Jesus in both the present and future.  What he did in the past is in the past.  What he will do in the future is far more important.  This is the hope we have in Christ: that he continues to work in and through our lives.

This promise of future workings is also evident in Revelation.  A great multitude that no one could count, from every family, language, people and nation is gathered before the throne of God.  These people who have put their hope in Christ hunger and thirst no more; and God will wipe away every tear.  This is the ultimate confidence in God’s goodness.

Even though we have this confidence that God will continue in the future, our hope does not allow us to sit on the sidelines.  Our confidence in God, and our hope in the resurrection, requires us to actively participate with God to help change the world for the better.  It does not call us to actively withdraw and hope that God will take care of everything.

Last week two terrorists detonated two bombs in Boston, killing three, maiming dozens, and injuring hundreds.  At this point we know who but not why.  What we do know is that these people believed violence was the way to solve their problems.  We know that their hope for changing the world rested in death and destruction.

In the aftermath of that attack, stories of resurrection hope will arise.  We’ve already seen some stories of hope with first responders and uninjured doing all they could to provide aid.  We’ve heard it from other cities who have said, “We will not cancel our events.”  We’ve heard it from Boston where it’s already been promised that next year’s race will be the biggest ever.  We’ve heard it from multiple angelic speakers and writers who have said, “Be not afraid.”  And we will see and hear resurrection stories of hope from the victims themselves who will discover a new life and a new way of being.

This resurrection hope also presents itself in our care for the earth.  Humans have a talent for decimating our environment.  From over-fishing the North Atlantic to the deforestation of the Brazilian rain forest and everywhere in-between, if we are not careful, we will kill our planet.  But if we truly believe that God will work in the future, if we actively participate with God to change the world, if we hold to this resurrection hope, we have a chance to help bring new life to our dying planet.

One way to help is with the Trees for Tilori project.  Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world, and part of the cause has been massive deforestation.  Our diocese is working with this program to plant trees and educate people on conservation and sustainability.  This is active participation with God in a hopeful resurrection to new life. 

Our world is full of pain – from the death of a loved one to acts of terrorism to lack of concern for our environment.  But there is another way, and that way is filled with hope – hope that God will wipe away every tear, hope in God’s call to us, hope in resurrection to new life.

As we move through our lives, and as we are faced with pain and struggles, we need to continually ask ourselves, “Where do we place our hope?”

And then we need to live like we believe our answer.



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