There were two brothers – Billy and Jimmy – the notorious McTaggart brothers. Billy and Jimmy were well known, and very much feared, local hoodlums, gangsters, in their area of Glasgow. The brothers had made a lot of money over the years. No-one knew exactly where the money had come from … but most people could make a pretty good guess. But no-one would dare voice these suspicions out loud, and especially in front of the McTaggart brothers … they valued their lives and their well-being.
Billy McTaggart died suddenly. The circumstances were a bit hazy. No-one quite knew how … but there were whispers. Retribution from another crime family perhaps … a betrayal … a drug deal gone wrong. There were lots of rumours …
The remaining brother, Jimmy McTaggart, approached the local Church of Scotland Minister to conduct his brothers’ funeral. The Minister was a bit shocked … after all the brothers had never ever been seen in Church. They had always seemed to serve themselves and their own purposes at the expense of others.
Sensing the Minister’s discomfort and unease, McTaggart offered the Minister money. But the Minister refused … he couldn’t charge money for a funeral. “What about if I made a donation to the Church?”, he asked. “Well,” said the Minister, “that might be alright.” “Great”, said Jimmy McTaggart. “I saw on your noticeboard that the church needs money for a new roof … and that your appeal is £10,000 short of what you need. I’ll tell you what, I’ll give you a cheque for £10,000 right here, right now, but on one condition … at my brother Billy’s funeral you must say that he was a saint.”
The Minister agreed, took the cheque, and banked it that very same afternoon.
A few days later the day of Billy McTaggart’s funeral arrived. The Minister stood up to give the Eulogy. He began, “Billy McTaggart was an evil man.”
Jimmy McTaggart sat in the front row, glowering at the Minister, his face turning red, steam coming out of his ears …
The Minister continued, “Billy McTaggart cheated on his first wife … and then on his second wife. He bullied and harassed and intimidated other people and made their lives a misery. Billy McTaggart may even have dealt in drugs, and illegal money lending. “Yes, Billy McTaggart was an evil man … but, compared to his brother, he was a Saint!”
We are not saints … but we are loved, and forgiven, by a generous God. That is our Christian faith. And that is our Christian hope. It is because of Jesus that we live in hope. We live in the ‘now’ and the ‘not yet.’ To live in hope is to live in the space in between the ‘now’ and the ‘not yet’.
My text this morning is from 1 Peter 3:15, “Always be ready to make your defence to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you … yet do it with gentleness and reverence.”
Hope is one of those words we use a lot in church, and a word that preachers use even more! Hope is a beautiful word used by people all over the world – whether of faith or not. Hope represents the possibility of a positive outcome – a beacon of light in the darkness. But Christian hope is different to the world’s understanding of hope.
For example, I hope that my football team, Ayr United, and by that I mean soccer football(!), will win their games each Saturday. That is my earthly hope … perhaps it’s folly too! It’s hope for a good outcome – the best result – based on nothing more than a positive wishfulness.
Our hope is different. Our hope is not wishful thinking, but a confident expectation. When we pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” we aren’t thinking “Oh, that would be quite nice!” No, we are praying for it to happen. Our expectations are rooted in a God who is able to make all things new – who brings light and life into this dark world.
John Piper puts it this way, “Christian hope is a confidence that something will come to pass because God has promised it will come to pass.”
Furthermore, hope takes its foundation from faith. Hebrews 11:1 tells us that, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for.” We cannot have one without the other. Or to put it another way – faith and hope are inter-linked. Faith is grounded in the reality of the past … hope is looking to the reality of the future. Without faith, there is no hope … and without hope, there is no true faith.
Hope motivates us to move forward. Hope stirs us to action to make this world a better place – to strive to make a difference rather than accepting the world as it is. The late Archbishop Desmond Tutu put it this way … “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all the darkness.”
We have heard what hope is … and what hope is not … but what does it mean to have ‘Hope in a dark world’? It sometimes is hard to make sense of God when life is tough, when it seems as if we are living in a dark world. The Early Church was no stranger to suffering. The author of 1 Peter is writing to a people who are facing, or will soon be facing, persecution. So, claiming to be a Christian, justifying the hope in their heart, could lead to conflict and danger. For these early Christians, hope was very much lived out in a dark world.
It feels, at times, as if we are living in a dark world today too. We don’t have to look too far to see oppression, injustice and downright evil in the daily news. And this is where the type of Christian hope I described earlier comes in … because if hope is merely wishing for a better, more just, world then it is so easy for these hopes to be dashed or quashed.
This is why I said that hope motivates us to move forward … and that hope stirs us to action to make this world a better place – to strive to make a difference, rather than accepting the world as it is. To hope in a dark world – to justify the hope within you – means to trust in God. We do not always see what we are hoping for. Nor do we know when it will come. But through our trust, our faith, our hope in God we are confident it will come.
So, what do we hope for in these days? What do we hope for in a dark world? I’m often drawn back to a scene from the film ‘Schindler’s List’ when I think of hope in a dark world. At one point in the film we see Oscar Schindler spraying water from a hose pipe on to train carriages full of prisoners on their way to Auschwitz, and to almost certain death. The sun is beating down, the prisoners are jam packed together … and Schindler is trying to alleviate their suffering in some small way. As Schindler sprays the water on the carriage, Amon Goethe, the camp commandant, shouts to Schindler, “You’re cruel, Oscar. You’re giving them hope.”
And yet, hope is the central redeeming feature that develops through Schindler’s character in the film. By employing the prisoners in his enamelling factory, they have the hope of avoiding Auschwitz, and the hope of surviving persecution by the Nazis and ultimately, the hope of holding on to life itself.
Our Christian hope is about what we might do with God’s guidance to bring about change – to let the light in to a dark world.
Hope teaches us to live in the present while living in confident expectation of the future. Hope brings light to a dark world.
To live in hope also means acknowledging that the kingdom of this world has not yet become the kingdom of God. Our hope is for a kingdom that is coming, not one that is yet fully here. We pray, “Thy Kingdom come …”
If the world is not yet as God wants it to be, so we too are not yet as God wants us to be.
Just as the world is not yet the kingdom of God, so too most of us are not yet saints.
But we live in hope … knowing that our true identity is to be found not in our past … or in our present … but in our future.
Hope brings light to a dark world. Amen.
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