11/15 Sunday Message
"The Journey Called Hope"
Before the pandemic, the space and time we would carve out for in-person church gatherings used to be totally separate from school of work. But now that everything is online - church, school, work, and other activities - everything we do seems to blur. Church may feel like work and school. Technology may have bridged physical distances, but for some of us it felt easier to drive or walk to church. Sometimes Zoom itself and various forms of technology are still difficult to navigate. The will to attend church online becomes a little bit harder to muster up - whether it be Sunday Zoom Bible Studies, Friday Youth Check-Ins, or Committee Meetings. Therefore, for those listening right now, I commend you for finding time out of your day. I just want to say that I understand that things are difficult right now. I believe what is needed now more than ever is hope. And so today, I would like to remind us of how we can understand hope.
Have you ever been forced to do something you did not want to do, especially when you were in an angry or sad mood? When I was kid, I’m still a kid, there would be instances of arguing with my parents and sister to the point where I become sad, and even cry, or just sit in a really angry mood. And these instances would always happen during an inconvenient time, like on the way to a family party. When we would get to the family party my parents would force me to get out of the car and expose my crying or angry self to my cousins, my aunts and uncles, and grandmas and grandpas. If I was crying, I would have to quickly wipe away my tears, fix my hair, clean my nose because I have boogers and snot dripping down toward my lips. If I was angry, I would have to force everything inside, and put on a fake smile and laugh toward that aunt who loves hugging you real tight and smells of heavy perfume.
During this pandemic, some of us may be experiencing moments of sadness and anger. Because of all the transitions in life, we have not had much time to engage that anger or sadness. To try and fix this, well intentioned people usually advise you to have hope. To have hope that this pandemic will end, to have hope that we will find a vaccine, to have hope that we will all see each other soon. For example, I was feeling sad one day, and my well intentioned friend tells me, well just hope for a better tomorrow. Like I knew what that meant, when 2020 seemed to get worse. The problem with this concept of hope packaged in a declarative statement is that it is very static and that it doesn’t leave space for you to actually heal and engage the problems you are facing. It is a hope that masks the problematic sentiment, “Just get over it.” It is a hope that places a bandaid on the wound without even treating it. It is a fleeting hope, a cheap hope.
Today I want us to reimagine hope. A hope that is more robust and sustaining. Specifically, I want us to cultivate a true hope in Jesus Christ.
Our bible passage of focus is found in Hebrews 6:13-20
13 When God made a promise to Abraham, because he had no one greater by whom to swear, he swore by himself, 14 saying, “I will surely bless you and multiply you.” 15 And thus Abraham, having patiently endured, obtained the promise. 16 Human beings, of course, swear by someone greater than themselves, and an oath given as confirmation puts an end to all dispute. 17 In the same way, when God desired to show even more clearly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it by an oath, 18 so that through two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible that God would prove false, we who have taken refuge might be strongly encouraged to seize the hope set before us. 19 We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.
A little background on the book of Hebrews, is that the entire book takes the form of a sermon, or an “exhortation,” which is an emphatic address, urging someone to do something. Scholars believe that the audience of this letter was a group of people who were facing persecution because of being followers of Jesus. And so they were getting tired of waiting for God’s promised kin-dom. They were getting tired of hoping for God’s promised kin-dom. And so the book of Hebrews is not only urging the followers of Jesus Christ to not abandon hope but I believe that the passage we just read, is reframing and reimagining hope.
The first point I want to highlight in this passage is that hope is a journey. Just like the United Methodist understanding of salvation being a journey, I want us to take on the perspective that hope is a journey as well. In the beginning of the passage it talks about Abraham, who God makes a promise to, a promise to guide his people, protect them, and lead them into a new land. And it says, “And thus Abraham,[d] having patiently endured, obtained the promise.” Notice how he makes it clear that Abraham patiently endured. One may even say patiently hoped.
In verse 19 it says that, 19 We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus, a forerunner on our behalf, has entered…There are two images that strike me in this verse: hope as a steadfast anchor of the soul, and hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain. See when I characterize hope as a journey, I want to be clear that it is not a journey of just waiting. Hope isn’t just expecting something to happen in the future.
I believe true hope, faces the challenges of today and moves you to take action to move toward that expectation in the future.
When the writer of Hebrews states that hope is an anchor, it reminds us that an anchor isn’t something that gets rid of something or suppresses something. An anchor’s function is to ground the boat so that it doesn’t move away from the shore or its place. Or metaphorically, an anchor grounds us so that we can actually face the waves, the struggles, the pain. We do not move toward some sort of escapism. But we use that hope to face the challenges we have today, and we use that hope to heal the pain we have received yesterday. I want to say this again that
I believe true hope, faces the challenges of today and moves you to take action to move toward that hope in the future.
Hope does not start from out there. Hope does not start when we actually start experiencing or seeing what we are expecting. Hope begins in the inner shrine behind the curtain. See within early Israel the only way you could communicate with God was if you were some sort of priest, who were allowed behind the curtain of an inner shrine. Anyone else would be vaporized into dust. However, now the passage says that the hope is readily available for us to grab on to. Verse 19 says, “we have this hope.”
I believe hope in this season of the pandemic, isn’t one that forces you to experience joy, isn’t one that forces a smile, isn’t one that forces us to suppress our pain and struggle. The hope in the season of the pandemic is one that allows us to look toward Jesus, causing us to take action and face the pain and struggles that we have experienced or are experiencing. And sometimes we just need to sit in that struggle to heal. My goal for this message is to remind you to make space for your own struggles, to stretch, to breath, and for us to be mindful of them. Because I believe it is in that mindfulness that we can begin to heal.
The question is not solely, what is that hope, or who is that hope? I believe the question is, how can we allow that hope to encourage us to take action today. For me, my hope is Jesus. An individual who embraced and healed those who were struggling, not only healing their physical infirmities, but also their souls. And so, how we can use this hope in Jesus to heal our pain. And from the passage in Hebrews I believe it first starts with the permission for you to embrace that struggle, I know it sounds counterintuitive, but I believe suppressing it may lead to more pain. See for me, the best medicine I have received when I’m crying and suddenly have to force myself to stop, are the words it is OK to cry. Or when I’m angry, and am forced to bottle it up, the best medicine is someone telling me, just let it out. And then from there we can move forward in the journey of true hope.
When we develop that hope, that anchor, even when the waves come, when the ocean tries to move us, we just float. We then realize that we are not just floating in struggles and turmoil, but we are also floating in God’s love and grace. Hope is going to take work, it is a journey that begins with a pause and a breath, and it is a journey that you take with other people. Notice it says, “We have this hope.” One way we can cultivate our own hope, is being the hope for other people. See God’s promise wasn’t just toward Abraham; it was to Abraham’s descendants. And Jesus didn’t live and die and rise just for one person, but for all of us. And that shows us that we are to be there for each other. We are to be the hope for other people. Hope starts from God, then moves into our hearts, moves into other people’s hearts, and then moves into the future.
I would like to close in meditation. I want to create a space that allows us to just recognize and be mindful of our struggles and tension, and allow us to begin moving toward healing. Shall we close our eyes.
Let this be our prayer.
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.