Before I was a pastor, I was a teacher. I am originally from Texas and grew up in Austin. I did my undergrad at The University of Texas at Austin where I got my bachelors in music education. I play cello and taught orchestra for 5 years in a suburb of Dallas in the Plano independent school district. When I was student teaching, they encouraged us to keep a happy folder. As we had already discovered, and would learn more the longer we taught, teaching isn’t always sunshine and roses. Some days, or weeks, or months, could be hard, like really hard. And in those hard times the happy folder could be another layer of support, it could be a little folder of hope. See, in the happy folder they told us to save notes that warmed your heart, letters that reminded you of your calling. To write down the good phone calls and meetings, the times a kid or parent shared what you or your class had meant to them, or if a student drew a picture or wrote something just for you. That way in your desk all year, right at hand, you would have a folder filled with joy and love. You would have a folder filled with things to remind you of why you were called to teach to begin with, remind you that the tough times do not last forever. Hope, right there in your desk, so when you needed it you could tap into that store of hope. You could tap into it to help give you the strength, patience, and endurance for another day.
And our scripture today draws us into a store of hope, of God’s abiding love, that we have access to here and now. The letter opens with a standard greeting section, hey y’all people in Colossae it’s Paul and Timothy, before moving into a standard thanksgiving section, where the author gives thanks to God, give thanks for the community, generally gives thanks. Now, this letter may or may not have been written by Paul himself. It may feel odd to us today but back then it was standard practice to write in the name of someone or with the authority of someone, especially if you were their student or disciple. A rough, approximate analogy would be like speechwriters today who write for various politicians or public figures. It is in this opening Thanksgiving section that author draws us into hope, “the faith and love that spring from the hope stored up for you in heaven.” And while it is, “stored up for us in heaven,” this hope is not trapped in the future or isolated in heaven but something we have access to here and now. The author continues, writing that hope comes from the gospel, the good news of God’s love for us, a love which is active all around us here and now. Our passage today wraps up by affirming that we are rescued and freed from the things that bind us and trap us in unhealth, toxicity, or harm and the author prays that the people of Colossae be strengthened for patience and endurance. And this week, those last two words really caught my attention. “Strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience.” In the greek that word, translated here as “great,” actually as the connotations of all or every. So the author is praying for the people to have every kind of endurance, all endurance possible. And it just led me to think, in the midst of this pretty upbeat and uplifting opening, there were things going on that people were enduring, things for which they needed patience. It’s implicit, the author isn’t yet saying what the people are going through but if they need strength, patience, and endurance, then something is going on. And how powerful, how beautiful, is the movement in this letter from hope to strength, this connection between hope and strength, patience, and endurance. Because it is through hope that we gain strength, patience, and endurance for whatever we are going through in life. Rooted in hope, tapping into the stores of hope, God’s love around us, we gain strength, patience, and endurance for whatever life brings, and we all know that life can be hard.
In just the past week, we have experienced another mass shooting, a political assassination in Japan, all sorts of things going on with committee hearings and fallout from Supreme Court rulings, and that is just what made the national and global news. You have things you are going through as well. Each of us have our own struggles, some we share with others, some we do not. Life can be hard and hope helps get us through. Hope acknowledges the pain, grief, and difficulties that we experience and in their midst hope anticipates the return of peace, joy, love, and laughter. I feel like growing up, all the Christian hope I heard about seemed very unhealthy. Like, just put a smile on your face, ignore the dumpster fire around you, and it’ll eventually get better, cause Jesus. Now, positive mindsets and being intentional about what we focus on are important, but hope does not mean denying the reality around you. In fact, I believe part of what makes hope so powerful is that hope acknowledges the rough stuff and names that the rough stuff does not get to define us, it does not get the last word in our lives. Hope and strength, patience, and endurance are connected because when we need endurance we need hope and helps get us through. Rooted in hope, anchored in hope, waves will crash against us but they don’t have to drag us under.
This week, what I want us to do, is tap into the stores of hope around us. Because hope is here, hope is alive, and hope is on the move. How are we going to do that? First, you could read scripture. Especially if you’re not feeling it, if you’re not feeling remotely hopeful, scripture is something you can just open and turn to. Multiple, multiple passages express hope so well:
Lamentations 3: God’s mercies are new every morning
psalm 30: weeping and mourning may last for the night but joy comes in the morning
john 16: Christ tells his disciples that in this world they will, will, have troubles but to take heart because he has overcome the world
Romans 8: Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ
Book of Philippians
Next, you can spend time with or make your own happy folder. Start simply and carve out 5 minutes, 5 minutes, to sit down, pause, breathe, and think of some of the happiest times of your life. And then, write them down. If you can carve out more time, get some physical things in that folder. Maybe a letter or card from a friend or family member. Maybe a drawing from a child or grandchild. Could be anything but put it in that folder.
Finally, you can tap into hope by making time to just stop and breathe. A minute or two a day where all you do is sit and focus on your breath. If your mind starts to wander bring it back to your in breath and out breath. You’d be amazed at what making time to just stop and breathe can do for your life. This week, root yourself in hope, feel the truth of God’s present abiding love, and know, believe, that worst of times do not last forever. Hope is here. Tap into it, root yourself in it, and may it give you strength. Amen.
Rev. Stefanie Hayes