A Feathered Thing That Perches In the Soul
January 6 2019
On this first Sunday of a New Year, I want to talk about hope. The New Year awakens hope in each of us. It’s a time to look forward to something fresh, something better.
Scientists tell us that even rats without hope drown in a jar of water in a little over three minutes but give them a glimmer of light and hope and they will swim for thirty-six hours. The only problem is that I never did find out how the researchers gave the rats a glimmer of hope.
We are creatures of hope. . You can see how elemental hope is to each of us by looking at how gullible we are about certain things: Someone will say to us something like this:
● You’ll have him housebroken in no time.
● The place will be crawling with great looking girls.
● $50 tops, with tip and wine.
● When the gas tanks says empty, there are always a couple of gallons left.
● You can assemble it yourself in 15 minutes.
● Your new kitchen will be ready way before Christmas.
● It will come in under budget.
● They’ll feel wonderful once you break them in.
The saying that “there’s a sucker born every minute” is a non-theological way of saying that we are born to hope, to envision the best.
Much of what we think of as “hope” is nothing more than secular optimism. Biblical hope is radically different from secular optimism. You know the line that the pessimist looks a glass and sees it half empty. The optimist looks at the glass and sees it as half full. Well, now I am told that a consultant looks at that glass and says, “It looks to me as if the glass is twice as big as you need.”
Optimism is the belief that my dreams will come true, whereas, Biblical hope always has to do with the promise that God is with us, no matter whether my dreams come true or are shattered upon the anvil of life.
Paul writes in Romans, chapter 5 that “hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” Biblical hope never disappoints us because it’s always rooted in God’s promises. It isn’t rooted in what we what we want. It isn’t rooted in our dreams or our schemes. Biblical hope transcends all of that because it is rooted in the immutable, unchangeable will of God. And God’s spirit, dwelling within us, continually prompts us to remember from whence our hope comes.
A dear friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer. When I went to see her in the hospital, I said, “Susan, I am praying for you to get well.” And she said something startling to me, “I don’t have to get well.” I didn’t understand what she meant at the time. She is something of an iconoclast and is always saying the most intriguing things. But later, when I talked to her about her illness, I asked her what she meant when she said, “I don’t have to get well.” She said, “I am the wife of a physician. I read everything ever printed on my disease. I knew that 35% of the women with this kind of breast cancer do not survive. So I knew that I might not survive, but nevertheless, I was within the providence of God, and that superceded everything else.”
That is what the Bible means by hope.
Dr. Paul Tournier, a Swiss psychiatrist and devoted Christian insisted that the secret of his life was a special time of quiet he and his wife had each morning when they “listened to God.” Even after his wife died, he still observed this custom. He once showed a visitor a large notebook. It was his quiet book, crammed with narrowly spaced handwriting. He confided shyly. “I meet God every morning to listen to dreams and visions for the day.” Small wonder that into his late eighties he continued to live with enthusiasm and a sense of adventure.
That, too, is what the Bible means by hope. When we open our hearts to God’s sprit each day, God infuses us with a sense of enthusiasm and adventure.
When we say we that we have hope, we are not saying that everything is going to turn out exactly as we think it should. But we are saying that each day, no matter what life throws in our face, God will awaken within us new images of what can be, new visions of the possible.
I confess as I look back on my life, I see that some of the best things that have happened to me have been the hardest things. But no matter how low and depressed I would get, and believe me there have been many days in my life when I’ve felt lower than a pregnant ant, I never lost hope that God a will and purpose for my life, some grand design that I could not see. I have come to see that God’s will is never known in prospect, only in retrospect.
I love the poetry of Emily Dickinson. One of her poems is about hope:
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all.
When we trust in God, we are given the hope that even if our plans and dreams must change, there is still goodness and mercy ahead all the days of our lives. When we trust our lives in grateful abandon to our Creator, we are given the hope that nothing in life or death can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.
Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit. And that hope perches in our soul like a tiny, feathered bird, and sings sweetly–in the darkest nights and the brightest dawns–all the days of our lives.