12/01/2019: Three Minutes of Hope

12/01/2019: Three Minutes of Hope

Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24: 36-44
A Sermon by Reverend Gretchen Jones Switzer

It seems to me that the Advent Sunday of Hope is tailor-made for this congregation.  We stand on the brink of the future, not quite knowing what to expect next.  Together, you have endured pain and anger and frustration in the past.  But I can already see that there was an undercurrent of hope throughout the trials and tribulations the Federated Church has gone through in recent years.  You are poised on the brink of new life, new faith and God’s promises of hope and, together with God, we will journey forward into your marvelous future!

Meanwhile, it is Advent and we are preparing for the wonderful, magnificent life-giving promise of Christmas.

The next four weeks of Advent will find us preparing to welcome Jesus Christ into our midst and into our hearts once more; getting us ready to meet him face to face.

So, this is the Sunday of Hope and I want to begin with a story.  A guy named Rabbi Hugo Gryn endured life in the Auschwitz concentration camps as a young boy.  The story goes that food supplies were meager and the inmates took care to preserve every scrap of food that came their way. When the festival of Hannukah arrived, Hugo’s father took a lump of margarine and to the horror of his son, used it as a fuel for the light to be lit at the festival.  When he was asked why, his dad replied, “We know it is possible to live for three days without food, but without hope it is impossible to live properly for three minutes.”

I think the Advent Sunday of Hope is probably my favorite Sunday of the season, second only to Christmas Eve.  Today, I look around and, in the world, and in our own country, I see frustration, pessimism and a dismal kind of dread that is permeating every aspect of our life together as Americans.  I think we are scared of what will happen next in America. I think we feel powerless to change things for the better.  Keeping a hopeful heart is so very, very difficult.

Then along came Jesus.   How could that tiny newborn make so much difference in the world?  How does his love permeate our hearts over 2000 years later?   We can’t necessarily answer those questions, can we? But our faith tells us to believe in the magnificent possibilities of Jesus Christ, in the promise of peace and love, and joy and hope offered to us by God at Christmas.

But it is still really trying to hang onto faith and hope these days, isn’t it?  Seems as if every piece of good news we hear is accompanied by tow or three pieces of bad news.  And, I think a lot of us have begun to live in a constant state of dread.  “Dread”, in the dictionary, if defined as “great fear or apprehension.” Dreading something means, “anticipating it with a huge amount of fright, trepidation or anxiety.” It is extremely challenging to feel hopeful, when we are filled with dread.  What is going to go wrong next?  What kind of mess is humanity creating for itself? What can I do about it, anyway? Where is God in all this?

So, the gospel passage from Matthew this morning is about the return of Christ.  I remember as a kid, thinking that when Jesus came back, we were all gonna be in a lot of trouble.  Even then, I knew we weren’t living our lives as God would like us to.  In fact, many Christian traditions teach us that when Jesus comes back, there will literally “be hell to pay.”  But Jesus’ message in this passage is that we’ll be okay when he comes back, as long as we have been living as he taught us to. There will be no warning about when we may be judged.  There will be no advanced notice when Christ returns and decides who stays and who goes. So, he warns us to be vigilant, to live as God has taught us to ALL the time, so no matter when Christ returns, he will find us faithful.

“Understand this,” he says, “if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.”  In order to be found faithful in the moment of judgement, we have to be doing our best to live as Jesus taught us to live every moment of every day, every week, month and year!

Now, there are those who say, “I have no idea what God is asking of me. How do I live faithfully?”  But what I would suggest to you this morning is that we DO know.  We know we are to live with love and compassion for others.  We DO know we are expected to treat each other with respect and kindness. We DO know that God wants us to reach out and help those in need.  We DO know that we are expected to work for peace, and be charitable, and live as faithfully as we can to what we learn in THIS BOOK!!  Try as we might to say we don’t know what God wants of us; in fact, WE DO KNOW!!!  Whether we like or not is a whole other subject.

So, hope lies in the promise of God. Hope lies in our desire to be faithful.  Hope is what tells us that what’s coming for us, God’s love, is WAY BETTER than anything we could possibly imagine.  Even better than the birth of a perfect child come to teach us the way, or an earth-shattering teacher, who has given us the recipe for the ultimate hope, the promise of forgiveness and everlasting life, everlasting faith and most important everlasting love!  God promises us far more wonderful things than we can even now imagine, and we have to keep hanging on to the hope that those promises are entirely true.

The Barcelona Olympics of 1992 provided one of Track and Field’s most incredible moments. Britain’s Derek Redmond had dreamed all his life of winning a Gold medal in the 400 meter race and his dream was in sight as the gun sounded in the semifinals at Barcelona.  He was running the race of his life and could see the finish line as he rounded the turn into the backstretch. Suddenly, he felt a sharp pain go up the back of his leg. He fell face first onto the track with a torn right hamstring. Sports Illustrated recorded the dramatic events: as the medical attendants were approaching, Redmond fought to his feet. It was animal instinct; he would say later.  He set out hopping, in a crazed attempt to finish the race. When he reached the final stretch a large man in a T-shirt came out of the stands, hurled aside a security guard and ran to Redmond, embracing him.  It was Jim Redmond, Derek’s father. “You don’t have to do this,” he told his weeping son. “Yes, I do.” Said Derek. “Well then,” said Jim, we’re going to finish this together. And they did.

Fighting off the security men, the son’s head sometimes buried on his father’s shoulder, they stayed in Derek’s lane all the way to the end, as the crowd gasped, then rose, and howled and wept. Derek didn’t walk away with the gold medal, but he walked away with an incredible memory of a father, who when his son was in pain, left his seat in the stands to help him finish the race.

Folks, that is where our hope is too, because that’s what God does for us. What God does for us.  That’s why we can have hope no matter what!  When we are experiencing pain and setbacks and we’re struggling to finish the race, we can be confident that we have a loving father who won’t let us down, who doesn’t leave us all alone, to do this all alone.  God left his place in heaven to come alongside us in the person of Jesus Christ.  “I am with you always,” says Jesus, “To the very end of the age.”

With a God like this, how could we ever give up hope?