Summary: Hope is a powerful blessing

March 6, 2019

Hope Lutheran Church

Ash Wednesday

Psalm 51:1-17; Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Hope among the Ashes

Friends, may grace and peace be yours in abundance in the knowledge of God and Christ Jesus our Lord.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of our congregation. Lent provides us with a wonderful opportunity to consider our congregation’s name, Hope. What is hope? How does it impact our lives? How does hope carry us through times of trial?

Rev. Al Rogness was the former president of Luther Seminary. While I was a student at seminary, he preached once at our daily chapel service. Even though he was long since retired, he was still keenly known and deeply respected by all. So when he spoke, people listened! He was also simply known by the student body as “Al.” Not Dr. Rogness or President Rogness – just Al. That kind of tells you something about the kind of man he was. He was extremely approachable

In his sermon that day, Al addressed the theme of hope. He said, “There is nothing more important for a minister to convey in a sermon than hope!” His words have stuck with me.

The thing about Al was he lived those words. He had a very hopeful demeanor. It made him attractive. You wanted to be around him because the hopefulness he exuded was contagious.

So what is hope? It’s important for us to consider hope side by side with wishing. There’s a critical difference between the two. Oftentimes, we confuse hoping with wishing, and wishing with hoping.

Here’s a statement where we might use the word hope, but what we’re really talking about is wishing. Here is it: “Gee, I hope that winter ends soon!”

We frequently use the word hope for when we want something to happen. We desire this thing to occur, and we wish that it’ll come true. For the secular world, that’s fine and well. But hope means something entirely different through the eyes of faith! Hope is exponentially more powerful than just mere wishing.

Hope is inextricably tied with promise. The combination is powerful. Here’s an example:

Eugene Lang was the son of poor immigrants. He grew up in New York City during the peak of the Depression. Lang attended elementary school at P.S. 121 in Harlem. He then graduated from high school at age 14. After graduating, Lang worked at a restaurant in New York City. A customer there took a liking to Lang. He encouraged him to apply to Swarthmore College. He would line up a scholarship for Lang, he said. Well, the scholarship came through, and Lang attended and graduated from Swarthmore.

Lang was extremely successful in life and became known for his generous philanthropy. Years later, in 1981, Lang was invited to back to his old P.S. 121 elementary school in Harlem. He was asked to give a speech at the grade school graduation event.

At the end of his speech, Lang made a promise to those students: “If you graduate from high school, I will pay for your college tuition.” That promise impacted the destiny of those children. Ninety percent of them finished high school. And of them, half went on to attend college. These rates were simply unheard of for students from Harlem.

Lang’s promise made a spectacular impact on the lives of the children in that class. What they had, what spurred them forward, was hope. And that hope was much more than mere wishful thinking. Their hope was anchored to a promise, the promise Lang had made to them. And that made all the difference.

That’s the power of hope. With hope, our expectation isn’t tethered to thin air. It’s grounded to promise.

So here we are, Hope Lutheran Church. What a great name! Our hope is founded in the promises of God.

We’ve entered into Lent. It’s a reflective and somber season. During Lent, we take a closer look at ourselves. It’s a time of spiritual renewal. We realign our lives to walk more closely with God.

The season begins with this Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is connected with confession. We confess that we have gone astray. We confess that we’ve erred, against God and against one another. And most significantly, we confess that we are finite. Our lives will come to an end. Later in the service, we’ll receive a smudge of ash on our foreheads. “Remember,” we’ll hear, “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

Ashes are what remain when something is burned. They are the remains of something that has been utterly undone and destroyed. What they once were is completely gone.

Ash Wednesday gives us perspective. It reminds us of our true situation. But there is hope among those ashes. And the words of Psalm 51 reflect that hope.

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