Anchored in Hope
A Sermon Preached in Trinity Chapel, Kennebunk Beach, Maine, on July 17, 2011
By The Rev. Dr. Leander S. Harding
I was sitting in the chapel this week saying my prayers and working on my sermon when counselors and children from the program at the Kennebunk Beach Improvement Association across the street came by to see the flowers and plants in the memorial garden. I invited them into the church and they had many questions. I was asked to explain some of the things we have here. Two things I explained were the anchor emblazoned on the front of the altar and the Christus Rex above the altar—the crucified and risen Lord, our high priest and king who reigns over the world he has saved.
The anchor is a symbol of one of the three supernatural Christian virtues, faith, hope and love. Typically the cross is the symbol for faith; a heart, sometimes on fire, is the symbol for love; and the anchor is the symbol of hope. Amidst the storms of life, we do not lose hope. Our hope is anchored in the Lord both here and hereafter.
Hope requires belief in promises and belief in promises requires belief in a story that is true. For the promise is that the story will end well and the Christian conviction is that we know the end of the story and at the end His Kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven. Sin and evil and death have their time, appear at times to have the upper hand, but they are doomed. We are living in the middle of the story, in the middle of the suffering that St. Paul talks about in today’s reading from Romans. It is a suffering that comes not only from living in a world where we must deal with the consequences of sin, not only the sin and wickedness of other people, but our own sin and wickedness, and also the mystery of evil which is super-personal, that which the Bible calls the evil one and the enemy of our souls. We suffer from the consequences of evil but we also suffer from our longing for what should be and what we know on the basis of our Bible- formed hope will be.
The promise of the Bible is that both we and the heavens and the earth will be made new. Death, both physical death and the spiritual death which is our alienation and our hostility with God and with each other and with God’s good creations will be overcome. Death will have no more dominion over us. It will be a new humanity in a new heaven and new earth. Like the saviour and through Him by His living in us and our living in Him we will have resurrection bodies—a mystery which St. Paul talks about in the First Letter to the Corinthians. It means at least this, bodies able to perfectly express love for God and for each other and all that God has made. The earth as beautiful as it is will be new. Death and violence and cancer will no longer be natural. It will be a new Eden and we will be at home and caught up in wonder, love and praise.
In the Gospel today there is a parable of the final judgment. It is part of the Christian story and part of the good news of the Gospel that there is a final judgment. There is evil in the world and evil in us — we are living in the time of redemption — the time for God’s saving and sacrificial love to do its work. Evil will not be tolerated forever. It will be finally and completely rooted out in the final judgment.
The good news is that, to borrow a phrase from another parable, the judge is our friend and has given Himself to be judged in our place. He is not only the judge, he is also our mediator and advocate. As St. John says, “If any man sin we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous and He is the satisfaction for our sins and not for our sins only but for the sins of the whole world.” It is our advocate, mediator and friend who is the unseen Lord of all and who comes to establish His rule on earth as in heaven.
This is in very brief outline is the Christian Story—the true story of the world—the true story of God’s dealings with his creatures. It is a story full of promises and hope. It is promised that sins will be forgiven, that evil will be conquered, that hearts and minds and wills and relationships will be remade. It is even promised that there will be a new heaven and a new earth, a new creation, and creation itself longs for this day.
We believe the story and the promises because they have been revealed to us. The author of the play Himself has appeared on stage to tell us the true meaning of the drama in which we find ourselves. We believe the promises and therefore live in hope also because we have received what St. Paul calls in Greek, an arabon. It is a commercial term and it means earnest money, a down payment, a first installment of the promises of God.
This down payment is the gift of the Holy Spirit. Last week I talked about how in the New Testament it is not body and spirit that are opposites but flesh and spirit. Flesh is the entire human person, body and spirit, in rebellion, turned away from God. Spirit is the entire human person turned toward God in repentance, worship and obedience by the sacrificial love of the saviour. When we turn to Christ and lay hold by faith of the costly love and mercy that He extends to us, He gives us His Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a spirit of freedom, a spirit to assist us to overcome the sin which pulls us down. The Holy Spirit is not a spirit of fear but of adoption, a spirit that lets us join with Jesus in His prayer and say, “Our Father.” The Holy Spirit bears witness that we are children of God and heirs with Jesus Christ of all the promises of God. In this world where the wheat and weeds grow together we have the first fruits of the life of the world to come—God’s down payment testimony of the things to come.
There is a pre-eminent place where we experience the first fruits of the Spirit who brings in God’s future and that is in the Holy Eucharist. Here we meet the crucified and risen Lord who reigns over us as our King and welcomes us to the one and same feast of the Kingdom which is coming, who pronounces our sins forgiven, who shows us His hands and His side and breathes into us His peace and His life, as He did to the Apostles in that upper room after the resurrection. Here bread and wine and the things of this world are transfigured in the light of the world to come. Here at least for a moment at peace with God and each other, worshiping God in the beauty of holiness, lost in wonder, awe and praise, things are very nearly as they should and will be. It is the currency of heaven, the true tender and a real installment if not the final settling of accounts. We can come away with faith renewed in the promises of God anchored in the hope of the Gospel.
Now to bet on this story—to live on it and into it as the one thing needful in life is very counter-cultural. To borrow a phrase from the theologian Robert Jenson, we live in a world that has lost its story. For a long time our culture has attempted to have a story without an author. Having lost the author you finally lose the story and without the possibility of a true story, a plot that gives meaning to life, promises become impossible and so we should not be surprised at the trust that is broken on every side.
The hopelessness and despair into which our culture has fallen as it has become overwhelmed by skepticism and disbelief is brilliantly captured in the play by Samuel Beckett, “Waiting for Godot.” The play consists of the dialogue between two characters. The whole point of the play is that nothing happens, there is no story and no plot and therefore no hope. There are just pitiful, absurd characters who mistakenly think that anything could actually happen.
Dear brothers and sisters, let us not live as though we were characters in a play without a plot. We know better than this. For to us has been revealed the story of God’s dealing with His creatures and to us has been revealed the promises of God and to us has been given the first fruits of the Spirit. Let us not live according to the flesh, turned away from God, but according to the spirit which has been given to us at such great price. Let us live as children of the victorious King who has conquered on our behalf, who reigns in love, whose promises are true and who will come to judge the living and the dead, and of His Kingdom there will be no end. Amen.