April 27, 2014
John 20:19-31
1 Peter 1:3-9
Acts 2:14a, 22-32
Psalm 16

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Living Hope

Second Sunday of Easter

from the book
Sermons On The Second Reading
Series I, Cycle A


Richard W. Ferris



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A middle--aged man was on a Caribbean cruise enjoying his first real vacation in years. On the first day out to sea he noticed an attractive woman about his age who smiled at him in a friendly way as he passed her on the deck. This pleased the man greatly. That night he managed to get seated at the same table with her for dinner. As the conversation developed, he commented that he had seen her on the deck that day and he had appreciated her friendly smile. When she heard this, she smiled and commented, "Well, the reason I smiled was that when I saw you I was immediately struck by your strong resemblance to my third husband."

At this he perked up his ears and said, "Oh, how many times have you been married?"

She looked down at her plate, smiled modestly, and answered, "Twice."

Hope is the sustainer of life. It's the motivator to action. It's the promise of tomorrow.

In the 1960s, Cleveland, Ohio, became the butt of many jokes nationwide. In the same way that smog was used to get a laugh in talking about Los Angeles, mention of the Cuyahoga River flowing through Cleveland and into Lake Erie was sure to get a rise out of people. What was so funny? Well, who had ever heard of a river catching fire? It's a ridiculous concept. And yet time and time again the polluted Cuyahoga was shut down to water traffic due to chemical fires that were starting up all over the river because of the unprotected dumping of hazardous wastes. Pictures appeared in newspapers and magazines. Television newscasts documented this unprecedented phenomenon. And the city of Cleveland had to face up to its neglect of the local environment.

The Cuyahoga River was burning, and Lake Erie was declared to be dying. Just put up the tombstone marker and move on to other things.

Today, the river is no longer burning, and Lake Erie has been resurrected. I don't know that I would go so far as to take a drink out of the Cuyahoga River, but I would not hesitate to take a swim in Lake Erie. What was seemingly dead is now very much alive. What was an abomination is now, once again, a productive member of our ecosystem.

We have been quick to write an obituary for our world. If day--to--day pollution doesn't do it, we find other ways to kill ourselves off. The threat of nuclear war has for years inspired science fiction writers to imagine the end times and to write of human self--destruction and the elimination of all life on earth. And if not the end of life, they would speculate on the mutation of living creatures into some sort of monsters that will inherit the earth.

Global warming due to our usage of fossil fuels is currently a major issue. We're putting a hole in the protective layers of atmosphere that protect the earth and we're told that we could be headed for another episode like Noah and the flood as the polar icecaps melt away. Overpopulation and too little food and living space continue to scare us. Worldwide diseases, some of which we thought we conquered, and new ones that keep springing up, threaten to overtake us. Terrorism across the globe has us fearing that life may never be as good as it once was.

The Cuyahoga River was never completely dead. Lake Erie did not die. And as long as there is life still flowing through the system, there is hope of reawakening, resurgence, and resurrection.

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We need the vision to see beyond what might appear to be there in front of us, to be able to see what could, quite possibly, be there. As Robert Kennedy often said about himself, "Some people see things as they are and ask why? I dream things that never were, and ask why not?"

Several years ago a teacher assigned to visit children in a large city hospital received a routine call requesting that she visit a particular child. She took the boy's name and room number and was given instructions by the teacher. "We're studying nouns and adverbs in his class now. I'd be grateful if you could help him with his homework so he doesn't fall behind the others." It wasn't until the visiting teacher got outside the boy's room that she realized it was located in the hospital's burn unit. No one had prepared her to find a young boy horribly burned and in great pain. She felt that she couldn't just turn and walk out, so she awkwardly stammered, "I'm the hospital teacher, and your teacher sent me to help you with nouns and adverbs."

The next morning a nurse on the burn unit asked her, "What did you do to that boy?" Before she could finish the profusion of apologies that immediately came out of her mouth, the nurse interrupted her: "You don't understand. We've been very worried about him, but ever since you were here yesterday, his whole attitude has changed. He's fighting back, responding to treatment. It's as though suddenly he's decided to live." The boy later explained that he had completely given up hope until he saw that teacher. It all changed when he came to a simple realization. With joyful tears he expressed it this way: "They wouldn't send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, would they?"

Hope is taken from us when those things that contribute to living are taken from us. We can be discouraged, we can be desolate, we can be knocked down, but that doesn't mean we have lost hope. As long as we have a breath of life left in us, we have a living hope. And as long as we have our assignment for tomorrow, we continue to believe that tomorrow is a possibility.

Go to any rehabilitation hospital and you will find people with all sorts of needs and ailments. When people enter a hospital like that, they find out quickly that they have to work to get better. A stay in a rehab hospital is not an easy vacation. Patients learn a lot about themselves that they didn't know they were capable of doing. They find hope. As long as possibilities exist for them, there is hope. Even people who "are dying" are helped to live. That is the epitome of hope.

Peter's letter to the "exiles in Dispersion," as he calls them, is a letter of hope and encouragement to the young church as they were facing desperate times. He reminds these Christians that through the resurrection we have been given new birth in a living hope. Jesus was not dead, but living. Despite all appearances, Jesus is alive, and as long as he is alive, we live in the same hope. We live not only in the hope of a resurrection from the dead, but resurrection in our living as well.

Although these people that Peter was addressing had not seen Jesus, they loved him. And although they did not see him during this time of great trial and tribulation, they believed in him. That is living hope. It is hope that cannot be restrained by worldly powers. It is hope that cannot be thwarted by things of the past. It is hope that cannot be extinguished by fears that some great calamity might lie ahead. Living hope does not die. And for the followers of Jesus, not even physical death of the body will destroy our hope.

None of us walked the earth with Jesus, as did Peter, Andrew, James, John, and the rest. And yet we love him. None of us can see Jesus now, not like Mary and the other women saw him after the resurrection. He doesn't appear to us like he did to Paul on the road to Damascus. Yet we believe in him. And we believe that even though we suffer the trials of this life, we will one day rejoice in all things. We believe that through this enduring faith in Jesus Christ, the outcome will indeed be the salvation of our souls.

We're not the kind of people who would buy a pig in a poke. Could you imagine buying a car without taking it on a test drive, much less without seeing it? Would you move to a house in a city where you've never been without checking it out and carefully selecting just the right house? Would you marry someone without seeing him or her first? Not on your life!

And yet we put our living hope in someone we've never seen. We put our complete trust in a notion that says this man Jesus died on a cross for our sins and that God is able to forgive us everything because of him. We believe that because of him, God is able to overlook our shortcomings and promise us eternal life. That because of Jesus, we live our lives differently, never losing hope for a better tomorrow and living today with appreciation for what it brings.

There's a story of the long and rough Atlantic crossing, when passenger ships were still prevalent, in which a seasick passenger was leaning over the rail of an ocean liner and turned several shades of green. A steward came along and tried to cheer him up by saying, "Don't be discouraged, sir! You know, no one's ever died of seasickness yet." The nauseous passenger looked up at the steward with a deadly glance and replied: "Oh, please, don't say that! It's only the hope of dying that's kept me alive this long."

Sometimes it appears that Christians live, only to die. Yet we profess that Jesus died, that we might live. Is life, as God created it, ever so bad that only the hope of dying can keep us alive? I hope not.

The text from Peter tells us that we will be tested, and tested by fire at that. But the testing always ends, and the results are praise and glory and honor. That's called ... life. Everybody goes through it, and everybody has to endure. You start here, and you end up over there. You sometimes walk through the valleys to get there; sometimes there are mountains to climb. In Christ, however, the ending is always the same, regardless of what it took to get there. That's living hope. There's always a possibility. There's always help along the way. There's always the strength to reach where you're heading.

The Cuyahoga River never lost living hope and it changed. Lake Erie never lost living hope and it changed. The world has not lost living hope and it changes. Where there is life, there is hope. In living hope, there are always possibilities. There is always regeneration and rebirth. Jesus is alive, and in the living Jesus, we find living hope.

Let us live not to die. Rather, let us live ... to hope.