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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 surroundings.

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 order.

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 on.

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 it.

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 hope.

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 shout!!


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 community?

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.