This is the time of year when people begin to dream. Some are dreaming about their gardens. It is just about time to plant them, here in Missouri. Some are dreaming about that summer vacation or a get-away to enjoy the sunshine and the warmth and the delights of the season ahead. We hope for good weather. We hope for good health. We hope that this year lives up to our dreams and that we enjoy blessings and good and solid economic conditions so that we can pursue with great success all of our hopes and dreams.
I am no different than any of you, in that regard. We all have our hopes and dreams. They are as personal and unique for each of us as we are different from one another, I suspect. We probably share some dreams, or some aspects of those dreams, but our hopes and dreams tend to change as we age, and as we have children and grand-children, and our health or our pocketbook's condition changes. I have found that I dream less about doing great physical tasks as I see my physical abilities diminish with age and get bottled up with the aches that come with that aging process. I don't dream about sports, or climbing that mountain any more. But there are things I want to do and things I want to see, and other ambitions still ahead for me. I would guess that is true for most you, too. What those dreams are varies only with what your talents are, and how "Father Time" is treating you.
Some of my previous dreams and hopes seem rather silly and shallow to me now. Some of them I achieved, and they demonstrated for me that ancient principle that the pursuit of some dreams is more exciting than possessing them. Getting there is fun, being there is not so much. I have achieved a dream or two, only to ask myself, "Why did I want to do this?" It is like so many of those 'things' that we just have to possess, and, once we get them, they set around unused and unattended because getting them was more enjoyable than having them or using them. If you have ever bought a piece of exercise equipment, you probably know the feeling I am describing. I have wood-working equipment, for example, that I have purchased that just sits around because I don't have time - or the passion to make the time - that I need to make use of it. It seemed so urgent when I was dreaming about it. Hmmm.
Of course, most of our hopes and dreams are not as casual or insignificant as those wood-working dreams. We have plans for life, for retirement, for a future of some substance, or for our families, that we fervently hope will come true and bring all the good that we envision. These are dreams of some importance to us. Many times, Christians will imagine that because they are Christians, they have a 'leg up', so to speak, on achieving their dreams and realizing their hopes. It is quite natural to think that because we are God's favorite people, that we have the inside track on making our dreams come true. After all, God wants us to be happy, and we are supposed to be among the most blessed of people.
I have had encounters with some 'Christians' who cling fiercely to just that expectation. They claim a healing (their words not mine) from the flu or a cold because they just know that God wants His people to be healthy. They expect prosperity and miracles in their lives because God loves them, and they believe that this is how God deals with those that are truly His own. They make those statements and cling to those beliefs without any apparent consciousness of the judgment they are applying to the people them who wrestle with illness or adverse financial situations. As long as they are doing well, and are excited about life, this belief system works for them. That is to say, they get out of it precisely what they are looking for from it; not everlasting life and salvation, but a sense of wholeness and privilege with a feeling that they have a connection to God. That is a trade I would not want to make, but some people are not about the long-view. They are about just how it seems right now.
But I have to ask myself, what about the faithful child of God who has a serious illness that they cannot merely wish away? What about someone who is short on funds, or dealing with serious financial trouble? That not-so-unusual belief system implies, and sometimes makes explicit, the judgment that those who fall short of enjoying the best in this life are also falling short in relation to their Heavenly Father. Aside from how absurd that judgment strikes me, there is not a whiff of God having a predilection towards the rich and the comfortable in Scriptures. It is true that if one is rich, God is responsible, no matter what their ego may say. It is not true, however, that such abundance is necessarily a sign of divine favor. It appears at times to be just the opposite.
One wag or another has said "God must love the poor. He made so many of them." That is not my thought here, either, nor is that thought expressed in the Bible. Our outward conditions are simply not a reliable index of our standing with the Almighty. God commands concern and compassion for those in need, and mercy toward the poor. He promises to judge men for their uncaring-ness towards those around them with needs that should be clear to the more well-to-do. He also tells us that those who faithfully confess Christ will endure hardship and disadvantage and persecution for the sake of the confession of Christ. It just seems too clear in the Bible that wealth and fame and health and abundance are not seen as having primary importance to our Lord. He did not accumulate them for Himself when He walked among us, and it does not appear that He intends the accumulation of such things to be of primary importance for us, either.
I mention this because many sincere Christians operate with the unspoken assumption that being a Christian is or should be an advantage in life as we deal with the mundane realities of making our way through the world - with our hopes and dreams. That assumption is quite natural to the flesh, the sinful flesh. It is called a theology of glory. It just is not quite as blatant and in-your-face as the so-called Christians who expect life to be rich and abundant in the terms of this world and to be healthy simply because we are God's favorite people. And we are. We are the people of His favor, or grace. But His grace is not about this world and how well we do in it. Success in this world is often a terrible burden to the spiritual welfare of the individual. Jesus said, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
Happily, or sadly - depending on your perspective, we are all rich. Nowhere else in the world, nor at any other time in history even in this nation, has a nation full of people been so abundantly wealthy. In most times, and in most places even today, most people have little more than the clothing that they are wearing. Nowhere else can people eat the abundant variety of things we Americans take for granted. I have met men from Africa who will not eat a common salad because it is not cooked, and their entire lives have taught them that uncooked food is unsafe to eat. Safe, healthy, hygienic food is not a common thing in other places. We have all heard the warnings about drinking the water in foreign places.
In America, the poor carry cell-phones, own color TV's, drive cars of their own, have closets full of clothes, eat enough to be overweight, own computers, have telephones in their homes, have electricity and running water in their homes, and enjoy many of the common perks of contemporary American society. We grumble when things aren't perfect, when a bus runs too slow, when service is delayed for a few moments, or our power is interrupted momentarily. Poverty in America is equated with having less of the abundance than the absurdly wealthy or suffering a minor inconvenience. In other places, poverty is not having food to eat today, nowhere to go for shelter in a storm, and no secure place to lay down to sleep at night. They don't have electricity most of the time, and so they don't have the appliances that require it. They may not have access to enough education to be able to read or do simple, routine arithmetic. Many Americans have trouble with that because they have calculators to do that sort of menial thinking chore for them.
The point is that we are almost automatically the "rich" that Jesus spoke about. Our things and our hopes and dreams tend to take on a significance in our minds and in our values that they do not deserve, and which we cannot really afford to permit. We are a generation or two from the day when a comb or a pair of socks was a precious and delightful gift, even here in America. Scripture says, "And if we have food and covering, with these we shall be content. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang. We can see a worldly illustration of this principle if we simply note how much we Americans can possess and still consider ourselves poor and lacking, and how that natural (sinful) reaction is manipulated by the political class as they jockey for votes and power.
The spiritual working out of that principle is more to the tune of us setting 'things' before God and His Word and prayer, and one another. When we struggle with our hopes and dreams and feel like we do not have enough, we unconsciously - and maybe sometimes consciously - judge God as providing inadequately, or not honoring the bargain that we unconsciously assume belongs with being His favorite people. We judge our circumstances as 'unfair' which is to judge God as unfair, and hold Him guilty of doing us wrong. But what is really wrong is our perception of our wealth and blessings, and a lack of thanksgiving. That is part of the danger attendant upon being "rich". That is what makes it so hard for such people to enter the kingdom of heaven.
The favor of God is the Gospel. That is the riches and abundance that God promises; the "abundant life" that Jesus promises to His disciples. If you want to talk about hopes and dreams, the Gospel is a fantastic dream and a wonderful hope! It is forgiveness of sins, eternal life and complete salvation. It is all that one could hope for - and more!
First, it brings the knowledge of the good will of God toward us. We have no need to worry. God is with us to bless us. It may not be the blessings that the world around us teaches us to desire, but it is what we need. When nothing looks like it is going right, we have the assurance that He has our back - the worst that can happen, in the terms of this world, leads us to eternal life in glory! We may have some discomfort for a time, but we have resurrection and life in the end.
If we find ourselves sick, we know eternal healing is ahead. If things go badly, we know God has a plan, and He is at work in us and through us, somehow. We are never really alone. We merely need to take hold of that truth and talk to God, and take comfort in the knowledge that He is listening and will answer every prayer with our ultimate welfare in mind. With this hope, we cannot be without hope. He will strengthen us when we ask, although, as we endure, we may not feel the strengthening - we will simply use it to hold on and endure.
Best of all, this 'hope and dream' is true. It is not an elaborate fiction, or something we make up to tell ourselves. It was spelled out in Holy Writ for us long before we came to read and believe it. It has sustained countless generations in times and in places much more difficult than we face today and taught God's people to sing beautiful hymns of faith in times of trial through their experience of its truth.
And this hope is ours! It is not limited to a few, to the 'first 100 who stop by' or something like that. The first time you heard the Gospel, you were invited in to the hope. When the waters of Baptism were poured over your head, you were claimed by God for this hope. The dream - which is no ordinary dream, but a reality that lies ahead of us - was given to you in both Word and Sacrament, and has been renewed and refreshed for you each time you hear and each time you partake. Jesus said that it is harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom than it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. His disciples were taken aback and asked that, if this is so, who can be saved? Jesus said, "With men this is impossible, but not with God. With God all things are possible."
Men debate what 'the camel through the eye of the needle' means, but there is no debate about what Jesus was saying. He is saying that if your salvation depended on you, rich person, you would have no hope. But it doesn't. Your salvation is with God, worked by Jesus on the cross and proclaimed on Easter morning by the empty tomb. With God, all things are possible. Your sins are forgiven. You have been redeemed. And the hope of the Gospel is yours! Your hopes and dreams rest on Jesus Christ alone - and He has made them all real and certain for you. So, go ahead, and hope . . . and dream.
Yours in the Lord,
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