Sermon: Proper 13 RCL A – “Hope”

The sermon podcast is available here.

The YouTube service is available here.

Photo by Sergio Arze on Unsplash

A passenger on an ocean liner was enduring a rough Atlantic crossing. As he leaned over the rail, his face a shade of green, a steward came along and tried to encourage him: “Don’t be discouraged, sir! No one’s ever died of seasickness yet!” The nauseous passenger looked up at the steward with horror and said, “Don’t say that! It’s only the hope of dying that’s kept me alive this long!”

Hope. In The Forresters, Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote,
“Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come,
Whispering ‘it will be happier’…”

Clearly, Tennyson never heard of 2020. But then, hope is complicated, because we hope for so many different things: death in the midst of being seasick, a new job, better world, sushi for lunch, relationships, peace, cure for cancer… the list is inexhaustible, and it is not a bad thing. Hope is what drives us for something better. It brings joy, stimulates the imagination, props us up even on the dark days. It is not a bad thing, but it can also be unreasonable. (For example, I’ve mostly gotten over the hope having a date with Scarlett Johansson, but… one never knows.) Do we always get what we hope for? According to Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones:

“You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometime you find
You get what you need.”

Unfortunately, that’s not always true either. There are those times when we don’t get what we want, what we hope for and we don’t get what we need. But even then, we do not stop hoping and we never should. John Paul II said, “I plead with you–never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.” There can always be hope, for there is only one place where all hope dies. Dante tells us about it in Inferno: the inscription over the gates of hell:

“Through me you enter the city of woe,
Through me you pass into eternal pain,
Through me you join the godforsaken tribe.
Justice moved my exalted Creator:

By the divine power was I erected,
And by supreme wisdom and primal love.
Before I was made nothing had been made
But things eternal, and I too am such.
Abandon all hope, ye who enter here!”

Hell is the end of hope and I pray that it is something that none of us ever experiences (although some of you should consider confession), but until we enter the final destination—heaven—we will hope. So then, we hope, but where is our hope placed?

The people had discovered where Jesus had gone off to and followed him out into that deserted place. They stayed late. Listening. Being healed. Simply wanting to be near him. The day was coming to a close, so the disciples told Jesus to tell the crowd that it was supper time and they needed go find something to eat. Jesus said, You feed them. The responded, We don’t have enough and we can’t afford more. Jesus response, Just feed them. There’ll be enough. Turns out, there was more than enough. This took place in chapter fourteen of Matthew’s Gospel. It will take place again in chapter fifteen, yet, in John’s Gospel, Jesus is reported to have said to the crowds, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” Where was the hope of the people placed? In Jesus or in supper? According to John, it was supper.

Early this week I read a blog post by Niel Knoblauch. His blog is called the Barefoot Ascent. Niel grew up and lived in South Africa, but he and his wife now live in the United Kingdom. Niel’s most recent blog entry is called “The Weight of Hope”, and after reading it, I knew I wanted to share it with you, so I wrote to him and asked for permission. He was kind enough to agree.

Like all of us, Niel has hopes, but there was one particular thing that he had been hoping and faithfully praying for. He knows that God is good, so he had faith that God would answer his prayer. Yet, even after praying for this one thing—for almost a decade—he had still not received it, which led him to be disappointed in God. Yes, disappointed in God, but then it hit him. He was convicted and writes, “I have placed the weight of my hope on what I wanted instead of placing it on Him… I’ve placed my trust in what I wanted and placed the question mark on God’s love and goodness, rather than placing my trust in God and the question mark (the discretion of whether this is what is good for me right now) on what I wanted.” His hope was on the thing and the sign of God’s goodness was whether or not God fulfilled that hope.

The multitudes who had been following Jesus around: perhaps, at first, they followed him for who he is, but that later changed to what he could do for them. In his blog post, Niel asked, “Has God’s goodness been on trial in your heart?” For the multitude, the answer was, Yes. I hope he will feed us supper again. I hope he will heal me. I hope that he will be the leader who gives us freedom… because, if he does these things, then he will really prove to us that he loves us. They placed the weight of their hope on what they wanted instead of placing the weight their hope on Him.

Hope is complicated, so we as a Christian people must remind ourselves of where our hope should be directed, because hope is not only an expression of our desires and our wants, Hope is also a person. St. Paul begins his first letter to Timothy by saying, “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, To Timothy, my true child in the faith.” (1 Timothy 1:1-2a) “…by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope.” Jesus is hope incarnate, hope made man.

Yes. We have hopes and dreams, but our true hope, above all else, is Christ Jesus. My friend Thomas à Kempis writes, “The wise lover [of God] regards not so much the gift of Him Who loves as the love of Him Who gives. He regards the affection of the Giver rather than the value of the gift, and sets his Beloved above all gifts. The noble lover does not rest in the gift but [the Lord who is] above every gift.” (The Imitation of Christ, Book 3, Chapter 6) The Giver, our Hope, Jesus is the one that we seek. The fact that he feeds us, clothes us, gives us those good things we desire… I would say those things are secondary, but the truth is, they aren’t even on the list. The weight of our hope is what lies behind Jesus’ words, “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Seek God and then consider the Lillies of the field.

Niel writes that seeking God’s kingdom first, “is part of what it means to surrender the control of our lives to God; to die to ourselves, so that we may live in Him and He may live in us; to really and truly follow Jesus. And it starts with putting the weight of our hope – of all our hopes and dreams – on Him. It starts with trusting Him with the most precious treasures hidden in the deepest places of our soul. It’s vulnerable and it’s messy. You see, only the One who made you, only the One who knows the depths of who you are better than you do yourself, are worthy and able to carry the weight of your most cherished hopes.”

So, consider Niel’s question: “Has God’s goodness been on trial in your heart?” Are you hoping in things that will pass away or are you hoping in the one who is Hope? Turn your love, affections and desires to God, offer them to him, then allow Him to give, to respond to your hopes and dreams according to His eternal purposes.

Let us pray:
You, O Lord our God, are above all things.
You alone are most high, most powerful, sufficient and satisfying.
You alone most sweet, consoling, beautiful and loving.
You alone are most noble, glorious and above all things.
In You is every perfection.
Therefore, whatever You give us besides Yourself is too small and insufficient when we do not see and fully enjoy You alone. For our hearts cannot rest or be fully content until, rising above all gifts and every created thing, we rest in You. Amen.
(adapted from The Imitation of Christ, Book 3, Chapter 21)

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