May 25, 2017
Worship Easter Sermon

Proclamation of Hope      Hope-Full       Pastor Geri

A few days before Easter, a little girl was coloring eggs with her mom and dad. They got to talking about her Easter basket and what she remembered from last year. Jelly beans. Chocolate bunnies. Yellow marshmallow peeps. And for this little girl, she got some walnuts in the shell. And pecans and almonds—in the shell. Maybe left over from Thanksgiving or Christmas but there they were. And it took a little bit of work. They couldn’t find the nut cracker and Dad had to pull out the needle nose pliers and a hammer and disinfect them and then wrap the nuts in a towel and pound on them, and pick out the nut parts…It was an unexpected Easter production in that house-hold, with the little girl clapping her hands and cheering her Dad on. Do some more, Daddy. Do some more!

Must have made an impression on the girl because she piped up this year saying…I want some more of those cracking nuts this year. They were really fun! Do it again Daddy, do it again!

You would think that talking about hope on Easter would be fun too.

Almost a no-brainer.

Emily Dickinson seemed to think so in her one little poem:
Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul,
and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all.
EMILY DICKINSON, "Hope is the thing with feathers"[ii]

As though the blue bird of happiness is always singing a song of hope in our hearts, with or without words. And we do have words…

Christ is Risen! He’s Risen indeed!

That should settle it once and for all…no matter what awful thing happens, Jesus is the hope of the world and will be with us to the end and beyond. End of story? Well, maybe but, in truth, our hungry and rambling and itchy brains, and our jumbled and confused and contrary emotions can make it harder than that. Hope can be a tough nut to crack.

Speaking to the school aged kids…I remember hoping that I would get good grades and do well working really hard on school and then realizing that having teachers point you for getting the best grades and writing the most insightful papers was embarrassing and actually made it harder to make friends…especially boy friends. Sometimes, getting what you hope for makes matters worse.

Speaking to career people…how about hoping for a promotion…and then watching someone less qualified get it. That’s painful…Or…what about you getting it and then you’re all of a sudden working 60 and 80 hours a week. Travelling out of town and missing your family. Or the learning curve for the new job is steeper than you thought and you make more mistakes and feel worse about yourself than if you had just stayed where it was safe and easy. What’s that saying…Be careful of what you pray for because you just might get it.

Speaking to young married people and soon to be parents…when you’re trying to get pregnant and hoping to be a parent some day and sooner than later….or waiting for the new life…any people say…I just hope the baby is healthy. I just hope the birth is free of complications. But what happens when those hopes don’t come true…Not everyone can get pregnant. That’s painful. Yes, successful births are the norm, but not always and when something goes wrong…hope becomes a dry and empty well with nothing left to draw on.

And for those of you who are parents…even when a baby is born healthy and registers normal on all the scales but grows up with a prickly personality. Any of you have prickly kids? Or a child who has challenges in learning to read, do math, making friends, getting up in the morning, the list goes on and on. Once our initial hopes are met…somehow they seem to grow into greater and greater expectations that become harder and harder to meet. A seemingly reasonable bit of hope can turn into a nightmare of disappointment and pain.

Speaking to people who are in extremely difficult situations with very, very few options. And seemingly no good outcomes. Families where there’s violence, someone whose disabilities don’t allow them to work, addictions. Hoping that a person will go away or get better or change and be different…but nothing changes. There are times when in spite of hopes and prayers…It all just seems to get worse and worse.

Hope can be a tough nut to crack open or to even hang on to.

Here’s a quote for you: See if you recognize this one: Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane. Red makes this statement to Andy in the movie:

Shawshank Redemption…Tim Collins and Morgan Freeman, 1994. Prison movie. Andy Dufresne, a banker who is sentenced to life in Shawshank State Penitentiary for the murder of his wife and her lover, despite his claims of innocence. During his time at the prison, he befriends afellow inmate, Ellis Boyd "Red" Redding, and finds himself protected by the guards after the warden begins using him in his money-laundering operation.[iii] that’s Tough to watch but it illustrates this battle in the hearts and minds of us all…to hope or not to hope. To trust or not trust. To have faith or to give up.

Isn’t that the struggle that the disciples and the women at the tomb experienced…swirling in and around their fear of also being arrested and crucified. In the midst of heart stopping grief at the death of their friend, teacher, prophet…Messiah…didn’t they too struggle with hoping that what Jesus said was true…that he would be raised from the dead? Struggle with their faith that God has a bigger plan that is so much better than what’s in front of us. The Crucifixion of Jesus is the ultimate test of our trust in God and our faith in these Holy Scriptures. A test of our capacity to hope against hope, to hope against fear, to hope against grief.

That’s what Easter offers us. In this miracle that we celebrate so joyfully, each year, God demonstrates convincingly, beyond all shadow of a doubt that death is NOT the end of the story. That even the worst that human beings come up with will never ever overwhelm or subvert God’s bigger intention for life and forgiveness and transformation.

Our hope is well-founded in the cross, in spite of how difficult and painful it was and still is for us to consider. That’s the Easter gift of hope.

Those who hold onto the promise of Jesus’s resurrected life, in spite of life’s terrible ups and downs, do come to find, that ‘Hope’ in God, is a powerful force that can save our lives in every way that a life can be saved. Hope in the human heart makes it possible for us to somehow find the strength to take one more step in spite of the darkness and pain of the present moment. Hope can be the front porch to forgiveness, reconciliation and healing. Hope is a portal for the recovery of faith, the restoration of financial stability, for comfort in the most profound grief. Hope saves us…over and over again. In a thousand different ways. Daddy, Daddy, do it again…

We are, now and always….God’s saved people.

Here’s what Andy DuFresne said to Red in the movie: ‘Hope is a good thing…maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.’

No good thing ever dies. God’s good love for us…never dies.

Jesus, God’s goodness in the form of a person on earth for us…never died.

We can trust that. We can carry that hope with us. We can remember, as Paul says in Romans 5:4: …suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces HOPE , and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given us.’

A tough nut to crack but…a heart full of hope is a good thing. Maybe the best thing. And even the tiniest nut…even as small as a mustard seed…by the word of Jesus, can grow into a tree of life with enough room for all the birds of heaven and in its shade…all the people of God, yes, even you.

Be like the bird
Who halting in her flight
On limb too slight
Still sings
Knowing she has wings. Victor Hugo

May the God of all Hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Amen and Happy Easter!