Wired for Hope

Sermon Preached at The Lakes of Pointe West
in Vero Beach, Florida
on Sunday, October 15, 2006
Proper 23B

Human beings are wired for hope. You might find this statement a bit ironic in light of the gospel story this morning. The rich man asks Jesus, "Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?" Jesus first remdins the man of the Great Commandments. After assuring Jesus he has obeyed these commands, Jesus continues to tell the man that he must sell what he owns and give the money to the poor and then he will have treasure in heaven. When he hears this, the rich man is shocked and goes away grieving.

In light of teachings such as this it is difficult to hold on to hope, isn't it? So often our lives seem to present us with ample opportunity for disappointment and little opportunity for hope. Just a quick glance through the front section of yesterdya's Indian River County newspaper yesterday delivered stories of domestic violence, lawsuits, stabbings, and drug and alcohol abuse. The powers and principalities are truly at work in our lives trying to stamp out hope. And yet, I contend, that human beings are wired for hope. We are an Easter people - a hope-filled people rooted in the Christian affirmation that Jesus is the promise of the future. In light of all of life's disappointments then, we must work at hope. To keep hope alive, we must cultivate tasks that garner hope and weed out disappointment.*

For hope to be cultivated it cannot be masked by illusion or by utopian visions for both of these lead ultimately back to disappointment and despair. Instead, hope must be cultivated within the realities of finitude, contingency, and transcience. First, finitude: you and I will die. Contingency: accidents - hurricanes, forest fires - do happen. Transcience: everything passes. Hope, to be life-bgiving, must be practical. Hope must be personal. And, hope must be particular. For some of us hope is self-sustained. We all know people who seem hopeful no matter what life throws at them. For most of us, however, hope is supported by community. Whenever you visit your neighbor, you come both as yourself and as a representative of the larger Christian community. You come bearing the reminder of Christ's promise for the future. You come in hope, offering hope - a hope that provides strength for the day and freedom from the past. This kind of hope, Christian hope, is firmly rooted in the here and now. There are no false expectations with this hope - death will still come, accidents will still happen, and everything will continue to pass. But, cultivating hope in one's life will yield a harvest of gratitude for opportunities, a harvest of generosity of spirit and, above all a harvest of freedom.

Let me say a bit more about this hope-filled freedom. Hope-filled freedom allows each of us, at any point in time, the freedom to choose the attitude with which we will face the realities of our world. Viktor Frankl, a holocaust survivor, wrote, "The last of all human liberties is your choice of attitude." They cannot take that away from you. We may not always like the choices we are given, but ultimately, the freedom to choose our attitude remains firmly our own. As Christians we are called to cultivate an attitude of hope.

In today's gospel, the rich man lost hope upon hearing Jesus' words. For him to sell all that he had and give to the poor was more than he could imagine. He despaired over this choice and so went away disappointed. But, had he stuck around a bit longer, he would have heard Jesus' words to the disciples, "How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!" When the disciples expressed their confusion, they asked Jesus, "Then who can be saved?" And Jesus responded, "For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible." You and I will never earn our way into heaven. That rich man will never earn his way into heaven. Earning one's way into heaven is an impossibility. But, for God, all things are possible. Salvation is not a human endeavor. Salvation is a God-given gift. A gift that is not for you or for me to understand or explain. Instead it is a gift that is to be graciously accepted. When we hold fast to that Good News, we are cultivating hope.

The disappointments in our lives will continue. But as certain as that is, so too is the certainty of God's promise for the futre. When we live a life of hope, we are saying yes to the light breaking through the darknses, the light that refuses to out in the face of adversity. And this light is our Hope. And whether we choose an attidue of hope - focusing on the light - or whether we choose to focus on the darkness will make a world of difference in each day. And this is the promise: our hope is not in vain because "for God all things are possible."

*This sermon relies greatly for inspiration on a talk given by Dr. Martin Marty at Central DuPage Hospital on October 11, 2006, "Harvesting Hope in Healthcare."


Ryan said…
Preachin to Vero! Yeah!

Debra said…
They invited me to celebrate the Eucharist before they knew that I was a transitional deacon . . . and most likely before they realized other things about me as well. In any event, it was good to visit with my Grandfather and to check on your Duneswood (still there. . . looking much better than the last time)