Where is Our Hope?

“Where is our hope?”   April 23, 2023  Luke 24:13-35, Hebrews 6:13-20  Pastor Teddie McConnell
As they walked to Emmaus, Cleopas and his friend were deeply saddened and resigned to the idea that the amazing adventure they’d shared with Jesus, their friend and the potential redeemer of Israel, was over. They’d watched from a distance with the other disciples as Jesus was killed. Their hope had died with Him. They’d heard that the tomb was empty, yet they could not bring themselves to believe that Jesus was alive. They were as wilted as three-week-old Easter lilies. They were headed back to where they used to live, sure that the only thing they could do was return to what they thought of as normal life. They drifted without an anchor in a sea of grief, doubt and disappointment.

Even when Jesus came up and explained how His death and resurrection was predicted by the prophets beginning with Moses, the two men kept walking without really seeing Him. It wasn’t until He blessed the bread at their meal that their eyes were opened. Only then did they know why their hearts burned with awe and wonder in what turned out to be God’s presence. Jesus changed their mourning into joy and gave them back their hope. He turned them around and aimed them toward the way that moves forward, the river flowing to eternal life.

Back in Luke 17:32-33, when Jesus was preaching about his return, He said, “Remember Lot’s wife. Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.” You’ll remember that Lot and his wife were fleeing Sodom and Gomorrah because God was raining destruction on those sinful cities. God warned Lot’s family not to look back. But Lot’s wife, who was leaving behind her house, her furniture, her collection of Beatles’ records maybe, found herself stuck in the past, not focusing on God and the future. She looked back and became a pillar of salt.

People like to spend time reminiscing, thinking about “the good old days.”  They collect stuff that reminds them of other times, hoarding it like treasure. But the past isn’t really any better than right now. Like Billy Joel says in his song Keeping the Faith, “Say goodbye to the oldies but goodies, 'cause the good old days weren't always good, and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems.”
God wants us to rely on the Holy Spirit and take the chances that will lead to His will being done, even when it means we may feel less materially secure as a result. Jesus said those who try to make their life secure will lose it. God has a plan for us to use the present to improve the world around us, to love one another and help each other along. That way we store up treasures in heaven. Hope lies ahead of us, and Jesus is walking with us all the way.

The pandemic was a global disaster from which the world is still trying to recover. If you think about the word “recover,” it means to return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength, or to regain something lost or stolen. We lost people, we lost our sense of safety in each other’s company. We were isolated and scared. We did a lot of nothing while we sat trapped in our homes. When you’re doing nothing, you’re not moving forward with Christ, you’re just drifting. We like to think we can return to what was normal before COVID, but to do God’s will, we must stop looking back like Lot’s wife did and press on.
Churches often think that if they just do the same programs and ministries that worked when they had more members and young people, the church will grow. But the world has changed so dramatically that this is wishful thinking.

Being stuck in the past can be different than thinking about a time when we were content. We can be stuck in bitterness, discouragement, disillusionment, offense, or unforgiveness. People we’re mad at usually don’t have any clue or don’t care that we’re still hung up on whatever happened. Joyce Meyers says staying mad is like taking poison in the hope that the person who offended us will die. But it’s also a form of pride. “I was right. I’m better than they are. I shouldn’t have had to go through that.” Maybe not, but the only way to get out of that quicksand is to relax, float above it, and paddle to the shore of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is God’s will for us because it’s the best thing for us in the long run. It’s a way of pressing forward and finding your hope. Jesus is far better than whatever we’ve left behind.
Maybe we’re disappointed with God because we haven’t received all the material things our culture keeps telling us we should have. Or because things haven’t gone according to our plan. The disciples thought Jesus would redeem Israel as a nation from the tyranny of Rome. God’s plan was so much bigger than that! We were redeemed, instead, from our sins, from our human weaknesses and selfishness, from life without the hope of heaven. And Jesus is right here. He didn’t leave us. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. We don’t regain our hope until we believe that Jesus is walking with us, right here with us. Jesus is our hope.

Another way we can get unstuck is to find things to be grateful for as often as possible. Gratitude reminds us of God’s bounty, love and kindness, what God chooses to give us in answer to prayer or even as a surprise. Saying thank you for the simple things keeps life in the proper perspective. It can even help you find a silver lining in a dark cloud.

Being stuck instead of moving forward can even result from the distractions of our digital lives that keep us watching videos and looking at the number followers people have. It’s not about how many followers we have, it’s about how many followers Jesus has. It’s so easy to get distracted. Why, I remember that that funny video where…What’s that, Lord? Oh, yes, back to the sermon.

The letter to the Hebrews was written to people who were literally in danger of dying for their faith in Jesus. They were told in chapter 6:19, “We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain.” The Jews had been separated from God in the temple by a curtain. Only the priests were allowed behind it on rare holy days, and they went in wearing a rope around one ankle so they could be pulled out if they were struck dead by God. Jesus is our true high priest. When He died, the curtain in the temple was torn in two. Jesus cleared the way for us to talk to God directly without fear, trusting in God’s forgiveness, love and provision. Jesus is our hope.

Jesus is also our anchor. He keeps the boat of our soul from drifting into doubt, discouragement and despair. We have to maintain our connection to that anchor to keep it secure. Have we neglected the connection to Jesus, the chain that holds us, to the point where the links are rusty and breaking, allowing us to drift away from Christ? We need to reconnect to Jesus, our hope and anchor. Sometimes He pulls our boat in a new direction. We must remember that Jesus is better than whatever we’ve left behind. He is our guide and our hope.

Hope has to be nurtured, cultivated like a garden. It takes prayer and belief in the power of God to bring us goodness and mercy. The more pain we’ve experienced in life, the less we find hope to be a sensible response to a dangerous world. But the Gospel isn’t sensible or logical, or everyone would believe it. Hope means we trust Jesus to make things work in the long run, if not in this life, then in the next. Hope means we work and give like there is no tomorrow, because we know tomorrow is in Jesus’ hands.

When we share communion, God opens our eyes to reveal Christ in our midst. My dad was a strong Christian, and he figured that Jesus used bread and wine to establish communion because it was common, everyday food at the time, so sharing it as communion can be more than just a ritual for church gatherings. 1 Corinthians 11:26 reads, “As often as  you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.” So any time we eat a meal, we can remind each other that Jesus died for us, rose for us, and is with us. Jesus is our hope.

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