Grace Episcopal Church

Reaching the world for Jesus Christ beginning in Casanova

Sunday's Sermon by Fr. Jim Cirillo 

4/23/17     1 PETER 1:3-9     A LIVING HOPE

A middle-aged man was on a Caribbean cruise enjoying his first real vacation in years.  On the first day out to sea he noticed an attractive woman about his age who smiled at him in a friendly way as he passed her on the deck.  This pleased the man greatly.  That night he managed to get seated at the same table with her for dinner.  As the conversation developed, he commented that he had seen her on the deck that day and he had appreciated her friendly smile.  When she heard this, she smiled and commented, "Well, the reason I smiled was that when I saw you I was immediately struck by your strong resemblance to my third husband."

At this he perked up his ears and said, "Oh, how many times have you been married?"

She looked down at her plate, smiled modestly, and answered, "Twice."  Hope is the sustainer of life.  It's the motivator to action.  It's the promise of tomorrow.

We need the vision to see beyond what might appear to be there in front of us, to be able to see what could, quite possibly, be there.  As Robert Kennedy often said about himself, "Some people see things as they are and ask why?  I dream things that never were, and ask why not?"

Several years ago a teacher assigned to visit children in a large city hospital received a routine call requesting that she visit a particular child.  She took the boy's name and room number and was given instructions by the teacher.  "We're studying nouns and adverbs in his class now.  I'd be grateful if you could help him with his homework so he doesn't fall behind the others."  It wasn't until the visiting teacher got outside the boy's room that she realized it was located in the hospital's burn unit.  No one had prepared her to find a young boy horribly burned and in great pain.  She felt that she couldn't just turn and walk out, so she awkwardly stammered, "I'm the hospital teacher, and your teacher sent me to help you with nouns and adverbs."

The next morning a nurse on the burn unit asked her, "What did you do to that boy?"   Before she could finish the profusion of apologies that immediately came out of her mouth, the nurse interrupted her: "You don't understand.  We've been very worried about him, but ever since you were here yesterday, his whole attitude has changed.  He's fighting back, responding to treatment.  It's as though suddenly he's decided to live."  The boy later explained that he had completely given up hope until he saw that teacher.  It all changed when he came to a simple realization.  With joyful tears he expressed it this way: "They wouldn't send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, would they?"

Hope can be taken from us when those things that contribute to living are taken from us. We can be discouraged, we can be desolate, we can be knocked down, but that doesn't mean we have lost hope.  As long as we have a breath of life left in us, we have a living hope.  And as long as we have our assignment for tomorrow, we continue to believe that tomorrow is a possibility.  Peter's letter to the "exiles in Dispersion," as he calls them, is a letter of hope and encouragement to the young church as they were facing desperate times.  He reminds these Christians that through the resurrection we have been given new birth in a living hope.  Jesus was not dead, but living. Despite all appearances, Jesus is alive, and as long as he is alive, we live in the same hope.  We live in the hope of a resurrection from the dead in the future and with a hope in truly living now in this world.

Although these people that Peter was addressing had not seen Jesus, they loved him.  And although they did not see him during this time of great trial and tribulation, they believed in him.  That is living hope.  It is hope that cannot be restrained by worldly powers.  It is hope that cannot be thwarted by things of the past.  It is hope that cannot be extinguished by fears that some great calamity might lie ahead.  Living hope does not die.  And for the followers of Jesus, not even physical death of the body will destroy our hope.

None of us walked the earth with Jesus, as did Peter, Andrew, James, John, and the rest.  And yet we love him.  None of us can see Jesus now, not like Mary and the other women saw him after the resurrection.  He doesn't appear to us like he did to Paul on the road to Damascus.  Yet we believe in him.  And we believe that even though we suffer the trials of this life, we will one day rejoice in all things.  We believe that through this enduring faith in Jesus Christ, the outcome will indeed be the salvation of our souls.

Could you imagine buying a car without taking it on a test drive, much less without seeing it?  Would you move to a house in a city where you've never been without checking it out and carefully selecting just the right house?  Would you marry someone without seeing him or her first?  Not on your life!

And yet we put our living hope in someone we've never seen.  We put our complete trust in a notion that says this man Jesus died on a cross for our sins and that God is able to forgive us everything because of him.  We believe that because of him, God is able to forgive and put away our shortcomings and promise us eternal life.  That because of Jesus, we live our lives differently, never losing hope for a better tomorrow and living today with appreciation for what it brings.

Hope, as the scriptures speak of it, is a very strong word.  Hope, as it is used in daily society around us, is a very weak word.  Someone says, “Oh I hope fill in the blank happens!”  What they are really saying is, “I wish that it happens.”  It’s “oh I hope, I hope, I hope!”  The Word of God on the other hand speaks of hope in a manner that shows or exhibits confidence.  In this way of thinking, “Oh I hope fill in the blank happens!”  turns out to mean, “I have a strong assurance that this will happen.”  Rather than “Oh I hope, I hope, I hope!” it’s more like “I know, I know, I know!”  So it is a confident hope rather than a hesitant hope.

The text from Peter tells us that we will be tested, and tested by fire at that.  Sometimes the testing is specifically because of our faith as the saints to whom Peter wrote were experiencing.  Sometimes the testing is just what we call life.  Everybody goes through it, and everybody endures… … as long as they have hope.  In Christ, however, the ending is always the same, regardless of what it took to get there.  The testing always ends, and the results are praise and glory and honor.  Sometimes in this life and sometimes only in the next.  That's living hope.  There's always a possibility.  There's always the strength to reach where you're heading.

Where there is life, there is hope.  Conversely, where there is hope, there is life.  When someone is in a position of being truly hopeless, life often ends – one way or another.  In living hope, there are always possibilities.  And we know and have heard many times before that with God, all things are possible.

We see in this morning’s Gospel reading that Thomas had pretty much given up hope.  He was down and out.  Seeing Jesus changed all of that!  He had his hope restored so that he was able to believe.  Jesus comments that Thomas believed because he saw.  “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.”  While Thomas was down and out, he was not yet truly hopeless in his thinking so there was room for some possibilities.  In living hope, there are always possibilities.

Peter knew this so he was able to write words of encouragement to those who were suffering.  I hope that his words will also give you a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.  Jesus is alive, and in the living Jesus, we find living hope.  Amen?