Sunday’s sermon: That Scary, Four-Letter Word

scary hope

Texts used – Psalm 42; Hebrews 6:9-20

  • Halloween morning 2003 dawned bright and beautiful like most days in Hawaii do. The sun was warm, the sky was clear, and the waves were beautiful – big and perfect for surfing.
    • Bethany Hamilton → 13 yrs. old
      • One of the most promising young surfers on the circuit
        • In the process of securing sponsorship by major corp.
        • Favorite in upcoming regional tournament
        • To put it mildly, Bethany’s hopes were flying high. Everything was going right in her life, and one of her biggest dreams – that of becoming a pro surfer – was tantalizingly close to being realized.
      • Oct. 31 – surfing with best friend, friend’s father and brother
    • Then, the unthinkable happened. As Bethany was laying on her board out in the water, a 14-foot tiger shark swam up, grabbed hold of her left arm with its powerful jaws, and pulled her into the water. Thankfully, Bethany was able to escape the shark. Her companions were able to get her to safety, call an ambulance, and slow her bleeding, but when Bethany woke up in the hospital the next day, her left arm was gone.
      • To give her hope, her dad reminded her of a Bible verse → I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.[1]But in the face of such a tragedy, what could she have to hope for now?
    • Hope can be a funny thing
      • Know in our heads – supposed to be positive, encouraging
      • But in reality, it’s not that easy. Hope, at its very core, is a longing for and a belief in something that is yet to be, something that is unseen and unforeseeable. It is uncertain. It is uncomfortable. It is scary. In the face of difficult situations, “hope” can feel more like a four-letter word than a lifeline. But it also cannot be denied that both the challenging and uplifting sides of hope are integral and blessed facets of our faith.
  • Ps gives us a pretty clear picture of the challenging side
    • Uncertainty
      • Ps: My tears have been my food both day and night, as people constantly questioned me, “Where’s your God now?”… I will say to God, my solid rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why do I have to walk around, sad, oppressed by enemies?” With my bones crushed, my foes make fun of me, constantly questioning me: “Where’s your God now?”[2]
      • Also see uncertainty in Heb [ lang., not NT book Hebs.]:
        • Ps begs the question “Why are you so upset inside?” – Heb. “disquieted” = nuances of growling and mumbling → So our own souls are groaning within us – debating, restless, vacillating back and forth between our need for hope and our tendency to doubt and fear.
    • Uncomfortable
      • Heb. for the Ps = full of uncomfortable language
        • “My whole being is depressed”[3] = sunken, cast down
        • “Why do I have to walk around, sad, oppressed by enemies?”[4] = connotations of walking around in darkness
        • “Just like a deer that craves streams of water, my whole being craves you, God. My whole being thirsts for God, for the living God.” [5]
          • Heb. “craves” implies palpable/tangible longing – a strong physical discomfort that can be relieved only by God.
  • These feelings of uncertainty and discomfort can entwine themselves around our hope and cause us to falter under that extra weight.
    • Bethany’s story, part B
      • Understandably, Bethany had trouble adjusting to life with only one arm. Doing things as easy as buttoning her jeans, opening a bag of bread, and putting her hair in a ponytail became extremely challenging. But Bethany is an incredibly strong person. She was determined to surf again because surfing was her life. It was who she was.
        • Within month of returning home – ended up back on a board and surfing again
        • Despite setback after setback, she entered regional surfing tournament anyway
        • But, unable to keep up with the competition – didn’t make it out of 1st heat → discouraged, quit surfing
        • For Bethany, that initial glimmer of hope was ripped away as quickly and viciously as if the shark had attacked her all over again. She obviously couldn’t surf anymore – couldn’t even make it out to the big waves that had brought her so much joy – and without surfing, who was she? She had dared to dream, dared to hope, and all it had done was bring her more pain.
          • This = reason hope is so uncomfortable for us
            • The unknown: such a necessary element of hope – can’t hope for something that’s already a certainty, there has to be risk involved
            • The possibility of failing
    • Story from Peter’s former classroom – “Max”
      • Started off the year very negatively – work and behavior
      • Part-way through the year → complete 180
      • After 2 mos., slowly started to slip back
      • Peter’s conversation with him → scared to hope
      • It was easier and safer for Max to approach school without any hope. Success wasn’t part of his history, his life, or his comfort zone. Remember, hope, by its very nature, involves believing, trusting, and longing for something that cannot be guaranteed. And that’s scary! So it’s better not to hope than to hope and be disappointed, right?
  • Wrong. As Christians, our ultimate hope comes from God, and so for us, that word – “hope” – should be about the joy and blessing and strength that we get from being loved and forgiven people.
    • Scripture illustrates this
      • Basically the whole point of our NT text speaks to God’s hope and God’s promises
        • E.g.s
          • “make your hope sure until the end” [6]
          • “God wanted to further demonstrate to the heirs of the promise that his purpose doesn’t change” [7]
          • “This hope, which is a safe and secure anchor for our whole being,”[8]
        • Fred Craddock, renowned preaching professor: Here the encouragement of the church is firmly grounded theologically in the justice or fairness or faithfulness of God. … Not only is God aware, but also God is just and dependable, … the solid and unshakable foundation for all hope is the character of God.[9]  → Now it’s important to understand that this doesn’t mean God is going to give us everything we hope for simply because we’re Christians. We live in a world of both joy and pain, success and struggles, light and darkness, and there will be times that shake us and cause us to feel like we’re crumbling. But even in those times, God is still God is still dependable. God is still our ever-present and unshakable hope.
      • Diff. Scriptural illustration of this unshakable hope → hemorrhagic woman in the gospel of Mark[10]
        • This woman is uncomfortable.
          • Bleeding disease has plagued her for 12 years
        • This woman is uncertain.
          • Religiously unclean → knows she shouldn’t be mingling with the crowd
        • But it’s clear that although she’d lost everything else – family, temple access, wealth, social status – she still clung desperately to hope. It was hope that encouraged her to weave her way through the multitude surrounding Jesus that day. It was hope that caused her to stretch out her fingers and touch the fringe of his cloak – a hope grounded firmly and solely in the person of God in Jesus Christ, the only place she could turn for hope when everything else in her body, in her life, and in her culture had let her down.
    • See this message of strength and joy in hope in Bethany’s story, too
      • After her failure at the regional competition, Bethany joined a mission team from her church – a group that was headed to Thailand after the tsunami that devastated most of southeast Asia on Christmas Eve day 2004. In the midst of all that devastation and loss and pain, Bethany made a connection with a young boy … through surfing. Imagine the impact of this: You have a country full of people who were suddenly and understandably terrified of the ocean – the place where they had once found food and livelihood and beauty – because it had just ripped away everything that they knew and loved: livelihoods, homes, people. Yet in the face of this uncertainty, discomfort, and fear, Bethany was able to begin to restore hope through her God-given gift: surfing.
        • Left Hawaii → viewed surfing with uncertainty, discomfort, and fear
        • BUT → returned to Hawaii with a greater, stronger hope
        • What caused this change? → Bethany’s hope wasn’t grounded in herself anymore. It wasn’t grounded in her own identity or abilities as a surfer. Instead, like the hemorrhagic woman, Bethany’s hope had become grounded in the God who gives us eternal and everlasting hope through the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
    • And this is the approach encouraged by our Scriptures for today – grasping at an audacious hope even in the midst of uncertainty, discomfort, & fear.
      • Ps says twice: Why, I ask myself, are you so depressed? Why are you so upset inside? Hope in God! Because I will again give him thanks, my saving presence and my God.[11]  → phrase starts out with challenge but instead of being defeated, psalmist clings to hope
        • Scholar: To hope in God means … that we know and articulate hope and despair simultaneously. … Even Jesus, who fully embodied dependence upon God, could not escape the disquietude of the soul [in the Garden of Gethsemane]. Neither shall we. The good news, however, is that neither shall we be able to escape the steadfast love and faithfulness of God … This is the source of our hope and, indeed, the hope of the world.[12]
  • Bethany’s story – conclusion
    • With a new hope grounded in her identity as a loved and forgiven child of God, Bethany returned from her mission trip with a renewed dedication to figuring out how to surf again.
      • Father adapted a board – easier to hang on
      • Trained harder than ever
      • And just over a year after the attack, Bethany took 1st place in the Explorer Women’s division of the 2005 National Championships.
    • Considering her injury, Bethany’s comeback was miraculous. But even her incredible professional surfing comeback pales in comparison to her personal Instead of shying away from the uncertainty and uncomfortableness of hope, Bethany grabbed hold with everything she had and hung on for what turned out to be an amazing ride.
  • And isn’t this what the next verse of “The Summons” expresses?
    • v. 3 – Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name? Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same? Will you kiss the leper clean, and do such as this unseen, and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?[13]
    • We’ve been ending each sermon of this series with questions, and the questions I want to leave you with today are inspired by this powerful verse: Will you hope for amazing things? Will you hope even when it looks like hope is lost? And will you ground that hope solely in our all-powerful and all-loving God – Creator of the universe and Redeemer of all? Amen.

[1] Phil 4:13 (NRSV).

[2] Ps 42:3, 9-10.

[3] Ps 42:6.

[4] Ps 42:9.

[5] Ps 42:1-2a.

[6] Heb 6:11.

[7] Heb. 6:17.

[8] Heb 6:19.

[9] Fred B. Craddock. “The Letter to the Hebrews: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 12. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1998), 78.

[10] Mk 5:24b-34.

[11] Ps 42:5.

[12] McCann, 854.

[13] “The Summons.” Traditional Scottish melody, words by John Bell. The Iona Community, Scotland, 1987.