Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister

 

 

 

The Hope to Which We are Called

Sunday, September 18, 2005

 

 

Ephesians 1: 17-23

Luke 24: 44-48

 

 Rev. Dean Snyder

 

The first years of the church’s life were very strange. First of all, it was amazing that the story of an unordained itinerate Jewish rabbi and healer who was crucified and who his disciples said rose again, it was amazing that so many people so quickly paid so much attention to this story.

 

It is amazing the reaction that this story caused in people. People reacted in a hundred different ways. People who had been living lives as though they were merely surviving – taking life as it came, taking one day at a time — suddenly were filled with new energy, new hope and new possibilities. But they weren’t quite sure what the hope was.

 

These days there are so many ideas floating around that we look back at it in the Bible and think that it was all logical and rational and made sense. But it wasn’t. It was like living in the middle of a popcorn popper with new ideas exploding and new possibilities bursting all around you. So, this story of Jesus crucified and resurrected created all sorts of hopes in people.

 

There were a group of people, Jesus’ most immediate disciples, who hoped that he would become King of Israel and restore their nation to its former glory. One of the most poignant scenes in the Bible is on the day of the ascension, when the resurrected Jesus is with his disciples and his disciples say: “Now will you restore the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus replied: “Restoring the kingdom to Israel really isn’t your concern. You should not worry about that. Your job is to be my witnesses, to travel throughout your community, into other regions and even to the end of the world, telling the story about me and my life, my death and my resurrection.” And they were disappointed in their hope. Jesus’ first disciples were disappointed in their hope that he would become King of Israel and they would get to sit at his right hand and at his left hand in the cabinet.

 

Then there were people whose hope was that Jesus would come again quickly. Jesus would come again quickly and establish a new age on earth. Jesus would punish the unrighteous and reward the faithful. He would turn the earth into a place of justice and glory for Jesus’ followers. That was their hope and they thought that it would happen in their lifetime. And they were disappointed in their hope, because soon an entire generation of Jesus’ disciples had died and Jesus had not come again to establish a new age of peace and justice.

 

Then there were others, and perhaps this is the most poignant group. There were others for whom life was so difficult. Life on earth was so difficult for them that they had a hope that somehow Jesus would elevate them and lift them out of all of the world’s troubles and disappointments, and lift them up to the air. We translate into English the word used in the Bible for this as “rapture.”  Some of Jesus’ followers hoped that they would be raptured up into heaven and escape all of the pain and disappointment and hardship of this life. Their hope was disappointed.

 

All of these hopes are in the Bible and they appear again and again throughout the history of Christianity. There are people who hope that we can somehow figure out how to get the right leaders within our political societies and this will bring a reign of peace and justice to our world. But it doesn’t happen. Politics disappoints us, again and again.

 

Then there are Christians who are waiting today for Jesus to break through the clouds and establish miraculously a new age of peace and justice in our midst. There are those who are waiting to be raptured, to be caught up into heaven. You can tell when life gets particularly overwhelming and confusing because there will always be a new burst of hope that we will somehow be caught up so that we will escape this life.

 

I am amazed that the Left Behind series about the rapture sits at Costco – at Costco – not in Christian book stores, but at Costco in stacks this high. Millions of people in our society are reading about the possibility that somehow we may be rescued from something that seems confusing and dissatisfying and that we don’t know our way through.

 

Well, I am focusing my study this fall and this winter on the Book of Ephesians. The Book of Ephesians is a particularly powerful description of the significance and meaning of Jesus Christ. The Book of Ephesians is a late epistle; it is very late in the life of the early church. Some of the Book of Ephesians includes a summary of the teaching of the apostle Paul. Scholars debate this, but I believe that the book was written after the death of the apostle Paul and included a summary of his teaching as well as the next step in the thinking of the church.

 

I believe that the Book of Ephesians comes out of a time of discouragement within the church. They had hoped Jesus would establish a new kingdom in Israel and it hadn’t happened. They had hoped that Jesus would come again and establish a reign of peace and justice on the earth and reward the faithful and punish those that were unrighteous. It hadn’t happened. Some people were hoping that they would be caught up in the air to escape all this, and it hadn’t happened. So, I think that the Book of Ephesians comes out of a time of discouragement when people did not know what to hope for any more.

 

In the midst of that discouragement, the writers of Ephesians say a very special thing and it is the title of this sermon this morning. They talk about the hope to which God has called you. They talk about the hope to which we as followers of Jesus Christ are called. They suggest that hope isn’t something that happens to us. Hope is something that we are called to, and that happens through us. Hope isn’t something that God is going to do for us. Hope is something that God calls us to be agents and instruments of, and longs to work through us.

 

Labor Day weekend Jane and I and some of us were at the Reconciling Ministries Network Conference at Lake Junaluska in North Carolina. We were part of this worship, celebration, and inspiring event that we hope will help the United Methodist Church be more inclusive and welcoming and affirming of all. After the conference was over, I got a lot of questions, not only from people here at Foundry, but people from around the nation, saying to me: “Now that there’s been this conference with some of the controversy that surrounded it, are you hopeful for the United Methodist Church?” My response was: “Well, after the conference, I am confident that the Spirit of God is moving. I am confident that we as a society are learning and understanding some things and some new ways and are changing. But the only reason that I am hopeful for the United Methodist Church is because I have come away from this conference with the sense that God is calling me to commit myself to an inclusive church more than ever. My hope is not in the facts of what is happening in the denomination. My hope is in the sense that God has called me to be a person who makes my denomination more hopeful.

 

I want to make an analogy. I want to use some folk as a sermon illustration. It’s O.K. I warned them that I would be doing this. Debra Whitten, Jane Malone my wife, and I are helping to facilitate a Pre-Cana Weekend here at Foundry Church. We do two of them a year. This is the new pattern that is emerging: one in the fall and we have one scheduled for March of next year. Pre-Cana Weekends are marriage or commitment preparation weekends for people who are planning marriage or a holy union or some recognition of their love and commitment for one another. So couples come and spend a long weekend working very hard at preparing for their marriage.

 

I am very proud of them because I think it is a wonderful thing when people take their marriages and their commitments to one another as seriously as the participants do in our Pre-Cana Weekend. So, I would like to introduce to you our Pre-Cana couples for this weekend. I would like to ask them to stand, if you would. Congratulations on the good work that you are doing. This is important to us as a church and to all of society as well as to you. Please encourage them in their work.  

 

I do this in part as a way of encouraging all of us who may be thinking about our relationships to consider participating in this kind of experience. But I want to use it as an illustration as well this morning. 

 

This is what I think these folk are doing this weekend – and not just this weekend, but especially this weekend. We fall in love. Relationships are given to us as a gift. Commitment – working out your commitment, your marriage, your union – is realizing that love is more than something that happens to us. Love is more than something we fall into. Love is more than something that is simply given to us. Love is also something that we are called to. We are given the gift of love, but then we are called to nurture it, to strengthen it, to deepen it, and to make it grow within ourselves.

 

It is the same with hope. We may be given a glimpse of hope, but then hope is something that we are called to: to nurture it, to have it grow within ourselves and then to be instruments and agents of hope for others and for the world around us.

 

The world is discouraged. We live in a world that is discouraged. There are whole continents of people who are asking how they will survive AIDS. They are discouraged and without hope. The people of Christ are called to step forward and to say: “We are your hope. Not just to say you ought not to be discouraged and to hope, but we have been called by God through Jesus Christ to be your hope. Here we are to be with you in the midst of this.

 

There are people who are discouraged by war. War seems persistent. It seems not to get any better. War seems to be happening consistently around us. People are in despair that we will ever figure out how to live in peace with one another. We are called, the people of Jesus Christ, to be the world’s hope, not just to say you ought not be discouraged and have hope, but to step out and give ourselves in such a way that because of what we do the world will become hopeful.

 

Many of us are discouraged about how a whole region of our nation will somehow recover from this. Sandy Rowland and her team step forward and say: “We are your hope. We have been called to be hope.”

 

I believe that if we are followers of Jesus Christ, God through Jesus Christ is calling each one of us to be hope in some situation of life where people are discouraged. Not just to talk about hope. Not just to tell people how they are to be hopeful. But to step out and into the midst of that situation and become hope for the world. 

 

 

 

 

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