Saturday, April 9, 2016


Bright Hope For Tomorrow (John 20:1-18; , Ro 5:1-8; Lam 3:22-24) (3/27/16)


He is Risen!  (He is Risen indeed!)  What an awesome greeting!  What a greeting of hope for us, the Easter people!  But it wasn’t always like that was it?  Even in our reading today, Mary Magdalene and the disciples began the morning without hope.  They didn’t start the day with hope.  They didn’t go to the tomb with hope.  And in John’s Gospel, seeing the empty tomb by itself did not give them hope.

“Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb..”  Mary went to the tomb without hope.  In Mark and Luke she goes to the tomb with the other women and they had spices to anoint the body.  Their expectation was that they were going to find the body of the crucified Jesus and they wanted to prepare it for burial.  They were without hope.

And our passage today says that Peter and John after seeing the empty tomb “returned to their homes.” They were without hope.  

That happens to us, too, doesn’t it?  We face our Fridays and it seems like Sunday never comes.  We are without hope.  I’ve told you before that Rosemary and I lost our son Jeff when he was 18.  It took a long time for Easter to come, years in fact.  It wasn’t until an encounter, not as dramatic as Mary’s in the garden, but an encounter none the less, that hope was restored, that Easter was a part of my life.  It was almost as if someone came running to me like Mary to the disciples and said, “I have seen the Lord,” that I can say that I became one of the Easter people. 

Hope, that’s what Easter people possess that the world is missing.  Hope!  And why?  We have received the message, “I have seen the Lord!” and we believe it.  Some of us have encountered the Risen Savior as surely as Paul did on the Road to Damascus.

So here’s the line for the kids.  The reason we gather here today on Easter is not eggs but because we are people of hope.  Regardless of how bad things might have been on Friday, skinned knees and hurt feelings, it's Sunday, it's Easter and Jesus is alive, and we have hope.  It gives us strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.  We gather on Easter because we are people of hope.


This week I read an autobiography of a man named Brennan Manning.  A man who pretty much grew up without hope.  His mother had been raised in an orphanage without love and was incapable of showing love to Brennan as a child.  His father was an alcoholic and about all he could show him was his belt.  He as raised in the Catholic Church and went to Catholic schools. Even though his family was dysfunctional, his parents had to maintain appearances in their Irish Catholic neighborhood after all. 

By the time he was 16, he started drinking, and pretty heavily.  He had been a fairly good student.  The only hope he had was that if he kept up his grades, he could avoid the belt.  Not much hope, right?  He started college but dropped out when one of his drinking buddies suggested they enlist in the Marines.  They did so and served in Korea.

When he got out, the GI Bill would allow him to go to college just about anywhere he wanted to go.  His only dream had been to be a sports writer and he decided he’d go to Mizzou where even in the 50’s it had the reputation of being a great journalism school.

So he did.  Did I tell you that Brennan had no hope?  During his first semester, Brennan had a dream.  He dreamt that through his writing he had achieved everything, a wife, a family, a house, even the Nobel Prize for Literature.  But he was still empty.  He woke up saying, “There’s just got to be more.  More.”

As a result of that dream, this 21 year old sought out a spiritual director.  Maybe they had them back then, but I don’t know where you’d find a spiritual director today at Mizzou.  Nor do I know that many young men today that would look one up, but he did.  The spiritual director  posed a question to him.  “What if that ‘more’ was God?”

Brennan bit.  He left Mizzou after the first semester and enrolled in seminary.  That lasted a week.  Remember I told you he was a man without hope.  Hopeless people don’t have much direction and they don't take much direction.

He went to the Dean’s office at the end of the first week at noon to tell him he was dropping out.  The Dean wasn’t available right away so he wandered into the Chapel and walked around the walls of the room going through the Stations of the Cross.  He doesn’t recall much about stations one through eleven, but at station twelve he kneeled before the icon and something special happened as he read these words: “Station 12, Jesus Dies on the Cross.  Behold Jesus crucified!  Behold his wounds, received for love of you!  His whole appearance betokens love: His head is bent to kiss you; His arms are extended to embrace you; His heart is open to receive you.  O superabundance of love, Jesus, Son of God, dies upon the cross, that man may live and be delivered from everlasting death!”

It was a little afternoon when he kneeled before the icon.  It was 3:00 when he stood!  He had experienced the “more.”  He had experienced the unconditional love of God in Jesus Christ, wave after wave of unconditional love.  Jesus had called him by name.  He had encountered the Risen Lord and he would never be the same.  He had experienced grace and Brennan Manning had become a person of hope.  What he had found in that hope was that Jesus loved him, not only that, Jesus liked him, just as he was.

He became a man of hope, he completed seminary, became a priest, became a sought after evangelist and that was his message to people without hope: God loves you, not only loves you but likes you, just as you are.

By the way, the title of his autobiography was “All is grace: The memoirs of a ragamuffin.” 

Brennan Manning had encountered the Risen Christ, the Christ of Easter.  Not the Christ of Station 12 but the Christ of Easter morning and he became a man of hope.


Hope.  My favorite scripture about hope was written by another man who had encountered the Risen Lord, the Christ of Easter.  He was a writer too, of letters, and his name was Paul.  He writes in Romans 5 about grace and hope:
Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and 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 which has been given to us.  While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. Why, one will hardly die for a righteous man—though perhaps for a good man one will dare even to die. But God shows his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.

“We rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”  Brennan was in demand as a speaker, writer, evangelist most of his life, “rejoicing in sharing the glory of God.”  But unfortunately, he suffered all of life with relapses of his alcoholism.  He suffered. 

And what does Paul tell us, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us.” Hope.  Even through our sufferings.  Today might feel like Friday, but Sunday’s a comin’.  Hope.

Why? because God’s love has been poured into us.  Brennan would write that Christianity is not some moral code.  It is a love affair, that God loves us.  And showed that love, that unlimited, unconditional love by dying on the cross for us.  “Because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.”

Paul tells us that just at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.  Then to note that he loves us just as we are, he notes, “Why one would hardly die for a righteous person—though perhaps one for a good person one might dare even to die.  But God showed his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

Jesus loves, even likes us, and showed that love for us by dying for us just as we are. 

And God through the resurrection, through Easter, gives us hope.

And here’s my part for the kids.  It is the resurrection of Jesus that gives us hope.  We can squeeze our purse and can see just as the tomb could not hold Jesus on Easter morning, that our purse cannot hold the cross, the symbol of Jesus.  And that is a reminder of the hope we have on Sunday morning.

My friends, you are Easter People.  You are resurrection people.  You have encountered the living Lord in one way or another as surely as Mary in the Garden, or Brennan in his golden three hours.  And your life is different than people without hope.  Someone has come running to you saying, “I have seen the Lord.” The question becomes, what are you going to do with your hope? Paul put it this way, “And we rejoice in the hope of sharing the glory of God.”

We are blessed with hope.  A blessing is the promise of a future.  The promise of a future that too is hope. 

How will you use your hope to be a blessing to others?  Do you know that this is hope? (hold up glass of water)  One out of every ten people on our planet are without safe drinking water.  Eighty percent of the illness, 50 percent of the hospitalizations around the world are due to lack of safe water.  You can give a family hope, hope, safe drinking water for 10 years for only $10.  Did I wet your appetite?  (Pun intended).  More information in the entry way, or talk to me after the service.

How else might you be a blessing?  Give others hope?  I attended a meeting two weeks ago called the Haiti Summit.  It gathered people from around Missouri who were interested in providing hope for the people of Haiti who are still suffering from the 2010 earthquake. 

One woman, a church member from Sedalia, said that three years ago she felt a call on her life and told her pastor she thought it had to do with orphans.  It was as if someone had come running to her and said, “I have seen the Lord.”  And she felt called to use the hope that was in her to be a blessing to orphan children.

Now, I want you to listen to the geography of this.  Her pastor said OK, and sent her to Rick Warren’s church in California where a man told that he knew a Baptist minister Maine who was working with an Orphanage in Haiti.  That’s Sedalia, California, Maine, Haiti.  Lauri has been working with them, going to Haiti four times a year, raising funds, developing programs for Strong Tower Orphanage for the past three years. Listen to this: “Strong Tower is an integral part of the ministry and community of Church of the Redeemer in Caracol, Haiti.  Within the faith community, the children served by Strong Tower live in family settings and receive physical care, education, and experience the love and grace of Jesus Christ.

Folks that’s hope.  These are things kids might be interested too.  Giving children a clean glass of water when they have none.  Kids, what if your Mom said, “We have no water.  If you want a drink today, you’ll have to get it from that mud puddle out by the road, but look out for the pollywogs.”  And wouldn’t you like to make sure this little girl at the orphanage had clean water too?  Hope.

As people of hope, I would urge each of you to determine how you can be hope, a blessing to someone else.  It might be small.  Ten dollars for a water filter.  It might be a gift that puts a disadvantaged girl from Fulton on a horse at CrossWind ranch, let’s her experience a world that she didn’t know existed and provide her hope.  It might be supporting the education system in Fulton.  It might be responding to the Shriner’s Hospital Ads on TV and truly give hope to children and their mothers and fathers that otherwise might have no hope, no promise of a future at all.  All they can envision is suffering and you can give them hope.  You are the Easter people.

Here’s one that costs you nothing. What if you have an old sewing machine around the house that hasn't been used in years. Give it to Mel West. He’ll have it refurbished and sent to a family who can start a sewing business and give them hope for generations to come.  Hope.

This is what I ask for this Easter: Find a way to intentionally giving your hope away.


One of my favorite passages in the Old Testament is the story of a man who had no hope.  But in the midst of his sorrow, and seen from our side of Easter, it’s almost as if Mary Magdalene in the midst of his suffering had come to him shouting down the centuries, “I have seen the Lord.”

It's a passage from Jeremiah’s book of Lamentations.  Here’s the context: Nebuchadnezzar has destroyed Jerusalem, as Jesus said, “Not one stone left upon another.”  The children of Israel have been taken into exile in Babylon and only Jeremiah and a few token vine tenders remain.  Jeremiah walks through the ruins of Jerusalem and laments.  I can picture him sitting on an ash heap in deep sorrow and suffering.

Lamentations is a dark, dark book.  It is a Good Friday book where is no hope.  Here are the topical sentences leading my passage: “I am one who has seen affliction under the rod of God’s wrath.”  “He has made my flesh and my skin waste away.”  “He has walled me about so that I cannot escape.”  “He is a bear lying in wait for me, a lion in hiding.”  “He shot into my vitals the arrows of his quiver.”  “He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes.”  They don’t call it Lamentations for nothing.

Then it’s as if Mary comes running to him.  It’s as if he can hear the words of Paul rushing back through the centuries saying, “And we rejoice in our suffering, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope; and hope will never disappoint us.”  It’s as if some great preacher is saying, “It may be Friday, but Sunday’s a comin’.”  This is what Jeremiah says sitting on this ash heap in the sorrow of Friday:  He says, “But this I call to mind and therefore I have hope.”  (Hope! Hope!  That’s what we have as Easter People.)  He goes on: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning, great is thy faithfulness. (And then he says as surely as Brennan talks about his love affair with Jesus.) ‘The Lord is my portion’ says my soul.  Therefore I will trust in him.

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases (love, for God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit which has been given to us.)  His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning.  Great is thy faithfulness.

In 1923, Thomas Chisholm wrote a poem from this passage that became one of the great hymns of the church primarily because it became a favorite of Billy Graham’s.  The third verse could have been my passage for today’s sermon.  In fact you could say that it was:  “Pardon for sin and peace that endureth (God loves you unconditionally, just as you are) thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide; (presence, the encounter each of has in our own way with the Risen Lord) Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.  Blessings all mine and ten thousand besides.” 

Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow. This is the promise of Easter: Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.  Blessings all mine with what? Ten thousand beside.”

We are Easter People, God’s strength, God’s hope, God’s mercies, Gods’ blessings are new every morning.

You are the Easter People, you have hope, you have blessings to give away.  Let’s rise and sing hymn number 140, this amazing hymn of hope, “Great is thy Faithfulness.”