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A Sermon from
Valley Covenant Church
Eugene, Oregon
by Pastor Steve Bilynskyj

Copyright © 2013 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

Romans 15:4-13
“Shine with Hope”
December 8, 2013 - Second Sunday in Advent

         Probably like many of you, Beth and I had an adventure Friday. Getting home up the snowy hills after coming to church early was a challenge. One false start found Timberline Drive blocked by cars that had slipped and crashed into each other. We came back to church, struggled to get chains on, then made it up the only other route along Hawkins. You have your own stories about barely making it through the snow.

         Oddly enough, those stories can be encouraging. My mother would tell the story of how she managed to make it safely down the curvy road from Jerome, Arizona even though her brakes went out as she was driving home her aging father with a weak heart.

         We find encouragement and hope in hearing and sharing stories of God’s protection through trials and dangers in the past. On a higher level, Scripture offers us stories, a written record of what God has said and done in the past, so that we might have hope and encouragement now. That’s what Paul says here in verse 4 at the beginning of our text this morning, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us…”

         Back up to the first three verses of chapter 13, and you hear Paul specifically speaking about the Old Testament’s foreshadowing of the sufferings of Jesus Christ. Verse 3 quotes Psalm 69:9 about insults meant for God falling upon those who are zealous for God and His house. He’s pointing to the attitude of Jesus. He did not just look out for Himself, but took upon Himself the “insults,” the persecution and suffering meant for others. It’s a story to encourage us and give us hope as we experience the opportunity to suffer and be insulted on behalf of God and others. That’s our hope.

         Maybe it’s an odd hope, but our Advent text, verses 4-13 begins and ends talking about hope. In between, verses 5 to 7 pray that God will give us “the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had,” and that we will “with one mind and one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and will “accept one another then, just as Christ accepted you.” Then in verses 8 to 12, Paul quotes several Old Testament texts, including the one we read this morning from Isaiah, about how the Gentiles will be included along with the Jews in His love and promises.

         Hope here is not quite what we often think it is. The last time I preached this text, twelve years ago, IWatts - Hope focused on hope, just like today. But I made the mistake of recommending a painting called “Hope” by George Frederick Watts and I got at least part of the message wrong.

         Watts’ painting portrays hope as a bent, bowed woman, blindfolded, in a tattered dress, sitting atop the world and playing a harp with only one string. Hope, then, is a lonely person clinging desperately to some faint note of music heard only dimly despite hardship and tragedy.

         What I didn’t know then was that G. K. Chesterton looked at this painting and said it had the wrong title. He said it should have been called “Despair.” The problem is the solitary loneliness of this woman who supposedly represents hope to us. But the hope of the Scriptures, the hope which comes to us from God through Jesus Christ, is no lonely, desperate feeling experienced by a person all alone. Hope is a gift from God which arrives when people are brought together and united by trust in a generous, loving Lord.

         Christian hope is not something it’s easy to have by yourself. Hope is a virtue we share together. It happens in company with one another, when barriers that divide us are transcended and broken down. Watts should have painted several of those ragged figures, one playing a single string, one with a flute with only one hole, one raising a lone weak voice to sing, but together creating a symphony to praise God.

         That’s what Paul’s talking about when verse 6 tells us that “with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The symphony of hope begins when we put our individual weak instruments and voices together. Hope is not a handful of virtuosos and divas putting on a performance. Hope is about every single player and singer adding whatever they can to the song of God’s praise.

         Hope arrives when we put our feeble faiths and strengths together. The Egan Warming Center is happening next door in our sanctuary because so many different people are putting their efforts together. There are key people like Jim and Bob from Valley Covenant of course, but there are Christians from other churches, there are non-Christians, there are homeless people themselves setting up chairs, picking up trash, shoveling the walks, helping each other have a warm bed on a viciously cold night.

         Hope works like this. Janet who lives in Springfield called me Friday evening and said, “I’m scheduled to help with the breakfast at the Warming Center Saturday morning. Someone with 4-wheel drive can bring me at 6 a.m., but I haven’t found a ride home. Do you know of anyone who lives near church who has a vehicle that could get through to run me home when I’m done at the Warming Center?” I thought about it and suggested, “Call Mark.” A little while later came Janet’s e-mail which said, “Mark was glad to do that.”

         That’s why there is hope in this world. God in Christ draws us together, unites us to be the servant people of the Servant Savior. By ourselves we might be able to hold on in quiet desperation, like Watts’ woman playing her one string. But together we can do something to make a difference, to help others, to make our world better. That’s hope.

         So Paul tells us in verse 7, “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you…” There’s the route to hope. Knowing Christ accepted me, I reach out in acceptance to someone else. Then I’m not alone anymore. That person is not alone anymore. And the light of hope really starts to grow among us.

         Verse 8 says “Christ has become a servant of the Jews.” Paul is telling us again what he mentioned in those first verses of the chapter, “Even Christ,” he writes in verse 3, “did not please Himself.” Jesus came to please, to bless the Jews, His own people, by enduring insult and suffering on the Cross so their sins could be forgiven. Jesus ministered to non-Jews several times, but He said more than once that His primary mission was to His own people, Jewish people.

         Look at why that was, why Jesus had that seemingly exclusive mission to the Jewish people. God’s salvation for Jewish people, as Jesus be­came their suffering servant, had a bigger purpose. Jesus came to confirm promises to the patriarchs, to the Hebrew fathers, we hear at the end of verse 8. But those promises, those promises include what verse 9 and 10 and 11 and 12 are about, “that the Gentiles might glorify God.”

         As we learned a couple years ago when we studied Romans together for a year, the whole argument of this letter is that God blessed the Jewish people so that ultimately He might bless all people. God gave hope to one little nation so that in the end He might create a united symphony of hope for the whole world. In Genesis 12:2 God promised the father of all Jewish people, promised Abraham, “I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.”

         Blessed to be a blessing. That’s the story of the Jewish people. That’s the story of Jesus Christ. That’s the story of the Christian church. And that’s the story of hope. God is bringing people together to bless and love and help each other.

         Paul offers four quotations from the Old Testament here. Each of them speaks about the Gentiles being included some way in God’s plan for humanity. These verses demonstrate how God progressively revealed that His grace and love would one day include everyone on earth.

         The symphony begins with a beautiful melody, the story of how God calls a little nomad tribe and gives them a homeland, then turns it into a kingdom. But alongside that melody, barely noticeable at first, is a different theme, a few notes following a different line. As the symphony progresses, that little theme grows stronger. Notes are added, it is played louder. In the end, as the final movement begins, what was only a tiny counter­point at the beginning now dominates the music. Every instrument is playing it. It has be­come a key theme of the whole symphony.

         The role of the Gentiles, our role, in God’s salvation plan progresses like that little theme at the beginning of a symphony. Paul’s quotations from the Old Testament, from II Samuel 22, then Deuteronomy 32, then Psalm 117, and finally Isaiah 11, show a steady movement to­ward more and more inclusion of Gentiles in God’s promises to Israel. At first, in verse 9 Gentiles simply hear the praises of God’s people. In verse 10 they share in the rejoicing. In verse 11 they join in the singing. Ultimately, in verse 12, the Gentiles will be brought under the rule of the “Root of Jesse,” King David’s lineage culminating in Jesus, and they will “hope in him.”

         What was a quiet few notes in the background of the Old Testament takes over the orchestra in the New Testament. Through Jesus Christ all people are welcomed into God’s grace and find their hope in Him. Hope is not sitting by yourself and dreaming of better times. Hope is coming together with others to serve and be a blessing so that all people may have better times. It is God’s plan to bring hope to everyone.

         That’s why everything we read from Isaiah 11 this morning fits in here. When that branch, that shoot off the root of Jesse, that descendant of the Jewish king David, arrives He brings peace to the earth. Jesus comes and judges fairly and truly, just like John the Baptist says He will in our Gospel reading from Matthew 3. His truth and justice brings people together. He establishes peace and harmony where you think it couldn’t happen.

 Hicks - Peace        The wolf lives with the lamb, and the leopard lies down alongside the baby goat, and the calf and the lion and the plump little steer ready to be steaks and lion meat all get along, while a toddler puts a leash on any of them and plays with them as safely as if they are her favorite stuffed animals.  So Edward Hicks’ painting of that scene from Isaiah, “The Peaceable Kingdom,” is a better image of our Christian hope than Watts’ lonely woman. In the background you see Christian Quaker William Penn making peace with Native Americans. Hope comes when we come together in the peace of Christ.

         We have it here in this church. Liberals and conservatives sit together, joke together, serve God together. National enemies like Korean and Japanese people meet together, even marry each other, in common faith in Jesus Christ. Duck fans and Beaver fans are one in Jesus. Seriously, wealthy and poor, college grads and high school dropouts, professionals and jobless folks, we’re all here, because together we have hope in Christ.

         Let me be clear. Paul is not just saying that we hope for peace in the future, hoping for a day when God’s great program of bringing everyone together in Christ happens. He is saying what we hope for is present now. It’s here whenever and wherever we see people serving others and praising God in Christ.

         Like I’ve said, you can see hope when you look at all the different people serving alongside each other at the Warming Center. You can see hope on some Sundays by peeking inside one of our classrooms and seeing children of two or three different nationalities and languages learning about Jesus together. You can hear hope when you listen to Debbie’s stories of riding a bus beside Christians of other races and learning about their struggles, or when you hear Kay and Dan tell us about our connection with Christians in India who are praying for us as we pray for them.

         Watts had this much right in his painting. Sometimes we may feel as though we are hoping alone. Even Jesus felt alone, dying there on the Cross. But that’s not how hope is meant to be, not where it ends up. It ends in unity and the “Peaceable Kingdom.”

         Thirty-five years ago I was in South Bend, Indiana and we got buried by a blizzard which makes Friday’s snow look like nothing. We got a couple feet everywhere and drifts ten feet high. Even in a place where they are prepared for snow, the road crews couldn’t handle it. It took days to even clear all the major streets.

         After about a week, when we finally got back to school, everyone had stories to tell. One of my professors talked about his neighborhood, his block. They lived near a major road, which got plowed pretty early on. But that didn’t help him or his neighbors two blocks away. They couldn’t get their cars that through all the drifts on their street. It was hopeless.

         But one man in the neighborhood shoveled his driveway and then just kept on, starting to clear a little of the street. Another neighbor saw him and came out and they started to work together. Then someone else came out with a snowblower and others with more shovels. An older woman who couldn’t shovel brought them warm drinks. Pretty soon most of the neighborhood was out there working together at a hopeless task that now looked very hopeful. By the end of the day they got their route to the main road cleared, a couple weeks before the city plows could get to small side streets like that one.

         Christian hope is like that. It happens, it’s here when we come together in the name of Jesus and accomplish things that look hopeless if we go at them alone.

         Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking just about hope in the human spirit, in the goodness of human hearts. It takes a disaster, like a blizzard, to bring out that kind of hope. I’m talking about hope which is constant, steady because people are together by a power which goes beyond our own goodness, our own ability to cooperate and love each other. We have Christian hope together because God came to us in Jesus and gave us His Holy Spirit.

         That’s why verse 13 is Paul’s prayer that “the God of hope fill you with joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Paul reminds us again that this gift of hope is no solitary blessing. It’s a corporate blessing. Hope comes from God who is a unity of three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. By that unity, by the love of the Father and by the grace of the Son Jesus Christ and by, as Paul tells us here, the power of the Holy Spirit, we receive hope.

         The power of the Holy Spirit Paul is just this, to bring people together. God the Father and God the Son are united by the Holy Spirit. The Christian Church is united by the Holy Spirit. That’s what the Holy Spirit does. Coming from the Father through Jesus Christ, the Spirit bring us together. And that fills us with hope. Our hope in Christ is a corporate gift, given by a corporate God, looking toward a corporate joy and peace. It’s given by the persons of God together and received by us together. May we receive and live together in that hope this morning and forever in our Lord’s peaceable kingdom.


         Valley Covenant Church
         Eugene/Springfield, Oregon
         Copyright © 2013 by Stephen S. Bilynskyj

Last updated December 8, 2013