sermon

Holding Fast to Hope

Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.

November 18, 2018

Text: Hebrews 10:23, O.T.: I Samuel 2:1-10, N.T.: Hebrews 10:11-18

            The author of Hebrews writes about the blessings of God’s hope in Jesus Christ. Christ has left this world for the new world of eternal life. Christ has given us hope through forgiving our sins from the Cross and has shown us the promise of eternal life in the world beyond the grave.

Today’s passage celebrates that hope. It is a thanksgiving proclamation for the new world on the distant shore of Christ’s kingdom. In this passage, the author of Hebrews considers how Jesus left this world for the next. It is theology from which we approach our national holiday of Thanksgiving next Thursday.

Thanksgiving celebrates God’s blessings on our families and this nation. The banquet table of our homes, the conversations among those we love, and the traditions of Americana we observe, are infused with gratitude to God. God’s watchfulness, God’s protection, God’s fulfillment of His promise draws us to bow before His majesty with prayers of thanksgiving.

November 22nd will be my 65th observance of this national day of gratitude. It’s the sixth Thanksgiving I will not share with my parents’ the banquet table of thanks, or a conversation about God’s blessings. Julie and I are continuing a family celebration of God’s blessings that we inherited from our parents, our grandparents, our aunts and uncles, and earlier generations we never knew.

Like so many of you at Thanksgiving we remember family members who have left this land for the distant shore of God’s kingdom. We’re left behind to remember the blessings God has given in this land. Yet our family members who aren’t with us have emigrated from this Old World for the New World.

We’re like those families of the Pilgrims who stood on a dock and watched their loved ones leave the Dutch port of Deltshaven for America on July 22, 1620.

Being left behind has a mixture of emotions that is shared with those venturing into the unknown world that lies ahead. Memories of joy and regret intermingle with thankfulness and sadness. Thomas Mellon wrote about the moment he and his parents left their family homestead in County Tyrone in Northern Ireland for America in the early 1800s.

At the top of a hill on the road, about a mile distant was the place of parting. That was the last point from which the old homestead could be seen: a homestead which had sheltered the family and their ancestors for so many generations. It was a final parting as no return was expected. After a great deal of tear shedding and hand shaking, and good wishes and blessings the kind hearted crowd turned homeward and the little emigrant party continued their solitary way onward with sad hearts.[i]

 

The Pilgrims, Thomas Mellon and his parents, like hundreds of thousands of immigrants who have populated America for over 300 years left behind those who weren’t yet ready to journey to the distant land. These pioneers of our national history held tight to optimism that was mixed with sadness and anxiety. They didn’t know what lay ahead. All they had was hope. Hope in God.

Thanksgiving is not simply a time of gratitude for God’s blessings. It’s the season of hope. Without hope, there would never have been a Thanksgiving Day in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Without hope there would never have been a Mayflower Compact. Without hope there would never have been the courage to leave the familiar land of your family for an unknown shore of promise and opportunity. Without hope there would never be the commitment to gather in thanksgiving for God’s blessings when your family has left you behind.

Hope is the power that infuses Thanksgiving Day with life. From hope we maintain covenants that were handed to us from earlier generations. From hope we look to the future with optimism despite our anxiety. Hope is that blessing that inspires the pursuit of new life. Hope raises from this land and to find the land of opportunity that lies ahead.

Hope inspired William Bradford to lead his small Pilgrim band from the Old World of England and the Netherlands to the shores of Cape Cod. Hope inspired Andrew Mellon and his son Thomas to leave County Tyrone for Western Pennsylvania. Hope inspired a 20 year old worker to leave Naples, Italy on July 7, 1905 for New York City without a penny in his pocket. His name was Simeone Lallo. He was my father’s father.

Hope isn’t just wanting economic opportunity. Hope enflames the heart where women and men are moved by grace. Hope shines in the darkness of disappointment to guide the faithful into the land of promise. Hope binds one generation to another in gratitude for divine blessings received.

Hope initiates thanksgiving. Without hope, there’s no thanksgiving.

We live in a country that is the land of hope. Every family that gathers around a thanksgiving table this Thursday began with a man and a woman who was inspired by hope to leave the Old World of failed hopes for the New World of hope. They were willing to give up everything, even their very lives in pursuit of this hope. They endured tremendous hardship way beyond anything we have faced in our lifetimes relying on hope.

Hope isn’t manufactured by the sweat of hard labor. Hope is the evidence of God’s presence in the familiar world of disappointment. Hope is the glimpse of God’s promise of a New World – a world worth your life’s investment.

Hope is the confidence to leave the Old World for the New World believing that all will be better on the distant shore. Hope is our commitment to give thanks for the vision that inspired those ancestors from our families to leave for the distant shore. Hope is the expectation of those left behind that they will be reunited with those who stand on the distant shore.

Thanksgiving at Plymouth Bay Colony was the consummation of hope that began July 22 at a dock in the Netherlands. Yet that dock was only a reflection of an earlier hope that came one Sunday morning in Jerusalem 1600 years earlier.

That earlier hope in Jerusalem was Thanksgiving Day’s origin. The power of that moment of hope had shaped and formed the covenant of faith that bound one generation to the next over 1600 until it found its expression in a prayer and banquet table near an Atlantic Ocean beach amid America’s wilderness.

The promise of Jerusalem’s hope inspired men and women to risk an adventure on a distant shore with only their trust in God to sustain them. The promise of Jerusalem’s hope bound them together with earlier generations that had sacrificed life and limb for that hope so that they could step off the dock in Netherlands for the New World.

The promise of Jerusalem’s hope binds us together with that original ancestor of each of our families who left the Old World for this distant shore. The promise of Jerusalem’s hope enables us to send our loved ones off to the New World of the eternal distant shore with confidence we will see them again.

America’s hope is a great hope, friends. It inspires hopeful people around the world to build a home among us. America must not lose the value of hope in its collective conscience. If we deny others hope that our families received on this foreign shore from their ancestral lands, we will betray our family inheritance.

We are beneficiaries of earlier generations’ hope in God’s blessing that brought them to America’s shores. When we welcome the hopeful who come to our land with hospitality, we enable them to receive God’s blessing. Yet our life in this wonderful national endowment still pales before the New World that lies ahead. There is where our true hope lies.

Beyond this land of hopeful opportunity lies another, more distant land on another foreign shore. We only know of it through Jesus coming back from us to tell us of its existence. There is where our family members from earlier generations now reside. They await us to make that journey into the unknown they have already taken by hope in its promise.

Let us give thanks this Thanksgiving for the faithful legacy of hope that has been entrusted to us by our ancestors and leave behind its blessing as we look forward with hope to be reunited with them.

Finally, focus our prayers on hope’s source which is our true thanksgiving: Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

 

[i] Thomas Mellon, Thomas Mellon and His Times, ed. By Mary Louise Briscoe, (Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1994), 12.

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