Let There Be Hope!
September 23, 2007
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning!
The title and topic of our message today is this: Let there be hope! As I was riding my bicycle along the shore this summer, I was gripped by an idea. If someone who wasn’t part of a church or part of the Christian faith came up to you or me and said,
“What’s so special about it? Why do you go to church? Why do you accept Jesus? What’s that all about? What’s in it for me?”
I would tell them this: Life with Jesus offers you abundant life. Not just an ‘okay’ life, not just a ‘muddle through’ life, not just a workaday life of getting up in the morning, going to work, coming home at night, watching television, going to sleep, getting up in the morning, going to…. You see, life with Jesus opens up a whole new way of looking at things. That’s why I love Jesus, and that’s why I think you can, too.
There was a moment in Jesus’s ministry when it was clear that He felt the need to passionately say who He was and what He had come to earth for. And He told, with great energy, this gospel: “I am like a shepherd for people. I will give you guidance. I will save you from despair. I will save you from hopelessness. And I will give you hope, even beyond death. I will give you life,” said Jesus. But He said not just any kind of life, not just a little life, not just muddle-through life. “I am come that you may have life, and have it more abundantly. That’s what I’ve come to earth for.”
So today, my friends, I’m inviting you to remember this scripture with me, John 10:10 – “I am come [said Jesus] that you may have life, and have it more abundantly.” The word in Greek for “abundantly” means “super-abundantly,” not just a little, not just enough, but super-abundantly. And what I’d like to do these weeks is talk about that. What kind of abundance does Jesus offer you and me?
A symbol of abundance that I’d like to share with you…when I was a boy, I used to love to ride my bike to a park near my house, Wheeler Park in Linden. In the middle of the park was a big swimming pool. All around the pool was sand and there were people enjoying the sunlight. In the middle of the pool was a fountain. I loved this fountain. It was in three tiers, painted in light aqua blue. There was a top tier, then a bigger round tier, then an even bigger third, bottom tier. A plume of water would shoot right up through the center of the top of the fountain and cascade into the first dish. Then it would flow evenly over the first dish into the second, sparkling in the sunlight, droplets like rainbows. Then the water flowed from the second dish into the third, and then over the side of the third dish into the pool, where children were waiting underneath it for its cooling splash. It was a symbol of abundance and beauty for me, and I’d often go to the park just to stare at the fountain for a while.
Oh, I know what you’re thinking – he did weird things as a kid. But I tell you this – it was absolutely gorgeous. And it is to me a symbol of abundance.
Friends, Jesus is a fountain of abundant living. And being a Christian means being excited about all He has to give us. Last week, we talked about Jesus being a fountain of forgiveness, and that’s where it all starts. Forgiveness is the basis of healing. Letting go allows God to do amazing things with us and for us. One of my favorite preachers, the late Dr. Eric Butterworth, said something in one of his books that I just love and that I’d like to share with you. He said this:
“God can work miracles in your life, if you don’t make it too hard for Him.”
Don’t you like that? God can work miracles in our lives, if we don’t make it too hard for Him. And one of the ways to take obstacles away is to forgive. Living our lives is like being a fish in a river sometimes. We’re flowing with the current and thinking things are going well, and then we come to an obstacle. That rock that the fish bumps into is like an unforgiveness, an unresolved issue. Now, the fish can keep on bumping into that rock, saying “This is my path; this is where I’m going.” But pretty soon he hurts his head and he gets pretty frustrated, and he doesn’t get very far. When we forgive, we back up; we swim around the rock; and we keep on going, absorbing God’s abundance and goodness, and allowing His miracles to take place in our lives. So the first step is to imitate Jesus in being a fountain of forgiveness.
Today, I want to talk to you about hope. Let’s be fountains of hope. One of the greatest things about being a Christian is that we have hope! In its simplest form, hope simply means looking at the bright side. Hope means being optimistic. What are our thoughts like, yours and mine? Every day, we must choose which thoughts we’re going to think. The world barrages us with a whole slew of worries. We’re confronted with a lot of challenges. How will we decide? Will our thoughts be negative, defensive, and pessimistic? Or will we choose to be Christians of hope, and be optimistic?
Friends, I invite us today to decide to be people of hope. The word hope, h-o-p-e, is an interesting one. Take a look at the two middle letters, O-P. For me, that stands for optimism. Hope and optimism are related and connected. I invite you to be hopeful people, hopeful Christians, about this life and surely about the next. In the scripture it is written, “We grieve, but not as those that have no hope.” Positive faith, optimistic faith – that the same God who took care of us in this life will not let us go in the life to come but will continue to take care of us and our loved ones then. Let’s go into the week being hopeful people.
Speak the hopeful word about yourself, my friend. Do not let yourself fall into the trap of saying negative things about yourself, like “I can’t do that” or “I was never any good at that” or “I’m no good at this.” Don’t say those things! Keep away from that kind of talk, because that’s what you attract to yourself, if that’s the idea you focus on. Stay with the thought, “I’m not so good at this…yet” or “up until now I wasn’t good at that.” Keep hopefulness open to you.
And friends, stay hopeful about others. If your daughter is clearly dressing up and you think to yourself, “She looks so pretty,” tell her so. Say, “You look wonderful.” Give her that lift of spirit. Say it out loud. Give her that wonderful feeling of hopefulness. If your son brings home a report card that has some As and Bs on it, some grades that have improved, praise him! Don’t worry so much about the things that need improvement. Praise the things that are going well. And he’ll want to come up and do the others better, because you’re seeing the hope and potential in him.
I’d like to conclude with a story about someone who had a knack for saying the hopeful word to others, my dear mother. When I was in my first full-time church in Roselle, there were a group of us in our early to mid-twenties who formed a fellowship group called the YAF, the Young Adult Fellowship. We would meet every Sunday night at the parsonage. Sometimes we’d share a covered dish supper or a movie or games. It was a great time.
In that group was a young lady named Karen. Karen was real sparkler. She was the wife of a fellow named Tim. She was a nurse, full of laughter, and she always seemed to do everything just right. Her sister-in-law was also in that group. Her name was Harriet. Harriet was married to Jim, Tim’s brother, and she always just sat in the corner. She always had her hands folded, eyes cast down, no makeup, hair straight. She was between careers. She didn’t have much education. Things were really tense in the marriage, too.
Well, Sunday nights would come, and we’d be in the living room laughing, and Harriet would be sitting there, just keeping to herself. But she noticed something in my home. She noticed that over many pieces of furniture were beautifully crocheted afghans. She would look at them and run her hands over them. Once when my mom was in the parsonage kitchen, Harriet went to her and said, “Mrs. G, those afghans are so beautiful. I wish I could do that.”
My mom said, “How do you know you can’t?”
Harriet said, “Well, I’ve never tried.”
And my mom said, “Then you must try.”
Harriet said, “But I’m not talented. I can’t do it.”
My mom said, “Never say that about yourself. Always stay positive. I tell you what, Harriet. I’ll make a deal with you. When they’re all in the living room laughing, you come in here and we’ll sit together and I’ll show you what I know about crocheting.”
Well, the next Sunday came and the Sunday after that, and Harriet would run into the kitchen. Mom had yarn and crochet hooks ready, and she’d sit down with her and show her the basics. Harriet would try, and her little squares were, shall we say, humble indeed. Mom would stand behind her and reach down and hold both her hands in her own and show her the techniques to crochet a square.
Harriet made a little progress. She and my mom kept working. And then, Harriet and Jim split up, and Harriet moved away. I did, too. I heard later that Harriet had moved to Kansas. She went to nursing school and got a degree herself. She met a wonderful young man and remarried. Years went by, and I never heard from them.
Then one Sunday morning, at my previous church, I saw Harriet and Brian sitting in church. Harriet was holding a great big white box, like a cake box. After the service, they came up and we greeted each other. It was so good to see them. Harriet said, “I have something I want to show you.” She carefully took the lid off the great white box. She put her hands inside and gently lifted out the most beautiful afghan you’d ever want to see, full of greens and whites and red roses, crocheted with enormous skill. She said, “I wanted you to know that your mom, who is in heaven now, was the one who inspired me to do this. I can crochet now, thanks to your mom.”
I’m so proud of her. Let’s be like that. Let’s be beacons of hope to the people around us, because hope can work miracles. God loves you. I do, too. Have a wonderful week. Amen.
© 2007 Anthony J. Godlefski