Sunday, November 28, 2010

I am Thankful for the Gift of Hope

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, 2010. Cheryl directs our special services and works with a team of talented persons. We agreed to follow the traditional themes of Advent with today focusing on “Hope.” I have received multiple complements on my sermon; I am not really pleased with it. It is often the case that if I feel disappointed with my content and/or delivery, God seems to be working overtime to speak into the lives of the congregation. Actually, this morning I was not overly disappointed since I had feared embarrassing myself and was pleased just sense God’s presence and help. I guess the sermon itself was a demonstration of the theme, hope.

Part of my disappointment was that I didn’t share a couple of points that seemed very important when I was preparing. I offer here a summary of the sermon.

Texts: Psalm 139:43, 49, 74, 81, 114, 116, 147; 130:5; Ezekiel. 37:7-14; Romans 8: 19-27.

Why is the message of hope so overlooked in the modern church? For the early church, hope was a central human affection that evidenced the presence of the Spirit. But the Western church seems void of reference to this great gift of God. Could it be that to profess hope is to acknowledge need or weakness? If I admit to living in hope, am I admitting to some inadequacy?

In the Scriptures there are multiple Hebrew words from which the English word “hope” is translated. The Hebrew language is very visual with the roots of words giving significance to the meanings of words, their emphasis or thrust. For example, one Hebrew word for hope seems to come from a root word for “chord” possibly suggesting that hope is tied together with a promise given in the past and the expectation of its fulfillment in the future. Perhaps we have little hope because we know so little of the promises given in the past.

Another Hebrew word for hope flows out of the concept of “waiting.” Persons who hope are waiting on the fulfillment of a promise. Still another, and perhaps the most significant word for hope, is grounded in the concept of trust. To hope is to trust someone will be faithful to the commitments they have made. All of these words convey a sense of expectation.

Hope is that inner expectation that promises made will be kept. The Psalmist makes that clear. His hope is tied to the Word of God. It is the Word that causes hope, even, no especially, in times of despair. Thus, the hope of the believer is grounded in and focuses on the Word of God.

In the Valley of dry bones Ezekiel come to know this on a deeper level. The great challenge to Ezekiel is to believe the dry bones can live. The even greater challenge to him was to believe the dry bones were Israel. [Note: one of my disappointments with my sermon was that I fumbled the sequence of events in the Biblical account.] God asserted he was going to raise Israel up from the grave and return them to the Promised Land. When all hope is lost, God speaks and gives hope. That which is dried up and dead in our lives will live again if God has declared it. In those cases hope is both a gift and an expectation; we must hope.

The Apostle Paul challenges us further in this journey of hope. Hope is the fruit of the Spirit’s presence within us. This hope planted by the Holy Spirit sees what has been promised and groans within us for the final day of our redemption. All of creation groans with us in expectation of the coming Day of the Lord. The Spirit who convicted us, convinced us, baptized us into the body of Christ, and sealed us as members of the household of God makes the promises of God alive within us. Hope is our character, the affection of our heart toward the fullness of God’s presence.

Thus we hope for His appearance when all around us is weary and threatening. And we hope still when all seems well. In hope we know our journey is toward the city whose builder and maker is God. The blessing of this life are but appetizers for the eternal banquet of his reign.

I am thankful for hope, God’s gift for the good times and the bad. I am thankful for His assistance in my preaching. I am more thankful for his grace bestowed in the face of my frail attempts to speak His Word.

Cleveland, Tennessee
November 28, 2010

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