Genesis 28:10-19a; Romans 8:12-25; Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43

“For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”

Boy, do we need some hope right now. 2020 seems to be the gift that just keeps on giving. The world has had pandemic and natural disasters. Our country has faced both protest and backlash. Our parish has lost our rector. We had to close our doors to worship.  And after all that’s gone before in this almost unbelievable year, just about when we thought we MIGHT be able to finally hold a Eucharistic service, the rug is pulled out and we are closed again. We can have groups up to 10, but only for the purposes of live-streaming services, the food pantry, or administrative work.

This is not what we had hoped.

The Epistle to the Romans is the last of Paul’s authentic letters, and it’s addressed to a Church that he had no direct experience with. It was probably written about 57 or 58 C.E., at which time Paul had been a Christian for somewhere around 25 to 26 years. During all that time, Paul had been expecting Jesus to return at any moment. But he hadn’t, and Paul was beginning to face the fact that Jesus might not return before his own death. Spoiler alert: He didn’t.

This was not what Paul had hoped.

Paul could have given up. He could have said, “Well, I’m picking up my toys and going home. I don’t have time for this anymore.”

But he didn’t. He kept going. And out of the realization that he might have been wrong about WHEN Jesus was coming back comes his message of hope. We can’t see WHEN what we hope for – Jesus’ return and the remaking of all creation – will actually arrive. If we could see it, we wouldn’t NEED hope. That kind of thing is what hope is for. And don’t mistake Paul’s “hope” for “wish.” For Paul, “hope” is a knowledge that something WILL happen. The only question is when.

Like Paul we have hope that things WILL get better. It will happen. But we can’t see it. So, we have to live in hope, and that’s difficult. Sometimes we may believe it’s impossible, throw away hope, and give in to anger and despair. Hope has to be cultivated. It must be tended, fed, and watered to stay alive.

But how do we cultivate the hope that Paul says we have? It’s all well and good to SAY we have hope, but what can we do in our everyday lives to keep that  hope alive and growing? My Dominican brother, Jason Gaboury, dropped a blog post on on July 4 that made writing this sermon a LOT easier. It’s titled “I’m Scared – Cultivating Hope in an Anxious Time,” and he has graciously allowed me to include some of that material here. Jason offers a list of four practices that allow us to LIVE our hope, even as things get worse: Take Sabbath, Hold Jesus’ Words, Pray Daily, and Pursue Justice.

Take Sabbath – Taking Sabbath doesn’t mean going to church. It means rest. We need rest. In the Torah, God COMMANDS the Children of Israel to take a day of rest every week on the Sabbath. Not a day for household chores. A day of REST. Especially in the middle of crises, we don’t function well without rest, as anyone who has had a sleepless night knows. Sabbath is just as necessary for our spiritual health as sleep is for our physical health. How often do WE take Sabbath, just kick back and REST? I know I’m very bad at this, because I like to be busy, and I feel guilty if I’m not. There is just so much to do. But working constantly wears you down. Taking Sabbath helps to give us the mental and spiritual energy to go on.

Hold Jesus’ Words – In Marks’s gospel, the 4th chapter, Jesus and his disciples are crossing the Sea of Galilee and Jesus…takes a nap. A storm comes up, and it’s a bad one, so the disciples wake Jesus up. “Do something! Don’t you care that we’re going to sink and drown?” Jesus stops the storm, but then dresses down the disciples with “Why are you afraid? Do you STILL have no faith?”

From Brother Jason: “Like the disciples in the passage above, we default to fear and anxiety when we’re not holding onto the words of Jesus.  Jesus’ words are good news.  They speak of justice and mercy, of forgiveness and holiness, of compassion and wisdom.  Meditating on the words and work of Jesus has the ability to reshape our perspective, increase our hope, and inspire joy.” 

I would extend this to meditating on Paul’s words in the Epistle reading for today:But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” We can’t see yet what’s on the other side of this. This why faith and hope exist. And if the words of Jesus really ARE good news, we should be holding on to them so tightly that NOTHING can pry us loose.

Pray Daily – Sometimes I worry that I may sound like a broken record when I urge you all to get into the habit of daily prayer. It seems like I say it almost every other sermon, but that’s because I believe it is the single most important practice any Christian can cultivate. I think the biggest change in my own outlook came from building the habit of saying the Daily Office, Morning and Evening, every day. It does wonders for your world view.

But maybe the Office doesn’t suit you. That’s OK. There are other ways of praying. The FORM is not the important part. The important part is just that you do it regularly. We don’t have to make up fancy prayers. Maybe you just sit and tell God the things you’re worried about. You don’t have to be GOOD at it, just persistent. And there are plenty of resources out there to help. My Brother Jason says, “If prayer is difficult for you, and it is for many of us, try simply repeating a scripture like, ‘Lord, save us! We are perishing! (Matthew 8:25)”. It can be as simple as that.

Praying morning and evening really gives us a frame for our day. It moves our minds away from the world “out there” and refocuses us on God. We begin the day with God, and we end the day with God. Somehow, dealing with the stuff in between seems just a little easier.

Pursue Justice – The first three of these ways to hope are all about us personally. This one is about how we act in the world. If there is one lesson that we should be learning during this pandemic, it’s that we MUST take care of each other.

Fear makes us selfish. We are afraid, so we pull into ourselves. It’s a natural reaction, it’s a way of protecting ourselves. Unfortunately, this often results in us focusing more and more on our fear. We become more and more isolated from those around us.

Jason says, “Pursuing justice turns us outward, forcing us to consider not only our own wellbeing, but the interest and wellbeing of others.” And it doesn’t need to be in big ways, especially not to start. Simply turn your attention outside yourself, to the people in your neighborhood, in your town. What needs to THEY have that are not being met. How are THEY feeling right now? What might justice look like to THEM? Once you begin to care, you may find that your care grows beyond your local area.

We must, like Paul, live in hope. Living in hope means both taking care of ourselves: our bodies and minds, by keeping Sabbath; our spirits, by holding Jesus words and praying daily; and taking care of others, by pursuing justice. Doing these things will help us keep our focus on where it needs to be: on God.

I am going to ask Parker to put a link to Brother Jason’s essay on our website. It is very much worth reading. In the meantime, remember these four things to live in hope:

Take Sabbath

Hold Jesus’ Words

Pray Daily

Pursue Justice

Let us pray.

Almighty God, give us such a vision of your purpose and such an assurance of your love and power, that we may ever hold fast the hope which is in Jesus Christ our Lord who is alive with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and for ever. Amen.

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