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Opposite of Hope - Sermon, 9/22/19
September 24, 2019, 8:14 AM

I’m not too proud to admit it. I chickened out in writing today’s sermon. There was a great plan for this morning’s message. I was going to focus on the lesson from Luke and use it to introduce the idea of financial stewardship. It seems to fit, right? The reading from Luke contains that famous line, “You cannot serve God and wealth.” Easy enough, right? Wrong.

 

What sounds like it should have been a relatively easy sermon to write became extraordinarily complicated, mostly because the reading from Luke also contains the less-famous but more-complicated line, “Make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.” Huh? Is Jesus really telling us how to make friends and influence people by using ill-gotten money?

 

So I gave up on preaching about today’s Gospel lesson. In desperate hope, I looked at the reading from First Timothy. Surely there must be something easy to preach about there. But that one talks about praying for our leaders: kings and those who are in high places. Praying for people in authority is a complicated issue for lots of people, including myself, so I gave up on First Timothy.

 

The Psalm, surely the psalm, has something easy to preach about. Nope. In today’s psalm, we pray that God would pour out wrath upon the heathen. Not a cheerful image, for sure, and not an image I am comfortable thinking about much – much less preaching about.

 

In a moment of desperation, I looked at the reading from the prophet Jeremiah. Like so many of the verses we have been hearing from Jeremiah for the last few weeks, these verses are far from hopeful or cheerful or joyful. Despite my personal struggles with sadness and nerves, I like to think that my sermons generally land on the hopeful side of things. After all, I want to believe that our faith is a joyful faith, always looking forward to the return of Jesus.

 

No such luck in today’s words from Jeremiah. The prophet Jeremiah is largely known for his lamentations – his words of sorrow for the people of Israel and what he perceives as the people’s lack of faithfulness to God. Jeremiah’s words of sorrow come through clearly in this morning’s verses. Our reading begins as Jeremiah cries out that his joy is gone and grief is upon him. Not exactly a hopeful image, for sure.

 

The opposite of hope continues throughout the reading. Jeremiah cries out that “the harvest is past, the summer is ended, and (the people) are not saved.” Surely, Jeremiah believes, surely hope would be restored by the changing of the seasons. But summer has passed and the people are not saved.

 

It might be helpful to note that when Jeremiah writes that the people are not saved, he is not talking about the kind of “saved” that Christians mean when we talk about spiritual salvation by faith in our Savior, Jesus. Instead, Jeremiah is talking about actual saving – being safe from national military assaults.

 

In Jeremiah’s time, the people of Israel have seen the destruction of the Temple, believed to hold the very earthly presence of God. In Jeremiah’s time, the people of Israel have been attacked by foreign invaders – attacked in the very land promised to them by God.

 

Desperation – the opposite of hope – seems to be setting in, both for Jeremiah and the people of Israel. In a powerful statement of empathy, Jeremiah says he is hurt for the hurt of his people. He mourns for them. “Dismay has taken hold of” him.

 

The prophet’s job, usually, is to deliver challenging news to the people, especially to people in power, like kings and other rulers. Usually, however, the challenging news ends in the promise of God’s intervention. Usually, the challenging news ends in some kind of hope – any kind of hope. In today’s reading, however, there is the opposite of hope.

 

Instead of hope, there is the opposite of hope as Jeremiah cries that the “health of (the) poor people has not been restored.” The God of Israel consistently promises restoration, healing, and salvation to the people. In Jeremiah’s time, though, God’s promises feel far away. God’s promises feel unfulfilled to the people who continue to suffer.

 

Instead, there is the opposite of hope. Even the healing the people are used to experiencing feels far away. “Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?” Jeremiah cries that healing of any sort feels far away for the people of Israel.

 

Got hope yet? The people of Israel sure don’t. Even though Jeremiah enjoys a very close relationship with God, Jeremiah only experiences the opposite of hope. Jeremiah wishes that his “head were a spring of water” and his “eyes a fountain of tears.” The prophet desires only to “weep day and night for the slain of (his) poor people.”

 

The opposite of hope is not a joyful place to land. This is not a desired landing place for my sermons, much less my faith. I imagine that landing in the opposite of hope is not where we want to end up as a church or as a nation. Sometimes, though, we need to dwell in the opposite of hope – as uncomfortable as it is, as sad as it is, as un-hopeful as it is.

 

In the opposite of hope, we can honestly look at the ways we have missed the mark and fallen short of the glory of God. In the opposite of hope, we can honestly review our shortcomings and cry over the ways we have brought sadness to God. After all, even the most faithful among us has missed the mark and fallen short of the glory of God.

 

There is value in lamentation – in sharing words of sadness, in singing songs of mourning, in offering prayers, and in recognizing our sins. Today’s reading from Jeremiah shows the importance of plumbing the depths of the opposite of hope. Where have we sinned? Where have we fallen short of God’s glory? Let us pray for the strength needed to prayerfully rest in the opposite of hope. Amen.

 
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