Sharing HopePosted: June 17, 2012
Faith, hope and love, are all non-material, invisible, and yet these three intangibles are the most important elements of life. Paul says the greatest of the three is love, and when he wrote of hope he captured its intangible nature: Romans 5: 24 Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
People who think of themselves as “realists” will often claim that non-material, invisible, intangible realities don’t really exist. Only possessions they can get their hands on, concrete objects, clothes, real estate, cars, houses, jewelry or maybe money only these material things are real and have value.
In response to the realistic people who place their value in things tangible, I remember a minister friend of mine, who used to share his experience attending people on their death beds. When people are dying, truth comes into much clearer focus, and our perspective sometimes changes. As my friend said, on several occasions he listened to people on their death bed express their regrets. And he never heard anyone regret that they hadn’t been able to afford a bigger house. And he never heard a dying person regret that she hadn’t spent more time at the office. And he never heard someone who was dying regret he hadn’t driven a nicer car. No regrets at the end of our lives are most often about relationships. Gee I wish I had had a better relationship with my spouse. I wish I had spent more time with my kids. I regret I didn’t reconcile with my brother. Like faith, hope and love, relationships are intangible, and while we can work on relationships we can’t always see the results, at least not right away.
Last Sunday we explored faith and hope in relationship to dementia. In Brian Berry’s statement about his faith struggle with Multiple Sclerosis he quoted from Hebrews 11:1 “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance in what we do not see.” Faith and hope are essential to life. In some cultures when human beings lose hope, they simply roll over and die. An extraordinary number of suicides are the result of hopelessness. Leah’s High School graduating class adopted as their motto a song title from a 1985 record album by the Fools, “Life Sucks and Then You Die.” I can’t read most of the lyrics from the pulpit but here’s a cleaned up sample:
My house burned down in a flash of thunder.
My wife ran off with a one-legged plumber.
My crops fell dead when the riverbed went dry.
My dog got squashed by a pickup truck.
My son ran away and got hooked on drugs.
My daughter’s pregnant by the class of ’85.
People say that life is good;
It don’t seem good to me.
I’m lost without a paddle,
And I’m headed up the creek.
People say that life is fun,
But I don’t know why.
As far as I can tell,
LIFE SUCKS then you die.
That song grew out of the 80’s Reagan Recession and reminds us that during hard economic times people often lose their grip on hope. And now that we are in the midst of a recession that sometimes seems to have no end, when many people are looking at a future that appears grim with no light at the end of the tunnel, I believe that we who follow the way of Jesus have a calling to share our hope.
For our hope springs from our faith that life is good as it is given. The meaning of life is not measured in dollars and cents but in relationships, friendships, and simple joys that accrue to living in the here and now living each day to the fullest of our ability. We do not look to the past, for we cannot relive our yesterdays. Looking behind rather than ahead only brings regret and depression. And we do not look too far ahead because it brings anxiety and fear, we have no need to borrow tomorrow’s trouble that may never come.
Our hope also springs from our faith that something that is us survives even death. Life can be difficult. Life does have its disappointments. And yes, all of us will die, but when all of the chaff of our lives is blown away, a kernel, an essence of us will remain. We don’t know what that will be, Paul speaks of it as a spiritual body, but we are promised, that not even the dangers and difficulties of this mortal life or death itself will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. We have marvelous good news to share. We have hope to share in the midst of the uncertainties and difficulties of these hard economic times.
We have a ministry of the sharing of hope and yet so often we are tentative, afraid to share our hope. The members of the Monday Bible Study called my attention to some remarks about grief and hope Vice-President Joe Biden shared with families who have lost loved ones in Iraq and Afghanistan on Memorial Day weekend. Allow me to share an excerpt from those remarks.
phone call, saying that my family had been in an accident. And just like you guys knew by the tone of the phone call, you just knew. You knew when they walked up the path. You knew when the call came. You knew. You just felt it in your bones: Something bad happened. And I knew — I don’t know how I knew, but the caller said my wife was dead. My daughter was dead. And I wasn’t sure how my sons were going to make it. They were Christmas shopping and a tractor trailer broadsided them.
I have to tell you I used to resent. I knew people meant well. They’d come up and say, “Joe I know how you feel.” You knew they meant well. You knew they didn’t have any damn idea. That black hole you feel in your chest like you are being sucked back into it.
It was the first time in my life, I understood how someone could consciously decide to commit suicide – not because they were deranged, not because they were nuts, because they’d been to the top of the mountain and they just knew in their heart they would never get there again.
I don’t know about you guys. I was angry. I was angry. You probably handle it better than I did. I was angry. I’m a practicing Catholic, and I was a practicing Catholic at the time. But I was mad at God, oh man. And I remember looking up and saying, “God,” I was talking to God myself, “you can’t be good. How can you be good?” You probably handle it better than I did. But I was angry.
Just when you think maybe you are going to make it you ride down the road and you pass a field, and you see a flower and it reminds you, and you know maybe I’m not going to make it, because you feel in that moment the way you felt the day you got the news.
There really is hope. The ache in the back never goes away, but it gets controllable. It can and will get better. There will come a day, I promise you, when the thought of your son or daughter or your husband or wife brings a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye. It will happen. It will happen. My prayer for you is that day will come sooner or later. I’m telling you it will come.
I wanted to share Joe Biden’s remarks because they are an excellent example of faith sharing. Simply and clearly he shared his experience. He was even willing to share how angry he was with God. He wasn’t saying, “once you have Jesus in your heart everything is all sweetness and light.” No, he affirmed that life can be difficult, full of pain and grief. He even confessed that he was so low suicide even looked like a viable option. And even after all that, life can get better again. He even assured them. “My prayer for you is that day will come sooner or later. I’m telling you it will come.”
Part of faith sharing is being willing to acknowledge the times we have been angry with God, the times when our doubts have been overwhelming, and our faith has been weak. We have to be real and human in our sharing for others to find hope.
Brian Berry last week shared with us his struggles with Multiple Sclerosis. His sharing of his faith was real and powerful. “Do not look back because it will bring depression. Do not look too far ahead because it brings fear. Live in the here and now. Live each day to the fullest of your ability today.” People in the midst of economic hard times need hope.
Followers of the way of Jesus have hope, but we have to be willing to share our hope. We have to be willing to share our stories, our faith with others, so they can find within themselves the hope they need to carry on. That is why I have asked Jim Norris and Eddie Colf, if they will lead an “Unbinding Your Heart” group in August.
You see, normally we are so uptight about how inadequate our faith seems. Remember how Brian Berry confessed last week: “Faith is not a strong attribute of mine,” and yet what he shared was awesome. When we unbind our hearts enough to share our faith stories with others, not only do we help other people to find within themselves the hope they need to carry on, but we also paradoxically strengthen our own faith. It’s like love, there is never enough until we start to give it away.
Faith and hope grow, when we share them with others. It’s like the story of the feeding of the 5,000 in the gospel. The disciples tell Jesus to send the crowd away, and Jesus says, “you give them something to eat.” And it isn’t until the disciples offer up their meager dinner dividing it and sharing it with the crowd that they have enough for everyone to be fed.
We may not think we have enough faith. We look out at our culture and say, Jesus we don’t have enough faith or hope even for ourselves, and Jesus replies, “share what you have with them.” When we unbind our hearts and share our faith with others, our faith will grow, and we will discover there is enough faith, hope and love, and plenty left over.