April 1, 2018
Union University Church
Reverend Laurie DeMott
Hope is a frustrating thing. Just when you need it most, it is often the hardest to find.
I’ve been thinking a lot about hope lately — actually I’ve been thinking about it for the last six weeks because our Lenten theme has been the art of hope. And so every week since Ash Wednesday, I have scoured the internet for quotes about hope to put in the bulletin. Every week, I have done Bible searches for scriptures about hope, and have probably read every 191 passages in which the word “hope” appears. I have read blogs and articles and scholarly treatises about the meaning of hope, from both secular and Christian perspectives. I’ve preached about the various arts that inspire us with hope, and looked at the examples you have sent me of the writings, art work, dance, and music that have inspired you with hope. And over the past six weeks, I’ve watched this beautiful banner emerge, as members of the congregation, both young and old, have created a visual testimony to the places in the world which express hope to us.
And in a surreal kind of way, all of this thinking and preaching about hope has been done against the backdrop of a world that seems intent upon dishing out despair on a daily basis. As we sang our hymns of hope here in the sanctuary, the world outside our doors shouted words of hatred and anger at one another. After we read the stories of scripture on Sunday that lifted our hearts in hope, we woke up the next day to a world with fists raised in brutal strife. Even as we prayed of hope here as a congregation, we knew too well that many of our own members were struggling with grief, the loss of loved ones, illness, anxiety, depression, and personal trials. Sometimes it has felt like we should be making this banner not of fabric but of brick so that we could throw it between us and a world apparently insistent that hope is a foolish sentiment and that despair is the only truth.
Hope is a frustrating thing. Just when you need it most, it is often the hardest to find. And we should know, because we’ve invested a lot of time this Lent looking for it.
But I think what I’ve learned throughout these weeks of Lent is that to look for hope in times of despair is to go about the whole thing backwards. In fact, to tell someone in despair, “Have hope,” is like telling a blind man, “Just open your eyes, why don’t you?,” or a depressed woman, “Just cheer up,” or a broken world, “Just heal yourself.” While we in our human despair strive mightily to find the hope we need to go on, the Christian proclamation is that hope isn’t something you find at all; hope is something you receive. The disciples spent years with Jesus trying to understand the nature of his transformative love and at the end of that journey, stood before the cross, and experienced only the loss of every possible human avenue toward hope. They had blustered and bragged about their own capabilities only to discover at the end that their strength and courage had failed them; their wisdom was expended, and they couldn’t even imagine any road beyond the cross. The gospel of John says that the disciples were so full of despair that they decided the whole journey with Jesus had just been a foolish enterprise and they returned to their boats and fish nets; they returned to the way things had been before when nothing new was possible.
And then on the third morning, when it was still dark — dark with despair and loneliness and hopelessness burying the hearts of those disciples — God raised up Christ to new life saying to them, “I know there is nothing left in you to carry you into tomorrow, so let me lift you up; let me give you the hope you cannot find on your own,” and on that morning God’s light overcame their darkness, God’s life overcame the death that had engulfed them; God’s love overcame the cruelty and torment of the world that had seemed so triumphant the night before. The disciples didn’t find hope; they received it from the hands of God. And with that gift embracing their hearts, they were remade and renewed. They themselves were given new life.
Hope is not something we find; it is something we are given. This congregation gives it to us by the way in which we reach out to one another in tender kindness and reminders that we are not alone. We receive it as a gift from our youth and children who refuse to give up on humanity and instead join hands and voices to work for a better tomorrow. We receive it in the beauty of a green shoot pushing its way through a winter weary land. And God gives us hope over and over again in the promise that no matter what suffering we endure and no matter how bad the world gets, God will be right there in the muck with us, and if we trust in God’s guidance, God will bring us eventually to solid ground and a new day.
Stop looking for hope, Instead, open your hearts and receive it, for this is Easter; God’s gift of hope to a weary world.