A community of hope

Good morning, Friends! I hope you’re all doing well!

Last week at worship, we had fun with the children’s message. One of our kids, little Lillie, helped tell the parable of the one little sheep that got lost, and the big flock of sheep that were all safe and OK. The Good Shepherd left the big group to go look for the little lost one. Lillie helped by saying “Baa!” and the rest of you all helped by saying “Baa!” back.

A lot of people wonder how Jesus manages to keep track of everyone. There’s a story about how somebody asked Jesus one time how he did it. This guy took Jesus up on top of a big hill where you could see herds of sheep in every direction. He pointed over to one herd and he said, “Jesus, tell me how many sheep are over yonder.” Jesus just glanced that way for a second and said, “Three thousand six hundred and forty-three.”

The guy couldn’t believe it, so he sent a messenger over to check. Sure enough, the word came back, “Three thousand six hundred and forty three.”

So he said to Jesus, “Turn around and face the other direction. There’s an even bigger flock of sheep, a lot farther off. How many sheep are there?” Jesus just glanced that way for a second and said, “Eight thousand two hundred and eighty-six.”

Sent a messenger over to check, and sure enough, word came back, that was exactly how many there were – eight thousand two hundred and eighty-six. Wow, this guy was really impressed! He said to Jesus, “How do you do that so fast?” Jesus shrugged and said, “It’s easy. I just count the number of feet, and divide by four.”

For the last couple of weeks, as we move into the New Year, we’ve been talking about what kind of a community we want Springfield Friends to be. The very first Sunday of the New Year, I said that things would change here, if we became more of a praying community.

I challenged us to pray more, and for everyone to take a turn praying. Prayer isn’t just the pastor’s job. It’s everyone’s job. Every Christian can pray!

I hope we don’t forget that. We have so many prayer needs, so many things we can pray for.

Almost everybody in the meeting said that Sunday, that they pray for our meeting to grow. We need to keep praying! I’d like it if every worship service, every committee meeting, every Sunday School class, every fellowship meal, every business meeting, if someone would be sure to pray, out loud, for our congregation to grow.

And anywhere else, too. If you’re getting up on Sunday morning and scratching and yawning and wondering whether to come to worship or not, pray for God to help our meeting grow.

Any time you think about Springfield, use your own words, but pray something like, “Lord, I want my church to grow, and I know you want that, too. Please help us, and please help me to do something positive to help.”

If we pray like that, I believe that things will happen. I really do!

So, the first week, we walked about being more of a praying community. Last Sunday, we talked about being a united community, a church that works together and welcomes people in spite of any differences we may have.

Most of the differences that matter so much to us here on earth don’t matter at all to God. God sees us as one people. It’s long past time for churches everywhere to get with the program.

So we talked about being a community of prayer. We talked about being a united community. This morning I’d like to talk about being a community of hope.

Christianity is a religion of hope. Christians aren’t people who are resigned to let things go down and down. Christians pray! Christians build! But Christians are especially a people of hope. That’s what we’re talking about this morning.

I want us to read one of the greatest Scriptures about hope in the whole Bible. It’s one you might have read before. It’s from chapter 8 of the long letter Paul wrote to the Christians in the new church at Rome.

What we are suffering now is nothing compared with our future glory. Everything God created looks forward to the future. That will be the time when God’s children appear in their full and final glory.

The created world was held back from fulfilling its purpose. But this was not the result of its own choice. It was planned that way by the one who held it back.

God planned to set the created world free. He didn’t want it to rot away. Instead, God wanted it to have the same freedom and glory that his children have.

We know that all that God created has been groaning. It is in pain as if it were giving birth to a child. The created world continues to groan even now. And that’s not all. We have the Holy Spirit as the promise of future blessing. But we also groan inside ourselves. We do this as we look forward to the time when God adopts us as full members of his family. Then he will give us everything he has for us. He will raise our bodies and give glory to them.

That’s the hope we had when we were saved. But hope that can be seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? We hope for what we don’t have yet. So we are patient as we wait for it.

In the same way, the Holy Spirit helps us when we are weak. We don’t know what we should pray for. But the Spirit himself prays for us. He prays through groans too deep for words. God, who looks into our hearts, knows the mind of the Spirit. And the Spirit prays for God’s people just as God wants him to pray.

We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. He appointed them to be saved in keeping with his purpose. God planned that those he had chosen would become like his Son. In that way, Christ will be the first and most honored among many brothers and sisters. And those God has planned for, he has also appointed to be saved. Those he has appointed, he has made right with himself. To those he has made right with himself, he has given his glory.

What should we say then? Since God is on our side, who can be against us? God did not spare his own Son. He gave him up for us all. Then won’t he also freely give us everything else?

Who can bring any charge against God’s chosen ones? God makes us right with himself. Then who can sentence us to death? No one. Christ Jesus is at the right hand of God and is also praying for us. He died. More than that, he was raised to life.

Who can separate us from Christ’s love? Can trouble or hard times or harm or hunger? Can nakedness or danger or war? It is written,
“Because of you, we face death all day long.
We are considered as sheep to be killed.” (Psalm 44:22)

No! In all these things we are more than winners! We owe it all to Christ, who has loved us.

I am absolutely sure that not even death or life can separate us from God’s love. Not even angels or demons, the present or the future, or any powers can separate us. Not even the highest places or the lowest, or anything else in all creation can separate us. Nothing at all can ever separate us from God’s love. That’s because of what Christ Jesus our Lord has done.

– Romans 8:18-39

Paul was writing in very dark times. It was in the midst of persecution. Nero was the emperor of Rome. There had been riots against Jews and Christians. Within a few months, Paul himself would be arrested and kept in prison for the rest of his life. It was not a great time to be a Christian!

We complain about how the times are against us, about resources we wish we had. We blame everything from the government to the weather. Paul doesn’t talk like that! Things were so much worse in his day. But Paul said – get this! – that they were only going to get better.

What we’re talking about here is hope. Paul gives one of the best definitions of hope ever. Hope is praying for what we don’t see. If it’s obvious that things are going to get better, that’s not hope – that’s optimism. Hope means praying when you don’t see what’s going to make it better.

In all my messages, I’m trying to give you the building blocks that we need to live and grow. So, faith is the first building block. Faith means trusting in God. Faith is trusting that God is good, that God loves and cares for us. Faith is taking one step, and another step, along the way that Jesus taught.

Faith is something that grows with practice and exercise. We learn to trust by trusting more. We learn about faith from each other. We listen to our stories of faith, and we tell each other about them.

Have you heard anything wonderful about God? I want to hear about it! Have you seen anything that lifted your heart? I want to hear your story!

Faith is learning God’s promises, and trusting that they’re true. Faith is getting up each day, and being determined to trust God that day. Faith is doing whatever we can to get close to Jesus, like the story of those four guys who carried their paralyzed friend up onto the roof and cut a hole in it, and lowered their sick friend’s bed down on ropes, because they believed that Jesus could help him. That’s faith!

Faith comes in all different shapes and sizes. I love hearing faith stories! I could listen to them all day, and I know that you all have faith stories to tell.

Hope is something close to faith, but it’s different. Hope means trusting God, when you can’t see any good reason to. Do you see the difference? Faith is trust. Hope is continuing to trust, when the lights are out. Hope is never giving up on God, even when it looks like things are going down.

Hope is all the times when we pray, and it doesn’t look like our prayers are being answered. Hope is saying, “I’ve heard all those faith stories, those stories when God came through, those stories of when God healed, when God rescued, when God set people free, when God made a way. I don’t see those things happening here yet, but I’m not giving up. I believe in God! I still have faith! I believe that I will see it, myself!”

That’s what hope means. It’s the quiet strength that a patient has, who knows that the test results aren’t good. It’s the joy which parents feel, when they see their children, and they trust that there’s a bright future for them in times like these.

Hope is the trust people share, when they know that somehow they’ll come through it all together. Hope is the candle in the darkness. Hope is knowing that the dawn will come. Hope is all those things, and more.

Hope doesn’t mean that we all aren’t sometimes discouraged, or troubled, or depressed. Things go wrong for everybody at times! But hope means that even at our lowest, we still hang on.

We hang on because we believe, we trust, in God who saves us. We believe that God will give us the strength, God will give us the grace that comes when we least expect it. Hope means believing that God has surprises in store for us, good things that will happen.

Christianity is fundamentally a religion of hope. A lot of the time, we don’t see what the next step is. We don’t know what we’re going to do to survive and grow. And yet, we believe that beyond our present darkness, weakness, and confusion, that God is here, saving something tremendous for us. Hope means that whatever promises God makes, God will keep.

A lot of the time, it seems as though there isn’t much that we can do. We can’t make ourselves get better, or restore our health. We can’t make people love each other. We can’t move mountains.

But hope means saying, “Even though I can’t, I believe that God can!” Whatever the problem – broken health, broken heart, broken relationships, broken faith – hope means saying, “God can!” No matter how faintly we say it, that’s what hope is all about. Building our hope is simply a matter of learning to say it more strongly.

Obviously, hope is related to prayer. Hope means putting our prayer into action. We acknowledge that we need God’s help, and we ask for it. God is our hope!

Hope also has to do with patience. Praying and hoping patiently means never giving up on God.

The more we try to follow Jesus, every day, the more we realize that the things we hope for are already close at hand. We don’t just have to hope for peace – we can live it, right now! We can find other people who are trying to live the peace of Christ. We discover hidden stories, stories that aren’t in the news, stories of good things happening in hidden places.

For Christians, hope means that even death is never the last word. We believe – we trust – we hope – that the God who brought each one of us into the world, will never abandon us, even when we die. Hope helps us to face our own death, as well as the deaths of the people we love most.

As Paul writes:
“But we would not have you ignorant, brothers and sisters, concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. . .” (I Thessalonians 4:13-14)

Or, as Paul writes today, in his letter to the Romans:
For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. . .” (Romans 8:38-39)

Hope says that we know that it’s all going to be OK. God will help us. Our life isn’t over. Our life is just beginning.

God’s plan is that we can be a church, a community, where faith and hope will shine. We don’t have to see ourselves as small and discouraged. We can look up, and see a great people, ready to be gathered. We don’t have to look around at how many people are in the pews, and divide by four. We can look at who’s here, and see those numbers doubled or more! We are a community of hope. God has helped us many times before, and God will help us again.

As we get our feet planted for the New Year, I hope we’ll be a community of prayer. I hope we will be a united community, not a divided one. And I want us to be a community of hope.

People should come to Springfield and say, “I found a real spirit of prayer there! I found a community where they really love each other. I found a place which is vibrant with hope. They are so hopeful, so trusting in God and in the future. They’re not on the way down. They’re on the way up! They know that God is there for them! They believe in the promises of Christ! I want to be a part of a place like that!”

That’s where I want us to be heading. And with God here to help us, I don’t see any reason why we can’t be.

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