The Good News of Hope – Br. James Koester

Romans 8:18-25

I know that I have told this story before, but I’ll tell it again, partly for those who have not heard it, but mostly because tonight there is a significant point to it.

Years ago, as a young priest, and new to the practice of preaching on a regular basis, two members of my congregation approached me one Sunday after church. They were puzzled by something and wanted to ask me a question. Both Robin and Ann came from the Baptist tradition, and they had a concern about the lectionary. What would happen, they asked, if I felt it important to preach from a different passage of Scripture, than the one assigned by the lectionary. Would I be free, they wondered, to change the reading, or preach from a different text?

Nearly 40 years later, I can’t remember what I said in reply. I do remember the question. It has stuck with me all these years, and keeps cropping up every so often. Today, if one of you were to ask me the same question, I know exactly how I would answer.

The question, for me at least, is not what I would do if I felt it important to preach from a different passage, than the one assigned by the lectionary. The question for me is, what do I do when the lectionary points me in a direction I might not choose to go in, or would prefer to avoid? Because that’s the case tonight. If it were up to me, the gift and promise of hope is not something I’d gravitate to at this particular time. Yet tonight, of all nights we hear, in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.[1]

You would be forgiven, and I would totally understand it, if you told me that you were feeling pretty hopeless these days. In the face of everything that is going on: the wars in Ukraine and the Middle East; yet another mass killing, this time in Maine; the inability of Washington to function; and the very deep divisions in this country, never mind what may, or may not be going on in your individual life, it is no wonder we may feel hopeless. The world, this country, this monastic community, all of us as individuals, are facing some huge and daunting challenges, any one of which might make us feel hopeless. And when the gift and promise of hope is the last thing on our minds, that’s exactly what the lectionary offers us to ponder.

It’s not, what would I do if I wanted to preach about something other than what the lectionary might suggest. It’s what do I do when I want so desperately to avoid the very thing the lectionary holds before us. In that way, the lectionary itself becomes a vehicle of good news, as it proclaims hope to a hopeless world, one so clearly in bondage to decay.[2] Coincidentally, that decay which holds us in bandage, will come knocking at your doors tonight, in the guise of trick or treaters. Don’t be fooled by the cute costumes, because deeply imbedded in the origins of Hallowe’en is our fear of the very real decay of bodily death. And therein lies the gift and promise of hope.

In the aftermath of a ghastly, cruel, and horrific death, a small band of women approached a grave to do the things which tradition required. Exhausted, afraid, grieving, traumatized, these women discovered at that grave, not a dead body, but the gift and promise of hope in the person of the Risen Lord. In words that astonish then, and now, we with Mary Magdalene and her companions hear words full of hope, in the midst of all our hopelessness: ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my [disciples] to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’[3]

The promise of Jesus, indeed the promise of God as testified throughout Scripture, is that God will meet us wherever we are, because God, first and foremost is not only a God who creates, but is also a God who encounters.

The story of Scripture is the story of encounter between God and humanity, beginning with Genesis and ending with Revelation. The God who walked in the garden at the time of the evening breeze looking for our first parents,[4] is the same God who stands knocking, waiting for us to open the door, so that the Holy One can enter and sup with us,[5] as the King James Version of the Bible puts it.

To put it another way, God is a God who seeks us out, and seeking us out, God finds us no matter where we are: hiding in the garden; behind closed doors; gripped by fear, grief, and trauma. Where are you?[6]God asks. Here I am, is our reply. It is in that question and answer, that our hope lies.

Where are you? God asks us this evening. I am gripped by fear, as I read the news from Maine. I am exhausted by worry, as I watch our politicians lock horns, and fail to do the very thing they were elected to do, which is govern. I am numb with grief as I contemplate the Jewish hostages or the Palestinian children. I am paralyzed by shock, as I consider this or that event in my life.

Where are you? God asks us who are gripped, exhausted, numb, and paralyzed in a world that seems so hopeless at the moment. I am here, we say, standing at the grave, looking into the blackness of the pit, as so many are today. What emerges from that pit shocks us for standing before us is not darkness, but light, not death, but life, saying do not be afraid … go to Galilee, and there you will meet me.

The promise and hope of Jesus, is that he meets us at the grave, and sends us off rejoicing, with the expectation we will encounter him again in the Galilees of our life.

There is much for which we rightfully may feel hopeless. I won’t, and don’t, and can’t deny that. Yet the promise of God, and the gift of Jesus, is that it is in those very places of hopelessness that God is searching for us, and asking where are you? Do not be afraid. Go to Galilee and there you will meet me.

Paul reminds us today that the gift and promise of hope comes to those held in bondage to decay. Decay, however, is not an easy place to be. The world today, is not an easy place to be. The tomb, that first Easter morning, was not an easy place to be. It is so human to stand in those places of decay, and be filled with a sense of hopelessness. Yet it is in those very places that God meets us, and fills us with the gift and promise of hope.

A lot of people are feeling pretty hopeless these days, but the good news from Paul is a reminder that in the face of it all, God is waiting to find us, and send us on our way rejoicing, and that alone is reason to hope, and is good news from the lectionary.

[1] Romans 8: 24 – 25

[2] Romans 8: 21

[3] Matthew 28: 10

[4] Genesis 3: 8

[5] Revelation 3: 20

[6] Genesis 3: 9

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