June 16, 2019
Author E. b. White put it this way: “If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day”  or anything else we might add.
Improve the world OR enjoy its beauty.
On Wednesday morning this past week – “Moral Wednesday” right here in this sanctuary, 400 clergy and church folk gathered to hear Rev. Barber, (of Moral Monday’s fame in NC) and other speakers who challenged us to confront this administration’s lack of moral values and tackle the issues hurting the poor of our country: – lack of housing, lack of living wage, lack of access to health care, exploitation of the environment, closing doors on immigrants seeking asylum, and splitting immigrant families, to name a few!
Oh so many things we can do to improve the world!!
On Thursday morning after the rain Bob and I took a long walk in our neighborhood; I marveled at the freshness of the air, the beauty of the rain drops still perched on the evergreens like tiny Christmas balls; I drank in all the colors: the blues of hydrangas, the oranges of the day lilies, pinks of the impatients, dark purple of the mullberries littering the sidewalk. It was God’s extravagant art that begged for more time to enjoy!
So much beauty in the world to enjoy!!!
Improve the world OR enjoy its beauty
This is our common dilemma. It is a bind intensified every time we have a shooting like the one in Virginia Beach or see on our TVs more children in warring Yemen starving to death!
When we are bent on enjoying the world, sitting on the beach enjoying the amazing colors of a sunset, we begin to feel guilty and anxious. When we’re bent on improving the world, speaking out on gun violence, we begin to feel self-righteous and angry. How do we get out of this bind?
God does not intend for us to either improve the world or enjoy the world. God intends for us to do both and the apostle Paul gives us the theology to understand how in his letter to the church in Rome.
My niece, a young adult who went to Kenya with our team last year spoke to the Njoro students one morning about this Romans passage being a special scripture for her. I later asked her about it and this is what she told me. It is good theology on this passage. She decided to read the Bible all the way through when she was a senior at VA Tech. She was, as she said, “ going through a spiritual transition in my life.” She got bogged down in the Old Testament and jumped to the New Testament.
“When I got to Romans 5, she writes, I truly read mindfully and I felt a palpable response spiritually to my connection to the Word in a way I’ve never felt before and honestly never felt again. It summarizes the entire Gospel message in a way that impacted me significantly. “…we have Peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…” It says we have this by faith but it’s not really our faithfulness that allows this but his(God’s). This realization gave me such joy and hope for how God operates in our lives.”
Yes, God’s faithfulness (which the choir just sung about) is reaching out all the time to give us access to God’s grace – God’s peace, love and HOPE. It just needs OUR response!
When we are living in the realm of faith we are moving in and out of both the worlds, of need and of beauty. It is all sacred, all beautiful and all challenging. God is present in all things.
Because “hope does not disappoint us; God’s love has been poured in to our hearts by the Holy Spirit given to us.”
Just last week we celebrated the gift of that Holy Spirit(Pentecost) – It is THE POWER of God in this world to make all things new.
Hope has to do with the Holy Spirit — seeing with eyes of the Spirit, the Practicing the gifts of the Spirit –the presence of the divine at work in all things.
What is hope? Desmond Tutu said, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness.” It whispers, “You’ll overcome this hardship.” It reassures us, soothing our minds by reminding, “life will improve.”
Anne Lamott writes: “Hope begins in the darkness, the stubborn hope that if you just show up, and try to do the right thing, the dawn will arrive.”
Hope motivates us to persevere, into the darkness, to journey onward, despite the obstacles blocking the trail of life, despite not knowing how, or when, or where, or why our life’s story will conclude.
Positive psychologist Charles R. Snyder, professor of clinical psychology at the University of Kansas and editor of the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, and his colleagues came up with Hope Theory. According to their theory, hope consists of agency and pathways. The person who has hope has the will and determination that goals will be achieved, and a set of different strategies at their disposal to reach their goals. Put simply: hope involves the will to get there, and different ways to get there.
Hope allows people to approach problems with a mindset. And I would say that for us as Christians, we see hope as a resurrection mindset, a resurrection attitude. We believe that because God’s love is poured into your heart, we become a part of what God is doing in the world to bring good news to the poor, release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, and to set free the oppressed.
We know that resurrection does not come without struggles, hurt, and pain and even death. But we know that that pain, that hurt, that struggle is not the end. Hope is the attitude that goodness is the truth! That life has power over death, love overcomes hate and that hope is stronger than despair. That hope can conquer our desperations and our dead-ends. There will be as the Psalmist says, “Joy in the morning.”
Hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts! Hope is grounded in God’s love!
Let me tell what hope looks like:
Hope looks like the blanket that was lovingly knitted by one of the women of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Tucson for the immigrant family staying in the church’s basement apartment.
Hope does not disappoint! Because God’s creative love has been poured in to our hearts!
Hope looks like the child who is giving all the proceeds of his lemonade stand to the soup kitchen in his town.
Hope does not disappoint! Because God’s caring love has been poured into our hearts!
Hope looks like the Salwen family of Atlanta who sold their mansion and moved into a house half the size and gave half the money to The Hunger Project in Ghana; their incredible story is recorded in the book, The Power of Half.
Hope does not disappoint!. Because God’s compassionate love has been poured into our hearts!
Hope looks like Christopher Reeves, a former actor who became paralyzed, a quadriplegic, after being thrown from his horse, and then forced to live for many years strapped to a wheelchair, breathing from a ventilator, who said, “Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.”
Hope does not disappoint! Because God’s enduring love has been poured into our hearts.
Hope looks like this – $50.00 (hold up bill)
When our church team was in Njoro, Kenya last summer, the new pastor Rev. Matiko was talking to me about what he saw as a need to help these guardian families of our Orphan and Vulnerable Children program to fine something they enjoy doing and be able to help themselves out of poverty. At the same time Elder Francis Muchemi, who is chair of the OVC program and a successful business man selling lumber, hardware and water – He has five boreholes. Francis said he himself started his business with very little; he mentioned $200. He talked to us about the concept of Table Banking, a group funding strategy. ( I wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention to the idea because we were near the end of our trip with a lot of loose ends I had to attend to.) but it goes like this: Persons are giving some capital to start a business, then members meet monthly, place their savings, loans repayment and other contributions “on the table.”
When we left, because we did not have to pay for our transportation in country, which is usually a big expense, I left the money I would have spent on a van and driver, which amounted to over a $1,000. I gave it to Francis for the program, knowing he would put it to good use. Francis really wanted to find a way to help guardians get started in a business. So he took the money we left, talked with a manager at the Kenya Commercial Bank in Njoro, who gave his time free to come talk with the guardians about how to start a business.
Hope looks like this – $50. Every guardian was given $50, if they had some evidence of what they could do with the money. There were a couple of trainings and monthly meetings AND now in less than a year, many of the guardians are earning a little income over expenses.
Here is a testimony: Michael Oraka whose father is deceased (25 of the 33 students in the program to not have fathers in the home. Michael is in 8th grade; wrote a hand written note and gave it to Francis who photographed it and sent it to me by email.
“This year my mother was given some money (Ksh 5,000 or $50.)She started selling mandazi in the morning. (Mandazi is what I call a Kenyan doughnut) a sweetbread fried in hot oil.
It was a problem for us to get breakfast and some needs in the house. When she started the business it was easy for us to get the things we did not have.
My mom also helps my grandmother when she is in need. Sometimes at school they ask me to bring some things which now my mother is able to buy. We are not borrowing from our neighbors any more things, like matchbox. I am very happy and appreciate the Table Banking programme.”
Hope is a mandazi for breakfast and no more borrowing matches from the neighbor!
Hope does not disappoint because God’s fruitful love has been poured into our hearts!
One last inllustration of hope from Kenya.
Last year Mathew Mokua was in Class Eight. He wries, “I worked hard, aiming to go to National School. With the programme I got encouraged and continued working hard. When I was about to sit for my National Exam, the programme provided a Solar Lamp, which made me happy and more encouraged. I thanked God because now I had opportunity to study to my limits. I used to wake up early to study. I was happy because the Lamp had no negative effect,like the other on, which I used to use. That one produced a lot of smoke which made me cough every time. When I got the Solar Lamp, I thanked the member. Then I had hope of passing my (national) exam.
I studied until the last minute. The day of Exam came. I did my best to achieve what I desired. I completed the exams( ended) and I patiently waited for the results. When the results came I was happy because I persevered to score 379 marks out of 500. This result enabled me to have hope of joining a National school. I really thank God because if it were not for the Solar Lamp I don’t know what I would have scored in the exams. After some weeks passed, I was glad because I got an invitation letter to a National school by the name Baricho Boys’ High School. … I thanked God because the school had everything that I had desired for – when I was at home! The school had enough waters. I was happy of that, because the water was throughout. So I had no excuse of not washing my clothes. The school also has electricity throughout. Now I can read any time. This school also has clean and healthful environment. Flowers and trees are planted all over the school (property) to ensure that there is enough aeration of air in the compound. There are CCTV (security cameras) ensuring security every time (all the time). The school also has improved equipment – e.g., computers, musical instruments and many other.
In reading materials, the school is rich in books and any other required material. So I have no reason why I should fail…. It has enough dormitories for every student has his own bed. The dorms are also well aerated (ventilated) and there are Inner bathrooms… The school is also the best in balanced diet. It provides different kinds of all types. I am pleased because some of the foods I have never seen them in my lifetime. I really thank the OVC programme for such a wonderful deed to me.
Hope is a solar lamp to study by !
Hope does not disappoint because God’s thoughtful love has been poured into our hearts!
I am here today to remind you that we ARE a resurrection people who have the resurrection mindset. — Even though struggles can shape our lives in unexpected ways, and darkness and hurt can move us in a different direction, and suffering and pain can be a call to a new life, we know that despair does not rule for we believe that hope will not disappoint us because God’s Love has been poured in to our hearts.
Because our transcendent creator God who put the planets in their courses, unique fingerprints on all 5 billion people on this earth, and the brilliant color in the butterfly wings and the immanent God who came to us in the human being Jesus who wept for Jerusalem and washed his friends feet and cared for the bent-over woman, spoke truth to power – this God, this very transcendent immanent God, this magnificent embracing God of love has been poured into our hearts.
And Because of that powerful love, Hope will NOT disappoint us! It is the fiber of our being that can help us make a better world and give us all the grace we need to enjoy it!!
Amen? Amen! 
 “E.B.White’s Death” from Newsweek, October 14,1985.
 Quotes from Anne Lamott, Desmond Tutu, and Charles Synder found on Internet.