Be A People Of Hope
by Nail-Bender in NC
based on Romans 13:11-14
Living in a refugee is never a easy thing. Sosha knew this ... No one had to tell her,
for it was her life. Each day she awoke, she looked around the tiny room which she shared
with her mother, brother, and three members from the other family ... and she knew that
this was no easy thing.
The buildings were old, and damp, and cold. It was bad enough during dry weather, but
on rainy days it was just terrible. And unfortunately, during the winter months, one could
count on it raining often. Those days were the worst, with the steady drip, drip, drip of
the water coming through the dilapidated ceilings, it was almost impossible to keep ones
bedding dry. She also got so very tired of beans -- beans, beans, beans, and more beans.
She was glad to have them for without them, they would all surely starve. As it was, she
could tell that her younger brother, was not getting the nourishment that a young teenager
required. Still, what a remarkable thing it would be to have something other than beans,
maybe some beef, or maybe fresh fruit, oh how good that would be.
Yet, even through all of this, the thing that was the most difficult was the slow
passage of time with nothing to hope for, with no goal to strive for, with no focus except
for making the next plate of beans. Each day would be just as the day before and the day
before that and the day before that. Each day would bring the monotony of sitting in camp
with no place to go and nothing to do. Sometimes it seemed to her that as horrible as the
war had been, at least it lacked this killing boredom ... For certainly it was killing
her, sucking the life right out of her, stealing what should have been years of exuberance
and the hope of young adulthood.
About the only thing that allowed her to make it through each day, was the lace which
they would crotchet. Fortunately, some of the folks from our local community would go to
visit and would take needles, thread, and material from which table-cloths and doilies
would be made. Each day the women would sit around and sew, making intricate and beautiful
designs. It would never cease to amaze me, how such beauty could come out of such tragic
This became their very life, their very existence, indeed Sosha's feeling was:
"Thank God for the Lace, Thank God for the Lace."
About eight weeks had gone by since we had last made a trip to the camp, too long -- I
never liked being away for long, I found I grew anxious and worrisome about being out of
touch with what was going on. So when we arrived, we immediately went through the
barracks, visiting the rooms of folks we had grown to know and love. Jeanette, one of the
leaders of our small informal mission team, had taken a large bag of lace and thread with
her and was busy passing it out to all the women.
But when we arrived at the room of Sosha, we found the room almost empty of their
belongings. All that was left were the discarded rubbish or human occupation. Bits of
paper, a few old glass containers, and a crushed box which had probably been used to hold
some articles of food or other daily necessity. Except for these forgotten things, there
was little other evidence that the family had ever been there at all.
The other family explained that Sosha's family had finally received permission to move
to Sweden, to live with a distant relative. This was wonderful news, how fantastic it was
that they now could begin their life anew! What a joyous day! What a blessing to thank God
for -- escape and a new life!
We stood there with the other family and quietly celebrated for a few more moments. As
we started to leave, Jeanette reached over and picked up a half-finished doily from the
side of the bed, and remarked, "I guess Sosha didn't get to finish this" and
then we turned and walked out.
Now I must confess to you, I had not thought of that incident for many, many months.
Indeed, except for the joyous occasion of the family moving to Sweden, it was a pretty
non-descript kind of event -- until I began pondering this letter from Paul.
For there was something here that is of great significance -- Here lying in the few
discarded articles of a forgotten past was the thing that was so central to the existence
of Sosha and the other women of that camp that they could say, "Thank God for the
Lace." This was the thing which had been the focus of their daily living, an
important aspect of their communal life together. This small piece of lace represented the
thing which brought them together each day, and provided an avenue where they were able to
express their deepest hurts and share in mutual nurturing.
Yet here it was ... left ...and most probably forgotten even before the trip began. For
with the expectation of liberation, the lace no longer had meaning. How could she now sit
idly by making lace when there was so much to get ready for -- A long trip, a new life,
plans to be made, strategy to be set, correspondence to be sent, documents to get in
Her life now had new focus and new purpose -- no longer could she focus on things as
they had been. With this new expectation, nothing could ever be the same !! -- even the
central focus of her daily existence.
And Paul reaches across the sands of time and explains to us: "You know what time
it is," he exclaims. "How it is NOW the moment for you to wake from sleep. For
salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers."
Can't you just hear the excitement in his voice? Can't you feel the air of expectation
-- Wake up from your sleep! Certainly, there is little doubt that Paul fully expected the
coming of the Savior. Not only did he expect it, he believed it would be at any moment.
Coupled with his belief that the key event in history had already occurred, the death
and resurrection of Jesus, was this understanding of the imminent return of Jesus that
acted as a catalyst in his activity. As he trudged the long, hard, and wearying miles out
from place to place, as he underwent beatings and imprisonment, as he loved and taught --
his belief that he would soon see the Christ, bolstered him and gave him strength to carry
His view of the future fully impacted upon his actions at that point and time. His
vision of the future, his awareness of the coming reclamation of creation by God was such
a reality in the daily activity of Paul, that is absolutely impacted his NOW.
The very structure of Paul's existence changed in light of God's promised future. A
future which, when properly realized, absolutely demands that one seek to change one's
focus in the present -- a change, which though it cannot be accomplished by one's own
action, is always available through the person of Jesus and the community of faith.
It is just this future -- God's future -- which provides the illumination by which to
live the present. For if we believe, if we share the conviction that our civilization is
moving toward the goal of God's purpose, we are then able to set our life on a conviction
of eternal values. Our lives become more than just a series of casual episodes directed by
some coincidental fate. We are able to seek to situate ourselves within a historical
continuum which moves forward to the end which God has ordained from the beginning of
time. Divine judgment becomes a serious reality and our lives can be viewed within its
framework -- and this will make all the difference in the world in the way that we choose
to live our lives.
Though I talk much about the joy of going to the refugee camps in Slovenia and Croatia,
and it was joyous, there is something else I must confess to you: There were many, many,
many times which I left the camps depressed and deeply saddened. Because, though we took
food and made a small dent in the hunger, though we did major work projects and brought
about a little more comfort, though we visited and for a few moments, brought a bit of
fellowship, though we did what we were able to do -- guess what ... When we left those
camps, people were still going to be hungry, people were still going to be lonely, people
were still going to be living in a refugee camp, and a horrible war still continued. And
as much as we tried to change things, the nightmare still looked very much as we had found
I think this would have finally crushed me until one day a friend reminded me --
Remember, we go because Jesus shows us what God is like, not because we can change
anything, but ultimately God has the last word. Ultimately, the Victory is won, we just
need to live it out in the present.
You see, Paul understood that the future had flooded into the presence in the babe of
the Christ child. Everything had been changed and salvation was a current reality. The
future of God's ultimate victory had come to fruition in the life of the Messiah. And out
of this knowledge, Paul exclaims, "For salvation is nearer to us now than when we
became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works
of darkness and put on the armor of light." Typically we read this passage and we
think that these works of darkness are deep and evil sins which would seem rather obvious.
Indeed, Paul goes on and says to us, "Do not be involved in things which are
demeaning and hurtful. Seek not to be a nuisance to others in obnoxious partying, don't
waste your time and life in drunkenness, do not enter into the nightmare of infidelity and
sexual sin. As Christians, let us not be a shameless people or move into the world with a
quest to be at the position of the mighty and powerful. And let us not be a people of
greed, a people of insatiable desires -- let us not be a people who live to gain
fulfillment out of the things which we can possess."
And we can all agree on these things -- for these are all the don't doos which we have
been hearing from our earliest childhood days. But, Paul has more to say to us here than
just a few injunctions of how "not to be." For when he uses the word darkness he
means much more than just those things readily understood as evil. No he uses the Greek
word -- skotos -- which means -- doing those things which are obscure. Now this throws an
entirely new slant to the passage. For in doing things which are obscure, those things
which are trivial, those things which have no meaning, we are not living through the
expectation of the Coming One.
If we could simply truly understand our lives within the framework of God's ultimate
work in the world, if we could see that our NOW is continually subject to the coming of
Son of Man as he seeks to invade our existence, then we simply could not go through each
day doing things which are inconsequential.
Our lives take on a new urgency -- goals are set within the framework of God's timing
and NOW becomes the good and perfect time to act. God invades the kairos of our existence,
God's opportune time, the best time -- and that time is not tomorrow, not next week, not
next month, but NOW!
Yet, we have become a people who no longer share in the air of expectancy, for the
regularity of Advent and Christmas has simply made expectancy difficult for us to achieve.
But realize this, the Christ-child does come to invade our NOW, and provides us with the
possibility of encountering his presence in our lives and in our world at any moment. His
coming gives us the opportunity to move beyond that which we are and become more than what
we could ever hope to be.
It is for this reason that Paul urges us to put on Christ -- To allow Christ to so
indwell our existence, that we cease to live for ourselves, but instead live for God -
Yet, by doing this we discover the amazing paradox that by losing ourselves in Jesus, we
completely discover our own personal fully and wholly, a life which is made complete
within the framework of Christian community. We discover that we become more alive than we
ever thought possible. Life, can be lived in its fullest extension and certainly can be
described as: "For me to live is Christ!" We become people who live lives of
I must tell you, yesterday I encountered an incident which quite frankly, angered me. I
was talking to a fellow pastor, a man who had been an ordained minister for a long while,
and a man which should have known better. In the course of our conversation he said this
to me ...
Well, so do you think there is any hope for the survival of your church. I answered
him, "Well of course there is hope for our church." Not wanting to leave it at
that, he continued, "No, I mean seriously, do you think there is hope?" I again
calmly answered him but I did not want to answer calmly. I wanted to stand and I wanted to
I wanted to shout, "Was there hope for a young Jewish boy as he looked into the
eyes of a fully Armed and very large Philistine warrior?! Was there hope for a small band
of disciples who had just watched as their teacher, their friend, and their Lord was
brutally nailed to a Roman Cross?! Was there hope for that same group as they sat behind
the locked doors of a secret room afraid to venture out, afraid of those that would seek
to destroy them?! Was there hope for a young Jewish Pharisee named Paul who was so full of
self- righteous hate that he considered it his personal duty to destroy any who would
claim Christianity?!! Was there hope for a young, poor Jewish girl and her carpenter
husband as they struggled through childbirth in a place where animals were kept?!!!"
Is there hope, is there hope?! The Christ Child is coming and there is always hope!!!
For where there are people who are willing to die to themselves and to put on Christ --
Hope abounds!! Where God has the ultimate word, hope reigns!!!
Hope not just in Survival but Revival! Hope not just in bringing people into the doors
of the Church, but taking the Church into the world!! For God is here in this place,
today, NOW, and this God is the God of Hope!
My dear friends, our challenge today is to be a people of hope! A people of God!
In the end, The expectation of a future life in Sweden, completely transformed the
daily existence of a young Bosnian girl. How much more does the expectation of the
in-breaking of the One who Saves the World impact our lives as individuals and as a
May God wake us from our slumber, give us the eyes to see that this is the good and
perfect time of God's proclamation, and move us to that place where we can put on Jesus,
not just for our sakes, but for the sake of the world. Amen and amen.