Abounding in Hope

A sermon preached at Calvary Presbyterian Church in San Francisco, CA by Rev. Marci Auld Glass

October 31, 2021

Romans 15:13-14

1 Chronicles 29:1-22

The Books of 1st and 2nd Chronicles were written as one book, with the intent to tell the story of God’s people from the beginning of time through the beginning of the Persian Empire, around 550 BCE. In our bibles, it is broken into two books, sort of like why the new Dune movie is only part one of the book. It’s a big story and 2.5 hours is already a long time to sit in a theater.

The Books of Chronicles are a sort of “Dummy’s Guide to World History” for the Hebrew people, telling again some of the other stories we read in scripture, but with particular theological aims—to remind God’s people who have known exile and loss that God is still active in their lives, even when their kings and their temples fall.

And the context of this story we heard this morning really matters, because their kings and their temple had fallen.

Joann preached this summer about another account of Solomon building the Temple. In the Chronicles account, David calls the people together to lift up his son Solomon to be the next King, and he calls people to give so Solomon can finally build a house for God.

Here, in response to a huge free will offering to build the Temple, David says, “‘But who am I, and what is my people, that we should be able to make this freewill-offering? For all things come from you, God, and of your own have we given you. For we are aliens and transients before you, as were all our ancestors; our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no hope. O Lord our God, all this abundance that we have provided for building you a house for your holy name comes from your hand and is all your own.”

God is the source of all power, as well as the source of all wealth. David makes clear that we are entirely dependent upon God. David quotes Leviticus 25, where God says “the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants” (25:3)

To the original community addressed by these chronicles, recently returned from exile, these words would have had a deeper resonance, perhaps, than we hear from them.

By rebuilding the Temple, they weren’t doing God any favor, as though God needed their worship or their labor. Though God doesn’t need anything from us, we give and we labor to show our love to God. All of our lives are gifts to God in thanks and in response to the gifts from God.

The Chronicler picks up a strand through scripture that we see particularly in books like Ecclesiastes. “Our days on the earth are like a shadow, and there is no hope,” David says here. David says this not to depress people, but to remind them that their hope can’t be in just themselves. Their hope has to be in God.

Human schemes fail and come to an end. God’s work endures and brings life.

The huge offering of bulls, lambs, and rams is extravagant, sacrificial, and costly, but is also joyful, and not a day of deprivation. It is a reminder that since everything they have is from God in the first place, it is joyful and hopeful to give back to God.

God has provided in the past. God is providing even now, as they return from exile, and God will provide in the future they haven’t seen yet.

Our days are like a shadow and there is no hope.

That line of David haunts me, a little.

I think we’re in a bit of a hope crisis in our culture right now. I’ve heard people say they are giving up hope, or that they can’t see anything that makes them hopeful. I hear it when people say the problems of the world are too big and nothing ever changes, so why would I get involved and do anything? Have you noticed it? The despair, the hopelessness around us?

It makes sense, in some ways. We’re exhausted after 20 months of a global pandemic, tacked on to a longer period of political gerrymandering which has led to division, and makes us feel our voice isn’t being heard by elected leaders (because it often is not being heard by our elected leaders). And we still haven’t addressed chronic issues of gun violence, access to health care, and racism. Then add to that human effects on our planet and our climate, leading to changes in weather patterns, health patterns, etc.

Oof. When I say it all at once, it makes me want to take a nap.

The problems of the world feel overwhelming.

We want to just be whelmed for a while, don’t we?

The Hebrew people, our ancestors in faith, knew despair too. They were pawns in a global battle for land and power. The Assyrian Empire had taken their land and autonomy, to be replaced by the Babylonians, and then the Medes. Now Cyrus, the leader of the Persian Empire is on the throne. And he’s allowed people to return to their lands from exile, but the centuries long experience of conquest was still active, even if they were back in their ancestral homeland.

And the Chronicler hearkens back to the story of David to remind the people of the Good Old Days, even if they weren’t always that good. David, an imperfect and flawed man, loved God and here in this story, leads people into a huge act of praise and hope.

They may still be under foreign occupation, and they will still surely have challenges, but by coming together, they can build something. Standing alone in despair, there’s not much they can do.

And I like that David is the leader we’re given, even with his many faults. Because we’re reminded we can’t wait for a perfect person to show up and fix things. There are no flawless people. There’s just us.

God isn’t waiting for us to be perfect before we get to it. God knows who we are, loves us through it, and puts us to work rebuilding the world, rebuilding temples to glorify God.

I was in San Antonio last weekend, to visit my son Elliott and to attend my 30th college reunion. And I went to college with the best people, so being able to connect my children to my college friends brings me great joy.

Elliott and I had lunch with my friend Anne, and while I had no ulterior motives in scheduling that lunch, as the conversation unfolded, I realized how important it was for the two of them to meet. Because while Anne can seem like a cynic, she is one of the most hopeful people I know. She tirelessly works to make her community and our world a better place. She registers voters. She figures out what changes she can make in her own life to help our planet and then she makes those changes. She’s a connector. She sees a need in the community and then connects with the people who can help that need.

Last winter, when Texas had that huge ice storm, Anne mobilized. People were without power and water. It was near freezing in their houses. She made sure her elderly neighbor was able to safely get across town to stay with a friend who hadn’t lost power. She helped people distribute what they had to help others.

And Elliott needs to know people like Anne. She asked him at lunch if he was active in politics, because she knows that I am. And he voiced a version of ‘no. Nothing seems to change, so I try not to pay attention to it.’

None of you know my friend Anne, but I bet you can guess she wasn’t going to accept a response like that.

In her quiet and kind way, she told him that while that is an understandable view, the truth is that change is small, and that we only can change the big things by starting with the little things.

You know the old joke—how do you eat an elephant?

One bit at a time.

Friends, despair makes sense. It is easy to be buried under the pain of the world, and our worries about an unknown future. But as Christians, we aren’t in the despair business. We’re in the hope business.

I’m not talking about pollyanna, pie in the sky false optimism that pretends things are fine when they aren’t.

To be Christian is to be our imperfect human selves, and to join with other imperfect humans to practice what we’d like the world to be like. That’s the hope business. To recognize that human schemes fail and will come to an end. God’s work endures and gives life.

Why are we here? I mean that both in terms of today—why are you worshiping in the building or online? There are other things we could be doing today, like brunch, or sleeping in—two things I love to do. Why are you here, now, this morning? And I also mean it in the bigger sense—why did our ancestors in faith build this big ol’ beautiful building in San Francisco more than 100 years ago, moving it to this location, from Union Square, brick by brick?

Why are we here?

We’re here for community, to recognize our human experience in the lives of others, and to find support for our lives through the love of others. We’re here to worship, to offer praise and prayer and thanks to God in spoken liturgy, in sublime music, in majestic beauty, and in silence. We’re here, wondering if we can find hope because we’re exhausted by the despair of the world.

Each of us can do little things and can make a difference in the world the way my friend Anne does. And we should do that. I’ve seen you do that. We’re called to keep doing that.

And there are things that all of us, together, can do to amplify hope to a world lost in despair. Today we are dedicating our pledges for the upcoming budget year, and like the people in the book of Chronicles, the gifts we give are joyful claims of hope—reminders to the world that God is still active and working in our world for good.

Our family is increasing our pledge this year, as a joyful act of faith, a reminder that together we can use this beautiful temple we’ve inherited to worship and be renewed so we can go out into the world and amplify hope.

Our stewardship theme, “Abounding in Hope” is from the book of Romans, where Paul lifts up some of the themes we see from the Chronicler. We belong to God and our lives are lived in gratitude for that. Earlier in the book, Paul says “We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or we die, we are the Lord’s”.

Paul calls the church in Rome to live in unity, despite their differences and their challenges. Whether Jew or Gentile, Republican or Democrat, Giants or Dodgers fans—whatever might separate us, taking us away from community, taking us away from worshiping God together—we are called to join together to hope. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Hope is our common language that transcends our divides.

In truth, we’ve been abounding in hope for a while now. During the pandemic, when we had to worship only online, it was your hope that supported the staff to create worship videos. It was your hope that continued to support our Matthew 25 partners for change so they could continue their ministries during lockdown. It was your hope that kept the faith that brought us to this moment.

Today is Halloween, and we hope you’ll stick around after worship to join the Fall Festival and cheer on the kids as they trick or treat.

Calvary presents “Harry Potter and the Good News of the Gospel!”

Today is also Reformation Day, when we mark the moment when our ancestors in faith called on the medieval roman church to reform, to live more fully into hope and into the call God has put in our lives.

Martin Luther, one of the early reformers, could have decided the troubles facing the church were bigger than he could take on. He could have continued to just serve his people and do his work. But he felt called to speak out and call the church to do better. He once said, “even if I knew the world would fall to pieces tomorrow, I would still plant a tree today”.

Planting trees are an important act that creates the world we want to see. Our ancestors here planted a tree by building this building, even if they didn’t quite know how it would bear fruit. We are working to maintain it (and repair work on the front entrance should begin very very soon) so it can bear fruit for future generations. What trees do we want to plant today as signs of hope that will feed and nourish people in the future?

I am still having to spend more energy on how to just get through these covid days and I can’t quite picture the future with any certainty, but I want to keep planting trees of hope. The leaders of this church, the Session, Deacons, and Foundation, are working hard to guide us and lead us into that unknown future, being responsible stewards of the gifts you give, encouraging you to give of yourselves in support of your community, providing for meaningful worship and education programs, supporting the staff, and so much more.

We all pray you can give joyfully and generously, abounding in hope for our future, even if we can’t quite see it yet. I feel so fortunate to have been called here to work alongside you. I look forward to what we can do, to what God is even now dreaming for us. Let’s plant some trees.

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