A Hope That Doesn’t Disappoint
I will confess, I struggled with this Sunday’s sermon. How could I possibly be pontificating about the deeper systematic theology of Justification in this passage, in a time of this many crises. Urgent and pressings things are knocking at our doors right now, the call to serve, the call to protest, the call to stand up for the marginalized, the call to demand of politicians, the call to denounce racism, the call to denounce bigotry, the call to drop off groceries and diapers, the call to clean up neighborhoods and sidewalks, the call to spread awareness and educate ourselves, and the list goes on and on.
It would be tone deaf of me, and I know that Pastor John feels the same way as he has been speaking to these situations each Sunday, to preach a sermon that does not address the immediacy of these crises. But does this passage have anything to say to us, is there any encouragement any hope in this text.
Well, when Paul writes that “suffering produces endurance”, I don’t believe that that’s a sentiment in a sermon for right now from me a white cis-het man. Because I’ve been listening, I’ve been reading the testimonies and I’ve been personally hearing the testimony of friends and individuals in the black community who have been suffering and you know what…they’re tired. They’re damn tired. There may be black clergy who draw on that exact sentiment this Sunday from this lectionary passage and I couldn’t support it more. But I’m not going to speak that word over a group of people that I could never fully understand their experiences.
“Endurance produces character”—sure perhaps. But before we can talk about character we need to talk about the respect someone deserves for being a human being. For existing.
Black lives aren’t valued by individuals and the systems of this country, trans lives aren’t valued, immigrants lives aren’t valued, people of color’s lives aren’t valued, people with different sexual orientations lives aren’t valued, people living with disabilities’ lives aren’t valued, and the list goes on. So, before we talk about character, we need to talk about someone’s inherent right as a child of God to not be killed or discriminated against or oppressed. So, I won’t be preaching on that.
But, the Word of God through the Holy Spirit speaks, through that Spirit scripture speaks, and Paul in our lectionary passage continues on writing that hope…“hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us”. And that is something that will preach on that—because the hope of Christ prevails and can live in us in our most dire of times. What does it mean for hope to not “disappoint us” in a time like this?
Well, if we’re talking about normal circumstances, if we’re talking about hoping in something worldly then there’s no guarantees that it won’t. Hope in our conceptions and efforts alone may very well disappoint. But what Paul is discussing here is not that, but a hope in Christ. And this isn’t meant to sound preachy, I believe this is sound Lutheran theology. This kind of Hope is faith. And to have faith is perhaps better understood as trusting in the promises of God. This kind of hope has existed and uplifted through all of time and will forever-more. We’re not justified by our deeds or actions it’s a gift of Grace, a gift freely given and freely received. So what are these promises of God that we can know, that we can trust in that will not disappoint?
Well it’s the promise that good has already in Jesus Christ and will one day ultimately triumph over evil—in *all* its forms.
It’s the promise that God is found in the oppressed and the marginalized of this world, *always* has been and *always* will be.
It’s the promise that death does not have the last word. Not for George Floyd, not for Breonna Taylor, not for Ahmaud Arbery, not for any of the victims of hate, not for any of the hundreds of thousands of people that have died globally from this covid-19 pandemic, not for anyone. And as my Pastor Judy will say, “death still has a word” this pain and this suffering is real, it’s very real, it’s very embodied. And our hope despite that is that the death and hate in this world will not have the *final* word.
But this is not a Hope, that Paul speaks about, that one can have sitting back and sitting on one’s hands saying “yeah, someone should really do something about that”. No, this is a hope, this is an ushering in of these promises through the Kingdom of God that takes our faithful obedience to our call as Christians to love our neighbors as ourselves and to love our Lord Jesus Christ. It is through the faith of individuals and the faith of communities that God has ushered in the small lived realities of these promises and I’ll tell us all something I know, thankfully for this Hope and unfortunately for us—it is not always through the Christian communities who are *supposed* to be doing this work that it is ushered in. But the promises of God cannot be stopped if it is God’s will for them to be done. And if Christ’s followers are silent in the midst of this Hope, others will cry out without us.
So, what are we as a Church to do and what is this church to do in response to these crises and the needs in our own back yard. I know that many from this church have been doing and are continuing to do their part: serving food, donating time and effort towards giving communities directly affected by these crises basic household items, serving on cleanup crews, some attending these protests like myself, others who are not able supporting financially to the organizations helping these efforts, educating yourselves by reading and learning, wearing masks, supporting this church’s efforts to protect its members by remaining online at this time, and many other ways. My hope and prayer for today is that we stay in this conversation, we stay committed towards our efforts for change, and most importantly we continue to Hope in the promises of Christ in these times of trial. Christ’s promises do not disappoint.
I’d like to end this sermon and leave you with a short benediction written by Benedictine Sister Ruth Fox of Sacred Heart Monastery that seems to speak to the times we find ourselves in.
“May God bless you with discontent with easy answers, half-truths, superficial relationships, so that you will live from deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, abuse, and exploitation of people, so that you will work for justice, equality, and peace.
May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you will reach out your hand to comfort them and to change their pain to joy.
May God bless you with the foolishness to think you can make a difference in this world, so that you will do the things which others tell you cannot be done.
If you have the courage to accept these blessings, then God will also bless you with:
happiness—because you will know that you have made life better for others
inner peace—because you will have worked to secure an outer peace for others
laughter—because your heart will be light
faithful friends—because they will recognize your worth as a person.
These blessings are yours—not for the asking, but for the giving—from One who wants to be your companion, our God, who lives and reigns, forever and ever. Amen.”