There are times in our lives when we may have a hard time mustering up a sense of hope. When we look at the state of the church today, we may find it difficult to have hope for its future.
This year has been a struggle for many churches to stay alive. Following the Covid-19 pandemic, as churches resumed their in-person worship gatherings, many discovered a large gap between where their attendance was pre-pandemic and now post-pandemic. Even before the pandemic, attendance in churches had become a struggle. Times were changing. Our congregants were getting grayer, and fewer and fewer younger ones were taking their places. The commitment of people was waning, finances were sketchy, and there has been a pervading sense that the church’s best days were behind her. For those of us who are United Methodists, we also have been confronted with the specter of a huge split which threatening to divide us, and possibly bury us.
Who could fault those who have found it difficult to maintain a feeling of hopefulness for the future?
I believe this same sense of hopelessness is felt in our society in general. The news seemingly is filled with one down beat story after another. If its not political parties and politicians sniping and belittling one another, its horror stories of the inhumanity we are perpetrating on each other. Wars, violence, economic and environmental disasters looming.
Having hope in the midst of such awful realities doesn’t even seem possible to a great many.
This past Sunday was Ascension Sunday, where we are told in the first chapter of Acts, Jesus left behind the disciples as he ascended into heaven. The disciples had been through a lot. They had hope when they came to know Jesus. He was the Messiah, the deliverer. Although they got it wrong, they believed he was going to right all the wrongs they had had to live with for so long. They found a renewed sense of belonging in his presence. They had witnessed some truly awesome events. They also had seen their friend, their teacher, arrested, tried, tortured, convicted and eventually executed. If there was ever a reason to lose hope, that had to stand out as a prime example. Then Easter came and they began to hope again. Jesus was not dead, but alive. Jesus spent some more time among them. Now, Jesus has left them again. I’m thinking they had cautious hope for what might be. But they were told to wait on the Holy Spirit to come.
This Sunday we will celebrate Pentecost. This is where hope gets kicked into high gear. The disciples are empowered by the Holy Spirit, and their hope is realized in the spreading of the Good News.
Getting back to our predicament today. It would be so very easy for us to be hopeless. I’ve enumerated a number of reasons for many of us to feel as if the future is not bright, things are not going to get better, but rather continue to get worse. Here’s the thing, in every generation that has ever been, there has been a cycle moving us all from highs to lows. This is nothing new. Its in these times that seem hopeless and we may feel helpless, we are to call on the faith down deep inside of us.
We remember what we are told in Hebrews 11:1 “Now faith is the assurance of things HOPED for, the conviction of things not seen.” It is in times like we find ourselves right now that we need to turn to this faith the author of Hebrews is talking about. No, we may not see it in the here and now, but the church is not going to fail. We have a hope within us the world is longing for us to share with them. There are a great number of people who can only see the world as it is, not as the place it can be.
This is nothing new, the people in 1st century Palestine could only see what was right before them. Then an itinerant preacher from a backwater place dared to begin sharing the Good News from God that things could get better. The future depended on the people beginning to place love as their top priority. Jesus said if they would love God and neighbor, the world would become a different place, a better place, it would actually become the kingdom of God.
I want to urge each of us to not lose hope. Fresh winds are coming. The day of Pentecost will rush upon each of us if we open ourselves up. Know this, when days seem the darkest and most foreboding, that’s just when you can be assured the Holy Spirit is about shake things up. The best days of the church are not behind her. Your best days are not behind you. The best days of our world have not been realized yet.
Come Holy Spirit, Come!
Your fellow traveler on the Way,