Abounding in Hope
Advent 2A Romans
The basis of the
sermon for today is one verse from the epistle lesson. From the
Apostle Paul and Romans 15: 13 “May the God of hope fill you with
all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy
Spirit, you may abound in hope.”
May you be filled with hope, overflowing with hope, abounding
When I was a young
man growing up in high school, I thought that I was quite a
basketball star. I used to play on our local high school basketball
team called the Jackson Blue Jays. Now, our team had a fabulous
record the year that I was a senior. We were 24-3, and I was known,
so I thought, as the “defensive tiger” of the team. I thought
that I could play defense like nobody else. If there was a hotshot
on the other team, I was the one who guarded him. I thought that I
was the defensive star of our team, at least, so my girlfriend would
tell me. Well, full of such shallow confidence, after our fabulous
record that year, I went onto college and decided to go out for
freshman basketball. I made all the cuts and I was doing pretty
well, and I got to play occasionally on the freshman team. But
something started to happen inside of me. I thought that I wasn’t
quite good enough, that I couldn’t shoot as well as the other
fellows, and that I wasn’t as tall or fast as they were. I started
to lose my confidence and started to think, “Ah, there is no hope
for me in the future. I can make the freshman team, but when it
comes to the varsity, I don’t have a chance. I am not good
enough.” And so, I quit. Now, I don’t recall telling my parents
that I quit. I don’t recall telling my old girlfriend that I quit.
I don’t recall telling the coach that I quite. But I do
remember telling my older brother Lee, my hero, that I quit. I
remember his words to me from so many decades ago, “Eddie, you are
a quitter. You are a quitter because you could have made the
team.” What my big,
hero brother said to me stung. His words stung because down deep
inside I thought his words were true. Those words, instantly spoken
in one moment, stayed with me for the rest of my life. I never
wanted to be called a “quitter” again. No matter in what
circumstance I find myself as a human being, I don’t want anybody
to say of me, “That man is a quitter.” But I must admit that
every time I went to a college basketball game at my alma mater, I
felt a little sorry inside because I knew that I quit … too
soon. I sensed inside that I could have made the team, but I had
given up hope. You see, I quit … too soon.
There is a book by
Victor Frankl, the Viennese psychiatrist, from the last generation.
His book is entitled, FROM DEATHCAMP TO EXISTENTIALISM, and he tells
of his life in the death camps and concentration camps of Germany
during World War II. For those prisoners in those death camps, it
was awful. Rats, freezing weather and freezing rain, and freezing
fingers and freezing toes, freezing warehouses and freezing
outhouses, and beatings
from the guards. The only hope for the prisoners, according to
Victor Frankl, was for the Allied forces to come and set them free.
And for some unknown reason, that hope became connected with
Christmas. The prisoners in one particular camp started to believe
that freedom was going to come on Christmas. And so these prisoners
clung to life. They struggled with their freezing feet and freezing
toes and freezing hands. They struggled with their frost bitten
bodies. Why? Because they had hope. They had hope. They were waiting
for Christmas. They were waiting for freedom. They were waiting for
release. And finally, Christmas Day came. And. Went again. There
were no Allies. There was no release. There was no freedom. And
there was no hope fulfilled. Immediately, on the days afterwards,
before the New Year came around, slowly, one at a time, there was
first one suicide. Then two suicides. Then three suicides. Pretty
soon, people were sleeping through meals and sleeping through
exercises and many people were slipping into their deaths. And by
New Year’s Eve, many from this camp had died. Six months later,
when the Allied forces finally did come to bring freedom to this
concentration camp, half of the prisoners had died. Most them them
died during that Christmas season, after Christmas Day. Many
of them had died because … of the loss of hope. They had given up
… too soon.
Like many of us,
we quit to soon. Like me on a
basketball team, we quit too soon.
Many people today
are talking about a new era in Western civilization, a new era of
despair, giving up, of hopelessness. A large segment of the human
race has begun to give up hope. People’s confidence in shaping
their futures has been eroded. Prior to this time, that is, from
1850-1950, that was the century of hope. Those were the decades of
hope. We built the steam engine, the railroad, the car, the
airplane, the rocket, and medicines were created and hopes were high
and the frontiers of America were being broken. Those were the good
year of progress, the good years of self confidence, the good years
of the future. Those were the years that we knew that we could solve
the problems of the future. Even the Civil War and World War I and
World War II did not damper this “promethean attitude” that we
can conquer any problem that lies before us. … But not today. We
live in a new era, with a new sense of despair, a new sense of
hopelessness, where we are not so sure that we can solve those major
me, how are we going to feed eight billion people? The world’s
population has doubled from two billion to four billion people in
the past twenty years, and we know that at the same rate of growth,
that the world population will be six to eight billion in a few
years. And many people feel hopeless. They throw up their hands and
want to quit and say to themselves, “Who can stop it? There will
be billions of starving bodies in twenty years. Who can feed
Do you feel confident that you can stop the arms race that is
spiraling into nuclear proliferation? Who doesn’t have the nuclear
bomb? Israel has the bomb. China has the bomb. India has the bomb.
Pakistan has the bomb. People are selling bomb equipment on the
black market. So many nations have the bomb, and although the fears
have lessened of nuclear incineration of much of the globe, we sense
that the world has a date with nuclear destruction. Albert Einstein
said that we have a date with our nuclear destiny. There is that
sinking feeling that we can do nothing about it. What can you do to
stop the sale of all those arms to Third World countries who do not
have enough money to feed their own people but enough money to buy
expensive military equipment? Do you feel that you can stop the
spiraling of weapons throughout the globe?
Teenage suicide. The number one killer of teenagers today in the
Western world is suicide. Teenage suicide is growing at an alarming
rate. Teenagers, of all people, being filled with hopelessness.
Teenagers, of all people, having the feeling that the future is not
worth living for. We have a new teenage disease abroad today and it
is called hopelessness. It translates into suicide among teenagers,
a group of youth who are supposed be imbued with hope.
do you feel about the tide of divorces that are sweeping our nation?
How do you feel about this national epidemic of divorce? So many of
our friends and your friends are getting divorces after ten, twenty,
thirty, and forty years of marriage, and couples feel that there is
a hopelessness for them. That there is nothing that they can do to
improve their relationship. That there is not hope for change. That
there is no hope for significant change. Tell me, now that 50-70%
children born today here in America will not be raised with their
original brothers and sisters, what can we do to stop the spiraling
divorce rate? What can we do to stop the tide of divorces in our
Is ours an age of
unbridled optimism? Do people sense that they have within themselves
the abilities and resources to solve the problems facing the world?
Do we have powers within us to stop the population bomb, the
escalation of militarism, the spiraling divorce rate? Do you feel
real confident about stopping these issues? Is ours the age of the
god of Prometheus, the god of progress? No. Ours is the age of
Sisyphus, the god of futility, the god of despair, the god of “we
can’t do anything about it.”
Ours is the age of hopelessness, and we have the attitude,
“I quit. I give up. I can’t do anything about it, so I quit.”
Perhaps we quit too soon.
The sign above the
entrance to Dante’s hell says, “Abandon hope all you who enter
here.” For Dante, hell is a place with no hope. Enter hell and
give up hope. That is what it is to enter hell. To enter hell is to
give up hope.
It is with this
mood that we approach the book of Romans and we hear those words
from Romans which say, “May the God of hope give you joy and peace
in believing that you will be filled with hope, that you will be
abounding with hope, that you will be overflowing with hope for the
What do these words
mean for you? What does it mean for you to be abounding in hope?
Flowing over with hope? Being filled with hope for the future? What
does that mean for you?
In the Book of
Hebrews, we hear God’s Word which says, “With strong
encouragement, seize the hope set before us.” In First Peter, God
says, “We have been born to a new and living hope through our Lord
Jesus Christ.” In the prophet Zechariah, God says, “Return to
God, you prisoners of hope.” You are imprisoned by the hope of
What does it mean
for you today when the Apostle Paul writes, “May the God of hope
give you joy and peace in believing so that you may abound in
The Biblical word,
“hope,” means to trust that God’s future is for us.
Faith means to trust in God in the here and now; but hope means to
trust in God’s future. To realize that God is in control of all of
future history and is in control of your personal history. To
realize that God will not desert us in the decades, the centuries
and the millenniums ahead of us. That whether our future means death
or divorce, separation, moving or joblessness, or whether our future
means marriage, babies, new homes and new jobs, no matter what, our
future belongs to God. That God in his power and purpose will not
desert us in the days that lie ahead.
I ask you all a
question: Has God taken care of you in the past? When life has been
really crummy? When life has been very difficult? Every one
of you has had very difficult experiences in the past. Has
God taken care of you in the past?
Has God taken care
of you today? Is God taking care of you at this very moment today?
And some of you are in great pain? Some of you are living in
tumultuous marriages and is God taking care of you? Some of you are
dying and is God taking care of you right now?
Well, if God has so
faithfully taken care of you in the past….and if God is so
faithfully taking care of you in the present, certainly, will not
God take care of you in the future?
Of course, God
So we are
absolutely convinced of the power of hope. We abound with hope. We
are filled with hope. We are overflowing with hope that the God who
has taken care of us in the past and today will indeed take care of
us in the future. Therefore, we are not afraid. We are not afraid of
the future, no matter what the future may bring. We know that the
God of our past is also the God of our future.
What does it mean
for you that the God of hope will give you joy and peace in
believing and that you will abound with hope? What does that mean
It means that God
gives us the resources, the internal powers, to live with all
circumstances of life. I love that passage from Ephesians where the
Apostle Paul says, “The same power that raised Jesus of Nazareth
from the dead, that same power is inside of you,” allowing and
enabling you to do things that you never thought were possible. The
same great power that raised Jesus from the dead is inside of you.
This power inside of you gives you a driving hope to make the future
a better place, to make your future a better place.
Let me give you
examples of people who have a passionate hope for the future. My
first example is Dr. Bill Foege. He is a physician who graduated
from Pacific Lutheran University and he was head of Disease Control
for the United States government. His job was located in Atlanta,
Georgia. Dr. Bill Foege and his partners agreed that they were going
to erase small pox from the face of the earth. Small pox. Theirs was
a driving hope. And they didn’t quit. They didn’t give up. They
didn’t crack, but they persisted. And today, there is not one case
of small pox any place on earth. Why? Because certain people had a
passionate hope, a driving hope. They believed in the future and
they believed that God would help them in the future.
A second example.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had a hope for racial equality. He had a
hope that blacks and whites could sit together in the front of the
bus. He had hopes that blacks and whites could eat together in the
same restaurant. He had hopes that blacks and whites could
intermarry. He had hopes that blacks and whites could be part of the
same society. He didn’t quit. He didn’t give up too soon. He
didn’t say, “O, this is impossible.” O no, not at all. He paid
the price with his life. And today, because of that driving hope,
life in the United States is so much healthier because of racial
integration and because he believed in his dream.
Third example. Her
name was Anne Sullivan. Anne Sullivan was her name and she had a
driving hope that a young girl by the name of Helen Keller who was
deaf and blind would be able to read, write and communicate. Anne
Sullivan had a driving hope to take this little monster of a girl in
Helen Keller, this little spoiled brat, this little undisciplined
little girl, that Anne Sullivan was going to teach her to read,
write and communicate. Anne Sullivan did not give up hope. She
didn’t quit. She didn’t give up hope and say, “This is an
impossible job. This is an impossible task.” No, not at all. And
now, Helen Keller has become indeed a legend.
What I am saying is
that we Christians have a driving hope. We have a living hope. We
have a hope for God’s reign of justice, love and peace for this
big world of the earth. We also have a hope for God’s reign of
justice, love and peace in this little personal world of ours.
I love what Soren
Kirkegaard, the great Danish philosopher, said about hope.
Kirkegaard’s definition of hope was “hope is the passion for the
possible.” Hope is the passion for the possible.
Bill Foege had a
passion that smallpox would be eliminated from the earth. Martin
Luther King Jr. had a passion that blacks and whites would live
together as equals in our society. Anne Sullivan had a passion that
young Helen Keller would learn to read, write and communicate.
Theirs was a passion for the possible and it happened.
Don’t quit too
soon. Don’t give up hope too soon. I have known many men and women
in our congregation who have not given up hope, that their marriages
could be restored. I know all kinds of men and women in our
congregation who did not give up hope. I know all kinds of parents
in our parish who did not give up hope on their kids. When their
kids were all strung out on drugs and were rebellious and surely,
these parents did not give up hope for the possible. I know mothers
and fathers who have not given up hope on a child become an adult
who has wandered away from Jesus Christ and is no longer walking
with Jesus Christ. These parents do not give up hope on their
children? Why? Because of a God given hope.
When the God of
hope lives inside of you, God gives you peace and joy in believing,
and we abound in hope. We are filled with hope, we are overflowing with hope, we are
imbued with hope. Why? Well, that’s just the way God’s people
In the earlier
service today, there was a man here from the Philippines. Dave Head,
a member of our congregation who works on occasion with World Bank,
was over in the Philippines, and he was trying to help restructure
their Department of Agriculture. A friend of David’s from the
Philippines was sitting here during the first service, and he asked
me to say something about Mrs. Aquino, the great president of the
Philippines. He told me that she had a passionate hope that the
Philippines would be a democracy, that there would be a restoration
of a solid government in that country, that it was not easy for her.
Her husband was killed. Her family was injured. There were all kinds
of pressures on her. But that little lady, a great lady and devout
Roman Catholic, she didn’t give up hope. She didn’t give up
faith. She had a hope, a driving and passionate hope, that a just
society could be established in the Philippines. That is what a man
from the Philippines told me after the previous worship service.
That is the way it
is for those of us who are prisoners of hope, using a phrase from
the prophet Zechariah.
We Christians are
people who have hope, hope for this world but also hope for
the next world. We have the absolute sure and certain hope of
Let me tell you a
story. I went over to see Rueb Goetz this past week. He was supposed
to come home from the hospital on Monday. He had a quadruple
by-pass. Rueb was told that it was possible that he could die during
a particular test before his by-pass surgery, but his doctor assured
him that he thought the test would be safe. But in the process,
Rueb’s heart stopped and they had to pump his chest and shock his
heart and Rueb came back to life. The doctor then said that he was
going to change Rueb’s medication and then Rueb would take the
same test the next day. Rueb was thinking about that and was very
apprehensive. Rueben went through that test with flying colors. But
whether Rueben would have lived or died, Rueb knew that his future
was assured. That is what he told me. We have a sure and certain
hope that today we will be in paradise with God, whether we live or
die in an exacting test or in surgery or anyplace else.
By far the greatest
hope that God has ever given to us is that glorious promise that we
shall live with him for all eternity. We live with that sure and
certain hope of the resurrection.
We Christians have
hope: hope for our future in this world here on earth and hope for
our future in the next world in heaven.
I ask you a
personal question: what does it mean for you when you hear the
words, “May the God of hope give you joy and peace in believing,
that you may abound in hope, be filled with hope, be overflowing
with hope for the future?” What do these words mean for you in
your situation today? Amen.