Dear Sisters and Brothers,
I suppose that nearly all of us in our congregation have some ancestors who chose to come to America. From places all over Europe they left the places they knew and some people they loved. In a few cases parents sent their children here with hopes of a new life.
One of my prized possessions is a small scarf made of dyed wool. It is about a hundred years old, but that isn’t why I value it. The colored threads of the scarf make a plaid pattern that is called a Scottish tartan. It bears a pattern chosen for a family named MacLaren, but what makes it special is that it was a gift sent to America when my father was born. My father still had a great-grandmother who lived in Scotland, though they never got to see each other except for photographs. This great- grandmother had come from the extended family (or clan) of the MacLarens and so this was a way of sharing something with a child she would have loved to cradle in her arms.
Dad’s mother had been born in Scotland, but was brought to America when she was a small child. She would never be able to remember her grandparents in any detail, but she knew that they were back in Scotland and loved her. When I really think about it, I am amazed at the thought of my grandmother’s family: How hard it must have been for her parents to leave everything they had ever known and all the people who loved them. It was a time when the mail service between Great Britain and America could take three weeks or even longer. Cross Atlantic telegrams were available, but too expensive. So, it took a good deal of trust and hope to have the bravery to sail for America. As I wrote in another letter, my great-grandparents came to America separately, but that is another story.
Sometimes in life, we need to be brave. Bravery isn’t something that happens by itself because it is a response to fear: Bravery without fear isn’t bravery at all. But the brave response comes from a few sources. The best sources of bravery are called “trust” and “hope.” And, you may remember that “hope” is one of the essentials that brings us unity.
In Ephesians 1:17-21, the Apostle Paul says this:
“I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.”
God gives us faith by the Holy Spirit through wisdom and revealed truth. So, we are able to trust God to lead us to where we need to be and what we need to do. God knows that we are afraid, but he gives us hope so we can be brave.
The “inheritance” that Paul mentions has two stages. We can be brave because we know that God never abandons us in this life. Even when we walk “in the valley of the shadow of death,” we do not fear evil because God comforts us with his shepherd’s rod and staff (the law and grace). The second stage of the inheritance is for when we die: We have assurance that we will dwell with our loving Lord forever.
The Ephesians passage reaffirms the statement that the power of God cannot be compared to any other power. Since God is eternal and all other powers are temporary, we have every reason to trust in his power to raise us from this temporary existence into something that is lasting and more substantial. I repeat what Paul said, “ I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.”
We are all afraid, but we can be brave because our experience of God has led to trust. That trust leads to hope. That hope makes us brave. That hope will be fulfilled.
Romans 5:5 “And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
Bravery can be built on flimsier things (like desperation and mule headedness), but if you want to overcome your fear, it is best to lean on hope that is built on trust.
We are all descended from some hopeful and trusting people. We live because of their hope and trust in God.