Author, theologian and fellow New Englander Frederick Buechner said it: “If preachers decide to preach about hope, let them preach out of what they themselves hope for.”
Of course, that begs the question: what is it that preachers hope for? Being one of those, I think I can vouch for the fact that, as Buechner suggests, preachers “hope that the words of their sermons may bring some understanding and wholeness to the hearts of the people who hear them and to their own hearts. They hope that the public prayers they pray may be heard and answered, and they hope the same for the private prayers of their congregations.”
Mostly, however, what preachers hope for are the same things for which we’re all yearning: for our lives to be imbued with a deeper sense of meaning and purpose; for mercy in the face of all our shortcomings and the assurance that in forgiveness we can start the journey of life anew; for strength in times of struggle; for peace when everything within us and around us is in turmoil; and for joy to permeate every experience of our day to day lives, even the difficult and tragic moments that come to us all – that perhaps even amidst the darkest nights of the soul there will be comfort and healing which brings joy with the light of the morning. These are the hopes we all share – and they’re not be found in the material things of this world, nor from power or prestige or even earthly wisdom, but from God alone, who is, as Psalm 62 has proclaimed it, “[our] rock and [our] salvation, [our] fortress.” (v. 1)
There’s a running joke in our family that whenever we order Chinese food, everyone already knows what’s going to be printed on that little slip of paper inside of my fortune cookie. You see, I always know what my fortune is going to be, because it’s the same one, no matter how many fortune cookies I crack open: “You will be filthy, stinking rich!” Alas, that fortune hasn’t come to pass . . . yet! And we laugh about that (even as my children express great annoyance on my insisting on doing the same old joke again and again!), but the truth is when I really stop to think of what my ideal fortune actually is, it’s not to be filthy, stinking rich!
Now, yes, like all of us these days, I wouldn’t mind being a little more financially secure, but honestly, when I think about what I most hope for in this life, what comes to mind first are things like my children being healthy and happy and comfortable with who they are; that they can be blessed with laughter, good friends and something in their lives that they’re truly passionate about; that we all can live together in a safe and peaceful world in which all people are treated with dignity and compassion.
Call that idealistic if you will, or consider it the warm and fuzzy ramblings of this card-carrying Dad; but more and more as I go along in this life, I realize that given the often harsh realities of the world and the utter frailty of human existence, the most fervent hope any of us can have is simply for life itself – true life, full and rich and meaningful! And try as we might, the truth is that there’s no amount of money that can buy that! In the end, friends, no matter what comes (or goes!) in life, God will be our refuge and protection. Everything else we might look to – fame, money, power – these things are ultimately perishable. How is it that the Psalmist puts it? “Those of low estate are bust a breath, those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.”(v. 9)However, God, who is “a refuge for us,” (v. 8) is eternal, ever strong and always loving, and worthy of all our hope.
Of course, the challenge of a psalm such as this one is a matter of trust – our trust – because how can we really know God’s strength and love if we aren’t willing to pour out our hearts before God? Indeed, just as God alone is our rock and our salvation, true to us in all things; it falls to us to be true to God as well, setting our hearts on this one who in and through all the uncertainties of the life we live brings our deliverance and our honor.
It’s true, I think, that no matter where we are on life’s journey, we hope for pretty much the same things. May we have the grace to say, “today, tomorrow, from season to changing season, from age to age the same,” “for God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.” (vs. 5)
c. 2012 Rev. Michael W. Lowry