MESSAGE – OUR BLESSED HOPE – Sunday November 29, 2020
FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT
To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul,
O my God, in you I trust.
No one who waits for you
Is ever put to shame.
SCRIPTURE READING I Corinthians 1:3-9
In Dante’s Divine Comedy the gates of hell bear the inscription “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.” Sometimes I think it would be better to say “Enter here, all ye who abandon hope.”
The theme for this first Sunday of Advent is Hope. And what an important theme that is, especially in this unprecedented time of uncertainty and loss, brought upon us by the pandemic we are so sick and tired of right now.
Hope is the elephant in the room, because it can lead to complacency, and in turn give us an excuse to do nothing. Or it can be placed in persons or institutions that are not worthy of our trust.
God will provide.
Yes, that is my hope and my faith. But that does not, or at least, should not, stand in the way of doing what is reasonable and responsible to the best of my ability.
In every circumstance and situation, I believe God calls us to do everything that we can, in the light of science and reason and experience, to prepare for, and make ready to the best of our ability. And then hope in God.
Every proactive thing we do is rooted in hope. We study in hope of passing the exam, and we seek to do that in hope that it will expand our opportunities.
And we pray to the God of hope that our efforts will not be in vain.
I saw a meme this week. Whether it’s provenance is factual or not, I do not know, but I like the sentiment. It was a picture of the Pope saying, “When you see someone who is hungry, you pray for them. And then you feed them, that is how prayer works.”
In the scripture reading for today, from 1st Corinthians, we’re early in the book, and Paul, as Paul often does, is sort of patting folks on the back, and buttering them up, to prepare them to hear some of the harder things he’s got to say to them later. He says, I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus…
Now that’s kind of an interesting thing, because Paul is giving thanks to God, but he is giving thanks to God FOR these people, who are living a kind of life that bears witness to the grace of God.
The testimony, he says, “of Christ has been strengthened in you, among you so that you are not lacking in any spiritual gift as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will strengthen you to the end.”
Did you catch as that scripture was being read, the already/not yet?
Yes, we wait. We wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ. We wait in hope for all the good things that we expect our God to do for us. But while we wait, we act. We do the kind of things that bear witness to the love of God. We do the kind of things that make that we trust God enough, that we hope in God enough, to be generous, kind, and helpful, and to reach out and do what we can to meet the needs of others.
“You were not lacking in any spiritual gift,” Paul wrote to those early Christians in Corinth. You are not lacking as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ who will strengthen you to the end. But that strength is for doing the things that need to be done, in the meantime.
So we hope and we wait. We hope and we wait because we trust in the goodness of God who has promised to be with us always. That’s a very different thing than saying, “Oh God will take care of me!” while sitting on our backsides doing nothing. It’s a very different thing from saying to people, “If only you believed, if only you had faith, then you’d be OK,” but not being bothered to do the kind of things that will help them achieve the goals toward which they ought to be moving.
Faith and Hope! the linchpins of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. But faith and hope are active things. “Wait upon the Lord!” – the kind of thing we often hear people quoting from scripture. But to wait is not a passive thing. It’s not to sit in a corner trying to be inconspicuous, trying not to rock the boat, trying not to do anything you don’t have to do. No, waiting upon the Lord is going out and going about and doing the kind of things that Jesus did, doing the kinds of things Jesus asks us as his followers to do, doing the kind of things that, God willing, may make a difference.
You see, it is that hope that strengthens us, it is that hope that enables us to do the sort of things about which Paul in his letter says, “…you may be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Blameless. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to hear those words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” But I think those words come to those of us who try. Not those of us who do it perfectly, who have made no mistakes. I don’t think that’s what blameless here means. Blameless means you’ve given it your best effort, you’ve tried, and when you’ve fallen on your face, you’ve picked yourself up and tried again.
God is faithful, the God whose promise we see in Jesus Christ, God is faithful, the God who calls us into community. My friends, as I think about what that might look like, as I think about the deeds that we maybe could be doing, I hope and pray that we have enough faith and hope to get out there and get on with it. Because this kind of stuff that Paul is writing to the Corinthian church, this kind of stuff is the sort of thing I hope someone will say about us and our community in days to come.
In the name of God,
our Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.