April 21st, 2019 “Trusting Hope” Rev. Heather Jepsen
What is faith? What is hope? What does it mean to be a Christian, to trust in a God who holds our future? These questions have been rattling around in my head for weeks.
I don’t know about you, but for me this past winter was really difficult. Because of the surgery on my foot, I missed the chance to be outside in October and November. It was December by the time I started getting my life back and at that point the days were long and cold. And winter was only beginning. The season of snow and ice seemed to go on forever, and my heart so longed for spring. I was so ready to get back outside again. I was so hungry for change.
In mid-March when we finally got a hint of the season changing my heart swelled with hope. When the grass began to green and the sun began to shine, when I could open the windows and walk the dog, when I could see the daffodils begin to rise from the earth, my heart swelled with hope. And I was struck with my own faith. I knew without a doubt spring was coming. I could feel it in my bones and it made my heart soar. I was so full of hope and faith that the future would hold days of sunshine and warmth, flowers and joy, and the chance for me to be outside and hear the birds sing. Like a sunrise, hope filled my heart and life. I knew God had provided this future for me, and in the midst of that certainty I wondered why I didn’t always live like this. Why don’t I always trust and hope with such abandon?
In our Scripture reading for today, the followers of Jesus are in the midst of just such a struggle. They want to hope. They want to belive. And yet, they are unable to trust and hope with abandon. The women have gone to the tomb to attend to Jesus’ body. But when they arrive they find the tomb empty. Rather than filling their hearts with hope, this scene is confusing and frightening. Their fear is compounded by the arrival of dazzling men who ask why there are even there. “Why do you look for the living among the dead?” The visitors remind the women that Jesus already told them this story, God already held this future; Jesus has risen from the dead.
The women return to the other believers only to have the scene repeated. They tell the others about what they have seen, and yet their words are cast aside. It can’t be true, it is just silliness. The writer tells us they considered it an idle tale but the Greek words imply that they considered it delirium. These women have gone crazy; we don’t want to get our hopes up. And the followers did not believe the good news.
In our story for today, the followers of Jesus are struggling with just this issue of faith and hope. And the more I thought about it in this past week, the more I decided that this faith and hope are part our lives within two places. First there is the head faith and hope. These are the things we know, the things we profess to believe. This is where our intellectual understanding of God resides. I know God holds the future, I believe these things. This is what moves me through all the difficult spaces in my life; it’s what keeps me going.
I think this head faith and hope is what brought the women to the tomb that day. It is what made them prepare the spices and travel with the sunrise. These women were the benefactors of Jesus’ ministry. For years they had supported him and his followers from their own resources. These women were doing the work of the church, as women often do, and it was motivated by this head faith and hope. We just keep going, we just keep believing, we just keep looking for God, even on the days when our heart isn’t in it.
That’s the other seat of faith and hope, the heart. The faith and hope of the heart is so different from that of the head. It doesn’t make sense, it is free and wild, and it surges within us. The women felt this as they ran home from the tomb. Jesus had risen, the world was something new. God really could do amazing and wonderful things and Jesus really was all that they had hoped. Their hearts soared with this faith and hope. Like my heart soared with the coming spring.
Those who weren’t there, the other disciples, could not grasp such faith and hope. They only had that head response to God. I know what Jesus said, but I also know how the world works. I believe in miracles, but only so much. Their faith lived in their head and not in their heart that day and so, when they heard the truth about God, they couldn’t believe. It couldn’t make their hearts soar.
In my own life, I want to have more faith and hope in my heart. Just like my heart soared with the coming spring, I want my heart to soar every day with the wonder of creation and my faith in a God who is love. I want to remember that feeling of freedom and joy, and I want to live into every moment with that kind of hope for the future. For just as God held the future spring, just now blossoming all around us, so too God holds the blessings of our futures, waiting to be born.
This idea of trusting hope is not simply reserved for the church. Just a few weeks ago, scientists were able to take a photo of a black hole. For years scientists have studied the cosmos in the belief that such a place exists. A black hole, a place where matter is so dense it collapses on itself, a place where time and space cease to exist. This is a place where all that we call “reality” unravels. How could anyone believe such a story? Even Einstein himself thought this must be an idle tale.
And now, we know, without a doubt, that such a wonder is true. We have seen something we have only ever thought about, and it is incredible. Tell me this is not faith. Tell me that the moment of discovery was not filled with joy. Tell me that the hearts of these people didn’t soar at the wonder of creation. I imagine that finding this proof of a black hole was a moment when head faith and hope, became heart faith and hope. God’s creation is so wondrous, and as we continue to learn and grow, we continue to be astounded by all that God has made. It inspires heart faith and hope.
Another recent moment when faith and hope moved from heads to hearts happened with the burning of Notre Dame this week. Prior to its destruction the people of Paris and the world were proud of this church. They knew in their head what it meant to them and maybe they even loved the structure. But when the church was destroyed, their faith and hope moved down into their hearts. They grieved for something they may never have even thanked God for. And the outpouring of support to rebuild this place of love and devotion to God has been overwhelming; reaching nearly a billion dollars in just a week. That’s heart faith and hope. That’s trusting in a future that God holds, a future when that Cathedral will rise again from the ashes.
This Easter morning I invite you to consider where your faith and hope reside, in your head or in your heart. I know that in my own life, I find myself wavering. I don’t think either one is better than the other, and I think that realistically we can only ever be some of each, but I wish I lived with more heart faith and hope. As I mentioned, when I saw the first signs of the arrival of spring this year, I was filled with heart hope. I was so happy and so sure that God held my future and it would be good. My heart soared with hope. I wish I could live like that all of the time.
Last fall, when the Doctor told me that I had a tumor in my ankle, I did not have heart faith and hope. There were about two weeks there where I lived my life assuming the worst. In my head I knew that God held my future. In my head I knew that I would be OK even if I wasn’t OK. In my head I had faith and hope. But in my heart I was afraid. I imagined a future with cancer. I imagined chemo and radiation, I imagined never being able to play the harp again, and I lived into that worry. What a waste that was! God held my future, and it wasn’t easy but I was fine. Even if it had been cancer, I would have made it, God held that future too. Why couldn’t my heart believe what I knew in my head to be true? Why did I cause myself needless suffering with my worry?
The Easter story is one that has the power to touch our hearts with hope, if we let it. We can all agree with our heads that this is the story we tell, Jesus risen from the dead. This is the core of our faith. And we can see the proof of this story echoed everywhere. From the spring flowers that come from the frozen earth, to the life cycle of the butterfly, to our own cycles of death and rebirth. God is always making a way where there is no way. God is always bringing new life into dead places. That is who God is. That is what God does. This story has the power to touch our hearts with hope like no other.
So what would it mean to trust in God’s promise of the future? That just as God holds the blooming spring in God’s hands, so too God holds a blessed future for us. It may be a future with pain and suffering, that was certainly the road ahead of the apostles, but it is also a future with blessings beyond measure. What would it mean to trust God with such abandon, that our hearts soar with this faith and hope? What would it mean to truly believe, not just with our heads but with our hearts that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. What would it mean to truly live into hope each and every day?
I hope this Easter morning that this conversation of faith and hope can resonate with you. That inside your head you can understand and embrace these stories. And that maybe, inside your heart, a seed can be planted, that will blossom into something more. God holds each and every day of our lives. Our past and our future. And God loves us. May our hearts rest in this faith and may our hearts soar with this hope. May we trust in our God to be with us and bless us today, tomorrow, and forever. Amen.