By Pastor Krista Givens
September 24th, 2017
A few weeks ago, the world stopped …. or seemingly stopped….as we all waited to witness… the world go dark. The solar eclipse of August 21, 2017 was a total eclipse visible within a band across the entire contiguous United States, passing from the Pacific to the Atlantic coasts. Prior to this event, no solar eclipse had been visible across the entire contiguous United States since June 8, 1918; not since the February 1979 eclipse had a total eclipse been visible from anywhere in the mainland United States. The path of totality touched 14 states, and the rest of the U.S. had a partial eclipse. (1) Many of my friends traveled to places to witness the event, including our own Linda and Carol – people drove across the country to get the best view of this event.
Around this time, in fact for weeks before, there were many stories about how to prepare for the eclipse: what to wear, where to stand, how to prepare…. Which made me chuckle because – well, for those of us not in the pathway, I imagined, there was not much to prepare for… it would get dark…and that was it! What’s to prepare for?
But this is coming from a person who was not expecting to see anything. A person who actually sat on her couch working on the computer and pretty much missed the whole thing! Except for some odd behavior by her dog, and a dimming of the outside sunshine, I may have forgotten all about it.
I bring this eclipse to our attention, because – often times – this is how we respond to the work of God. If we don’t know what to look for, how to prepare, we may miss God’s miraculous activity as we sit comfortably on our couch, distracted by our daily lives. We need to know HOW to recognize HOPE when we see it, how to prepare for God’s work so we can be ready – so we can be in the right place to get the best view.
Just as we may need help witnessing the amazing sight of a total eclipse… we also may need help recognizing HOPE in this dark world. So, today we will examine past occurrences, we will learn what to look for and we will discover which way to face when seeking HOPE in the dark night sky.
The first task is to figure out what HOPE is! Will we know it when we see it? Well, according to Wikipedia:
“Hope is the emotional state which promotes the belief in a positive outcome related to events and circumstances in one’s life. It is the “feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best” or the act of “look[ing] forward to with desire and reasonable confidence” or “feel[ing] that something desired may happen”. (2)
Hope is an expectation that something positive lies in our future. Hope is a belief in something good, something virtuous or redemptive can come from a bad situation. Hope is believing in something more than mediocre.
Why do we feel that way? I think part of the reason we believe in hope, part of the reason we can be hopeful is because we know the stories of the past. We’ve heard of how our parents and grandparents endured hard times, we’ve heard stories of miraculous survival and tremendous faith. We are the evidence of past HOPE.
So that leads us to our first step in Recognizing HOPE:
Step One: Uncover the Hope of the Past:
For one who has seen a total eclipse or heard stories of a total eclipse, when darkness covers the earth, that one should recognize it! Our scripture lesson today from Psalm 78 demonstrates this process: by revealing the actions of HOPE, the stories of faithful people and a loving God, we can believe that we, too, may have reason to be hopeful!
Psalm 78: 1-7
1”Give ear, O my people, to my teaching;” the Psalmist writes, “incline your ears to the words of my mouth.2I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old,3things that we have heard and known, that our ancestors have told us. 4We will not hide them from their children; we will tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.5He established a decree in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach to their children; 6that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and rise up and tell them to their children, 7so that they should set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments;
Author Nancy deClaissé-Walford explains: “The teaching of Psalm 78, the teaching to which the faithful should “give ear” (Psalm 78:1), is a teaching of hope in the goodness of God and a warning of the consequences of continual disobedience.
God called our ancestors in the faith out of Egypt into a new life of abundance in the land of promise. The people were called to undertake a difficult journey of faith. When they were afraid, when they despaired, and when they grumbled, God provided.… God gives each of us a path to travel and God continually provides for our journey. Our choice is to trust God to provide for the journey or to grumble at every turn in the road.” (3)
We can recognize the HOPE of our present by knowing how God has provided Hope to those in our past – in the lives of ancestors, our parents and family, even by looking at our own lives. How has Hope worked in the past? God has been working for a long time in the lives of his children: How can we tell the stories of HOPE as he commanded our ancestors to teach to their children; that our next generation might know them, the children yet unborn. That they will rise up and tell them to their children, so that we all (as verse 7 says) may set our hope in God.
We know HOPE because we’ve seen it in the past, we’ve heard the stories of HOPE from our tradition and our families. But there are so many different ways hope appears to us in our lives. So that leads us to Step Two in recognizing HOPE:
Step Two: Examine the Random and the Simple:
This step was actually derived from a comment a friend made when asked “What in this dark world gives you hope” and she answered: “Strange ‘coincidences’ that suddenly make life easier or happier.”
Coincidences may be just that – luck of the draw, the way things line up, the random acts of players – that lead to good or fortuitous results. But maybe not. What if the “random” events in our daily life are not so random? What if this person or that person was put in our path for a reason? To teach us something about ourselves? To guide us in an unknown direction? By examining the random, we discover patterns and signs of HOPE we may have been overlooking.
By examining the SIMPLE, we open ourselves up to the common joys in living. Recently I participated in a happiness experiment in which each day I listed seven things that make me happy…. And they were silly things, simple things, the smell of a candle, my bright purple blooming violets, the feeling of completion after I finish a project. The simple joys of life. This reflection on the simple helps to connect with the positive aspects of living that are ever-present and all-around!
In the 1856 work entitled “Aurora Leigh,” Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote the following words of wisdom, some of my favorite. Using the image of Moses and the burning bush, Browning reminds us that HOPE is ever-present, but we need eyes to SEE:
“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,
And daub their natural faces unaware…”
This is Step Three in Recognizing HOPE:
Step Three: Learn to SEE!
Like those gazing up into the sky, waiting for a the passage of sun and moon, perhaps at the we may witness this event and say “That was cool, the way it got dark. Now, when is the eclipse?”
We must believe Hope is present, and then learn how to identify it when we see it! How many times have we encountered it and just passed by? How many times have we encountered heaven, like a burning bush, and have opted to sit round it and pluck blackberries instead of recognizing it for the HOPE it is.
You may notice that I am using several terms interchangeably: Hope, Joy, Happiness and I will add one more: LOVE. Hope derives from the LOVE God gives us. Let me now point you to our scripture lesson from John, in which Jesus gives his disciples a new commandment:
12 ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. 13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. 16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. 17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.
Love – love that is self-giving, love that is abundant and growing, love that is faithful – has its eyes on the future. Inherent within the LOVE God offers is a promise – a promise to be present with us, a promise to guide and protect us, a promise of the future. And we can HOPE, because we believe in the promises of God. Hope is LOVE with a vision. Hope is LOVE turned forward. Hope is LOVE turned toward the future. Hope is LOVE that doesn’t end with death, or war, or anger, or fear. Hope is LOVE that endures until the end of this age.
May we who have been blessed with the great love of God, receive it into our hearts and believe it! May we who have been given this commandment to love one another and Christ loves us, LOVE not only others but ourselves and our futures. And may we recognize hope in the random and the simple, in the blazing fires and in the common bush, in the extraordinary and the ordinary and may we nurture that HOPE so that we may bear the good fruit of God’s great love.
- Found on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_eclipse_of_August_21,_2017.
- Hope, found on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hope
- Commentary on Psalm by Nancy deClaissé-Walford found on http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=8/2/2009&tab=5