Monday, January 28, 2008

Sermon for the Third Sunday after the Epiphany

“Inspired by Hope” (1 Thessalonians 1:3)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today is the final Sunday in our three-week stewardship emphasis. Our theme has been “Maturing as Stewards Through Faith, Love, and Hope.” Once again, today’s sermon text is our theme verse from 1 Thessalonians 1:3 “We continually remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.” Today we will focus on the latter part of that verse: “your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

What is hope anyway and how does God describe it in His Word? The word hope occurs more than 50 times in the New Testament. In the New Testament the word translated hope means “confident expectation” based upon solid promises. In our society hope often carries the weak idea of wishful thinking. We say, “I hope so” and often mean “I doubt it.” But when you read that word in the New Testament remember that it is talking about a firm expectation. Remember this: our hope as believers comes from God, not from within us. It doesn’t depend on our emotions. It is not something that we have from time to time. It is essential to our lives as Christians. According to God’s Word, we don’t create hope within us. We receive it from God.

Martin Luther wrote: “Hope arises only from the fact that God has mercy upon us.” That kind of hope has a profound influence on the way we live. Hope is as essential to our soul as water and food is to our body. A life without hope is a living hell. In fact, one thing that will make hell so unbearable is the absolute absence of hope.

Hope can make a life-changing difference. Here’s an example: A school system in a large city had a program to help children keep up with their schoolwork during stays in the city hospitals. One day a teacher who was assigned to the program received a routine call asking her to work with a particular child. She took the child’s name and telephone number. She also talked briefly with the child’s regular teacher. That teacher told her that the class was studying nouns and adverbs and asked her to explain them so that the child would not be too far behind the rest of the class.

The hospital teacher went to see the boy that afternoon. Nobody had told her that he had been severely burned. Shocked by the severity of his condition, she stumbled through the lesson on nouns and adverbs. When she left, she didn’t feel like they had accomplished much, but the next day, a nurse asked her, “What did you do to that boy?” The teacher thought that she had done something wrong and began to apologize. “No,” the nurse explained, “you don’t know what I mean. We’ve been so worried about that boy. But ever since yesterday his whole attitude is changed. He’s fighting back and responding to treatment. It is as though he has decided to live.”

Two weeks later the boy told the nurses that he had completely given up hope until the teacher arrived. Everything changed when he came to a simple conclusion. He expressed it this way: “They would not send the teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, would they?”

God wouldn’t be working His grace in your life if it were not important for Him to do so. He has given us His promises in His Word. Now, we can draw hope from that Word He has given us. Our hope is God’s gift to us in Jesus Christ. Because it comes only from God, it is certain, unlike any human hope. Since it is a gift, it relies on nothing from ourselves. It is not based on our claims or requirements. God has met His own requirements in the Person of His Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus fulfilled God’s promises of salvation on the Cross, providing the forgiveness of our sins and in His Resurrection providing the hope of eternal life. In Jesus our Savior, you and I have a sure and certain hope for today, tomorrow, and into eternity! As the song says, “My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness. . . On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand!”

Hope is obviously connected with faith. In the words of Martin Luther: “By faith we began our spiritual life, by hope we continue it. Faith without Hope is nothing . . . for Hope bears and holds on in evils and conquers them.” This hope from God never disappoints (Rom.5:5) ... it endures (1 Thess. 1:3) ... it is without envy or fear, (except for fear of the Lord), (Prov. 23:17, 18) ... and it rests on the faithfulness of Him Who made the promise (Heb. 10:23). “Hope is nothing less than spiritual courage,” Martin Luther said. But we admit that there are times when our courage begins to slip. As you and I are well aware, Satan seeks to undermine our Christian life every day.

The devil was having a yard sale, and all of his tools were marked with different prices. There were tools like hatred, lust, jealousy, deceit, lying, and pride — all carrying a high price tag. But over to one side of the yard on display was a tool more worn than any other tool and more costly. The tool was labeled “discouragement.” When asked why this tool was priced so high, the devil answered, “It is more useful to me than any other tool. When I can’t bring my victims down with any of these other tools, I use discouragement, because most of them don’t even realize it belongs to me.” Have you ever had that tool used on you? Have you ever lost your joy because you lost your hope? Have you ever lost your will to go on because you lost your hope? If we’re honest, I think we can admt that each of us at one time or another has struggled to keep our hope centered on Christ.

St. Paul wrote: “Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Rom. 15:4) As one example of God working spiritual courage in the lives of His people, consider the life of our father in the faith, Abraham. God called Abraham out of his own country to a promised land. As Abraham went along, he encountered many strong discouragements. When he got to the land God promised him, the Canaanites, an ungodly and wicked people, were already living there. God promised to make of Abraham a great nation, but his wife Sarah was barren. Then there was famine in the place God told Abraham to go. Abraham went to Egypt and, out of fear, lied about his wife. Then there was conflict between Abraham’s herdsmen and Lot his nephew’s herdsmen. Like us, Abraham had his moments of deep discouragement.

But guess what God did. He gave Abraham a “booster shot of hope.” He came to him once again and reminded him, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great” ... and promised him that a child would indeed be born to him and Sarah in their old age. Sometimes, after we get a vaccination, we have to get a booster shot because what we received in the past is no longer sufficient for the present. No doubt there are some of you here today who would like a booster shot of hope. And God wants you to have it this morning. That’s why He continues to offer His Word and Sacraments to you and me.

God gave these words to His people through Jeremiah: “I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jer. 29:11). And even though the city of Jerusalem and the people of Israel were being destroyed, Jeremiah sounded the note of hope: “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” (Lam. 3:21-23)

Luther gives further instruction on persevering in hope: “We should learn to wait for God. No matter how other things turn out, whether a persecution comes upon us instead of the presence of God which we had expected and which He had promised. Or whether we feel the wrath of God instead of the grace of God - we should say: I believe. I am baptized. I have absolution. I have the divine promise of grace and mercy. These reassurances are enough for me. Whether night or day, tribulation or joy, comes to me, I will not let go of His mercy or despair at heart.”

This God-given hope that we have in our Lord can move us to live in faithfulness towards God and in fruitful actions toward others for Christ’s sake. Our hope in Christ enables us to respond in faithful stewardship.

In the town of Port Hope, Canada, there is a monument erected, not for some leading citizen, but for a poor, unselfish working man who gave most of his life and energy helping people who could not repay him. Born in Dublin, Ireland, in 1820, Joseph Scriven grew to be a young man with high ideals and aspirations. He was engaged to a wonderful young woman who promised to share his dreams. But on the night before their wedding, her body was pulled from a pond where she had accidentally fallen and drowned. He never overcame the shock of that tragedy. Although a college graduate with the potential of a brilliant career, he began to wander to try to forget his sorrow. His wandering took him to Canada where he spent the last 41 years of his life. He became a devout Christian. His beliefs led him to labor tirelessly for poor widows and sick people. He often served for no wages.

No one knew that Joseph Scriven had a gift for poetry until shortly before his death at age 60. A friend, visiting with Joseph while he was ill, discovered a poem he had written to his mother during a time of sorrow. Joseph never intended for anyone else to see it. His poem was later set to music. In polls taken to determine the popularity of hymns, this one is always near the top of the list.

What a friend we have in Jesus, All our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry Everything to God in prayer!
Oh, what peace we often forfeit; Oh, what needless pain we bear—
All because we do not carry Everything to God in prayer! LSB 770.1

In his lifetime, Joseph Scriven had no idea how God would ultimately use his life. You, too, may not understand what God is doing in your life. We can be sure, however, that God has purpose and meaning for each of us. And one day, you may be pleasantly surprised to discover that God has done abundantly more than you could ever have imagined.

The hope that God gives enables us to turn our eyes away from the glitter and attraction of this world to a much, much greater Light: the Light of Christ! May God renew our lives through the faith that is ours in Jesus our Lord and Savior!


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks Pastor - this sermon was perfect for our family this week - God Bless.