September 1, 2019
HOPE for Eternity and for NOW
1 Kings 1902-16 and Philippians 4.6-9
Rev. Sandy Larson
Elijah continued to trust God even when famine covered the land and everyone else had lost faith. Elijah’s hope was shaken but he continued to trust God. And God provided relief.
“Hope” is not just baseless optimism or a wish for something we want. Hope is sure and confident expectation. Hope is based on a reason to count on that hope.
What is the source and foundation of real hope? We trust specific family members and friends to watch out for our best interests. Yet people are fallible, despite their love and good intentions. They might make poor choices even though they love us.
We often trust, based on experience and confidence. We trust our doctor to give proper treatments. We trust that the weather will be what the weather channel describes. The sun will come up tomorrow. However, some pseudo-scientist determined that we can’t even trust atoms--the basic building blocks of material creation. He notes: You can’t trust atoms—They make up everything.
Many people suffer from lack of hope. Lack of hope is often connected to depression and anxiety. In an ongoing loop--lack of hope causes depression or anxiety, which causes further loss of hope that causes deeper depression or anxiety.
What is the basic foundation of hope that provides assurance and confidence? For Christians, God is the basis of our hope because we trust God’s power and love. The poetic metaphors of Psalm 18 and other Psalms affirm: The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. [v.2] Ps 93 declares: “Mightier than the thunder of the great waters, mightier than the breakers of the sea -the Lord on high is mighty.” [v.4]
Either we trust God; or we hedge about trust in God. We want to maintain control. We are reluctant to trust God 100%. When things go well, we tend not to question ‘Do I really trust in God?’ A test of trusting God is to pray as Jesus did when facing his own death: “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.” [Luke 22:42] Do we mean it when we pray, “not my will but yours be done?”
The mission of Jesus was to show God’s love and to inspire trust in God. Through his self-sacrifice, mediations and healings, Jesus dramatically demonstrated God’s power to heal and reconcile. Jesus also inspired healing and reconciling power in his followers. His followers healed the sick and disabled. His followers reconciled Gentiles and Jews, slaveowners and slaves.
This week, Marge Williamson told me about the Union Church prayer group giving hope to a woman with cancer who desperately wanted to raise her children that gave her ongoing strength for 12 years to raise her children.
I have witnessed prayer immediately calming the heart of an ICU patient’s life-threatening heart rate. Psychiatrist Joel Dimsdale studied survivors of the Nazi death camps. What kept those prisoners going? Dimsdale says that hope kept them alive. Norman Cousins surveyed more than 600 oncologists and found that more than 90% of their patients said that hope was most important.
There is a significant difference between healing and cure. Cure entails eliminating the cause of the problem. Healing restores the spirit and restores hope. Starvation would be cured by long-term more equitable redistribution of resources. Hunger is temporarily healed by food crisis distribution centers. I see the healing weekly in the sincere graitutde of Food Pantry recipients. Healing is a spiritual process that replenishes the spirit—whether a medical patient or a family or social brokenness. Healing often requires mutual trust, restored respect, effective reconciliation and restorative justice. Trust in God’s love is the foundation of healing.
Healing takes place in the context of God’s love and grace. A terminal medical patient is healed when at peace with himself, with others and with God. I have known many such peace-filled people who knew they were dying. They trusted God’s care and accepted that they were near death; and they used the time they had left to express and receive forgiveness and love.
Any experience of healing shows us a pathway to future healing. A person who had depression in the past is better equipped to cope with it if it reoccurs. In some places, European colonists and Native Americans lived in harmony. Jews Muslims and Christians lived peacefully together in Spain for a period around 900 AD. Maybe the harmony of the past can point a way to cultural healing once again.
What about When Bad Things Happen to Good People? Bestseller author Rabbi Kushner says that love and forgiveness are restorative remedies. Love and forgiveness are rooted in God’s love and forgiveness. If we trust God, then God’s love and forgiveness bolsters our capacity to love and forgive. Part of the purpose of the church is to support one another in maintaining our trust in God.
Yet what about grief? Love and forgiveness are healing. When facing death of a loved one or our own inevitable death, we also need assurance and peace of mind. Trust in God’s power and love gives me the assurance to accept the inevitability of my own death and to have peace of mind regarding the death of others. I do not know what death will bring, but I trust God to love us for all eternity. John Pierce, a friend and pastoral colleague at Westminster Pres Church in Eugene made a serious study of near-death experiences. John documented many people’s experiences of peace, joy and light as they slipped into and back out of death. One example is Dr. Mary Neal, a scientist who had been skeptical about spirituality. Before her near-death experience, she had more doubt than faith. She now knows without a doubt that God is real.
As a child, Mary’s parents made certain she went to church. Yet her faith was superficial. In college, Mary joined what she called “the religion of the intellect.” She traded spiritual beliefs for what she saw as scientific facts.
She still called herself a Christian. Yet, she mostly agreed with moral guidelines of Christianity and aimed to be a “good person.”
Then, Dr. Neal took a kayaking trip. Mary’s kayak went over a waterfall, her kayak capsized and she was pinned beneath about ten feet of raging water. The current pushed Mary into the front of the boat, where she could do nothing to free herself. As Mary nearly drowned, she experienced what she describes as a “radical shift in time and dimension.” Despite a lifetime fear of drowning, Mary found herself surprisingly at peace. “I was being held and comforted and being reassured that everything was fine, regardless of whether I lived or died,” she recalled, also noting that she knew it was Jesus who was comforting her. “I was taken through a life review that was the first of many very profound parts of this experience for me.”
All humans face death. Yet Jesus demonstrated that not even death can obliterate us. I discovered this assurance when my loving, brilliant college roommate died of leukemia. As I grieved, I experienced Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief, including anger at God. Even then, God’s caring grace comforted me. I realized that God continues to care for us in ways that are beyond our imaginings. Even biblical metaphors describing heaven only hint at God’s promise of life-after-life.
If we are perceptive enough, we can see glimpses of God’s intentions for all eternity. When an infant is born to a loving family, we glimpse the joy of everlasting life. When a child learns to walk or read, God’s grace unfolds. When a woman with advanced dementia looks up from her bed to see a beloved family member and she breaks out with an angelic smile, her joy and peace reveal love and hope in God’s grace. When we receive or offer compassion or generosity, we glimpse hope.
What is the fundamental source of our HOPE? My source of hope is trust in God’s power and grace. I am convinced that, like a caring parent, God allows us to make bad choices. God does not constantly avert natural or human-instigated adversities. Like the most caring parent, God is alongside us and God’s Spirit fills us with comfort and assurances. One of the main gifts of faith is to share that confidence that God is with us—no matter what.
When things seem utterly dark, can we hold on to hope? Does hope come instantly, like turning on a water faucet? Sometimes, we have to keep searching a long time to reclaim trust in God’s grace in order to find hope again. Rowan Williams put it this way: “God is always at work opening a new door, even when we can see no hope. Throughout my life, I have found hope, even in the worst times. Each time we find hope in the midst of a challenge, we have stronger faith with which to claim hope when another difficulty besieges us.
If you feel like you do not have much hope, you can more fully open yourself to God’s grace. If you mediate and pray daily with trusting openness to the Holy Spirit, you will experience renewal and hope. Such committed prayer takes initiative, tenacity and patience. Jesus asked the paralyzed man who laid day after day next to the pool for healing—Do you WANT to be healed? Jesus told the father whose son was ravaged by epilepsy, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” The father immediately cried out, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” [Mark 9.23-5]
We are like the man who was asked, “Have you been blind all your life? He replied: “Not yet!” The Apostle Paul counseled: Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.