Transcript from SA-NT Bishop David Altus’ Convention of Synod message at St Michael’s Lutheran Church, Hahndorf, on 17 May 2020.
“In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”- 1 Peter 3:15
We were walking around the duck pond at the end of our street just before Easter when we came across a man and his two dogs who we have come to know. We reflected together on the impact of the ever tightening restrictions on our lives because of COVID-19. He asked what it meant for the church. We asked about his wife’s travel business (she had only just gone out on her own). Sadly she was having to refund all her customers who were cancelling their overseas trips. We have since met her along the same path and she told us she has decided to close her business for good.
We commiserated with him about that and about the state of the world generally. As we said goodbye he looked around at me with a wry smile and said – “Hey you’re a priest, you’re supposed to be offering a bit of hope here!”
Ouch… He was right. I am a “priest”, a bishop even…
And he was right – I hadn’t left him with any hope…
I wondered what I could have, should have, but didn’t say that would have given him the hope he was looking for or even expecting from me….
His parting words stayed with me and got me thinking about hope, the hope I have and live with as a Christian, and whether I express it often enough, or whether I am too ready to join in the chorus of what’s wrong in the world.
I wonder what you are hoping for right now, wherever you are and whoever you are out there?
In one sense we have “all been in this together”, but each of us has been enduring this time in different ways, in different places, and we each handle things differently inside too.
So what does hope look, sound and feel like to you right now? A few weeks ago for all of us hope was visualising toilet paper on the shelf when we arrived at the supermarket.
- Maybe now for you hope is a rise in the stock market
- A cure or vaccine? – we are all hoping for that
- Maybe hope is a job still there at the end of job keeper, or simply any job…
- Seeing customers again in your business
- People at your table at home
- Elective surgery happening for you
- The footy season starting up
- What does hope look like for the young people in our band here today?
- What does hope look like to our people over on KI or over the hill from here still recovering from the bushfires.
- And what does hope mean for one of our pastors and his wife after he recently discovered he has a life threatening form of cancer?
If this year has taught us one thing it is how vulnerable and dependent we really are, how fragile life can be. Drought, bushfires and now a tiny virus from the other side of the world has undone our lives and livelihoods….
No wonder we are concerned about each other’s mental health and wellbeing.
We don’t want false hope ourselves, we don’t want to offer false hope to others. We need to be realistic about life – but we need hope to keep going and to have hope we need to believe something or someone is out there for us who won’t let us down.
We need a reason:
- To believe it is worth getting up in the morning because our lives matter no matter what happens.
- To believe we are worth more than our job or the income it earns no matter how important and needed that is, because it can be taken away just like that as we have seen.
- To believe we are not alone even if we live or feel alone.
- To believe there is help and strength out there to be able to push through, and keep going, and not give up on life.
- We need a deep and abiding hope to sustain us not only when the next big thing comes that rocks our world. Ultimately we need some hope about the end of life, however that end may come for us.
- At the end of life we need to be able to believe with certainty that what we have done or failed to do with this life won’t be counted against us by God, and that yes, we too can confidently hope for eternal life.
I live with that kind of “hope” that is more than a wish.
My hope is an “I know” – because I know Jesus Christ. I trust that you do too and if you don’t, every day is a good day to get to know him or know him better.
Knowing Jesus enables us to live with hope not just on a good day, but no matter what. The apostle Peter calls it a “living hope”.
1 Peter 1:3 says “By his great mercy (God) has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead”
Peter wrote this letter to scattered, “distanced” Christians called to be outposts of hope in the world, just like every congregation and community of Christian faith out there from here to Darwin.
Those first to hear this letter were in danger of being isolated, persecuted, losing their jobs, cut off from family, in danger of death – not because of a virus but because of what they believed and how they lived their faith in Jesus Christ.
The letter was written by the Apostle Peter who must have felt hopeless and like despairing after his best friend Jesus had been killed and just before Jesus died he had denied ever knowing his friend Jesus. In his shame he ran out into the darkness and balled his eyes out. But the risen Jesus didn’t count that against him, in fact he died for him too and after he was risen he restored Peters hope and his life and asked him to preach to thousands on the day of Pentecost and to be a bishop or overseer of his church.
If there was hope for Peter to move beyond his past there is hope for me and there is hope for you too. Jesus died for our pasts, and Jesus is risen for our future. He lives, so we can live freely and confidently and face anything life throws at us.
The symbol for Christian hope is an anchor. In another letter in the Bible hope is called an anchor for the soul. “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure”. (Hebrews 6:19)
The hope God gives you in Jesus gives you a deep and abiding anchor for your life, your soul. An anchor that doesn’t weigh you down (like some think Christianity does), but draws you forward and upwards because the anchor is wrapped around Jesus himself who has gone before us into heaven and is in the place of power and authority for us at the right hand of God (as Ascension day reminds us this Thursday).
If you think “Job-Keeper” is special because it keeps you attached to your employer with the hope of a job at the other end of what we are going through, then remember that Peter calls Jesus “the shepherd and guardian of your souls”. Jesus is your “soul-keeper”.
Jesus is the anchor who holds us together inside when our hopes in life are dashed and we feel like falling apart inside and he is our common hope who holds the church together when we might fall apart as a human organisation.
St Paul wrote in one of his letters: “if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world. But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. He is the first of a great harvest of all who have died. (1 Cor 1:15)
God does care about the things we need for this life, that’s why we pray to him for our “daily bread”. But we don’t just look to the risen Christ for the things of this life, as important and needed as they are. If we do we may be disappointed some days. We look to Jesus for nothing less than a resurrection from the dead of our own, just like his!
My uncle John died just after Easter.
He was a pastor, missionary in PNG, lecturer at ALC and a former Vice President of the LCA. But in the end diabetes and Parkinson’s puts all of that to the test, and nothing of what we have done in this life guarantees the hope of eternal life. Only the risen Jesus can give you that certain hope.
I watched his “funeral for ten” online where his son (also Pastor John) ended the obituary by saying:
“A few weeks ago, despite empty churches, the proclamation of the good news still rang out around the world:
“Jesus is risen”.
That was the truth dad devoted his life to, and that’s the hope that we have…”
“The hope we have”
Those words were to be the theme for the SA-NT District Synod of the Lutheran Church in SA and the NT this very weekend. The Synod we can’t have. But the hope we can still have through faith in the risen Jesus.…
Synod means “walking the same way” (and we are still walking together in the same hope, even though distanced in all sorts of ways)
The church wasn’t silenced at Easter, even if her doors were closed and people banned from entering. “Jesus is risen” and we found other ways to tell the world didn’t we.
The hope we have together and holds us together can’t be killed off by a virus, or stamped out by any forces that might be hell bent on eradicating Christianity.
If the battered and bruised, rejected, isolated, crucified dead and buried Jesus lives, risen from the dead, so will we, that is his promise. We can “live again” each new day even in this life, get up off the floor and keep going, knowing where we are ultimately heading, which is towards him and the life he promises us one day in heaven where there are no viruses, Parkinson’s, diabetes or cancer, in fact no more tears full stop because anything that robs us of life will be gone. We won’t even need hope, because our hopes will have been realised, realised in and by the risen Christ.
Jesus lives, and so do we, so will we, whatever comes and whatever happens this side of heaven.
“So live now with that living hope”, Peter would encourage us today and tomorrow, “be an outpost of hope in the world together.”
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have”
Being confident in our hope begins with Christ being Lord of our lives. “in your hearts revere Christ as Lord”. Peter wasn’t writing to theologians but people who had just come to faith in Jesus. They didn’t know everything there was to know about God – who does, but they knew the difference Jesus made to their lives as they lived with him as Lord of life, not the things they used to pin their hopes on.
Faith is not an argument to win but a hope in our hearts to share. That makes it a lot simpler doesn’t it!
And people looking for hope right now.
- Lifeline has been receiving a call every 30 secs in Australia lately. People needing hope, a reason to hang in there and keep going.
- The number of people out there looking for spiritual help and hope from God is up too – online searches for the Bible all over the world have increased markedly.
People at least privately are looking for the hope that we live with and often take for granted. That was something I discovered over 40 years ago that drew me to devoting my working life to the ministry of proclaiming the hope we have.
I know not every opportunity to share your hope in Jesus will be pleasant or polite or met with appreciation. That’s why Peter says “do this with gentleness and respect”. We share our hope as equally vulnerable people all in need of the hope only Jesus can give.
Well the time has come to “come out from under the doona” our PM has told us.
Time to get back to work and interacting with people again. That may be easier for some than others….
When it comes to life in the church as we begin to slowly come back together are you hoping to go back to the “old normal” or hoping for a “new normal” and if so I wonder what you hope for about God’s church?
When we meet again:
- Will we go back to talking about what’s wrong with the world when we gather or
- Will we talk about the hope that sustained us even if we found the lockdown hard for different reasons.
- Will we look for and live by the hope we draw from each Sunday’s message from our pastors and from our own time with God in between?
- And will we be as passionate and to share our faith and hope in creative ways just as we have been doing as church during this period of distancing?
And as we interact more with people out there I wonder what you might say to our friend with his two dogs should you come across him on your morning walk? How might your hope show, and how would you explain it to him, with gentleness and respect?
Like Peter, I may be a bishop now, but I wasn’t ready that day at the park for the man and his two dogs who I didn’t realise was looking to me for some hope, but with God there is always another day – that’s the hope forgiveness gives – just ask the apostle Peter about that.
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have”
Our reason to live with hope is the risen Jesus, our “living hope”.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13)
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