Luke 24:1-12; Delivered Easter Sunday, April 21st; We have Faith!

If you were here last week, you know we talked about hope as an emotion that moves us to persevere in times of calamity and stress. It moves us to take risks, too. After the service, someone commenting on the sermon, said, “These days I put more stock in faith than hope.” And that’s exactly right. When we can’t even count on hope to get us through, sometimes, not always, but sometimes, we move forward in faith. People sometimes call it blind faith—because it IS blind. We have faith even when we don’t have a smidgeon of a visible hint of a positive outcome. It’s kind of sort of like hope, but it’s hope raised to the nth degree. Hope on steroids, or what’s left, when you’ve run out of hope, and you’re still chugging along—on hope’s fumes. Faith fumes, maybe. It’s the assurance of things hoped for. It’s the conviction of things NOT seen, as we read in Hebrews. That’s it, isn’t it? Best definition of faith I’ve ever come across.
As a starting place for our discussion today, let’s once again look at hope. What we put our hope in most, is life, which of course is not NOT seen, to use a double negative. It CAN be seen, all around us, especially this time of year with the tulips and azaleas and dogwoods blooming. All of creation is singing, “isn’t it great to be alive!” I have a story for you about hope as regards life. It concerns a bird.
It came into my family when my three girls were small. The youngest was still in diapers, so my girls were maybe 2, 4 and six years old.
You remember Toys R US? I’m not sure when it closed, but not that long ago. If you are familiar with Toys R US, you know that besides selling toys, the store sold diapers. The diapers were way in the back of the store. There was a reason for that. The store wanted to sell A LOT of merchandise—not just diapers. If you were a parent, you know. It was a challenge getting into and out of that store without spending a fortune. Parents, including me, steeled ourselves when we walked through those sliding glass doors, especially when we had little ones in tow. At any rate, I was at Toys R Us with my three girls. Before we even made it INTO the store, the girls stopped in their tracks, mesmerized. They had spied a little featherless bird. It was on the pavement out front. It was on its side, trying to right itself, with one of its arms—I say arm, because it looked more like an arm than a wing. And, it was opening and closing its beak. It was mouthing in bird language, “Help me! Help me!”
The bird had fallen out of its nest—built in the O of the Toys R Us sign. The four of us stood in a circle, staring down at that pitiful little thing.
A woman came out of the store. She looked down, curious to see what we were studying. She said, “That bird Is going to die. Just leave it.” And she walked on. Three pairs of eyes looked up at me—horror on their faces. “Would mommy really do that?”
“We can’t do that,” I said.
Why did I say that? I had just a pea-size, amount of hope that it could live. Still, it just seemed so cruel, not to try. So, we marched into the store, raced to the back and were at the check out counter, record time. I told the clerk about the bird. She found us a box. “Good luck,” she said. We went back outside. There it was, on the sidewalk, still. Maybe a little weaker, I don’t know. We scooped it up. And that’s how a baby sparrow came to live at our house. Believe me, digging up worms is not in my mommy repertoire. Our vet told us wild birds will eat dried cat food soaked in water. We fed it with tweezers. We molded an old washcloth into something resembling a nest. When it got dark outside, and it was still alive, wonder of wonders, we put a cloth over the box, hoping the bird might think it was outside sleeping with momma bird and its brothers and sisters.
That evening, we had a guest for dinner, Uncle Pic—He got the name Uncle Pic, since his last name is Pickerel. He’s not related, though, except through love. The girls led Uncle Pic to the laundry room. They lifted the edge of the cloth so that Uncle Pic could take a peek. The four of them named him, or maybe it was her, I don’t know. Anyway, its name? Tommy. After the girls were in bed, Uncle Pic asked me, “So what will you tell the girls when it’s morning and the bird is dead?” I wasn’t sure. Uncle Pic called the next day. He SAID he called to thank me for dinner but after a lull in the conversation he asked, “Is the bird still alive?” “Yes, indeedy! Tommy made it through the night. He’s actually chirping this morning. And he’s very hungry.” So, my hope was pea size when Tommy was flapping helplessly on the pavement. Now it was, I don’t know, maybe the size of a potato, since we’re talking vegetables. Two neighbor children dropped by to see Tommy. They were captivated. I asked their mom, “We have plans to visit grandma and grandpa this weekend. Any chance you could bird-sit?” And so Tommy spent the weekend in someone else’s laundry room. Did he miss us? We certainly missed him.
When we left the grandparents on Sunday, they wished Tommy well. And when we returned home, maybe it was my imagination, but Tommy looked a tad bigger than when we had left him.
Tommy eventually sprouted feathers, and finally, when he was big enough—he jumped out of his box. I discovered him hopping on top of our washing machine. It was time. By then, I had discovered an empty nest. It was within easy reach-- in a bush beside the house. After Tommy’s relocation, I picked up each of the girls in turn. Yes, they could see. Tommy was safe and he seemed happy. I stretched a cloth over his nest that night to help with Tommy’s transition. Next morning? He was still in that nest, chirping away. After a feeding, we let him alone for awhile. Now my hope was the size of a really, really BIG vegetable—can’t think of anything that big, actually. One of those humongous zucchinis maybe?
When we returned to the nest later in the day, Tommy was gone. And he didn’t even leave a goodbye note!
Now before we leave off talking about hope, think about this. Think about all the many people who were hoping that Tommy would hold onto life— The clerk at Toys R Us, our vet, Uncle Pic, the neighbor family, our own family, our extended family--grandma and grandpa. And we don’t even know who those people might have told about Tommy, who might have been rooting and praying for him, too. Hope grew so large that it spread like a zucchini vine with other zucchinis attached.
Again, we who are human, put our greatest hope in life itself. We understand that life is a great gift. It is the greatest of all God’s gifts to us, isn’t it? And yet, we know that all lives will eventually come to an end and sometimes not through natural causes. As was the case with Jesus.
The backstory of our scripture reading today, is that the Jews were being oppressed by the Romans. A lot of Jews hoped that Jesus would be able to rouse people to action, maybe form an army to defeat their oppressors. Jesus did amass a following, but he refused to embrace violence.
In the end, then, he was murdered by the Romans, and his body was laid to rest in a tomb. At this point in the story there is no hope at all. Not even one pea-sized smidgeon.
But faith took over—faith chugging along on hope’s fumes. It started with the women. They talked to two men, angels maybe? Those men said that Jesus had come back to life. There was nothing to see, except a stone rolled away. But faith remember is the conviction of things NOT seen. Hopelessness would not have its say, not with those women. No way.
Their faith spread to the disciples, and from there it just took off, like a zucchini vine--to others who had never even met Jesus when he was alive. It spread first to other Jews, then to non-Jews, and yes, even among some Romans. And, of course, it is STILL growing. Imagine that?! And because we have, not hope, but faith, that Christ lives beyond the grave, we have more than hope in life. We have faith in life and in life eternal. That is why today, on this most special of all days, we sing our Allelijhahs, joining our voices with the heavenly host: We have faith: Christ is Alive, you can believe it, it’s true. Amen