11 October 2016

Hope, where is it? A Yom Kippur message


G’mar Chatimah Tovah. May you be inscribed and sealed at the end for good. That’s one of the best greetings on this holiday. Of course, when I grew up the greeting was “good yontif.” And then we wish each other an easy fast. And a common reply as we ponder not eating for 25 hours is “I hope so!” Everyone from Desmond Tutu to Albert Einstein to another 10,000 quick find entries has a comment about the idea of hope. Mumford and Sons, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, John Longmire and Jason Day…everyone has a hope and a dream and a quote on Wikipedia, or so it seems.

Ask for a quote on emotion or Sydney Swans, or a quote on wisteria or bottle brushes and you will find hundreds, but type in ‘hope’ and this request will garner 10,000 before I can even finish clicking my computer’s “Find” button. Here’s one: “We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” Martin Luther King, Jr. And another from the wife of the current US president, “You may not always have a comfortable life and you will not always be able to solve all of the world's problems at once but don't ever underestimate the importance you can have because history has shown us that courage can be contagious and hope can take on a life of its own.” -Michelle Obama.

On Sunday I sat with some friends in Collaroy and learned that one of them was working on her Ph.D. in clinical psychology on the theme of ‘hope.’ This seriously excited me. And my excitement added to her excitement. She wanted to know my definition of hope. Hmm, I don’t know that I’ve ever really processed a singular definition of that. So I tried. And failed miserably. I know it’s a concept for a future. I know it’s related to faith, but is somehow distinct from it. Let me ask you—how would you define the word ‘hope?’

John Piper gave a sermon 30 years ago in which he wrote this, “Richard Sibbes, one of the great old Puritan preachers of Cambridge who died in 1635, wrote a whole book (175 pages) on Psalm 42:5. He was called “the sweet dropper” because of how much confidence and joy his sermons caused. He called his book The Soul’s Conflict with Itself, because in Psalm 42:5 that is exactly what you have, the soul arguing with itself, preaching to itself. “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me? Hope in God!”

Hoping in God does not come naturally for sinners like us. We must preach it to ourselves, and preach diligently and forcefully, or we will give way to a downcast and disquieted spirit.” (http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/what-is-hope) In this sermon Piper says that the English term “hope” is used in three senses:
1) a desire for something good in the future,
2) the thing in the future that we desire, and
3) the basis or reason for thinking that our desire may indeed be fulfilled.

All of these seem to include a bit of uncertainty. And I tried to share this with my mate on Sunday. But biblical hope is fixed, like an anchor for our soul (Hebrews 6.19), like a helmet which is sure, and that guarded a Roman soldier in First Century Judea (1 Thessalonians 5.8). Piper says biblical hope is “A confident expectation and desire for something good in the future.”

I like that. And I agree with that. Confidence because it WILL come to pass. That’s good hope. That’s biblical hope. During the last 15 months I’ve been watching albeit from afar the activity of the US presidential election process. For months candidates try to line up endorsements and gather funds enough to last the distance. They seek to gather friends who actually might end up opposing them and their posturing and jockeying is a marvel to behold.

At the end of last year the actual voting in the primary season began. It’s rather like our finals series in footy. Some candidates were eliminated in the opening contests and thus were out by February, while others lasted a bit longer. Now we are down to two major party candidates and two lesser knowns.

And many are hitching their wagons to the candidacy of one or the other. That’s what they call ‘hope’ but for me it’s just wishful thinking. As we have seen with the plebiscite or the greyhound races, with the GST or immigration policies, what may seem likely might end up tossed aside, as politics is more like a horserace than some would like to admit. Think Melbourne Cup.

Tonight begins Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. And tonight we have sung and prayed, confessed and admitted fault. We have apologized to God for many things. Let’s talk about the idea of apology for a while. The definition is either:
1) a formal expression of regret at being unable to attend a meeting or social function.
2)
a very poor or inadequate example of or an excuse for, inadequate example of, poor imitation of, poor substitute for, pale shadow of, mockery of, caricature of "a dire apology for a decent flat"

I am thinking of Mr. Trump’s apology on Friday last week. He said this, “If I have offended anyone, I’m sorry.” This might be best characterized as a non-apology.

Utah Republican Sen. Mike Lee offered Fox 13 this observation: "That was an apology for getting caught. That was not an apology for the behavior."

The Huffington Post’s Paige Lavender, who is a Senior Political Editor, wrote, “While some were surprised that Trump had issued his “first apology,” many on Twitter noted that he didn’t actually apologize for his comments, which could be interpreted as the Republican presidential nominee encouraging sexual assault.

Huffington

Rather, Trump said he was sorry some people had taken offense ― not for being offensive.”

I remember televangelist Jimmy Swaggart’s confession “I have sinned” when he was caught out in 1987 with a prostitute.

And I think of Deborah Levi’s four theses on apologies:
Deborah Levi offers the following possibilities:
1) Tactical apology—when a person accused of wrongdoing offers an apology that is rhetorical and strategic—and not necessary heartfelt
2) Explanation apology—when a person accused of wrongdoing offers an apology that is merely a gesture that is meant to counter an accusation of wrongdoing. In fact, it may be used to defend the actions of the accused
3) Formalistic apology—when a person accused of wrongdoing offers an apology after being admonished to do so by an authority figure—who may also be the individual who suffered the wrongdoing
4) Happy ending apology—when a person accused of wrongdoing fully acknowledges responsibility for the wrongdoing and is genuinely remorseful

So let me ask… what is Yom Kippur for you? What kind of apology do we offer tonight? Have we really sinned in all those ways for which we said, “May it be Your will, O Lord our God and God of our fathers, to forgive all our sins, to pardon all our iniquities, and to grant us atonement for all our transgressions.”

Did you repent? Will you repent yet?

You might say, “But I didn’t sin as badly as Donald Trump.” Or you say, “I don’t believe God cares enough about me to even notice me” or you might say, “I repented last year; that ought to be enough.” Look, you can say anything you want, and you can make God to be your servant or to be your judge or you can be his judge by saying, “Nothing changes in the world when people pray.” Each of us has to deal with our own apology and our own hope in response to who we think God actually is.

Listen to this from the aforementioned Psalm, Psalm 42.

“My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
The psalmist is saying, “when people insult me, when they taunt me about faith and my religion, that it makes me really sad. And that sadness sometimes makes me feel like giving up.” So the psalmist says.

Look what follows in verses 6-7: “O my God, my soul is in despair within me; therefore I remember Thee from the land of the Jordan, and the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep at the sound of Thy waterfalls.” No matter where the psalmist finds himself, in the midst of his despair, he decides to remember the Lord, and to call upon His name. That is a function of hope. Finding the USB stick or looking at the words on our doorposts, listening to a faith-filled song or hymn… all of these are useful to remind ourselves of the One who bought us and gives us eternity.

Then finally for the 2nd time in verse 11 (and there will be one more reminder/ chorus in chapter 43), we read, “Why are you in despair, O my soul? and why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him, The help of my countenance, and my God.” The psalmist concludes his aches, his hopelessness, his wondering with a challenge to his own soul. He says to himself, “Hey, it’s bad, but there’s something much worse. It’s the despair of being alone, far from God, and away from His personal attention. The sons of Korach who wrote this particular psalm are saying that their countenance is fallen, but God will raise their heads. Things may look bleak but without God they are bleaker still.
Hope, that’s the ticket. Hope in the living God who will make all things better and for His purposes.

And this is not only for us Jewish people. When God will send His servant, His messiah, listen to what Isaiah predicts will happen.
“Behold, My Servant, whom I uphold; My chosen one in whom My soul delights. I have put My Spirit upon Him; He will bring forth justice to the nations. He will not cry out or raise His voice, nor make His voice heard in the street. A bruised reed He will not break, and a dimly burning wick He will not extinguish; He will faithfully bring forth justice. He will not be disheartened or crushed, Until He has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands will wait expectantly for His law.” (Isaiah 42.1-4)

Let me ask you, Who are the coastlands? Matthew answers that question in his biography of Yeshua in chapter 12, “AND IN HIS NAME THE GENTILES WILL HOPE.” (.21)

So whether you are like me, a Jew, tonight here at our Kol Nidre service, or you are a Gentile, even watching on the internet on Facebook Live, either live or later on our video channel, even on YouTube, this word is true. God wants to give you hope. And our biggest battle is often inside our own head and heart. We know ourselves, and we know the depth or the shallowness of our own apologies. We know we are not the most authentic believer out there. We have failed. We have sinned. And then we say, “Wait, I’m a believer. I’ve been a believer for decades. How could I have fallen so far? How could God even begin to consider forgiving me?”

Here’s the deal. Grace and hope are sisters in the same family. Without grace, you are right to beg the default position of failure. You have failed God; you will fail Him again next year. Maybe with different sins, but you will fail again. That’s not an excuse to carry on. It’s the reality of our humanness. AND YET…

God wants to give us hope. Real hope. Not hope with uncertainty. But biblical hope. Assurance. The reality of a confidence in the Almighty that is not braggadocio nor false humility. It’s about knowing who He is, and what He has done, and what He will do on our behalf.

Listen to this from Rabbi Saul of Tarsus, in his letter to the Roman believers, “Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” Thanks be to God, amen?

What does not disappoint? Hope. Why? Because of God’s awesome love poured out into us by the Holy Spirit. We have His Spirit. He loves us. We are His. Hallelujah!

God wants to give us hope. And on that you can bank your apology and your Final Prayers tonight. In a few minutes we will hear the sounds of the shofar blast. And remember, we heard it 100 times on Rosh Hashanah. That introduced us to the 10 days of Awe. Now we will conclude them. And with the conclusion we are not wishful thinking about the Almighty. We are serious that He has forgiven us in Yeshua. And we are justified, that is, declared righteous, just as if we’d never sinned, because of our faith in the death of Messiah, the love of God poured out on a Roman cross, to give us all eternal life.

No wonder when the shofar sounds, the long t’kiah g’dolah, we will shout Hallelujah and we will rejoice. We are forgiven! If you have never received Yeshua as your messiah; if you have never professed faith in Him publicly, then why not do that right here and right now? You might be watching in the privacy of your apartment or on a public computer. No matter where you are, or who you are, you might even be running for state government, or be a candidate for US president—real hope is not mixed with any uncertainty. God sent His only Son to earth, to live and teach, and then to die on a cross to grant us justification, to forgive our sins, and to bring us to Himself. Say “Yes” to Yeshua now. Invite Him to be Lord of your life. Agree with Him that you are a sinner and that He alone can save you. That will give you a hope which will never disappoint. Now and forever.

If you want some words to say, try these, “Father in the name of Yeshua, I’m sorry. Really sorry for my sins. I don’t deserve your love. I don’t deserve your forgiveness, but those who believe in you say you want to forgive me and be in relationship with me. So I receive your love and grace. I believe Yeshua (Jesus) is the Messiah and Lord of life. I acknowledge His grace and want His help to walk this out, tonight and from now on. Thank you for saving me. Thanks for your love. Amen.”

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