7/6/2014 sermon: “Prisoners of hope”

Location: Episcopal Church of the Resurrection
Text: Zechariah 9:9-12
4Pentecost, Proper 9, year A

Prisoners of hope

For some reason, on my way to preach on our gospel lesson, I got sidetracked—fixated, even—on this little phrase at the end of our first lesson: “O prisoners of hope.” I know WHY I got sidetracked by hope: Hope allured me, given how we here at Resurrection are all in the process of deciding just how much hope to claim about the future of our congregation, the future of our church. So let’s spend some time today thinking about whether WE are “prisoners of hope.”
Our Old Testament lesson today is from the book of Zechariah. Zach was a latter-day prophet, as Jewish prophets go. He was from the time after the exile. The Israelites had been captives in Babylon for 70 years. The whole time they were gone, they had hoped God would allow them to return to the land that God had promised them. You know, the Israelites had hoped for the return of the Good Old Days. Aren’t we, at Church of the Resurrection, sympathetic to these exiles? Don’t we, ourselves, long for the Good Old Days?

What had those Good Old Days been like for the ancient Israelites? I envision a full temple, resplendent and fully functional. Why, I’ll bet the temple KITCHEN was fully functional, with a working dishwasher and sinks that drained. And the temple leader? HE knew how to lead! Well, at least he was pastoral. Very smart. Perfectly empathetic. I’ll bet he even beat the ambulance to the hospital! Yes, those Israelites must have remembered THEIR glory days, and longed for those Good Old Days to return.

But they were in exile. So this hope for the return of the Good Old Days must have been a very real, a very present, part of their lives. Their hope may well have imprisoned them, in a way, locked those ancient Israelites into a mindset about the Good Old Days. Hope was bound up in realizing a return to those Good Old Glory Days, just the way things used to be.

“But wait a minute,” you might well protest. “The Israelites weren’t imprisoned BY their HOPE. They were held captive by the Babylonians.”

That the thing about hope: Hope is portable, but not necessarily flexible. See, the Israelites in our lesson today were BACK HOME from captivity. They had been freed by God, working through King Nebuchadnezzar, and they had been allowed to return home. They had been given new life. Voila, their hope had been realized, right?

Well, not exactly, When the Israelites had returned home, what they had found was ruins all around them. Yes, they had rebuilt the temple, but the budget had been very, very tight. The temple was no longer the splendiferous thing that they had remembered, that they had hoped for. An ancient heating and air conditioning system, few children, maybe no organist for awhile. So, what were these people to do with their hope?

GoodOldDaysI’ll bet that those people of God despaired for a while. They had their hope, you know, and their hope didn’t match their reality. So I’ll bet that they gave their hope up, at least for awhile. At least long enough to realize that they had made their hope for the “Good Old Days” their G_O_D.

But, you know, these WERE God’s people. And God’s people are always people of hope, ultimately. Yes, we may rethink our hope when we discover that our hope has imprisoned us. Yes, we may rethink our hope when the mammogram comes back bad, or the PSA levels skyrocket, or the beloved pet gets really sick, or when homelessness looks more and more real a possibility each and every day.

At exactly these moments, these are the moments when we must reexamine our hope. Do we hope that we will never die? Or do we hope that we trust in God to the very end? Do we hope that our temple will have a certain look and feel and sound, or do we give thanks for having life and temple at all? In short, at moments like these we must examine whether we are prisoners of our hope, or prisoners WITH hope.

Zechariah names the hope that God has promised us: A Messiah, triumphant and victorious over death, who will usher in a new reality of peace. Zach promises that those who return their hope to God, return their hope IN God, that these will have their reality restored double.

Well, the very Messiah that Zechariah has prophesied has come to us already, some two millennia ago. And that very Messiah has promised us that he will return one day, and that we WILL have double: Not just this life, but life everlasting.

So I ask you, people of the Resurrection, are we prisoners of hope? Or are we prisoners WITH hope? What you YOU hope for? And what will you do—more importantly, what will you give—for your hope to be restored, for you hope to be realized?

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