Hope And Despair

CALL TO WORSHIP: The Lord knows us. He sees every heart and mind. The Lord is with us. He has promised never to desert us, therefore let us sing to the Lord. We will praise His Holy Name.

Jesus said ‘A disciple is not above the teacher.’ In those days, a rabbi would sit down to teach. As we come to God in prayer, let us imagine ourselves gathered at the feet of Jesus, ready to listen to what He has to say.

Loving Lord, we come to You now, remembering that Jesus is our teacher, and we are His disciples. We know that He will have things to teach us today, through hymns, readings, prayers, preaching and silence.

Help us never to think that we know it all; but make us open to everything that He has to say to us. Give us willing hearts to hear and to obey Him. We ask this in His Holy Name. Amen.

HYMN 17: WITH GLADNESS WE WORSHIP, REJOICE AS WE SING-StF

PRAYER OF ADORATION: Let us imagine that we are taking a journey as the day is just ending. As we drive along, our eye is caught by a great flock of birds, probably starlings. They rise in the air and swirl about in a huge cloud. We try to count them, but it is quite impossible; there are far too many. Let us pray.

Lord, when we think of that great flock of birds, we find it amazing that You should know how many there are; yet Jesus tells us that you see when a bird falls to earth. Not the tiniest creature escapes Your notice. You can count the number of hairs on our heads; the hairs of those who don’t have much, as well as the hairs on the hairiest person.

Most wonderful of all, You know and love everyone; those who are here today and those who are missing; those who love You and those who don’t. Nothing and no one is outside the reach of Your love.

We praise You, loving Lord, because, with a universe to care for, You still have time for each one of us. You are indeed worthy of all our thanks and praise. Amen

TALK FOR ALL: LEARNING TO WAIT-ROMANS 8:12-25

The great blue Heron is a large bird standing almost four feet tall and having a wing span of six feet. An outstanding thing about the Heron is its patience. It stands, perfectly still, in a pond or lake for long periods of time, waiting for a fish to swim by. It may be windy. It may be raining or even snowing, but the Heron, although it appears to be uncomfortable, continues fishing, waiting to catch his dinner.

If you have fished, you know that you don’t just toss your line into the water and pull out a fish – it is an activity that requires patience. You must wait and while you wait

you might get uncomfortable. The weather might be too hot, there may be mosquitoes, or it may be raining, causing you to get wet and cold.

The Bible instructs us to develop patience. We all have times when we must deal with difficult and uncomfortable things. We may have trouble understanding our homework, someone may say something that hurts us, or we may be ill and not feeling well.

When we have difficult experiences and feel frustrated or sad, we are instructed to always hang onto hope – God’s promise of care for his children. Hope is not something we see, but we can feel it – hope helps us to learn to wait and become more patient. The Bible says, “But if we hope for that which we don’t see, we wait for it with patience” (8:25).

In all things, we have hope because we are “…the children of God…” (8:19). So when you pray, be patient and trust that God loves you and will help you.

HYMN 76: GIVE ME JOY IN MY HEART, KEEP ME PRAISING- StF

PRAYER OF CONFESSION AND THANKSGIVING: Gracious God, Jesus tells us that we should speak His word boldly and not be afraid; but we come to You now to confess that when it comes to speaking up for You we can often be very timid.

We are afraid that others will mock us because we believe in You. We so much want to fit in with those around us that we are silent when we should speak. Instead of being happy to say that we know You, we sometimes hide our faith as if we were ashamed.

Forgive us, Lord, for hiding the good news of Jesus in our hearts, and not speaking out when He calls us to do so.

We thank You that no sin is so great that Jesus cannot forgive us. Fill us with such joy and thankfulness at the new life that we receive through Him that we lose all our fears and make the most of every opportunity that You give to tell others about Him. In Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen

READINGS: ROMANS 8: 12-25

HYMN 370: BREATHE ON ME, BREATH OF GOD-StF

SERMON: HOPE AND DESPAIR (ROMANS 8: 12-25)

In this year, what are you looking forward to? What out there in the future really excites you, grabs you, makes you want to get up and get going in the morning? What are you living toward that fills your days with meaning, your months with promise, your years with hope?

Strange creatures that we are, we need more than food and home in order to survive. Indeed all kinds of studies indicate that it is hope and future that keeps us going, keeps the immune system tuned up and fighting the bugs, generates the resources to head us toward health. If we don’t have something out there ahead of us that excites and galvanizes us, we are in trouble.

An Israeli study demonstrates that hope, if it is serious, if it is long term, leads to physiological changes that can improve the body’s resistance. In these studies they have found two hormones that are strongly affected by an attitude of hope. We are indeed, as the Apostle Paul says, saved by hope.

So how do we come to hope? How do we help ourselves maintain a forward looking, vital excitement about life? Three words – fantasy, faith, feet.

Fantasy – you have got to be able to have an image in the future in your head with sufficient vividness that it begins to have power over your emotions and legs. What are your goals? What do you really want bad enough to give hours and discipline and energy to see it become reality?

I like the little second grader in a parochial school. Her teacher said, “One day as part of religion class, I asked the children to draw a picture of what they’d do if they could spend the day with Jesus. The pupils tackled the project eagerly. After a few minutes, this one little girl came up to my desk with her almost finished drawing in hand. “Vicar,” she sad, “How do you spell Nieman Marcus?” The power of tomorrow to stir and invigorate us is in direct relationship to its vividness in our mind. People anticipate travel in part because they have colourful fantasies about what Venice or Africa will be like . So if we want to live positive and hopeful, we must take time and thought to imagine a good tomorrow.

You cannot live with hope unless you develop a powerful imagination, unless you can see a future out there that captivates you, excites you, mobilizes you. Powerful images – great fantasies.

Indeed, little is accomplished in this world without some powerful vision in someone’s mind of what the future might hold. Friends of Walt Disney visited Disney World down in Florida at its opening. Disney had died some time before. One friend commented, “It is so sad that Walt did not live to see this marvellous place.” To which another responded, “But he did see it. That is why it has become reality.”

I think this is why the Biblical heroes, again and again, paint pictures of the future. In the Old Testament the prophets dream of a day when everyone shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and when the lion shall lie down with the lamb. Jesus sees a future of banquet when all shall be welcome at the table, and John speaks of a city of God where God will dwell with us and we shall be his people.

But again with this vision and fantasy, there must be faith, the faith that the future will be good no matter what comes. Much of the sadness and despair that I encounter is the downside of too narrow and unrealistic hopes, too self-cantered goals.

We become too invested in a specific script or story. “If I don’t get that promotion … if my children don’t settle nearby and come by … if my child doesn’t make the football team … if we can’t afford a certain life style and run with certain people … then life will be a failure, the boyhood dream, the college ambition, will burn out in ashes.” When we wrap our whole life, all our emotions and energy around one narrow possibility, and then lose, we lose life itself in despair and defeat.

Psychiatrists I know report working with early successes in the business and professional world. They are encountering young men and women who have made it by thirty-five, they have lived out the script, achieved the cultural dream they bought from parents and community, have attended the right schools, found the right kind of mate, have advanced along the right career track, have accumulated the right toys, but find themselves restless, dissatisfied, empty.

Partly, my psychiatrist friends say, their problem is the fact that the early dreams and fantasies were rather self-cantered and without regard for the rewards of community and service. It is as though God cursed them. He gave them what they wanted. So it is no accident that in Old and New Testament, real hope is always linked to a larger world than the self, to the world of justice and love. Paul writes, “Each of you must consider his neighbour and think what is for his or her good. Accept one another … and the God of hope will fill you with all joy and peace.”

Reality is this: sooner or later the narrow and selfish dreams shatter on the reality that life is never as we wish and plan it. Peter DeVries, the novelists, caught this when he said that a good novel, like real life, has a beginning, a muddle, and an end.

In one of his post-war speeches Winston Churchill observed, “…the human story does not always unfold … on the principle that two and two make four. Sometimes two and two make five or minus three; and sometimes the blackboard topples down in the middle of the problem and leaves the class in disorder and the teacher with a black eye. The element of the unexpected and the unforeseeable is what gives relish to life and saves us from the bureaucrats.”

So in the biblical faith hope is always spoken of as hope in God. Hope tied not to our own dreams and desires finally, but hope resting in the conviction that whatever comes God has something surprising that will turn out to work for our good and future. And I confess that as I look back on my life now , I see that some of the best things that have happened to me have been things, indeed people, whom I would never have fantasized for my future.

So dreams, fantasies, rich and revitalizing – of course. I have them, fantasies about a birthday and travel and a book and time with family. But, I trust, open to all kinds of

unpredictable possibilities. It seems to me that here is where faith and hope come together in team, where Biblical hope differs from optimism.

You know the line that the pessimism looks at a glass and sees it as half empty, the optimist looks at the glass and sees it as half full. Well now I am told that the consultant looks at that glass and says, “It looks to be as if the glass is twice as big as you need.”

Optimism is the belief that my dreams will all come true. Whereas Biblical hope, the hope of Jesus, is faith that God is with us in life, no matter what comes, even if our own dreams do not come true, creating good even out of bad, wisdom out of disaster, deeper love out of pain and reversal. Biblical faith enables us to hope no matter what comes. No matter how we must revise the dream.

David Redding tells of his Aunt Emily. Redding says that if he were asked who, through his life, had provided the most persuasive testament to the Christian faith, he might have dropped a few names like the theologian Paul Tillich or the mystic Dionysius the Areopogyte, but if he were really to tell the truth, it would be none other than his great Aunt Emily. Aunt Em, he says, was one of those who seemed to take everything that befell her as a personal favour. She was one of those who embraced unavoidable trouble with the words, “This will do me a world of good.” She may have been too much of a Pollyanna for most people’s tastes, but she knew what it meant to have a forgiving attitude toward life.

Redding writes that “While the rest of us picked and groaned at the lunch tossed at us at some truck stop, Aunt Em actually cut her way through the pork chops, shaking her head in disbelief that such marvellous food could be found in central Ohio. If the house were full, and all the beds were taken, one could tease her; ‘Aunt Em, because of the mob staying here tonight, you have to sleep on a plank floating in the flooded basement’. She would instantly reply, “That’s my favourite way. It will be so much better for my back than all those squishy mattresses. I know it will do me a world of good.” When she died, writes Redding, “They did not send me her final words. It was not necessary. For I feel sure the final words her lips would form would be the ones I had heard her use across the years. I can see her old, wrinkled, gray head, nodding as she breathed her last, “This will do me a world of good.”

Trust in God gives to hope the confidence that even when the dreams must change, there is still good ahead – and God. Perhaps that is why we often encounter intense hope right in the midst of situations where there seems no basis for hope.

So real hope is active, not passive. Hope has feet. The Jordan does not part until the priests are willing to put their feet in the water. Jesus does not know resurrection until he is willing to walk the way to the cross.

In this sense, active hope is so much more than just waiting around for something good to happen. It is acting in such a way as to help create the future hoped for.

Pessimism and despair work to bring into being the very future we fear. Hope helps shape the future for which we hope.

I don’t know what putting feet under our hopes might mean for us this day, this week. All I am saying is that it is the hopeful, determined spirit that is willing to put feet under its dreams that wins out in life.

HYMN 494: COME THOU FOUNT OF EVERY BLESSING-StF

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION: One of the Old Testament prophets, Jeremiah talks about how some people have told him not to speak of God. He cannot obey them, since God’s word is burning in him like a fire. In our prayers for others and ourselves, we shall think about the call to spread God’s word.

Let us pray
May the flame of Your word burn brightly so that the world may believe.

Lord, as we think of the call to spread Your word, we remember that some people live in places where to follow Jesus is dangerous. Some even find that family members turn against them if they become Christians. Give them courage, and help them not to give up as they seek to be faithful to You in difficult places.

May the flame of Your word burn brightly so that the world may believe.

We pray for all who go out as preachers week by week. We think of our own minister, and ministers of other churches in our town. Inspire them week by week as they prepare their services, and give them a listening ear, so that they may be true to the message that You give them.

May the flame of Your word burn brightly so that the world may believe.

We pray for the Bible Society and for other groups which seek to make the Bible available for people to read for themselves. We know that many people still do not have the Bible in their own language. Be with those who are working to translate the Bible, so that many more may be able to read about Jesus for themselves.

May the flame of Your word burn brightly so that the world may believe.

We pray now for our own church; for study groups and prayer groups; for the work of the junior church; and we pray for ourselves. Some of us are aware. That our flame of longing to tell others of Jesus does not burn as brightly as once it did. We ask that you will fan the flames of our love for You and give us a new passion for telling others of Your love and Your saving power. May the flame of Your word burn brightly so that the world may believe. Amen

The Lord’s Prayer

HYMN 467: I NEED THEE EVERY HOUR-StF

BLESSINGS: Thank You Lord for all that we have learned today. Help us to keep looking to You and learning from You all the time, so that we may grow together in love. And may the blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, continue to be upon us and remain with us always. Amen