September 18, 2011
In the Bible (Genesis 9:8-17), after the flood subsides, God provides Noah and his family with a sign of hope. It is implied that from time to time God will again provide this same sign as a reminder that:
* If our hopes are in agreement with God’s hopes for us and the world
* If we work with and under God’s direction
* If we use everything that God gives us to do that
* we can be assured that our hopes will be fulfilled in God’s time and God’s way
The sign of hope that God gave Noah and has given all human beings, including ourselves, is the rainbow. In the play Finian’s Rainbow, there is a song, Look to the Rainbow. In the movie “The Wizard of Oz”, Judy Garland sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. In the children’s TV show, “Sesame Street”, Kermit the Frog sang “ The Rainbow Connection”. If you listen carefully to the words of these rainbow songs, you will hear messages of hope.
We’ve all seen pictures of beautiful rainbows, but most of us, including myself, rarely get to see a real live rainbow, up close and in person. The first time I remember seeing a rainbow was in 1995. I was in my third year serving for the first time as an ordained, full-time United Methodist pastor at Indian Mills United Methodist Church in Shamong, NJ. I had some really great ideas as to how to change the church and and by doing so, change my little corner of the world. But very little of what I had in mind was working. I had just about decided that continuing to serve as pastor at that church was hopeless.
About that time, I went to the National Evangelism Workshop in downtown Pittsburgh,PA.It was an inspiring three day event. I kept thinking about how I could apply some of what was being presented when I got back to the church. But the event ended on a dark, gloomy, rainy day. The kind of day that can make you feel more hopeless than hopeful. So I told myself that no one at the church would listen to me. I just wanted to forget about evangelism and the church. But God wouldn’t let me forget. After the event ended Joan (my wife) and I spent the afternoon at a big enclosed mall across the Ohio River. After having lunch and doing some shopping at the mall, we decided to go back to the hotel.
I expected the weather to be just as depressing on the way out as it was on the way in. However, just as we left the mall the rain stopped. The sun began to shine. And as I looked across the Ohio River, there was the biggest, brightest rainbow I had ever seen, hovering over downtown Pittsburgh. Just then I remembered the story of the rainbow of hope God had given Noah. I was sure that God was using the rainbow over Pittsburgh to give me hope. I saw it as a sign that God wanted me to continue in ministry at the same church. My hope was renewed.
The next day was another dark, gloomy, rainy day. However, as we were riding home along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the rain stopped. The sun came out. And there was another rainbow, as bright and beautiful as the one I saw the day before. As it hovered over the highway, I was sure this was no coincidence. God was reassuring and reminding me “Look, I really mean what I say. There is hope for you and your church. Just keep the faith. Do the work I give you to do, and leave the results to me”. God assured me that things were going to work out. And over the next two and a half years things went well. When I was sent by the Bishop to another church, I left feeling that I and the people of Indian Mills United Methodist Church, who I had served for five years had accomplished everything that God had given us to do.
As a retired pastor, I am sometimes asked to be a substitute preacher when the pastor of a church is away. I was asked to do that on September 4 at the same church God sent me back to with renewed hope 16 years before. In my sermon I told the congregation the story I have just written about here. I reminisced about some of the ways God had in fact fulfilled the hope he had given all of us at that church. I closed by suggesting that we all continue to look for rainbows of hope, especially since on the following Sunday we would all be reminded of so much bad news in the world. Next Sunday would be September 11 (9/11 – Patriot Day), The10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on theUnited States.
During the weekend of September 11 we visited our daughter and her husband at Rev. Barbara Hoffman. As it happened, she was a friend of ours who was one of the members of the church at which I experienced that transformation from hopelessness to hope fulfilled. The church at which I had preached about hope just the week before. I knew at the time I was her pastor that she was planning to go through the lengthy process of becoming a United Methodist pastor. She conducted a very appropriate September 11 remembrance worship service. She especially reminded us that as people who say we are followers of Jesus, it is expected that we will be a people who will forgive, but not forget. A people who will seek justice, not just for ourselves, but for all people, and never seek revenge.
I have sometimes preached that message myself, even as I asked myself if I could do that with respect to those who are intent on destroying theUnited States. It seems to me that those of us who try to follow the way and the words of Jesus need a lot of hope. Hope that we will be able to forgive those who have done and intend to do us harm. Hope that there will some day be total and lasting peace in the world.
Thoughts about all of this were on my mind as we drove home late in the afternoon of September 11. It was another dark and gloomy day. And just a few miles from our home the skies opened up with a great downpour. But a few minutes later the rain stopped. As we entered the development in which we live, the sun began to shine. Can you guess what happened next? Yes – as we drove the last half mile down the street to our home, there, once again, was a beautiful and bright rainbow hovering over the road, just as it was on those two days about 16 years ago. I was again sure it was not a coincidence that this rainbow of hope appeared on this day. This day on which we were all remembering the evil that took place exactly ten years before. This day when we especially needed to have hope. This day when we needed to be reminded that it was, is now, and will always be God who ultimately fulfills our hopes. My experience tells me that this is the truth.
Thanks for your attention. We look forward to hearing your comments about our web-site. We also invite you to send us stories of your experiences and observations of present hopes and hope fulfilled, so we can spread them around the world via this web-site. This is one way we can all join together to help keep hope alive.