Sermon, November 27, 2022

A Sermon


The Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton

Bradford Congregational Church of the United Church of Christ

November 27, 2022

“Living in Hope”

Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.

Matthew 24:44[i]

I have a confession to make.  The idea of Christ’s return is not high on my agenda.  I don’t give it much thought.  There are Christians who do.  I’m not one of them.  I suppose I’m more like Andre Trocme, a Huguenot pastor in Southern France who is credited with having led his little village of Le Chambon in saving over 3,500  Jews from deportation to the Nazi death camps.  He and his compatriots performed this task right under the nose of Vichy France.  He was arrested.  While in prison, some French Communists who were also prisoners asked the pastor if he believed in heaven.  He responded by telling them he didn’t know about heaven.  He was more concerned with doing God’s work in the here and now.  So it is with me.

            But I am a realist.  Given our proclivity to sin, the here and the now will always be flawed, imperfect and unjust.  I may like to think that I work for the betterment of the world and the people who live in it, but I can never fully know the outcome of any action I take.  History is replete with examples of how good intentions led to disastrous results.  So today, I am a chastened sceptic.  If I cannot see beyond the present to what God has promised, my life is deprived of hope.  So, here is my contention: there is no greater hope than living into the hope of Christ’s return, all of which raises the question “Why?” 

            First, Christ’s return leads to the fulfillment of the kingdom’s promise.  I said earlier that I am a realist.  I know that I am incapable of either perfect love or perfect justice.  This doesn’t mean that I should give up on both.  Just because I cannot achieve perfection does not excuse me from doing the possible.  Given the constraints of my finitude, I am called to pursue both love and justice.  But I also know that short of God’s perfect love and perfect justice they will never arrive.  Unless Christ comes again, all the efforts of humanity to fulfill the vision of Christ’s kingdom will fail.  Oh, we may move the needle, we may make progress.  Indeed, I think the era in which we live is far better than feudalism in the Middle Ages.  But I am a North American White, middle-class male.  Things undoubtedly look better to me than they do to many in this world who live under the thumb of oppression and the blight of poverty.  So, I hold this truth to be self-evident — namely, in Christ, in the Second Person of the Trinity, we find perfect love matched with perfect justice.  Without His reign being fulfilled, we are bereft of hope.  Christ’s return leads to the fulfillment of the kingdom’s promise.

            If my first point is Christ’s return leads to the fulfilment of the kingdom’s promise, then my second point is this — without transcendent hope, we are hopeless.  It was Brendan Rodgers who wrote:

I’ve always said that you can live without water for many days, but you can’t live for a second without hope.”

Do you buy that?  Do you think that despite its hyperbole, it is factually true?  I do.  Rob humanity of hope and we are doomed.  Right?   But to have genuine hope, one that will outlast the vicissitudes of life, it must be grounded on the transcendent. 

            Let’s see if this exercise makes the point clearer.  I am going to state a hope many of us have.  I hope my children will live happy, meaningful, and productive lives.  Sound familiar?  Most of us would state that as a hope for our children.  And that hope can come to fruition.  Right?  They be fortunate enough to live lives that are happy, meaningful, and productive.  But isn’t their happiness wrapped up with the happiness of their children?  I don’t think my son could be ultimately happy in life if his children lived in misery.  Just as my happiness in contingent on the happiness of my children, so my children’s happiness is contingent on all the generations that follow.  Get the point?  For hope of this nature to exist, for it to be possible requires a hope grounded on an unknown and unforeseeable future.  But more than that, this hope whether we recognize it or not, cannot be fulfilled if we cannot see beyond the immediate present.  To find hope’s ultimate fulfillment it must be pinned to the transcendent hope found in Christ’s return.  Only God can bring our futures to perfect fulfillment, so while I may hope for my children to live happy, meaningful, and productive lives, by extension I also am hoping the same outcome for generations yet to come.  Unless my hope is pinned to God it is not a realizable hope.  Our hope must be a transcendent hope.

            Third, there is no greater hope than living into the hope of Christ’s return because, in the end, the forces of evil cannot prevail against it.  There are, are there not, forces that would shatter hope?  The world and its principalities have interests that are counter to the interests of God.  Robert Frost wrote, “Something there is that does not love a wall, that wants it down,” and I would say, something there is that does not love our hope and  wants to tear it down.

            But in the promise of Christ’s return, we stake our hope on the One who thwarted Satan’s plan.  Paul wrote in his letter to the church in Rome these words:

If God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? 33Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us. 35Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?….37No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

My friends, there is no greater hope, no more enduring promise than living into the hope of Christ’s return.

            I started this sermon with a confession that the second coming of Christ is not the primary focus of my faith only to find that without it, I have no ultimate hope in the future.  So, I end saying, “Come, Lord Jesus, Come.”

[i] Matthew 24:36-44

36“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into.44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.