Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Message of Hope, It Never Grows Old

Westminster Presbyterian Church
Dec 5, 2010 - Romans 15:1-13

Perception is reality. This phrase and concept is one philosophical attempt to make sense of the world. Perception is reality.  

Is the glass half empty or half full.  (I’ve never really liked that object lesson. One friend said, Engineers say the glass is the wrong size.)  
Is the world going to hell in a handbasket....hmm

Perception is reality.
It’s great to watch shows like the daily show, or Colbert Report, or read The Onion news. These “Fake news” outlets have a very different perception of the world from most news outlets.  They

One of the headlines of on about the recent increase in airport security:

Disgusted TSA Agents Also Calling For End To Body Scanning, Thorough Pat-Downs

Huh, i’d failed to consider their side of the coin.  (this joke attempt bombed)

Our lesson today comes from Paul’s letter to the Romans.  What was their reality? While we have our perceptions about what life may have been like in first century Rome; we can never know. Was there concern among the common roman citizens about the constant push to expand and conquer and exert influence? Was there a concern for security? Were their budget crises? Increasing number of migrants moving into overpopulated cities?  Maybe people were no longer respectful of one another; lines were drawn and labels applied. Long haired rebellious Romans verses the Romans who had short Cesar hair the guy from Little Cesar’s pizza.  Maybe there were the righteous and powerful Jupiter worshiping Romans verses the pagans who put other gods at the Jesus.

Who knows, but there were divisions; there were concerns. Life was hard.  People died young.  

A Jewish man who was also a Roman citizen named Paul wrote the fledgling, finicky, and panicky community that has decided to follow Jesus; And he’s trying to give them a little - hope.  
Not a bad thing to do, is it.  The message of hope, it never grows old.  And he seems to be saying that followers of Jesus ought to perceive the world differently from the way that it may really seem. Filled with hope

Paul says that that is the main purpose of the Hebrew Bible; written to give hope, to create hope in us.  Perception is reality right? Well, what do the scriptures or Paul mean when they talk about hope?   

How many of you used hope in a sentence last week?
I hope I have a good week at work.
I hope my team wins.  
I hope it snows.
I hope Ruby goes to sleep..trasie’s words last night at 10:30 pm.

Hope--kind of an illusive term.  Sometimes, hope is something we call upon as a last resort:
it is what we do after all our planning and preparing is done; it is what we do if we cannot fix whatever problem we’re facing. This perspective puts us at the center of the universe,  God is what is there to take up the slack.  (Feasting on the Word, Cynthia Campbell, Romans 15:4-13)

Sometimes, hope is buying a lottery ticket or going to the casino (any takers recently?). Hope is some force in the universe that will come to our rescue or aid and give us what we want.  “luck” or “fate” or “chance” or “serendipity” or “providence”--Call it what you want; it depends on the random events that fall our way and just may change our lives for the better. (Feasting on the Word, Cynthia Campbell, Romans 15:4-13)

I don’t know that Paul had either of these understandings of hope in mind when he wrote the Roman Christians. For Paul, “The ground for hope is neither the last resort nor random chance. The ground is God: the God of steadfastness and encouragement, the God of hope.  Is this our God? It depends on our trust of God.  It depends on God’s faithfulness.  Perception is reality.
Is the faithfulness of God is demonstrated in Christ enough for us?

There is so much suffering and despair. The media blitz reminds us of that.  And there is suffering in our own lives: It can be hard to live into hope. …
How do you overcome the often gloomy reality all around?  What does hopeful living look like?    

In Christ’s death and Resurrection we may witness the powerful transformation of the worst thing becoming the best thing.  Perception is reality.

A devotional in Cuba called “Su Voz” talks about turning our experiences around in this way:

I asked God for strength for great accomplishments;
I was made me weak in order that I may learn to obey in humility.
I asked for health to achieve greatness; I was made sick in order to do good.
I asked for riches so that I may be happy; I was made poor in order to be wise.
I asked to gain praise of others; I was given weakness so that I would depend on God.
I asked for everything so that I may enjoy life; I was given life so that I may enjoy everything.
I wasn’t given anything I asked for; but I received all that I needed.

Life, expectations, turned to life lived with hope no matter the circumstance.  

On Wednesday, many of us went to a service of worship at First Pres as part of a recognition of World HIV/AIDs day. Of the many powerful words spoken that evening, among the most moving for me were those of Martin Walker, who gave me permission to share his story with you.  Martin was told he had HIV on Feb 21, 2003 at 2:45 pm. A moment, as you can imagine, when time stood still and his life was changed forever.

He stood before us Wednesday and said:

“There is a lot of negativity and heaviness when talking about can be worse than you can imagine.But, I want to provide a different perspective and talk about the benefits of living with HIV. Since my diagnosis a little over seven years ago, I have seen so many positive changes. As crazy as this may sound, I have gotten to a place where I know I am lucky to be living with AIDS.

Martin said he has gained clarity.
“In the years prior to my diagnosis I was lost. I had forgotten who I was and what I wanted in life. I was adrift in a sea of my own addictions. Every day since my diagnosis, I have gained more clarity. Who I am. What I want in life. What is most important to me. What I want in a friend or a partner. My goals. My dreams. My present. My future.
All of it continues to become so clear. That cliché of living every day like it is your last really resonates with me. If I really had just this one day to live, I would want to live it with purpose, with stability, and with passion. The small stuff, the daily drama does not get to me like it used to.

Martin said he has grown spiritually:
“During the “dark times”, as I call the 5 years before my diagnosis, I lost the faith that had held my life together. Not only did I not know who I was, but I didn’t know who to ask for strength, guidance, or support.  In the past seven years I have deepened my faith. In my healing process, I've come to terms with my mortality. It is a fact that I am living with AIDS and it is a fact that my body will decay and return to the earth. It is a dose of humility. I am a fleeting blink of an eye in this universe, I don't have all the answers, and I am OK with that.  But, armed with this renewed connection to my spirituality, I have come to know one answer. Treat everyone better than you want to be treated. This is at the center of AIDS related stigma. And for me… a way to be closer to the divine.

Martin said he has become more grounded, more planted into the earth, more rooted, and more confident in what he stands for and why.  He concluded by saying: HIV is one of the best things that ever happened to me. My process continues to be difficult as I make choices and life decisions as a gay man with AIDS in his mid 30s. However, through my diagnosis I have become empowered. I have found a voice and a blissful urge to live.

Life lived with hope: new eyes to see .  

The irony of Martin’s story: His is a voice to inspire hope in this Christian circle. But, his voice, because he is gay and living with AIDs is all to often shut out of many Christian circles.  This was verified by other testimonies that we heard on Wednesday. The church does not always have a good track record when it comes to being welcoming...

And it seems that being welcoming is one of the most significant marks of living a life full of hope.  

Paul breaks it down: if you want to live a life full of hope...the hopeful life you are called to live. You welcome everyone--just as Christ has welcomed you.  Some how our hopeful living is linked to our openness to welcome others--for who they are, for what they are becoming as God works in their lives and in our lives through them. Christ welcomes us.  Welcomes us at table, welcomes us as part of his body, just as we are. In the same way we welcome others. So that God may be glorified.  

Our often hopeless world draws boundaries all the time in every possible way.  Who was in the “in” group in school and who was in the “out” group?  You don’t have to raise your hands.  What groups are part of the “in” groups now and the “out” groups? --- in business, education, politics, in the church.

“Welcome one another.” Hopefilled eyes no longer perceive slave or free, Jew or Greek, male and female; no longer perceive rich or poor, black or white or hispanic or Asian, no longer perceive legal or illegal, gay or straight, Evangelical or progressive, no longer perceive free-market capitalist or socalist or liberatrain. Because reality is: God has welcomed us all, just as we are... (Feasting on the Word, Cynthia Campbell, Romans 15:4-13)

One day, on God’s holy mountain, those who were at one time mortal enemies--the wolf and the lamb, the  calf and the lion--  They shall be at peace with one another.

What is your perception of reality?  We live into this vision when we live a hopeful lives and when we share hope with others.

In that same wonderful devotion booklet from the Cuban Church an anonymous author tells a story of sharing hope indiscriminately:
“Some time ago, I saw a film that told of a group of postal workers who were given the task of burning any mail that was addressed to God, because there was no concrete address.  BUt before they burned the mail, they decided to open some of the letters; and discovered they could meet some of the needs of the sender.  So they did, and in this way they became living answers to many petitions residents of their town asked of God.  These postal workers visited people who were feeling lonely, help to reconcile families that were divided, etc.  We too can be for people in need answers from God to daily situations that seem hopeless to people.  With the birth of Jesus, God answers, in immense love, each human supplication.  May we not forget that we can be for others this love of God.  We can be bearers of God’s answers.”  

Singer/ Song writer David Bailey describes the message of hope well:
The message of hope never grows old
It’s the heat of the fire that drives out the cold
It’s the rhythm of time that beats like a drum
It’s where you are going and where you are from
The message of hope never grows old
It’s the greatest story that ever was told
It’s the green in the grass and the blue in the sky
It’s the reason we have the courage to try
The message of hope never grows old
It makes the weak strong and turns the meek bold
It’s the way that the world was meant to unfold

Let us pray
Spirit of Truth, stretch out our hands and feet toward others. And may we never ever give up.  
God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing, so that we may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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