Steve Lindsley and Grace Lindvall
(Hebrews 10: 23-25)
Today’s Rally Day sermon – or sermonettes joined by hymns – is a sermon about hope. You may have surmised as much, given the title: Hope Together. Last week, when Grace began our sermon series with the sermon “Learn Together,” she said “This series focuses on all of those things we do together that build us up and make us a unique community of faith.”
So hear now our scripture from the book of Hebrews 10:23-25. Listen to the word of God:
Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
The word of the Lord – thanks be to God!
Will you pray with me……
PROVOKE ONE ANOTHER TO LOVE AND GOOD DEEDS (Steve)
For Christmas one year when I was in college, my mother gave me a copy of Frederick Buechner’s book “Wishful Thinking” – kind of a theological dictionary spoken in a voice only Buechner can provide. When you look up the word “hope” in his book it says, “See ‘Wishful Thinking.’” So you flip a few pages from the end and read this:
Christianity is mainly hope – or, as I like to call it, wishful thinking. Sometimes wishing is the wings the truth comes true on. Sometimes the truth is what sets us wishing for it.
I like this circular understanding of hope – no real beginning or ending; it’s just there, waiting for us to get on board, taking us where it will.
Our scripture today, three short verses in the book of Hebrews, have the writer of Hebrews – we don’t know who it is – writing to this flourishing faith community, expounding on the things that really cause a church to thrive. “Hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering,” he implores.
And then there is this wonderful little bit he throws in about “provoking one another to love and good deeds.” When Grace and I were working on this sermon, she found herself drawn to the older Revised Standard Version – not “provoking” but “stirring one up.” The Greek word here, paroxysmos, literally means to irritate or pester.
How about that! Who would’ve thought – hope as an irritant, like when you get something stuck in your shoe and it’s driving you nuts, so you take it off and shake it out; and when you see that it’s this tiny, tiny twig you say to yourself, really? You were causing that? That’s hope! Like the chlorine in the swimming pool that makes your eyes itch, even as you know it’s protecting you from far worse.
Hope – true hope – is stubborn like that. Despite what surrounds us, hope won’t let us forget it’s there. Hope pesters us. It stirs us up. Hope won’t let us be complacent in our faith; it won’t permit us not to love one another and do good deeds. Hope won’t let us not hope – and that is the cyclical nature Buechner speaks of. The truth we seek. The wishful thinking we wish for. The hope we are called to – this day and always. Amen.
MEET TOGETHER (Grace)
Meet together, but what good is another meeting? What good is another meeting when we can get it done in email, what good is an in person prayer when I can send a card, why go to church when I can listen to the sermon online, why waste all that time when I can get so much more done alone?
Why bother meeting together? It’s not at all that efficient, its not at all that economical it seldom makes any more sense to meet together.
Well, because you’ll remember that the hope we have in Christ is a crazy kind of hope, a hope that doesn’t make a whole lot of rational sense. And meeting together has two crazy things about it that don’t make a whole lot of rational sense but have that same kind of radical hope that lies in Christ.
The first – The belief or thought that somehow coming together might make a difference in how we understand someone. Seeing one another makes a difference, that being one another’s presence might change the way we think about someone, might change the way we assume about someone, might change the way we understand someone, might change the assumptions we make about someone.
Frederick Buechner writes in “Whistling in the Dark” – “If we are to love our neighbors, before doing anything else we must see our neighbors. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.”
Perhaps this crazy idea that meeting together may allow us to see one another and that in seeing one another we might discover a whole new kind of love, a radical love that makes no sense, but in the oddest of ways, all sorts of crazy sense. So even if we don’t get a whole lot accomplished in seeing one another, we may instead get a whole new way of seeing the world, of seeing one another.
And then we have this other crazy belief, this other belief that perhaps if we meet together — if two or three or a hundred of us get together, the Holy Spirit might move her ways among us. Might move in ways that inspire us to small acts of kindness that offer huge mounds of hope, that she might move in ways that allow us to see someone we truly hate not as hate itself but as a person, that might allow us to shatter walls of discomfort and find on the other side grace, might move in ways that encourage us to speak, to pray, to work together.
It might sound out of hand and a little bit out there but maybe just maybe meeting together might offer us that crazy hope which lies in Christ.
ENCOURAGE ONE ANOTHER (Steve)
For most of us, the anniversary we commemorate today is the 15th anniversary of the 9-11 attacks on the Twin Towers and Pentagon. But for the Lindsleys, it’s not the 15th anniversary we commemorate most today. It’s the 14th.
Fourteen years ago, at the exact hour those planes flew into the Twin Towers a year before, I was sitting in a hospital room in one of those godawful lounge chairs, holding in my arms my barely two-day old son. We’d just gotten word that the hospital was set to discharge us. My wife was getting herself ready, packing bags.
Today is the 14th anniversary of the day we brought our first-born home.
Sitting in that godawful chair, holding my son, watching on the tiny hospital TV the one-year anniversary ceremony unfolding at the former Twin Towers site. The reading of names. The ritual of remembrance. The contrast was palpable – on the TV, signs of death and grief and destruction; in my arms, the greatest sign of life and celebration and hope.
Sitting in that chair, I remembered not just what happened a year before, but what happened a few weeks after – a late-night conversation my wife and I had about our long-held dream to one day become parents and how months before we’d decided that time had come. But then 9-11 happened and we wrestled with whether to bring a child into this mess of a world. What sane parent would do such a thing?
We talked for a long time. And in the end we realized that to scrap our dream would be to let fear win, and we did not want fear to win. And it didn’t – fourteen years ago today, I held in my arms the great testimony we could ever make to fear’s ultimate demise.
Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering. And let us stir up one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, but encouraging one another.
Hope finds its most fertile soil when we do as the writer of Hebrews suggests – encourage one another. Encourage one another, as my wife and I did those weeks following 9-11. Encourage one another to not let hate and fear win, to “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering;” to love, love, love, love, love in deep, rich ways that connect us to God and each other.
And what I strive to do every 9-11 is not just remember what happened fifteen years ago, but what happened fourteen years ago. Fear, my friends, can never define us as people of faith. Hope triumphs all. Holds us in God’s eternal embrace. On days like this, and every day.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, thanks be to God – and may all of God’s people say, AMEN!