"More Than a Wish"#85-11
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on November 12, 2017
By Rev. Dr. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour
(Q&A Topic:The Reason for Hope)
Copyright 2017 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14
Christ has risen. He is risen indeed. Sadness and sorrow, despair, depression, discouragement, disillusionment all wish to rob us of hope, which is why we rejoice. The Spirit turns us to Christ and says, "Here is your hope. In Jesus is the way to live every day." Thy grant we hear and place our hope in those words. Amen.
On January 13, 2016, the Powerball prize soared to a record $1.5 billion. Now $1.5 billion is a big number, but so is 292 million. One in 292 million was the odds against a person buying the winning Powerball ticket. To put that number into perspective, the odds of you being killed by an asteroid falling from outer space is only one in 74 million. Even though the odds against a person winning the Powerball was astronomical, people still bought more than 371 million tickets.
When asked to explain why, there were two responses. The first was, "Well, somebody has to win. Why not me?" The second reply was, "Because I believe where there's life, there's hope." Where there's life, there's hope. How's that for a deep truth? Well, I have to be honest and confess I'm not the first person to think of it. That credit is often given to a Roman statesman who lived during the days of Julius and Octavian Caesar. The man's name was Marcus Tullius Cicero, and while he wasn't the first to say those words, being a politician, he did take credit for it. Where there's life, there's hope.
Cicero proved the truth of the statement when on December 7, 43 BC, he was beheaded for having criticized Mark Anthony, a man who loved Cleopatra but hated being criticized. After both life and hope ended for Cicero, Anthony had Cicero's head and hands put on public display in the Roman Forum as a warning to others. Where there's life, there's hope.
From June 12, 1942, to August 1, 1944, Anne Frank kept a diary. In that diary, she recorded her thoughts and feelings about the war and her Jewish family's need to hide from Nazi persecution. Their hideaway was a number of small, secret rooms in an Amsterdam warehouse. When daytime workers were in the warehouse, the family had to try to maintain absolute silence. At night, when everyone else was gone, they could listen to the news being broadcast from London.
That's how it was when on June 6, 1944, they heard the official announcement, "This is D-Day. This is the day. The invasion has begun." That night, with guarded enthusiasm, 16-year-old Anne wrote in her diary, "Is this really the beginning of the long-awaited liberation, the liberation we've all talked so much about but still seems too good, too much of a fairy tale ever to some true? Will this year, 1944, bring us victory? We don't know yet, but where there's hope, there's life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again."
It took the Allied Armies some time before they were able to liberate Amsterdam. It was time that Anne and her family didn't have. Someone betrayed them by pointing out their hiding place, and on August 4, 1944, the family was arrested. As the European conflict was coming to a conclusion, so did life and hope for Anne Frank. She died at the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, sometime in February or March of 1945. Where there's life, there's hope.
Through different centuries, different circumstances and different situations, the expression has been used and shown to be true. Watch the young family. Hope has not deserted them. They hope for raises and healthy children, intelligent children and good neighborhoods and excellent schools and an ever-growing and deepening love in their marriage. They hope to find their forever house and some forever friends. Even in their 40s and 50s, hope is still around. They look forward to the kids flying free and being grandparents and finally getting to travel. Still, there is the growing suspicion that some doors of hope are now closed to them. No matter how hard they hope, it is highly unlikely they will ever win Olympic gold, and honesty compels them to confess the attainment of silver and bronze aren't much more likely.
Eventually, the time comes for us all when hope dims. Yes, it even dims for those unbelievable souls who skydive, run marathons, go rock-climbing, and swim the English Channel in their 80s and 90s. That time I'm talking about is the moment when they recognize that yesterday's possibilities are today's improbabilities. One by one, we see our friends march into the sunset, and every year our Christmas card list grows shorter. We ache in places we didn't know we had places, and our sound-as-a-dollar memories have become victims of recession. That's the bad news of getting older, and it gets worse. Such things don't always wait for older to come around.
Recently, I did a Daily Devotion about the last request of a woman in Ohio who was dying of pancreatic cancer. The day after that devotion was sent out, I received this e-mail. It read in part, "Pastor Klaus, I receive the Daily Devotions and I am also from Cleveland. Oh, I also have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was given 11 months to live. I was told to make peace with God, get my affairs in order, and when the time comes, I will be put into hospice and given morphine until the end." Where there's life, there is hope.
The physicians working with this individual have told him, "We are at a loss. Your illness has taken you beyond the scope of our knowledge and skill to heal." In short, the man has been told the grim reaper has his address, and his calendar has very few pages left to be turned. There is no hope.
If you look through scripture, you will find other people who have had hope snatched away from them by death. The Gospel of Luke speaks about two men, two followers of Jesus, who, after Christ's crucifixion were walking along the road, and as they walked, they talked about recent events. No doubt, they spoke of the highs all of Jesus' disciples had felt when he made his glorious entry into Jerusalem. Had that only been a week ago?
On Palm Sunday, the future had been bright. It was filled with the wonderful things everyone hoped would happen. Jesus had cleansed the temple. He'd straightened out his critics. It appeared there was nothing he couldn't do. Then came his betrayal, his trial, the lies, the beatings, the trumped-up charges, and the mob which had called for Jesus' death. One indignity was seeped on the one before, the crown of thorns, a whip, a cowardly judge, and the agonizing trip to Golgotha. The week which had begun with great hope was finished in darkness and despair. Jesus had breathed his last, and then had been hurriedly buried.
As the two men walked and talked, they were joined by a third. After listening for a bit, the stranger asked them to share what had happened. This the two travelers did. After they were finished, they summed everything up this way. They said, "But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel." Their words reflect the sadness and sorrow, the loss and loneliness Jesus' followers felt after Christ's death.
"We had hoped Jesus, one of God's mighty prophets, a man powerful in word and action, was the heaven-sent redeemer and rescuer of Israel. Yes, we had hoped that once, but not anymore. Our hope ended when the chief priest and our very own rulers delivered him up to our enemies and had him condemned to death on the cross. We had hoped things would be different, but we don't have that hope anymore. We had hoped a great many things, but our hopes died when Jesus died. Without a living Lord, there was no living hope."
Quite rightly, these two followers knew that having a dead messiah is the same thing as having no messiah at all. That, my friends, is the sum and substance of Christianity. If Jesus is dead, Christianity is dead. If Jesus is dead, we are still in our sins and are helpless to change our eternal destiny. If Jesus is dead, there is no hope. Thankfully, this message does not have to end with those downer words of desperation and despair.
As those two Emmaus travelers found out, Jesus was alive, really, actually, physically alive. In the weeks afterward, he would prove his defeat of death to other skeptical disciples. He would prove himself so thoroughly that the Apostle Paul would boldly proclaim, "But in fact, Christ has been raised from the dead. Jesus has been raised from the dead, and because he is, the lives and beliefs and hopes of all who acknowledge him as Savior and Lord are also changed."
If you are wondering changed how, give me some examples, I would have you hear what Saint Paul said to the Thessalonian believers. He begins by identifying a problem. He says, "But we do not want you to grieve as others do who have no hope." Hopelessness. Statisticians are telling us that many people, even in regard to this life, are without hope.
Look at the videos of students who are so overwhelmed by hopelessness, they feel justified in taking the lives of their classmates. Look at the Facebook pages of those who have been robbed of hope and bullied into suicide by their supposed friends. Look at our decades-old war on drugs, which has cost our nation billions of dollars. Look carefully and you will see it is a war against hopelessness. Those questions and others far deeper and more profound are the ones that Saint Paul addresses when he says, "I would not have you to be ignorant like those who mourn without hope."
Beginning with faith in the crucified and risen Lord, Paul wanted these people, God's saved people, to have their hope restored. He wanted them to believe that because the Christ lives, they would too. Even as Jesus had been given a glorified body, they would too. The risen redeemer gives hope, and not a feeble, frail, fragile kind of hope. This is hope based on knowledge, on fact, on proof, on the reality of the risen redeemer. Where there is life, there is hope.
Now the rest of the world, the unbelieving world, may not know what happens when they die. It is just one more of their unknowns. They're not sure. Do we just disappear into a void? Do we come around and try again? Do we become something else, someone else, anything else? There is no comfort, no reassurance in these unanswered questions. All they do is leave us standing at a gravesite without security, without sanctuary, without safety, and mourning as those who have no hope.
For believers, it is different. Jesus rose from the dead. He is the first to do so in this new covenant between God and man. He is first to be given a glorified body, but he is not last. On Judgment Day, he's going to bring with him all those who have already died in the faith, but these people, our people, our brothers and sisters and mothers and friends will not be as we remember them. Forgiven and saved, they will come back whole, perfect, forgiven. What will that look like? I don't know. All I can say is that they will be as God always wanted them to be, not as this world forced them to be. The ravages of illness, the pains of persecution, the sorrows of sickness will be gone, and we will be reunited. That is the future hope we are given in the risen Lord.
But there's more. A risen redeemer gives us hope for right now. As time wears us down, as the years take their toll, as we suffer pains and problems, believers know that these difficulties will not have the final word. Our memories may slip, our bones may crack, our eyes become less clear, and the volume of our hearing may be turned way down, but this is not the end. This is not our end. The Savior, who when he walked the earth, healed the sick, will do the same to all who come to him for healing of body, soul, and mind. This is also the hope we are given when we follow the risen Lord. Where there is life, there is hope.
Let's change that to where there is Jesus, there is life and hope. Earlier in this message, I read you a letter from a man who had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. His name is Ken Weidus and I had permission to share that letter with you. I'd like to share a bit more of what he wrote to me. He said, "Pastor Klaus, I receive the Daily Devotions and have been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and was given 11 months to live. I was told to make peace with God, get my affairs in order, and when the time comes, I will be put into hospice and given morphine until the end. That was 14 years, 5 months, and 17 days ago. I am still waiting to hear from God why he has given me a second chance. I just put everything in his hands and take it day by day."
My friend, why has the Lord given you a second chance? I wouldn't dare guess all of the reasons, but I do know that in your letter I hear an echo of Saint Paul, who wrote to the church in Philippi, "It is my eager hope that I will not be at all ashamed but that with full courage, now as always, Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain."
My friend, you have looked at death and you have lived life. Either one can rob people of hope, but you, like Paul, have become an example, an example of how to cling to the Christ, to the hope he gives. Two-thousand years ago, Paul said, "For me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." Last week you said, "I put everything in his hands and take it day by day." The words are different. The thoughts and the hope are the same. By God's grace, may others have this hope, what changes death and grave for tomorrow and for eternity.
In a desire to share that hope, I am emboldened to say to our listeners, if you would like to know more about this risen redeemer who is hope in a hopeless world, please call us at The Lutheran Hour. Amen.
Reflections for November 12, 2017
Speaker: Rev. Dr. Dale Meyer Title: The Reason for Hope
Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour, and that was Pastor Ken Klaus with a message titled More Than a Wish, and Dr. Dale Meyer joins us now.
Dr. Dale Meyer: I'm glad to be here, and thank you, Pastor Klaus, for planting the word hope in our minds. Hope is such a practical virtue for daily living. I remember a man I knew years ago, actually decades ago, and he was always complaining about something. What a downer. Wouldn't you rather be around a person who is genuinely filled with hope?
Mark Eischer: Well, I think so. How can we be that sort of person?
Dr. Dale Meyer: I think first, we focus on God, who has given us reasons to hope, the resurrection of Jesus, his promise to be with us at all times, and his word. Now that's all God's doing, but then you and I have to practice hope. Saint Paul says in Philippians, "It is God who works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure." When things are really looking down, a follower of Jesus will make a conscious decision to practice hope.
Mark Eischer: Tell us more about that practice.
Dr. Dale Meyer: Well, think about the language. The word hope is a noun. It names something, but in the Bible, hope is also a verb. In 1 Peter 1:13, the English translation says, "Set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ," but the Greek word here is not a noun. It is a verb, an action word, you hope, you do it. When things are really looking down, a Christian will make a conscious decision, "I am going to practice hope." Do that often enough and hope will start to become natural. That's the power of the word at work in us.
Mark Eischer: I'm wondering, though, what that practice is going to look like. Is it something that you say? Is it an attitude? Or is it the way you act out in situations?
Dr. Dale Meyer: In my own life, Mark, it means, first of all, grousing about all the problems I've got, kind of garbage in, garbage out, but then I go to the word, to the Bible, and it is amazing how so often those words of God kindle my hope. Psalm 42, for example, "Why art thou cast down, O my soul, and why art thou disquieted within me? Hope thou in God." It's a verb, and in my own experience I've got to take some quiet time and look at God's word where he changes my attitude and I speak with him in prayer.
Mark Eischer: You're describing something, though, that isn't easy.
Dr. Dale Meyer: Yeah, not at all, but let's change the way we think. Sometimes I will ask my seminary students if they want to sweep away the unwelcome feelings that people have, and hopelessness is one example. Dependably, they say, "Yes," and I say, "Wait a minute. Yes, in your sermons and ministries, you want to give hope, but don't pass over the fact that hopelessness needs to be appreciated for what it is. When we're feeling hopeless, it's an invitation to turn away from ourselves to the God of resurrection and hope in his word. Same way with grief. Same way with fear. When these feelings come upon us, we see our natural plight and should turn to God in hope."
Mark Eischer: Do we find encouragement for that in the Bible?
Dr. Dale Meyer: All over the Bible. One passage that pops into my mind is Romans 5, "We rejoice in hope of the glory of God." More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Mark Eischer: Dr. Meyer, in the time we have left, let's talk a little bit about something that relates to your real job as president of Concordia Seminary.
Dr. Dale Meyer: Yes, sir.
Mark Eischer: You recently published an editorial in the Concordia Journal that talked about the issue of low seminary enrollments, and that applies, I suppose, not only to our seminary in St. Louis but also to the one in Fort Wayne?
Dr. Dale Meyer: Yes. For those who don't know, the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod has two seminaries, one in Fort Wayne and the one where I work at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. Both seminaries are struggling with low enrollments, and the fact is, it's not just our seminaries; 55% of seminaries in the Association of Theological Schools are struggling with low master of divinity enrollments.
Mark Eischer: Really? What's causing it to be an issue now?
Dr. Dale Meyer: It's a relatively new problem. It comes for a number of reasons. One is the decline of religious activity and participation in the United States. People just don't think church is as important as it was when we grew up. There are issues of cost and time. Not everyone wants to pay for a quality education, and it does take some years. Fundamentally, it is a reflection of the times in which we live.
Mark Eischer: What effect will this growing shortage of pastors have on the local congregation?
Dr. Dale Meyer: It could be tragic. Last April, there were over 60 congregations that asked for pastors from the St. Louis and Fort Wayne seminary, and they got no one. Now put yourself into that congregation. You have people who come to church rain or shine. Unfortunately, you have people who have gotten out of the discipline of going to church, and they're not easy to bring back. The vast majority of congregational members, in my experience, are in the middle. They worship faithfully, but without a pastor, they could start to drift away. They could drift away from regular worship. They could drift away from getting the nourishment that God gives us each Sunday through his word and sacrament.
That doesn't mean that they automatically lose their faith in Jesus, but they certainly are increasing the likelihood that they will lose that saving faith. Worst-case scenario is they lose their eternal salvation. Low enrollments is really about the future of these congregations. The Lord instituted the holy ministry so that his people would be fed and gathered together, and I think this is one of the priority items for people who are in the church. I've asked our listeners to look at the people you know, look at your children and grandchildren. If they have the intellectual gifts and the personality to consider church work, please encourage them. Ask your pastor to regularly pray for the recruitment of church workers. There is a lot at stake, not only temporally but also eternally.
Mark Eischer: Are you optimistic, pessimistic? Where do you see it going?
Dr. Dale Meyer: I get around the church a lot, and I see a lot of people who are wringing their hands and furrowing their brows because congregations are shrinking, they are aging, and the outlook doesn't look hopeful to them, but as I deal with our students, I'm encouraged. The Lord of the church is raising these students up to be the earthly leaders of the church in the next generation. The best thing that we can do, who have a few years on us, is teach them, mentor them, encourage them, but we should never, never be pessimistic about the future of the church, because it's the Lord's church, and he's resurrected from the dead and is going to take us to heaven.
Continuing our discussion now with Dr. Dale Meyer. Next week's message is titled The Reckoning. What's it about?
Dr. Dale Meyer: I don't know how it is for you who listen, but I don't hear much talk about the fear of God anymore. If you don't in some way fear the creator who judges you, why would you love your only Savior whom God sends to save us? The fear of God is not just terror at judgment. It becomes awe and reverence that God actually does send us Jesus to save us. It'll be a message about fearing and loving God.
Mark Eischer: The Reckoning next week
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"Wake, Awake, for Night Is Flying" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)