Image from the Sew Much Hope program of The Hope Project in Liberia. Learn more at https://www.hopeproject.org/
This is the text of a sermon for the First Sunday of Advent, given at Belfair Community Church on November 28, 2021.
Let’s talk about Hope.
“Hope is the thing with feathers That perches in the soul And sings the tune without the words And never stops at all.” ― Emily Dickinson
"Live, then, and be happy, beloved children of my heart, and never forget, that until the day God will deign to reveal the future to man, all human wisdom is contained in these two words, 'Wait and Hope.” ― Alexandre Dumas
Why is God making us wait all the time? Seriously.
Well, most of us are parents: why do we make children wait? We know the word “wait” is torture to a child. But we still tell them, over and over again:
Wait for dessert.
Wait for the movie to start.
Wait for your birthday party.
Wait for Christmas to come.
One of my favorite Christmas movies is “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
George Bailey’s life is all about waiting. Young, full of promise of doing big things, so excited to get out of his small town and conquer the world. But he never gets to leave. His sense of duty compels him to stay, year after year, as he watches his brother and friends move on to greater adventures. He finds love, he is a champion of the town, a big fish in a small pond. But it eats at him, all that he is missing out on.
It’s not until crisis hits, when he might lose it all, that he gets a most unusual gift: a chance to see what the world would be like without him. And an awakening happens: the life he has, the one that seemed so unimportant and uneventful, is truly a wonderful life.
Advent is a season of waiting, of anticipating the coming celebration of God entering our world. And not just in the manger scene, the baby Jesus and in the giving of gifts. But in the anticipation of Jesus coming again to restore all things. We wait for the end of pain, suffering, strife, war, injustice and loneliness. And the waiting is heart-wrenching. “How long?” the psalmist cries. “How long must we wait?”
But we do not wait only...we wait with Hope.
Now let’s talk about hope. Maybe it’s easier to begin with talking about what Hope is not...that is, wishful thinking. Wishes are important, to be sure. What we wish for tells us for what our heart longs. But wishing is all about trying to jump to the end of the story.
I wish I had a new bike.
I wish I could always be happy.
I wish the pain would go away.
I wish there would be peace.
All good things. Who doesn’t wish for the end of suffering? Of peace on earth and good will to men?
But hope is different. Hope is not just wishing for the end of the story. Hope is living and trusting that the end of the story has already begun. Hope is seeing that the promises of God are being fulfilled, in part, here and now. And hope is choosing, by faith, to live like it is already true. This doesn’t mean, of course, that we have only a hope of future joys—we can be full of joy here and now even in our trials and troubles. Taken in the right spirit these very things will give us patient endurance; this in turn will develop a mature character, and a character of this sort produces a steady hope, a hope that will never disappoint us. (Romans 5:3-4, Phillips ) One of my favorite writings of C.S. Lewis is a chapter in Mere Christianity called “Let’s Pretend.” We all know how to pretend. We do it every day, don’t we? But Lewis reminds us that there are two ways to pretend: one is to try to be something or someone we are not, in order to hide our true selves; the other is to practice being something or someone that we want to become.
Children do this. They play “dress-up”, pretending to be older, holding jobs they admire, or doing heroic things. Children pretend in order to become what they want to be.
God calls us, out of hope, to do the same. To “put on Christ.” To act like the promised new kingdom is already here, even though it doesn’t seem like it. And He encourages us to do this pretending with one another. In other words, to practice the end of the story. Much like acting in a play, we are pretending that we living today like the kingdom has already come. Not pretending to be fake, or deceive anyone, but to believe that it is true.
Once, on being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, “The coming of the kingdom of God is not something that can be observed, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is in your midst.”
Luke 17:20-21, NIV
You have a great opportunity as you gather in this local Body of Christ. You get to practice with one another this call to hope.
You wish for a new bike? There is people here who may be able to provide that.
You wish you could have new friends? There are people here who are willing to be that.
You wish for the pain to go away? There are people here who will pray for you and sit with you through your pain.
You wish for peace? There are people here who can help create that with you.
That is why Jesus says:
Therefore, if you are bringing an offering to God and you remember that your brother is angry at you or holds a grudge against you, then leave your gift before the altar, go to your brother, repent and forgive one another, be reconciled, and then return to the altar to offer your gift to God.
Matthew 5:23-24, The Voice
There is an old saying: to try to do anything worthwhile, you must first be willing to be bad at it. Church is the place to be bad at it, together. To practice, to pretend. And when we fail, to continue to “put on Christ” and give it another go. Is there anywhere else you have permission, and the promise, to do this? That is living in Hope.
Here’s a story about Hope in action:
Liberia, Africa’s first and oldest modern republic, is a country on the West African coast with a population of approximately 5 million people. The US’s and Liberia’s histories are intertwined, as Liberia was set up as a colony to give emancipated slaves in the U.S. the opportunity to return to Africa. Even Liberia’s capital of Monrovia is named after US president James Monroe. English is the official language with over 20 indigenous languages also spoken, representing the country’s ethnic and cultural diversity.
Political tensions and instability led to Liberia’s first (1989-1997) and second (1999-2003) civil wars and resulted in 250,000 deaths. National infrastructure and basic social services were severely damaged as a result of the conflicts. Liberia’s economy shrank by 90 percent with 83 percent of the population still living below the international poverty line.
Beginning in 2000, several Washington State families adopted Liberian children, orphaned as a result of the Liberian civil wars. Three of those families were friends and neighbors of ours, living near Leavenworth. At the orphanage, each family worked with a man, Joseph Cummings, who helped them navigate the country’s adoption process. These families eventually met, sharing stories and a relationship with Joseph, whom they had kept in contact with.
It was these relationships with Joseph, and those that joined along the way that led to the cross-cultural partnership that exists today, called The Hope Project.
Initially, funds were sent that provided rice and the ability to improve the orphanage. What became clear is that education was what Liberians hoped for most. Joseph found an old school compound no longer in use, hired teachers, and in 2008, the tuition-free doors to Hope International School opened to 400 local children.
Today, the Hope International School has over 1,200 students and 70 Liberian teachers and staff. And now programs have been started to help with vocational training. One of those programs is called Sew Much Hope, and it teaches students in tailoring, with each graduating student given a sewing machine to start their career. The first class graduated earlier this year. For those, the waiting is over. Hope has come to be.
“Listen to the mustn'ts, child.
Listen to the don'ts.
Listen to the shouldn'ts, the impossibles, the won'ts.
Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me...
Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.” ― Shel Silverstein