People of Hope, Psalm 130, Romans 5:1-11
The late Ben Lehmberg tells the following story in his devotional book Food for Fasting about the 1954 Cotton Bowl football game between Alabama and Rice Institute. Alabama was doing well in the early part of the game, but just when they were ready to score a touchdown, their quarterback, Bart Starr, fumbled the ball and Rice took over. Rice’s running back, Dicky Maegle, who rushed for 265 yards on 11 carries, broke free on the Rice five-yard line and was on his way for a 95-yard touchdown run. As he was running past the Alabama bench, an Alabama running back named Tommy Lewis could not sit by and watch his opponent run for a touchdown. Jumping off of the bench, he ran out onto the field and tackled Maegle in what came to be known as the “12th man tackle”. Maegle was awarded the touchdown as Lewis ran back to his bench where he sat in humiliation, covered his head with a blanket, and began to cry. He was embarrassed by what he had done as his eagerness and enthusiasm overcame better judgement. It was not long before the Alabama coach came to Lewis, put his hand on his shoulder, and said, “I like you, kid.” With those words of reassurance, the coach put him back in the game and gave the player hope by letting him know that he was forgiven and accepted.
The apostle Paul who wrote the Book of Romans from which our New Testament scripture was read today understood what it meant to be forgiven and accepted. Paul had spent his adult life persecuting the early Church with the singular goal of destroying the Jewish sect of believers in Jesus. Paul would have been considered enemy number one of Christians. Verse 3 of the 8th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles describes Paul in this way when he was known by the name Saul:
But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house, dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.
It is in the midst of these acts of destruction that Acts later records when Paul became a person of hope as he was met by the risen Christ. Acts 9:1-4 tells this story:
Meanwhile, Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Ware you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.”
Frederick Buechner, in his book, Wishful Thinking, A Theological ABC, tells of Paul’s experience of hope with these words:
“During his Pharisee phase or “blue period,” Paul was on his way to Damascus to mop up some Christians when suddenly he heard the voice of Jesus Christ, whose resurrection he had up till now considered only an ugly rumor. What he might have expected the voice to say was just you wait. What, in effect, it did say was, “I want you on my side. Paul never got over it. … At a moment in his life when he had the least reason to expect it, Paul was staggered by the idea that no matter who you are or what you’ve done, God wants you on his side. There is nothing you have to do or be. It’s on the house. It goes with the territory.”
- 49, Wishful Thinking, A Theological ABC¸ Frederick Buechner
I would submit to you that what Paul discovered on the road to Damascus is that hope is more powerful than persecution, grace is more powerful than destruction, and that resurrection is more powerful than death. I would submit to you that Paul discovered what the psalmist meant in our reading from Psalm 130:
If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand? But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered. I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word, I hope; my soul waits for the Lord.
When the psalmist wrote of hope, the psalmist was not referring to an act of passive wishing that the reality of life may be different. Instead, the psalmist was referring to the active participation of hope in the present reality of life. Anticipating a future in which God’s presence is realized as the present reality of life is transformed.
When the psalmist wrote of hope in God’s word, the psalmist was not only expressing hope about the future. The psalmist was also expressing hope about the past by stating, “But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.”
What Paul discovered on the road to Damascus is that Christians are people of hope. We have experienced a Savior who makes possible a future that is different than the past. We believe in a Savior who can redeem both our past and our future as we live with hope in the present. We move into the future with faith in transformed possibilities for the present as we live in hope.
Eugene Michael Lang was a person of hope. He believed in transformed possibilities for life. The son of an immigrant refugee from Hungary, he grew up in a $12-a-month railroad apartment on East 83rd Street in Manhattan, he eventually founded the Refac Technology Development Corporation. He was a self-made millionaire who was generous with the gift of his life as he donated over $150 million to charities and institutions throughout his lifetime.
Eugene Lang is probably best remembered for his impulsive gesture in June 1981, when he was invited to deliver the commencement address to 61 sixth graders at Public School 121 on East 103rd Street.
“I looked out at that audience of almost entirely black and Hispanic students, wondering what to say to them,” he recalled. He had intended to tell them, their families, and their teachers that he had attended P.S. 121 more than a half-century earlier, that he had worked hard and made a lot of money and that if they worked hard, maybe they could be successful, too.
But, he said, “it dawned on me that the commencement banalities I planned were completely irrelevant.”
“So, I began by telling them that one of my most memorable experiences was Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech and that everyone should have a dream,” he said. “Then I decided to tell them I’d give a scholarship to every member of the class admitted to a four-year college.”
There was stunned silence, peppered with a few audible gasps. Then students, parents, and teachers cheered and mobbed him. He told them that he would earmark $2,000 for each of them toward college tuition and that he would add more money each year that they stayed in school.
He was aware, he said, that simply providing students from poor or troubled homes with a scholarship would not ensure success … “When I made the original promise, the principal told me that maybe one or two students would take advantage of my offer,” he said.
Lang “adopted” the class, treating them to trips and restaurant meals, counseling them through crisis after crisis, and intervening with school officials. Soon, Mr. Lang founded the I Have a Dream Foundation, setting up its office in Manhattan. He hired a project coordinator, established a year-round program of academic support with a mentor and tutoring for each student, and sponsored cultural and recreational outings. … At least half of the original 61 sixth graders — they called themselves Dreamers — enrolled in public and private colleges
April 8, 2017, New York Times, Enid Nemy and Joseph Berger
Nearly 90 percent of that class went on to graduate from high school
People of hope do not wish the future may be different. People of hope live by making the present different.
Followers of Jesus are called to be people of hope. In the name of Jesus, we make the present different as we live in hope that God redeems both the past and the future.
How are you living as a person of hope? What difference are you making in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit?
Pastor Marc Brown
January 17, 2021