Sunday, November 30, 2008

All Things With Hope - A Sermon

Today is one of those days when you don’t know which direction to turn.  Is it the weekend of Thanksgiving (with everyone traveling)?  Is it the First Sunday of Advent (hence the candles)?  Or is it Ingathering Sunday (hence the collection of pledge cards)?  Where do we give our attention?

Well, being Anglicans, we’re inclusive.  So, we observe all of them.

Because, being Anglicans, we can see the common bond that ties them together.  

Of course, the common bond in everything that God makes is love.  But there is another nearly as important bond: hope.

Now, hope has three main elements.  It is for something in the future.  It is for something desirable.  And it is for something that is at least theoretically possible.  All three of those are found in giving thanks, waiting for Christ, and pledging. 

Think of it.  Can you really give thanks for whatever is good in your life without the hope that your thanks will please the giver?  Or the hope that there will be something to be thankful for in the future?  When you think of it, one of the most hopeful acts a person can commit is to say “Thank You.”

You may not know it, but the official holiday of Thanksgiving was instituted during the Civil War.  Whatever his political reasons for instituting it, Abraham Lincoln knew that a people giving thanks cannot but hope for and imagine a better future.  Those who see nothing to be thankful for in their past or present see little to hope for in the future.

Or watching and waiting.  As our Gospel today says, “Beware, keep alert. Keep awake.”  Just before this passage and including it, Jesus describes a frightening and traumatic time of suffering and persecution in the unknown future.  You’d think that would be enough to make them lose heart.

Only then, Jesus tells them the Son of Man will return -- and bring with him God’s kingdom of righteousness and justice and mercy.  When this will happen, nobody knows, but Jesus instructs his followers to be alert, to watch for the signs, be keep awake. 

That’s what we do in Advent.  We watch,  We wait.   Watching is -- in and of itself -- an act of hope because it means we believe the future still holds something in store for us.  It means that we still have a role to play in the drama of life.  Even a soldier watching for the enemy does so with the hope of surviving the battle so they can go home to their families.

We watch,  We wait.  For Christ the small and humble child who comes in order to die on a cross and rise to new life again, thus destroying the power of death.  We watch for Christ, the glorious and victorious Son of Man returning with the angels to judge all, with the hope that we will be judged with the promised mercy and love.

You just can’t look to the future without hope.

The same holds true for that simple act of pledging.  Think about the word itself: PLEDGE.  You know, I pledge allegiance.  I pledge my honor.  I pledge my love. 

Pledging yourself is an act of hope, an act of trust.  Whether it’s your money, your honor, your life -- nobody pledges themselves without the hope that what they do will make a positive difference in the world.

I pledge myself to this mystical ministry called St. James’.  When I do so, I’m telling you that I believe this church is called to do the work of the Christ who will one day come in glory to judge the earth.  When I put that little piece of paper in the plate, I’m telling you that I trust in Jesus’ promise of life everlasting -- and hope to be part of it.  

When I pledge my money and my time to this place, I do so in the hope that my life and ministry here has meaning.  Because without that hope, what would be the point?

Our Stewardship theme this year has been PLEDGE WITH HOPE.  As in, We HOPE you’ll pledge a lot.  But seriously, that word HOPE lies at the heart of who we are as Christians.  Our hope is in the Lord who loves us enough to become one of us.  We give thanks in hope.  We watch in hope.  We pledge in hope.  

Because we are Christians, and Christians do all things with hope. Amen.