“HOW TO HAVE AN EXPECTANT LIFE”
August 16, 2015
In World War II a submarine was returning to Newport News, VA when something suddenly went very wrong. The communications failed. The electronics stopped. The engine quit and the submarine sank to the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay. Navy and Coast Guard personnel fanned out in order to find the vessel, rescue the men, and salvage that expensive piece of hardware. They did pinpoint its location and as divers swam into the depths toward it they heard an odd sound. “Tap, tap-tap-tap. Tap, tap-tap-tap.” A sailor had taken a wrench and was clicking it against the steel hull. He tapped out a message in morse code and that message was a question and the question that percussed against those approaching divers was, “Tap, tap-tap-tap … Is there hope?”
Men and women, a thousand times a day that question taps out of human hearts all over this community. In the medical center someone looks up from a hospital bed at a doctor interpreting test results and the question on the lips is, “Is there hope?” A husband and wife sit with pained brows in a counselor’s office and with respect to their marriage, “Tap, tap-tap-tap …Is there hope?” A single mother with more bills in her left hand than cash in her right hand stares at the yellow pages on bankruptcy lawyers and …“Tap, tap-tap-tap…Is there hope?” In an Al-Anon meeting, a student with dyslexia, deep in the heart with respect to a guilty past, with respect to power to change, with respect to life in heaven … “Tap, tap-tap-tap, Is there hope?” Or with respect to centuries of ethnic bloodletting or political corruption in a broken world … “Tap, tap-tap-tap … Is there hope?”
I am so glad you are here today because unequivocally on the basis of a word from God, here is the reply to that question -- “Yes, yes, yes, there is hope!” We have a text that tells us why and how to have it.
When we lived in San Antonio we had friends who had a place at a lake west of Austin known as LBJ and one of the fun things we like to do there was to power up and down the lake in a nice boat. Occasionally, I will let one of the children steer and I’ll say something like, “Steer northwards.” Then I’ll see them look over the bow and realize that what they are seeing is a merging of shorelines in front of them with no clear runway “northwards.” So I’d say, “See that little hill with the blue water tower that looks like a soda can? Head for that, that part of north.” That’s how we’d go northward.
On the lake of life as we head Christward, the Bible gives a help, a bright blue water tower … that blue water tower is a verse and that verse is a prayer and that prayer is a benediction and that benediction has to do with the question, “Tap, tap-tap-tap … Is there hope?” and it is has to do with the answer, “Yes, yes, yes, … there is!” “May the God of hope fill you with joy and peace as you believe so that by the power of the Holy Spirit your life may overflow with hope.”
There is hope because …
Many years ago we moved from San Antonio to Houston. Selling our house was a bear. I finally moved ahead and started work and left the family behind trying to sell the house. Thankfully we got a contract and for the closing there was a laundry list of things that needed to be addressed. I wanted nothing to derail that contract so I drove the three hours west on I-10 on my days off to fix those things. On the very last day I worked from morning to night. Got the siding fixed. Got the trees trimmed back. Etceteras. The last item involved plumbing in the bathroom, specifically a drain in the bath tub. To make a long story short come to 9:00 p.m. when Home Depot is closed and plumbers are in bed and see me sitting in the bathtub with an array of tools all around me, me looking at porcelain that looked like it might crack, me muttering about a 100-year-old house with 100-year-old pipes and threads that are stripped and they don’t make parts for this anymore and never in a million years is this going to work! On my lips was “Tap, tap-tap-tap … Is there hope?” Out of the drain came, “No, no there is not.” Then there as a P.S.: “You don’t know what you are doing.” I didn’t need that. My prayer was, “O God, what am I going to do?”
You will be amazed, as I still am, at what happened next. The phone rang and I picked it up to hear a voice on the other end saying, “Mr. Wood? This is Ron, the plumber.
This reminds me of the story of Ron, the plumber, and Steve, the plumber. They lived in the same neighborhood. In mine there is a South River Oaks Dr. and a North River Oaks Dr. and people get mixed up so somebody intending to go to 400 South River Oaks Dr. ends up knocking on the door of 400 North River Oaks Dr. That was the situation for plumber Ron and plumber Steve. Interestingly, both were gardeners and grew vegetables – carrots, corn, beets. Ron for some reason had an affliction on his beets and resorted to a strange horticulturalist who was strange because he used a stethoscope to listen to the juices inside flow and whatever psychic communication might come up from that vegetable. But the guy got off one street and ended up, at dusk, quickly moving right into the garden of Steve, the plumber. He was at it with his stethoscope when Steve spied him and yelled, “What are you doing?” “You called me out. Aren’t you Ron the plumber?” “No,” came the reply, “I’m Steve. Ron’s another block over.” To this the horticulturalist said, “Oh no, I’ve been listening to the beets of a different plumber.”
So back to my story. The call was from Ron. He said to me, “I’m the guy, who was at your house earlier today shutting off the gas lines underneath your house. Mr. Wood, I left the check you gave me on the mantle of the fireplace and I’m in the neighborhood right now and wonder if I could come by and get it.” “Sure Ron, and would you happen to have a moment to take a look at a plumbing ‘situation’ I have (I didn’t name it a “crisis”!)?” He said, “Glad to.”
I met Ron at the door and gave him his check. He stepped easily into the house and toward the bathroom. My eyes scanned his face as he came in and especially as he came upon “the situation.” He said matter-of-factly, “I can take care of that in no time.” The off he went to his truck coming back in with some chemicals and tools, the likes of which I had never seen. In minutes he had done what I had, in hours, failed to do.
Friends, you and I can hope because God is in your neighborhood, you can hope because God is on the phone, you can hope because God is ringing your door bell, because God is coming into your home, because God has the tools, because God has the know-how, because God has the want-to, because God has the time … to help you and me! There was hope for me because there was a plumber for me. There is hope for you because there is a God for you. He came in Jesus Christ and he still comes today and every day helping as he did in meeting my practical need through that Ron the plumber.
Some people will hope as long as there is money, some as long as there is a self-help section in the bookstore, some as long as there is a research department at the medical university, some as long as there is … as much good hope as there is from these, they run out and they fail. But God doesn’t. As long as there is God, there is hope.
This water tower verse tells us not only why there is hope but how to get it. It says, “May the God of hope fill you with joy and peace as you believe.” Let me pause before going on. Did you notice that the ripples of hope from God have whitecaps of joy and peace? Hope is what I felt when I heard the voice at the other end of the phone say, “This is Ron, the plumber”! Hope is what I felt when I asked, “Could you look at a plumbing situation?” Hope is what I felt when he said, “Yes.” Hope is what I felt when I heard the door bell. Hope is what I felt when he followed me to the bathroom. Hope is what I felt when scanned his face as he looked at it. Joy is what I felt when he said, ““No problem.” Joy is what I felt when I saw the old part come off and the new part go on. Peace is what I felt as I saw the job done and Ron to the door. Peace is what I felt as I drove home that night (a July 4th night with late night fireworks still going off in the darkness of this farm or that ranch along I-10). Peace is what I felt when I laid down to sleep that night. Do you want hope, joy, and peace in your life? My hope, joy, and peace that night happened because of a plumber. To have hope (and its whitecaps) get connected with, not a plumber, but God.
C. S. Lewis spoke in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, of his love of joy. These sparkler-like flashes would strike his heart path, life path and would give way to the calm candles of peace … they would land like fiery arrows at his feet and he would love them and be fascinated by them and want more of them and notice them turn into lampstands of peace. Then one day he found himself wondering, “Who makes the fiery arrows? Who takes aim at the path before my feet? Who draws the bow?” Hope, like that joy, and joy and peace … great, great things to have in our lives but they are gifts and I’m directing you to the giver. Get connected with the giver, with God. The Revised English Version says, May the God who is the ground of hope. You could say, the God who inspires hope, the God who spawns hope, the God who shoots the arrows hope, the God who precipitates hope … but the point is that there is hope and joy and peace because there is God!
The verse tells us how to do that. It says, “May the God of hope fill you with joy and peace as you believe.” “May” and “As you believe.” “May” is an asking word. “As you believe” is something you do. You know I had to ask Ron if he’d look at my plumbing situation. You have to ask God into your life. He is in the neighborhood and he is asking you if he can come by. He does that in a million ways but you have to say, “Would you come by, would you come in, would you please?”
And as he comes by … what if when Ron had called and said, “It’s Ron, the plumber,” I had said, “No, you’re not. You’re some pizza delivery guy trying to make a sale.” What if when he had come to the door I had said, “You don’t look like a plumber! Show me your plumber’s card!” What if when he walked through the house I had said, “Wipe that confident look off your face! I know you don’t know what you’re doing!” What if when he saw the situation I had said, “You can’t fix, can you!?!” With the asking there has to be a hospitality of the spirit, a respect in the soul, a welcome of the heart. With the asking there has to be a positive relating. As you believe.
At Friday’s wedding I spoke to the couple about tending the garden of their relationship and I said that as they did that they would experience wonder, joy, and satisfaction … maybe some exasperation too! After all we don’t marry, nor are we, perfect people. Well, what if one of them had said, “When I get the wonder, joy, and satisfaction, then I’ll start loving her/him”? No, as you love you experience wonder, joy, and satisfaction. Folks, the way it works is as we love God, as we are open to a relationship with him, as we cultivate a relationship with him … then we experience hope, joy, and peace. Don’t wait for hope, joy, and peace. You get hope as you believe.
They say that joy is the flag that flies over the castle when the king is in residence. For me it was the flag that flew over my house when the plumber was in the bathroom accomplishing what I could not. When Jesus enters a life, a church … we have that hope for the God we need and want to relate to become flags of joy and peace.
Some time back I went to a church in Phoenix, AZ. As I approached, before there were any open doors or windows, coming through the walls was music with the beat of joy. In fact, it was called the Community Church of Joy. It could have had the flags of joy and peace flying over it. As I opened the doors and looked to the center of the room I saw the radiance and the realness of those people’s faces. They were celebrating the God who was in their neighborhood and in their lives in Jesus Christ. They were celebrating the God who was their king is in residence.
I pray that out of the rib cage of our soul would come music with the beat of joy and peace that would answer the tap-tap-tap of the world’s question, “Is there hope?” with the answer, “Yes, and may the God of that hope fill you as you believe in him with me.”
If you would like to talk with someone about this message or your spiritual life, or to have someone pray with you, the pastors and elders of the church would welcome your call.
Pastor Jeff Wood has been a pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Sebastian since 2014.