Sunday Worship, November 28, 2021 - IS HOPE POSSIBLE?


Rev. Dr. Joyce Antila Phipps

Old First Church, Middletown                                   November 28, 2021


Texts:  Psalm 25; Luke 21: 25-30


         Imagine yourself living around 80 or 90 CE as part of a Christian community.   The original church in Jerusalem has relocated to Pella in the Transjordan; the churches in Antioch and the towns throughout Asia Minor are struggling; and the church in Rome is underground.  Various stories and writings about Jesus, the one you call Lord, circulate possibly with the letters of Paul.  People in your community are being turned over to the authorities who are giving you two really bad choices:  sacrifice to the emperor or face possible horrible brutal death.  Where is the hope? 

The early church was attacked by Rome as promoting atheism. By this time, the early communities of belief had coalesced into churches; they were now called Christians.  They had shown themselves ready, willing, and able to die for their faith.  Entire families were being killed, some dying in the arena, eaten by wild beasts, others crucified like Jesus, and others dying as a result of torture utilizing methods that make waterboarding look tame by comparison.   Where was their hope? How would that hope be realized?   Out of the nightmare of their lives, Luke offers a vision of apocalypse and redemption.


         Usually those of us in the liberal churches don’t think of apocalypse as a form of hope or redemption; we leave that to the Tim Le Hayes of this world.  But to the early church, this was their hope; this was the only way they could envision respite from the terrors of the time. This is the context in which Luke’s Gospel -- and the other Gospels as well -- was written.  What can we draw from this portion of Luke’s Gospel?  Or from the visions and nightmares of Daniel that most of us have never even read?


          We who live in the comfort of twenty-first century America find it difficult to imagine ourselves in such a place.  We read about violence and mayhem throughout the world but in reality little of it touches us here in spite of drive -by shootings in ghettos far removed from us or even in senseless attacks leaving six people dead in Waukesha, Wisconsin. And, yet, we seem to be a people without that elusive feeling we call hope.


         The Pew Charitable Trust, perhaps the most respected survey group in the United States, overtaking the old Gallup polls from the 1950s and 60s, has looked at these kinds of questions from different perspectives.  In its report on the declining middle class, it notes gloom among people due to the realization that children will not have “it” -- whatever “it” is -- as we their parents.  There is an impending sense of the income gap, signs of a continually growing economic inequality in the United States, and this brings despair.


         The most recent study by the Pew Trust indicates the continuing growth of people who identify themselves as “nones,” that is not affiliated with any church, a growth from about 16 percent in 2007 to just over 22 percent in 2015 to close to now at least one in four.  The so-called “nones” are not necessarily atheists or even agnostics; they simply have no particular religious convictions one way or the other.   They tend to be younger.  Faced with the news of an unstable world, to say the least, they ask, where is our hope?


         Is hope possible -- in our world as we now experience it?  Luke’s Gospel pins hope on the triumphant return of Jesus as Lord with routing of enemies and a time of a new kingdom.  Here in the 21st century, we need to look at how we can develop hope and share that hope with others in the context of our everyday lives.  If hope is faith in the future tense, do we have it?


         In Hebrew as well as Greek and Latin based languages, the word for hope and wait come from the same root.  The Psalmist says that we are to wait on the Lord.  However, an alternative translation could be that we are to hope in the Lord.  Similarly, the word in Spanish for hope and wait are the same, “esperar.”  What does this mean in the context or our lives today?


          Hope is possible because we are called to live as if there is the possibility of hope.  Living in the possible is not an easy task, but a necessary one.  For it is in living our possibilities that we can find fulfillment, not in th the material sense of the world but in the deeper sense of who we are and who God calls us to be.  The German theologian Jurgen Moltmann quipped that waiting on the Lord does not mean waiting for Godot.  In fact, he notes, that waiting has a connotation of expectation.


          Waiting on the Lord, then, means hoping in the Lord.  It is a form of resistance to the evils of the world and calls us to action against them. Thus we are to live a future oriented life rather than a past oriented one, which does not give us hope but rather leads to despair.  There is much to be said for this.


           We are told to watch and wait for the time but not to do nothing.  During this time, we must work actively for peace by living as if the Kingdom of God is already here.  We are told that the Kingdom is here and now.  In the words of Jesus, we pray, “thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.”  This is not a watch and wait for the Kingdom in some afterlife; this is get up off your duff and work for the Kingdom, for it will come if and only if we work for it.


           So, is hope possible?  Yes, it is. It is possible because as Christians we are a community that lives in the future.  This is reflected by our love and faith in the present and our ability to radicalize the world in the name of the one we follow, even Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.