June 14, 2020

Message for June 14, 2020-“Hope”

(Based on Lesson: Romans 5: 1-8)

 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.  And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.  Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

         In the spring of 2003, Troy Conference in Upstate New York, my Conference, hosted a Mission team from a sister United Methodist Conference in Mozambique.  This was part of a mutual relationship of faith and culture sharing between these two Conferences.  The folks from Mozambique brought with them the musical instruments, costumes and songbooks of their homeland, and the Troy Conference shared our worship experience, rituals and tradition of Holy Conferencing at our Annual Conference held in beautiful Saratoga Springs.  The room  accommodations were first class, the meeting venue, filled with state of the art creature comforts like air conditioning, cushioned chairs, high tech video screens and audio speakers throughout the oversized banquet room we occupied.  And the food—it was fabulous.  There were 2-3 choices of entrée, and many side dishes, available at huge banquet tables during each meal.  A fully stocked salad bar lined the opposite wall. Finally, the dessert table was filled with a huge array of sweets, from cookies and cakes to pies and filled pastries.  It was everything a clergy or lay representative could possibly imagine for their Annual Conference.  This was the manner in which the Troy Conference celebrated Annual Conference each year.  It was truly a pleasure to attend.

     The first day of Conference, at lunch, a hot and cold buffet was served.  As the Troy Conference representatives joyfully “dug into” the many delicacies provided, the folks from Mozambique stood stunned before the banquet tables.  “This is more food than we see in many days,” they shared.  The folks seemed to pick only lightly at the many offerings that had been provided.  Our Bishop asked if, perhaps, the food was not pleasing to our guests.  “No,” they said, “but we cannot feast like this when so many of our people back home in Mozambique have so little.”  A meal that was second nature, almost an expectation, in our American culture was perceive by our guests as being “over-the-top” indulgent—and they were overwhelmed.

     Dinner that evening provided an opportunity to dine on more of the same.  But, this event, the Bishop from Mozambique spoke his mind to our Bishop.  He asked her how much was spent on the meals that were provided for us.  He was shocked and amazed to learn that it was in the thousands of dollars for each meal.  “What we in Mozambique could do for our church and our people with the funds from just one meal would be truly wonderful!” he shared.  Convicted, and, I suspect, a bit shamed, our Bishop announced at our session that evening that our lunches for the next 2 days would consist of a boxed lunch sandwich with fruit.  The proceeds saved by this action would be donated to the Bishop and Conference of Mozambique–$5,000 in total was donated to this cause!

     This Sunday is the first Sunday in the season of Ordinary Time, or Kingdomtide.  This is the time   in the Christian year when believers study the life, teachings and ministry of our Lord Jesus Christ. We seek to grow more like him in our loving and in our daily living.  It is anything but an ordinary time, because it calls us to the extraordinary process of self-evaluation, and from this process to growth and change.

The story above I have shared demonstrates a true-life lesson I learned about suffering, how it produces and reveals character, and how that character sees an opportunity for hope even amid what seem like the most unlikely of circumstances and places.  Paul was well acquainted with suffering, and, yet, he never lost hope in the source of his faith—Jesus—as our lesson reveals.  Paul was convinced that Jesus was “Emmanuel”—God with us, and that his suffering death for us provides all the reason for hope we will ever need.  Paul’s was a simple, basic, uncomplicated faith.

It is not sidetracked by any of life’s distractions that are so often sought after—like money, power, reputation, comfort or even security.  In fact, Paul believed that the only true security possible was found through faith in Jesus, and in God’s plan for our eternal salvation through believing in him.  Life in this world is temporary, life in Christ Jesus is eternal. And, as Paul shares in the scripture above, it is by God’s grace through faith that we all stand in a hope that does not disappoint, because that hope is grounded in Christ our Lord.

   The people of the Team from Mozambique had their priorities in order, and a constant hope in life that had nothing to do with any of the comforts of this world.  They lived daily Jesus’ teaching found in Matthew Chapter 25 – “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.”  The Team could not feast at our Conference when their home community was in need of food, clean water, and medical care.  They understood the truth that when one suffers, the whole body suffers, and only when all are well can the community rejoice.

   This first Sunday in Kingdomtide we are reminded that our hope is not grounded upon the things of this world.  We are people of faith, saved through our faith by God’s grace. God’s marvelous grace toward us calls us to act lovingly and unselfishly toward others in the course of our daily living.  These simple words are not so easily lived, for we certainly have seen in recent events the harmful effect of our failure to love and care for all God’s people equally.

So, let us take this new season as an opportunity to learn, to grow and to act on behalf of the welfare and justice of others   in our communities, that we, too, may again rejoice.

   May the Spirit fill our praise, guide our thoughts and change our ways: God in Christ has come to stay.  Live tomorrow’s life today! (Hymn # 192 “There’s a Spirit in the Air” words: Brian Wren)

And may God’s people say Amen!