October 6, 2019 / Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecots /Richard E. Holmer
First Lesson: Habakkuk 1:1-4, 2:1-4/ Second Reading: 2 Timothy 1:1-14/Gospel: Luke 17:5-10
Where would we be without faith, hope and love? Try to imagine life without these spiritual and sustaining constants in our lives. In their absence, what could give our lives meaning and purpose? What could shape our values and decisions?
Would we be guided by pure self-interest – just doing whatever works for me?
Would our lives be devoted to the full time pursuit of happiness? People say, “I just want to be happy,” without realizing what truly makes for a happy life.
Could the profit motive be our guiding light? More is always better, anything to get ahead?
There’s another way to ask the question: Where would we be without God? For without God, there could not be any faith or hope or love. God is the source of all faith and hope and love. God is also the focus, the object, of our faith, hope and love. Our faith is in God. Our hope is founded on God. Our love is directed to God.
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Of course, self-interest does not disappear when we have faith, hope and love. But it is restrained by our devotion to One greater than ourselves; by our belief in a call that transcends our personal wants and wishes. We believe in more than ourselves. We love more than just ourselves. We hope for more than our own personal happiness. To believe that God is our Creator is to believe that our lives are not our own – that life itself is a gift from God. Have you come to believe this is true? Do you recognize that you and I are not owners but managers – stewards – of the gift of life?
Believing in God has consequences. It causes us to see things through a different lens. Of course there is an inherent risk when it comes to believing in God: the risk that God is not real, not there. Which is why faith is (and always will be) a leap – not a logical step. It’s the boldness of hope to look not at what can be seen, but what can’t be seen. It’s why love is always a gamble – no guaranteed return on a huge investment.
Once we make that leap of faith, there are consequences. Stewardship has been described as everything we say and do after we say, “I believe.” It’s a way of living. Once we embrace God, faith and hope and love become prominent and essential. They serve as springs of action. They inform how we see the world, how we see ourselves and our place in this world. Faith, hope and love shape our priorities, our values, our decision. They keep God always present in our frame of reference.
Faith and hope and love are not much use if they are compartmentalized. They are not relevant only on Sunday morning. Our faith can vary in strength, but faith cannot be an occasional thing – a relationship to rely on only in emergencies.
Paul makes clear in 1st Corinthians 13 that without love, we are nothing. Whatever else we may have going for us, it’s finally pointless without love.
And hope is not a luxury or something extra. Hope is a necessity. Luther wrote: “Everything that is done in this world is done by hope.” That is, without hope we have no reason to try, no reason to continue on, no reason to get out of bed each day. By hope I don’t mean shallow optimism or wishes, fantasies or pipe dreams. The hope I’m talking about is hope based on great promises – and on God who has made those promises.
The past two years as a church we have focused on the themes of love and faith.
Two years ago our theme was: LOVE GIVES. Love is a give-away. To love means freely giving yourself. God so loved the world that God gave us Jesus: God in the flesh. Our aim is to love like that, to give like that. You can give without loving – but you cannot love without giving.
Last year’s theme was FAITH LEAPS. Faith leaps to trust the God we cannot see, the God who is greater than our hearts. Faith leaps to follow where Christ leads the way. Faith leaps to give and to serve as Christ graciously gives and serves.
Our theme this year is HOPE PERSEVERES. Hope is the energy and the will to keep on keeping on, to keep running the race, to press on toward the goal of God’s heavenly call.
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Certainly we can have hope for short term goals, for health, for personal growth. Yet the foundational hope for all of us is that: God is for real. God’s love for us is real. God’s promises of grace and forgiveness here and now – and resurrection and eternal life – are real. The people of God have persevered for thousands of years, based on their hope in God. Consider that. Think for a moment: would the church still exist today without HOPE? What keeps it all going – what keeps us going – except the hope that God really is good, that great blessings are in store?
On what basis do we dare to hope? Our hope is based entirely on God: on God’s word, on God’s promises. On Jesus Christ, God’s word made flesh. Today’s readings offer reason to hope. The prophet Habakkuk lived in very stressful times. He wondered why God allowed so much suffering and injustice. He cried out: “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen?” Many of us have known that feeling. I have. Pain and grief can tempt us to despair. Yet the Lord assures Habakkuk (and us) that injustice, suffering, and sorrow will not have the last word. Here’s the promise:
There is still a vision for the appointed time; it speaks of the end and does not lie. If it seems to tarry, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. [meanwhile] The righteous live by their faith.
Psalm 37 also speaks words of hope and promise:
Take delight in the Lord, and he shall give you your heart’s desire Commit your way to him, and he will bring it to pass.
Integral to living in hope is a willingness to wait for what God promises. The Psalm adds this:
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him.
Living in hope means living on God’s time – not ours. In order to persevere through hard times, we must rely not only on our own strength, but on the Holy Spirit. And so Paul encourages us as he encouraged his protégé, Timothy:
“Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.”
Hope is a good and lasting treasure.
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For 57 years St. James has persevered as a congregation – people of God gathered together in faith and hope and love. Through this congregation God has blessed many lives – the lives of members and the lives of persons in our community, and indeed the lives of persons around the world. In our life together, hope has been instilled and renewed – in good times, and especially in challenging times, times of grief, times of uncertainty. I always will remember how we gathered together here to pray in the sad aftermath of the attacks on 9-11. We reminded one another that God is our refuge and our strength. I recall with gratitude the many times this church has come together to support fellow members in their time of grief and loss – how we consoled one another with the hope of resurrection.
Through our outreach ministries hope has been extended beyond these walls, bringing grace to people in need. Your gifts, your offerings, your commitments empower this congregation to continue to prosper and to serve: to be a living source of hope. Our shared hope in God brings us together and inspires us to persevere in answering God’s call to follow Christ, make disciples and live the gospel.