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A Growing Hope
April 3, 1988


Easter is the season of hope. Easter sings, exults, rejoices in hope. Most of us hope. Hope is a motivating force most of us experience.

Hope springs eternal, says the poet.

Hope is why you get out of bed in the morning, ready and eager for another day of opportunity and challenge.

Hope is why couples bring children into the world in spite of dire predictions of job scarcity, high cost of homes, and nuclear annihilation.

Hope is why we keep getting excited about presidential campaigns, and believe again all those promises. Hope is why a person gets married the second or third time.

Hope is why we are able to handle the death of a loved one, and face the inevitability of our own death. Hope is why refugees flee from political oppression or economic hardship, and are so determined to succeed in this, their new land.

Hope is why a child practices the violin or cello diligently and faithfully, year after year, so that someday he/she can play in the orchestra at the First United Methodist Church.

Hope is why people contribute their time and money to churches, because they believe the church can make a difference in people's lives and the course of world events.

Hope is why we have confidence in the future, confident that God's plan for the creation will ultimately be fulfilled.

Most of us live by hope. Hope is a basic motivating force of life. People without hope are depressed, and live in despair. On this Easter morning, let me ask you two questions: What is the basis of your hope? And, for what do you hope?

First question, what is the basis of your hope? What are the roots? Are they adequate? Is your hope adequate? Is your hope able to sustain you, get you out of the bed in the morning with zest and enthusiasm, and give you the endurance to withstand setbacks, problems, and crises? Is your hope growing with the rapid changes in today's world, or are you increasingly overwhelmed? Are you able to meet the challenges of life in the 80's in Silicon Valley? Is your ability to cope constantly being tested and tried? Is your hope growing or shrinking?

What is the basis of your hope? In what is your hope rooted or grounded? Do you get out of bed in the morning hopefully because you're sure the sun will rise? Based on previous experience, you can trust in nature? In what is your hope grounded? Confidence in your ability to handle whatever happens? Confidence in the human race? In the stock market? Or the veracity of the government? Or do you have hope in the future because you have confidence in the good intentions of the CIA? What is your ground for hope? Is it adequate? Perhaps one reason for a widespread sense of hopelessness and despair among people today is because the roots of hope are shallow, and not strong enough to support the tree when the wind blows. In order to withstand the cyclones, the earthquakes, and tornadoes--the strong winds of changing times, moral lapses, cloudy motives, and the greed of powerful people in high places, roots of hope need to go deeply into the soil.

Sisters and brothers, the surest ground for hope is a belief in Easter, where the roots of hope are grounded in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. The victory of God is assured. The power of God has been demonstrated. We can live confidently and hopefully because of Easter. When you are asked, "Why are you cheerful? Why are you so positive? Why are you so hopeful? You don't seem to get discouraged easily; you seem to have an indomitable faith, a strong sense of hope. Why?"--you can answer, "I have hope because God raised Jesus from the dead, because the Lord is risen!" I rejoice this morning because we have good news. We have a promise. We have a faith. We have a God who raised Jesus from the dead! Therefore, your hope can grow, your hope can withstand all the storms of life.

We read in Romans 10:9, "If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." Paul makes a promise based on a two-fold condition: first, confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, which means that Jesus is the one to whom you trust your very life. With your lips, call on Jesus. Pray to God through Jesus constantly. Ask Jesus for guidance. Ask Jesus for help. Ask Jesus for the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Voice your hope. Speak it, and it will be so. Confess with your lips.

Secondly, believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead. A belief in the resurrection is both an intellectual belief and a heart belief--an emotional belief. And the promise: with hope based on, grounded, rooted in the resurrection, you will be saved. Ultimately you are in God's care. You may feel you fail on occasion, at least according to the world's standards; but in the things that count, in the long run, you will conquer, you will win, you will be saved. You can get up in the morning with hope, and face the future confidently. Why? Because you will be saved; because your hope is grounded in Easter, in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Second question: For what do you hope? For what do you hope to the extent that you are willing to give your life? For what are you living? What are your goals and priorities? For what are you willing to sacrifice? In what and for what do you invest your money?

On that Sunday morning, the women went to the tomb of Jesus. They found the tomb open and empty. They were dismayed. They were discouraged. They were frightened. Their capacity to hope had been dashed to pieces when Jesus died on Friday. Their hope for the future, their hope for the coming of God's kingdom, had been shattered by the death of Jesus. Sunday morning they went to the garden and found the tomb empty. They were bewildered and confused. Why was everything changing? Why was everything being disrupted? Jesus had stirred such hope within them. His words burned within them. His ideals gave them hope. Now everything was gone. He was dead. The enemies had conquered, and now, even the tomb had been broken into and the body taken. Now what would they do? Where would they go? How would they believe? How could they now hope?

While they wept, two angels appeared to the women and asked a question that is as relevant today, as fresh today, as startling today, as it was then, "Why do you seek the living among the dead?" Why do you look for the living in a cemetery? You can't find life in that which is dead. Is that for which you hope a living hope? Sisters and brothers, for a living, dynamic, growing hope that can sustain you and inspire you, don't put your hope in something that is dead. Do you really want to give your life for dead things? Do you really want to invest your money, dreams, energy and hope in dead things? So many put their hope in bank accounts, in luxuries, in money; things that are dead, inert. The famous British Methodist, W. E. Sangster, visited the United States a few years ago and observed that Americans, compared to people in the rest of the world, have the nicest homes, the most cars, the greatest wealth, and write the most books on how to be happy! Why put your hope in dead things that don't bring happiness?

Why put your hope in the dead past, in yesterday, the good old days? Some people dress in teenage clothes, put creams on their faces, act childish, and think they can conjure up hope for the future. But the past is dead; it's gone; it can't be relived. You can't reclaim the years that are gone. Why put your hope in a dead past?

Why put your hope in bottles, pills, or needles? A reporter interviewed three old men sitting on a park bench. He asked them what they did and how old they were. The first old man answered, "I play checkers and I'm 91." The second old man replied, "I play checkers and I'm 95." The third old man answered, "I drink three pints of whiskey a day, smoke five packs of cigarettes, take cocaine when I can get it, and stay out all night." Surprised and impressed, the reporter asked, "And how old are you?" "27!"Why put your hope in dead things, dead dreams, dead visions, ideas that don't work anymore, outdated concepts?

Put your hope in that which is alive, that which is growing. Put your hope and give your life to the Kingdom of God, the ultimate victory of God. Put your hope and give your life to the vision Jesus has for the world, the kind of world where everyone has an equal chance, where people are treated kindly, lovingly, fairly; the kind of world where there is no hunger, deprivation, or war. Robert Fulghum has given us a fresh description of a vision in which we all can hope in his article, "All I ever really needed to know I learned in kindergarten."

Most of what I really need to know about how to live, and what to do, and how to be, I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate school mountain, but there in the sandbox at nursery school. These are the things I learned: Share everything. Play fair. Don't hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don't take things that aren't yours. Say you're sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush. Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you. Live a balanced life. Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.

Take a nap every afternoon. When you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands and stick together. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the plastic cup. The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.

Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the plastic cup--they all die. So do we.

And then remember the book about Dick and Jane and the first word you learned, the biggest word of all: LOOK. Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and sane living.

Think of what a better world it would be if we all--the whole world--had cookies and milk about 3 o'clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankets for a nap. Or if we had a basic policy in our nation and other nations to always put things back where we found them and cleaned up our own messes. And it is still true; no matter how old you are, when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.

I invite you this Easter morning to examine how you live, and why you live. For what do you hope? To what are you giving your life? If you do not have a church home, I invite you to become part of our church. Consider yourself one of us, where we hold hands and stick together, seeking to become the people of hope. I also invite you this morning to give a financial offering. Invest yourself in God's work through the ministry of this church. Besides the regular offering, we are receiving a special Easter offering. The offering is for our music ministry, and for World Service, our mission work for which we are currently unable to pay our full apportionment. This offering will be given to World Service, above that which is budgeted. You are welcome to designate your offering by writing "Music" or "World Service" on the envelope. If undesignated, it will be divided equally between the two.

© 1988 Douglas I. Norris