Sermon

Isaiah 43:16-21

Holding on to Hope

Dr. Heather Entrekin

Every morning, we have a regular dog routine at our house. The alarm rings early and Nash, our Labrador retriever, goes downstairs with Peter for breakfast and a quick run and bark outside. Then he comes in, runs upstairs and jumps on the bed to be sure I’m alive. When he sees that I am, he lies down between the bed and the door, back legs

splayed in a kind of Superman pose. When I go downstairs, he goes downstairs, waits while I pour a cup of coffee, walks me into my study and lies between the desk and the door. If I refill my coffee cup, he is there. If I put on my walking shoes, he is there.

Now Nash is smart dog. He is a retired guide dog and he used to go to Washburn U. with his partner, Norman, at Emporia State. Nash was awarded the distinction of honorary Ichabod at Washburn. But it isn’t his IQ or his education that make Nash do what he does every morning — it is hope. Nash hopes I will take him for a walk. Every day he wakes up with that hope and he holds on to that hope.

It is hope that Isaiah tried to instill into the people of Israel. They long for something they do not have — to be home again. They are far from home, far from free and far from hope. For more than 50 years they have been in exile – displaced, disheartened. By now, some have adapted to the culture of their oppressor. They are blocked from Judah by an impassable desert. It feels like God has abandoned and forgotten them. They lament (Isaiah 40:27): My way is hid from the Lord.

The account in last week’s Star Magazine of two men who got to that point when they sailed from the Kaw River to Florida. They were good buddies, shared a spirit of adventure, had a good little boat, but the journey got long and arduous. Winter came sooner than they expected, it rained, the canned food got old, the engine died, they were dirty, it was boring. By the end, it wasn’t fun any more.

This is what life does sometimes. The world becomes a difficult place and Isaiah confronted a discouraged people. He reminds them that God has pulled them through before. God parted waters and stopped chariots to free them from slavery. God provided bread from the sky and water from the rock to get them through the desert, made a way where there was no way. Now, God who walked you through those hard places is about to do a new thing.

Jurgen Moltmann tells a story from the Talmud of a rabbi who was considering what questions a Jew would probably have to answer at the last Judgment. What would the Universal Judge ask? First the rabbi thought the obvious things: Were you honest in business? Did you seek wisdom? Did you keep the commandments? And so on. Finally a question came into his mind which surprised the rabbi himself. It was the question about the Messiah. The Universal Judge will ask, “Did you hope for my Messiah?” Is that not the question Christians will be asked? Says Moltmann: “Did you hope for me? Did you keep hoping even when you nearly gave up? Did you endure to the end?”

Early Christians were known by how much they loved one another, but it may be that Christians today need to be known by how much we hope. Alban Boultwood says, “Our faith is the answer not so much to the question, `What must I believe?’ but rather, `What dare I hope?’

How large is my hope? Can I hold on to it? Dare we hope that God will do a new thing in us? We’ve all heard the joke that asks how many Baptists it takes to change a light bulb. The punch line is “Change?” But if God is going to do a new thing that means change.

Consider the church over the years. Here’s a little True False quiz about the First Baptist Church in America, founded in 1638 in Providence, Rhode Island. A beautiful, colonial style church, still active. True or False:

1. There was a cross at the front of the sanctuary.
2. There were stained glass windows.
3. There was organ music.
4. There were congregational hymns.
5. Children attended Sunday School.
6. Wine was used for communion.
7. Scripture was read from the King James Version of the Bible.
8. Prayers were offered for missionaries.
9. Offering plates were used to receive tithes and offerings.
10. There was indoor plumbing.
11. The clergy were university-educated.
12. They met in a comfortable church building.

Except for the questions about communion wine and educated clergy, all the statements are false. Imagine how many complaints, arguments, disagreements and laments there were among good church folk at the First Baptist Church in America between that day and this day.

Isaiah challenged discouraged people to hold on to the hope that in life, in death, in life beyond death, God lives and moves and acts and intercedes and even intrudes among us. Last week, a grieving father spoke the same hope in the face of the death of his son: “If you keep going, better things will come. They just will.”

Last night in this sanctuary we had a beautiful wedding and we read the words of Paul: “faith, hope, love, and the greatest of these is love.” But Augustine says that the greatest of these is hope.

By faith we know that God is;
by love we know that God is good;
by hope we know that God will work God’s will.

You know God’s will. Jesus describes it: a world of peace and justice, where a neighbor forgives a neighbor 70 x 7 times, where no one is too important to wash the feet of another, where women are respected and commissioned to preach, where the poor and the grieving are blessed, where men, like Jesus, could play with children and love them, where all people of all cultures and colors eat together, where hundreds of billions of dollars are spent on healing and educating and peacemaking, and there is war no more.

It is easy to feel powerless, discouraged, overwhelmed, hopeless when we look at this world and the world that could be. But what is beyond human capability and striving is not beyond God, says Isaiah. The Kingdom of God is at hand, says Jesus.

Hold on to hope. Nash cannot take himself for a walk in the morning, but by living in hope — which means waiting expectantly, dancing in circles when someone gets near the hook with the leash on it, placing himself in every doorway, he helps to make the walk happen.

We put ourselves in the door way when we pray, fast, worship, serve, give or even just want to. Holding on to hope we say: I am ready. Come to us, Lord, and do a new thing.

COPYRIGHT 2007, Dr. Heather Entrekin. Used by permission.