Hope and a Promise – Nov. 24, 2019

Tired of religious persecution, a group of English Separatists decided to leave their home and travel to the new world across the Atlantic Ocean. Two ships were hired to carry the Pilgrims to the new and mysterious land.

It was July, in the year 1620, when the Mayflower was loaded up for the trip. The Speedwell was loaded up in the Netherlands and was expected to meet up with the Mayflower and the two ships planned to travel together. But the Speedwell was leaking and needed repairs. After several false starts, the Speedwell was finally abandoned. All the travelers who still wanted to take the trip boarded the Mayflower.

But the Mayflower was designed to carry supplies not people. The original plan was that the ship would carry 60 passengers and 30 crew members. It would be tight but doable. When the Speedwall was abandoned, 42 additional passengers climbed aboard the Mayflower.

Now, with 102 passengers, the ship was jam packed. The trip was supposed to take about a month, but the Mayflower did not set sail until September16, which meant they would encounter the fall storm season on the Atlantic Ocean. Because of the waves and strong winds, the ship often traveled without its sails. It also meant that the month-long trip would actually take them 66 days. 

Many of the passengers became sea-sick as huge waves crashed over the deck of the ship. The nights were cold, dark, damp, and stinky because there was no indoor plumbing or electricity. The situation for many seemed hopeless. They began to wonder why they made the trip. Food and water were rationed, and sickness took hold.

One big man began threatening to throw the sick passengers overboard. As fate would have it, he became deathly ill and died and he was the first to be tossed into the sea. In spite of the horrible conditions, only 2 perished but miraculously, they also had two births. On November 21, 1620 they landed on Cape Cod. The first thing they did when they arrived was open their Bible and read from Psalm 100 Verses 4-5;

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name. For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations”.

No matter the struggles we go through, the pain we endure or the fear we face, our hope comes from God. Someone once said, ‘No words in the English language are more devastating than, ‘There is no hope’

Dante wrote in the Inferno, that there was a sign hanging over the gate to hell that read, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

Hope is in short supply today. Many people feel tossed and battered by the waves and winds of the times. And you don’t have to look much further than out your back door. As a nation, we have lost our moral high ground. God has been pushed further and further away.

God is not welcomed in many schools, offices or sporting events. Is it any wonder people are grasping at anything to feel safe or for a kind word? That seems to be why Mr. Rogers is being so lovingly embraced right now. 

Yet while we have moved away from God, God has never abandoned us. His hope, grace, mercy and promises are still offered and available to each of us. Unfortunately, when we are in the midst of a terrible storm, it is often hard to believe.

The Prophet Jeremiah understood this better than anyone. Jeremiah is often called the reluctant or weeping prophet. He was the last prophet to the southern Kingdom of Judah. He is also credited by many, as the writer of Lamentations.

To Lament is to complain, mourn or grieve. In Lamentations, Jeremiah writes, “My groans are many and my heart grows faint.” Jeremiah suffered persecution and attempts on his life. He was imprisoned, tortured and tormented. Yet he wrote these telling words in Lamentations 3:22-23; “Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new each morning; great is Your faithfulness.”  Where did this hope come from? What did he know, that we need to know?

As a young man, God called Jeremiah, and he said, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5

Jeremiah responds with, “I do not know how to speak; for I am only a child.” Jeremiah 1:6. Then God offered him this promise, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you and I will rescue you.” Jeremiah 1:8

God had his back. No matter how tough things got, God would never leave Jeremiah. Yet in spite of that promise, Jeremiah had a tough road ahead, but he never gave up hope. His trust was in God’s goodness.

Some of you may have followed the story of Joey Feek, the singer from Alexandria and her husband Rory. She was diagnosed with reoccurring cancer and passed away in March of 2016. Before her death, she was interviewed by a reporter about her faith and her life journey. ‘No matter what life would throw at her’, she said, ‘she always had hope’.

Her hope was not in medicine but in God. ‘When all is said and done’, she said, “she was in God’s hands. And while she was able, she wanted to live life to the fullest. Each day, each moment, is precious, she said with a smile, “even in the midst of pain”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am sure she did her share of lamenting and crying out to God, how could she not? Yet in spite of everything else, she held onto God’s promises. Like Jeremiah, she trusted Him with the bigger picture.

The truth is, we all have dark nights of the soul. Even Jesus bowed his head and shed tears of blood from the anguish and suffering he endured. Yet when he was done, he turned his eyes towards heaven and trusted his Father and gave himself over to his will. Luke 22:42-44.

Jeremiah was witness to Israel’s downfall. He tried to warn others, but they would not listen. He grieved for the nation and suffered as they were scattered and enslaved.  The future was bleak and dark, yet even during all of that, God offered them some hope.

Jeremiah wrote to the exiles, these words of the Lord, “This is what the Lord Almighty says to those in exile. Settle in, build homes, marry and have children. Jeremiah 29:5-7

“Seek peace and prosperity. Pray to the lord and don’t be mis-lead. Then, when 70 years is completed in Babylon, I will come to you – and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place.” Vs. 10

“For I know the plans I have for you. Plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans for hope and a future. Then, when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you.” Vs. 11-12

They had to wait 70 years! Some would never see home again. Still, God gave them hope, and He made a promise to listen and to return their families to Israel. God had plans that gave them hope and a future.

The dictionary defines hope as a feeling or desire that things will turn out for the best. In essence, it is a wish. But hope defined in the Bible is something very different. It is a sure expectation, a confidence or solid certainty that rests on God and his Word alone.

2 Corinthians 1:21-22 reads, “He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and has put his spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”

Did you get that? When we are in Christ, our hope is guaranteed. It is a promise and God always keeps his promises. You can bank on it. And God wants us to plan for a great future.

Edward Mote was born into poverty on January 21, 1797, in London. His parents were innkeepers and they wouldn’t allow a Bible in their house. But somehow Edward heard the gospel as a teenager and came to Christ.

He eventually became a skilled carpenter and owner of his own cabinet shop. “One morning,” he recalled, “it came into my mind as I went off to work to write a hymn on ‘The Gracious Experience of a Christian.’

“As I went up to work, I had the chorus running through my head: On Christ the solid Rock I stand / All other ground is sinking sand. During the day, I had the first 4 verses complete, and I wrote them down.”

At the age of 55, Edward gave up his carpentry business to pastor a Baptist Church in England, where he ministered for 21 years.

He was loved greatly by the people for his deep faith and compassion. He resigned in 1873, in failing health, saying, “I think I am going to heaven; yes, I am nearing the port. The truths I have been preaching, I am now living and they’ll do very well to die upon.”

Today his hymn, “The Solid Rock,” or “My Hope is Built” is still popular with Christians around the world. It goes, “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” 

Sometimes hope has to be believed – to be seen. The folks on the Mayflower could only trust and believe in God’s good graces, to get them to the shores of the new world. It was their faith in Him that carried them through.

This coming Thursday, we will be celebrating Thanksgiving Day. Many of you will be busy cooking turkeys, making stuffing, baking pumpkin pies…. and watching football games. That is fun stuff.  It is important to get together with loved ones and stuff ourselves… but that is not what thanksgiving is really all about – it is first and foremost about giving thanks to the Lord.

We usually picture the first thanksgiving in America, as the time when the Pilgrims and the Indians got together for a great feast. It was the first meal and a time of celebrating their partnership.

But I tend to look at that time, when the sea battered Mayflower anchored in the bay at Cape Cod, and a group of weary and worn men and women were on their knees praising their God in heaven for bringing them safely through the treacherous sea to this new land, as the first ‘Real Thanksgiving’.

It was a time for scripture, a time to reflect on the promises of our Lord and Savior, and a time to sing praises. And I believe they did it with their entire hearts.

It was the Irish writer Oliver Goldsmith, son of an Anglican priest who wrote, “Hope like a gleaming taper’s light, adorns and cheers our way; and still, as darker grows the night, it emits a brighter ray.”    Let the light of Christ, illuminate your world.

This Thanksgiving, don’t forget to say a prayer for all the gifts God has given you and for the promises He keeps. Also, say a prayer for those who currently know only rough seas. May they also know Jesus and have the peace and hope that passes all understanding.

Happy Thanksgiving!