High Hopes

The final week in our sports sermon series, the sermon from yesterday was titled, “High Hopes.” It takes its name from the Frank Sinatra song that Phillies’ broadcaster Harry Kalas used to sing after big wins. Baseball, I think, lends itself to hope. The season is so long, that there is no need to despair over losses, in contrast to the way that one loss can derail a football season. And hope lends itself to our readings this week, especially from Luke and 1 Corinthians. (If you have time, I encourage you to read all of 1 Corinthians 12-13, since these two chapters really go together.)

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Is there anything more hopeful than Opening Day? Maybe there’s a couple things, but Opening Day is definitely in the top ten. The first day of the baseball season is so filled with possibility and expectation. There are zeroes all across the board. Wins, losses: zero. Batting averages: zero. Earned Run Averages: zero. In a game with more statistics than you can imagine, the zeroes are bright with possibility.

The zeroes disappear quickly, with the first swing of the bat, the first run scored, the first game won or lost. Over the course of the hundred-sixty-two game season, you’ll see ups and downs, slumps and hot streaks. But that first day, all the teams are equal, and anything is possible. Opening Day feels like standing on the cusp of something, filled with hope and expectation.

There’s a lot of hope in our readings this morning. The young boy Jeremiah just receiving the call from God to be a prophet. He’s unsure about what will lay ahead. The Apostle Paul, writing to the church in Corinth, reminding them that even when other things fade away, hope remains. Faith, hope, and love sustain us. And even this odd and troubling reading from the Gospel of Luke is brimming with hopes. Unspoken, but there.

You see the people of Nazareth had hopes, they had expectations of who Jesus was, and what he had come to do. They were in some ways filled with hope. But this is a lesson to us that, sometimes, different people can hope for very different things. This is one of those times when I feel like we need to have a recap, like TV shows do: “Previously on the Gospel of Luke…”

Because this story picks up right where last week’s reading ended. It even repeats verse twenty-one. Jesus has come to preach in his hometown synagogue. He has just read from the prophet Isaiah, declaring that he has come to bring good news to the poor, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor. And it says that everyone was impressed and spoke well of him.

These were things that they had hoped for. The long-held hopes of a Messiah anticipated the end of oppression and injustice and exploitation, and the beginning of a new age. These were central hopes of the faith and life of Israel. And so, it’s not surprising that all spoke well of him, amazed at his gracious words. This is exactly what they had hoped for. But by the end of our reading, Jesus has dashed their hopes so thoroughly that they run him out of town.

It’s a little confusing, and it feels like some details have been left out, but from the stories Jesus chooses to tell, it seems that the people of Nazareth were hoping that he was here to bring salvation to them. After all, he is one of them, he’s Joseph’s son. Why wouldn’t he come to heal them, to free them, to raise them up?

But Jesus tells these stories of the widow in Sidon and Naaman the Syrian general to make sure the people understand that he has not come to fulfill the hopes of Nazareth. God is going to be working in a very different way than they expect. In these stories, it’s unlikely people, it’s the outsiders, the foreigners, who reveal God’s plan and God’s salvation. The widow in Sidon, who Elijah goes to for help, she’s part of an enemy tribe. And yet it is her that God uses to keep Elijah alive. It is her that God sustains throughout the drought. Naaman is a Syrian general—a leader of a competing country. And yet, at the word of Elisha, he is healed of leprosy.

God is not a provincial God. God in Jesus has not come to bring good news merely for his hometown, but for all people. God’s hopes are not always our hopes. This is not what the people were expecting or hoping to hear Jesus say—in fact, it is so the opposite of what they hoped for that they are driven to rage and try to through him off a cliff.

But the people of Nazareth aren’t an anomaly in how they react to God’s hopes for the world. We, too, like to keep God in boxes of our own making. Kept there to fulfill our hopes, and our expectations. But in Jesus, we see God’s hope come to life, unfolding. We see an ever-widening circle of expansive love for all. We can’t keep God in a box. We can’t constrict God to what we expect God to be. We can’t limit God to only the people we think are deserving, to only the people like us. Because God’s hopes are so much bigger and wider than our own.

And that’s a good thing. Because God’s love can open our eyes and our hearts to those bigger hopes and dreams. God surely hopes that we might embody love like the Apostle Paul describes in writing to the Corinthians. In a sense, these are Paul’s hopes for this struggling church in Corinth. We often read this chapter at weddings, I guess because it says the word love a lot. But Paul’s not writing about love between two people. He’s writing about the Christ-like love that he desperately hopes this fractured community will be able to live into.

The Corinthians are a mess. They’ve been arguing about who is the most important. They’ve been valuing some members and some gifts over others. Last week, we heard Paul compare the church to a body, where all gifts are needed, all members valuable. One is no greater than the other. And he follows it up this week by telling them that all of their gifts are utterly worthless without love. Paul hopes that the Corinthians might be able to move beyond their petty squabbles and see God’s bigger hopes and dreams. That they might be able to be driven by love.

What he asks of them is not easy. To be patient, to be kind, to bear all things, to believe all things, to hope all things, to endure all things. To embody God’s love in their lives and in their community. To look at each other and see not our own individual hopes and dreams, but to see through God’s eyes. To see God’s hopes. God’s dreams.

This type of love, this type of vision and inclusion and grace that Jesus lives out, we are not capable of it. At least not on our own. You could even say that it’s almost as difficult for us as to do this as it would be for an ant to move a rubber tree plant.

High Hopes, the song by Frank Sinatra about that silly old ant, became the anthem of the Philadelphia Phillies, courtesy of longtime broadcaster Harry Kalas. He sang it when they won the National League Pennant in 1993, and again after the World Series win in 2008. A video of Harry singing the song is now played after every home win. It’s a silly song about an ant trying to move a rubber tree plant, whatever that is.

The ant in that song is finally able to move the rubber tree plant, because he had high hopes. He believed in himself. We can do so much more than move rubber tree plants, but it’s not because we believe just in ourselves. It’s because we believe in God.  And it’s because God shares with us that all-encompassing love found in Jesus. The love that breaks down barriers, the love that makes us look at the world with new eyes. The love that strengthens and sustains us. May God’s love make us strong and courageous. And may God’s hopes—for us, for our community, and for our world—may those hopes always drive us forward into a new reality. Amen.