Hope During Uncertainty

Good Morning Church,

Welcome to our second week of the Advent season, the week of hope and anticipation. We come to this season of Advent with hope for the future that we will share in Jesus Christ. There is hope for the beloved community and in the beloved community that Jesus promised to his disciples and followers two thousand years ago. This is the hope of Advent, that Jesus can transform our hearts just enough that this beloved community can emerge.

In his book, Everybody's Normal Till You Get to Know Them, John Ortberg says, “The North American Common Porcupine is a member of the rodent family that has around 30,000 quills attached to his body. Each quill can be driven into an enemy, and the enemy’s body heat will cause the microscopic barb to expand and become more firmly embedded. The wounds can fester; the more dangerous ones, affecting vital organs, can be fatal. ...Porcupines don’t always want to be alone. In the late autumn, a young porcupine’s thoughts turn to love. ... Fear and anger make them dangerous little creatures to be around. This is the Porcupine’s Dilemma: How do you get close without getting hurt? This is our dilemma, too.”

This is the challenge, how do we build this beloved community that we all hope for, without getting hurt in the process. Every major figure in human history that has attempted to do this has found resistance along the way, from Jesus, to Gandhi, Martin Luther, John Wesley, to MLK and others. Human history has witnessed those who have tried their hardest to build this beloved community, have made some inroads, but also experienced rejection and pain along the way. They remained focused because they had hope that the day would come when this world would look the way that we all want it too.

Jurgen Moltmann, in his book, Theology of Hope, wrote that “hope finds in Christ not only a consolation in suffering, but also the protest of the divine promise against suffering.” Those who hoped in Christ “can no longer put up with reality as it is, but begin to suffer under it, to contradict it.” We are looking for freedom from the way things have been, in hopes that they can finally be the way Jesus intended. When I reflect on those who have lived into hope no matter the consequence, I am reminded of the language of Zechariah 9:12: “Return to your fortress you prisoners of hope.”

I want to be a prisoner to hope! I pray that no matter the challenges I face in life, I will continually rest in the hope of Jesus Christ. That like MLK and others, I will find the hope of Christ and this beloved community to be simply too infectious to ignore. This is what advent is for me. A hope that is so infectious that I can not ignore it any longer. When I speak about being a prisoner to hope, this is not for me the same thing as optimism. Optimism is too sentimental for me, it relies on the hope that things will progress someday. Hope rather, is the promise of the victory of Jesus Christ. Hope is the understanding that this world will be changed, because Jesus will except nothing less.

I believe that this is part of what kept people like MLK and John Wesley going, even when no one else would buy what they were selling. Revolutionaries understand that the work that most needs being completed is the very work that will be the hardest to achieve. And yet, when things get tough and most people would step down, they continue pushing forward. The promise and hope of the better life in Christ is simply too tantalizing to give up on.

As we continue to walk through a most unusual Advent season, this would be a great time to remain focused on the promise of the beloved community. We must not lose hope in the work that Jesus has begun, continues, and will do in the future. We are also called to live more into that hope each and every day. Advent is a time of preparation. We are called to allow for the Holy Spirit to shift our hearts, to be more in line with the will of Christ.

As Methodists, we have always been a hopeful people. Our tradition has spanned now over three hundred years. We have seen wars, plagues, times of division and times of separation, yet here we are. We have endured because of our faith and hope in the work that Jesus can do through us. This time is no different in this regard. We are called to remain hopeful that Jesus will guide us through uncertain times.

It may seem difficult to remain hopeful in such challenging times, but I believe that this is possible through the grace of Jesus Christ. In our passage, the writer says “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” By living into the love of God, the people of God have been sustained. By living into the love of God, we have been able to endure through life’s greatest trials.

Remember that true community does not happen overnight, just like the hope we have in Christ was not formed over night. It takes time to build the faith that will sustain us and it requires work to maintain this hope too. As we continue to engage the Spirit this Advent season, we will see ourselves being tweaked by God’s eternal grace. We will see our lives become more like Jesus. We will be drawn closer to the Almighty. In doing so, we will become more hopeful for the work that Christ has been doing in our lives, our local community, and the world.

The choice is ultimately our own. We can choose to be people of hope or not. If we choose to be people of hope, we will be faced with more decisions along the way. Decisions that will define the trajectory of the rest of our lives. When we choose to be people of hope, there is no turning back. Even when life becomes difficult and we feel like we can not move forward, we remind ourselves of the hope that we chose to live within. In doing so, we will be able to take each next step. For some they will see our choices as inspiring, while for others we will seem strange. In Christ, we will only see the beauty of this promised community drawing closer. I believe that this promise can be the driving force behind all the work that we have ahead of ourselves.

Friends, as we come out of this time with COVID-19 sometime in the next year, we will need to be the church in even bigger ways. The world is going to need compassionate and thoughtful people who are looking for nothing more than simply being a friend. The world is going to be hungry for a new life to emerge. I believe that with the hope of Christ, we can bring that beloved community out even more because we are all desiring to see it today. Never give up on the love of Jesus and let us prepare ourselves for the work that will be ours in due time. Amen.