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Undying Or Living Hope?
September 28, 1997

1 PETER 1:3

Please turn to verse three of chapter one. We are working our way through 1 Peter. Jack Van Loan did the math, and has announced that at the rate I am going, I will finish this sermon series in the year 2001! What an optimist he is! Like Mrs. Winchester thinking she wouldn't die as long as she was building on her house, Jack thinks that I think surely the Bishop will never move me in a middle of a sermon series! Cheer up, there is hope; at least, hope is the subject of this morning's sermon.

How can anyone live without hope? It is hope that sustains us, and gives us confidence to face the future when there seems to be no easy answer, no easy solution, no way out.

Hope is why you get out of bed in the morning.

Hope is why couples bring children into the world in spite of dire predictions of the future.

Hope is why a person gets married the second time, or the third time!

Hope is why refugees flee a persecuted or destitute homeland.

Hope is why we contribute our money and time to the church because we believe in its future.

Hope is why we have confidence in the future.

Hope is to what we cling--

when the doctor says that horrible word "cancer",

when the doctor says, "I'm afraid it is malignant,"

when the girl friend or boy friend or, worse, the spouse, says, "I just don't love you anymore,"

when the employer calls you in, "I'm sorry we don't need you anymore,"

when the police call, "We've just picked up your son or daughter,"

when you go to a new school or a new job wondering, "Can I make it?",

when the telephone rings with bad news, we cling to hope.

During Pastor's School on Wednesday morning, I received the message to call home. Ellie told me she had just received a call from a former parishioner. Warren went through the youth program in Palo Alto church when I was the youth pastor. He and his family have been close friends for 28 years. He called because his folks, Neal and Pat Yowell, had been in an automobile accident on the two-lane highway outside Gilroy. His mother was killed instantly. His father is in critical condition in the ICU unit in San Jose. His parents are spiritual giants in the Palo Alto Church. We are all in shock.

How can we handle such news without hope, and not just any old kind of hope, not even an undying hope, but a living hope? Thank God, praise the Lord! 1Peter 1:3, "By God's great mercy, we have been given a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." Donald Miller in his commentary on 1 Peter, On This Rock, contrasts living hope with what he calls undying hope. Undying hope is hope without Christ. Without Christ, hope focuses on a future yet to be, on something yet to come. Oh, I hope I have good health. I hope I can succeed. I hope there is a heaven, an after-life. I hope there will be peace and justice.

In contrast, the living hope described by Peter is not focused on a future yet to come. The living hope is focused on a future that has already happened, something which is already in existence. "Undying hope peers out of the midnight blackness toward the first inkling of light which will herald a coming sunrise. Living hope has already seen the dawn's early light. The sun has not yet burst the horizon in full splendor, but its beams have already scattered the darkness and cast its light on life." We who walk in darkness have already seen the light. We see Jesus. Living hope is not a mere wish or a pious dream. Living hope is a confidence in the future born of an event in the past. What will be already is! The light has already shined in the darkness. Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. God conquered death. The devil was defeated.

Sisters and brothers, we have a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Of course, we can't predict the future. We don't know what tomorrow will bring. You don't know if you will get the job, or get the A on the test, or how you're going to handle conflict, or where you will live. But, you do know in whom you hope! We have complete confidence in the future, in the ultimate victory of good over evil, because the power of God has already been demonstrated, and not only demonstrated, but is actively working in the world, and working in our lives even as I speak! Our hope lives because Christ lives. The new order, the new world has dawned in the risen Christ. The old has passed away, the new has come.

Think for a moment. What is the basis of your hope? What gets you out of bed hopefully every morning? What sustains you when loved ones die, or you face your own death? What gives you the confidence you can handle school, you can handle your job, you can succeed? What gives you hope for tomorrow? Your own resources and your ability? The innate goodness of the human race? Perhaps you believe that people are in business for your welfare, and that those elected will look out for your best interests? Perhaps you trust in bank accounts, bottles, pills or needles? When W. E. Sangster, a famous British Methodist, visited the United States, he 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!

Sisters and brothers, living hope is grounded in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a living hope into which we have been born anew. Living hope is not an add-on. God transforms us so that a living hope is part of our nature. The power of God through the Holy Spirit works in our lives, changing our minds, changing our hearts, changing our direction, changing our motivations, turning us to God, rather than ourselves, turning us to God rather than earthly things. Earthly things are transitory, impermanent, fragile. The things of God are solid, real, eternal.

Sisters and brothers, 1 Peter 1:3, "By God's great mercy, we have been given a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." As a church, we are in the hope business. We dispense hope. Our church's mission statement-- Experiencing and sharing the love of Christ-- is a statement of hope. Sharing the love of Christ is what we are about, and every member is a minister. I have a deep concern and passion for children and their families. One of the best ministries of our church is CATCh (Children At The Church), an after-school ministry on Tuesday afternoons. This fall it is in its seventh year, and continues to grow. We have a CATCh ministry team that is doing a wonderful job organizing, recruiting, and directing. We have an excellent staff of leaders and helpers. What a great year we are having!

One of the dreams when CATCh was organized, I am told, was the long-range goal to offer an After-School ministry every week-day. I feel the time has come to implement the goal, either next January or next September. We now have a fenced-in play area. We now have a play yard. Our campus is ready! I believe there are countless children in our area who need supervised activities after school, rather than going home to an empty house or playing on the streets. I believe there are countless children who need to experience the living hope we know through Jesus. I see an After-School ministry of not just games and activities, but games and activities grounded in the Bible, developing relationships where children may experience the love of Christ. Like CATCh, we need to offer, not a secular after-school program, but an After-School ministry in the name of Jesus.

Who among you share the vision of reaching out to the children of Merced who need hope, and not just undying hope, but a living hope grounded in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Who among you share the vision? Who here this morning has a heart for children? I invite you to meet with me today at 4:00, and let's begin planning.

Let me tell you about Pat Yowell, the woman who was killed in the auto accident last Tuesday. She is an example of what I am trying to say this morning. As someone said, "I'd rather see a sermon than hear one any day." Pat's life was a sermon on hope. When she retired as head librarian of the Palo Alto city libraries, she became the church librarian. She then went out-of-state to take the training to be a Stephens minister in order to train lay people to provide pastoral care and counseling. She then completed the course of study offered by the Conference, and last year became a staff member as a lay minister, at the salary of $1 per year which the pastor, Bob Olmstead, says the church never got around to paying.

Pat was a woman of prayer. She was constantly participating in workshops on prayer. She had a Spiritual Director who is a person who on a one-to-one basis offers guidance on one's spiritual journey. Pat was also a Spiritual Director for others. She had a card and book ministry, sending cards and books to many people. What impressed me the most about Pat was her living hope. She was future-oriented, believing that the best lay yet ahead. Never did I hear her say, "Oh, we've never done that before." Or, "That's not the way we do things." Her immediate response was, "Let's do it." When the opportunity came from The Upper Room in Nashville to begin the Walk to Emmaus ministry in our conference, she jumped at the chance to be one of the organizers. Unlike Merced Church, Palo Alto First United Methodist Church is not an easy church to serve. It has had several devastating and debilitating crises, yet Pat believed in the future. She had a living hope in the viable future of that congregation, a hope firmly based in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. Her present pastor, Bob Olmstead, wrote these words about Pat:

In this day of her death I realize that she was a pastor to me. She was strong and secure in the Lord, intuitive and extraordinarily intentional. I turned to her for wise counsel and for diligent ministry -- and also for prayer and spiritual direction.

Pat Yowell was a living example of living hope!

Sisters and brothers, 1 Peter 1:3, by God's great mercy we also (everyone in this room) have been given a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

© 1997 Douglas I. Norris