Hope (First Sermon in Summer Series, “The Sacred and the Secular Are Inseparable”)



Someone has differentiated between wishful thinking and hope on the basis of effort.  Wishful thinking isn’t a bad thing, but it is marked by laziness when some kind of action might make a practical difference.  Hope, in contrast, is wanting something to change and putting energy into trying to make that happen.  I don’t have to work very hard to look around Silverside and see countless examples of hope functioning.  Anticipation in action.

June Eisley has given a chunk of her life taking public stands against public stands against wars and on occasion getting arrested for her audacity.  This is hope at work within June, not wishful thinking.

Marie Neal and a changing clan hope that hunger in the City of Wilmington can at least be minimized and ultimately defeated; therefore, on the thirteenth of every month they are down at Emmaneul Dining Room serving a hot, well-prepared meal to an average of 200 people.  This is hope at work within Marie and all of those who join her in this monthly effort.

I have no idea how I stumbled across it, but somehow a few weeks ago a website fell into my hands.  Maybe somebody wanted me to have a big laugh.  If so, it worked.  The article was about how teen girls in southern churches were supposed to get teen boys in those same churches to notice them.  Naturally, we would have expected to see some advice about smiling on such a list.  I also wasn’t surprised to see slinging hair back out of her eyes.  But I wasn’t prepared for the pointer I’ll never forget–to lick her lips every few minutes.  Isn’t that the function of lip gloss?  In any case, by the description of hope I gave initially, this set of suggestions if put into practice would qualify as hope on a young lady’s part–and not mere wishful thinking–that she would meet a young man.  If you’re older and you keep licking your lips, someone will pass you some chapstick or spread the rumor that cigarettes have taken their toll.

I thought I’d gotten to the age that I’d made the choice to be officially uncool and love intentionally paying attention only to those fads and new words I wanted to bother with instead of feeling that I had to stay up with things in order to identify with the groups I wanted feel connected to.  A nerd is kind of uncool and out of touch.  When I was in high school, we called what today would be called a nerd, a “greaser.”  I was one of those, but thought I’d shed the identity when I left home, studied, married, had kids, etc.  I was surprised, therefore, the other day when I sent my seminary dean what was supposed to have been a text-joke.  She texted back and said, “We nerds have strange senses of humor.”  Oh my gosh!  I didn’t think anyone had noticed yet that I was re-embracing my greaser past and all the uncoolness that went along with it.  Or maybe cool is actually contextual.

Anyway, knowing I’m out of step in some areas–a step or two at least!–I called my older son and told him about my summer sermon series, “The Sacred and the Secular Are Inseparable,” and asked him to tell me his favorite non-religious words of inspiration at the moment–especially relating to the subject of hope.  Jarrett is very cool, by the way.  He named the song you heard a little clip of earlier, “Sun” sung by Polyphonic Spree.  I’ve listened to it several times and totally don’t take it all in, but this much I do get:


Soon you’ll find your own way


Hope has come, you are safe




Hope here has something to do with effort; in this case, with finding one’s own way and with safety.  I don’t think hope always leads to safety, but expending effort–as in finding one’s own way–is a requirement if the anticipation we feel is to be anything more than wishful thinking.




The word, “secularism” was coined by George Jacob Holyoake, and he meant by the word “a form of opinion [that] concerns itself only with questions, the issues of which can be tested by the experience of this life.” He added to the bare-bones definition:

Secularism is that which seeks the development of the physical, moral, and intellectual nature of humanity to the highest possible point, as the immediate duty of life—which inculcates the practical sufficiency of natural morality apart from Atheism, Theism, or the Bible and which selects as its methods of procedure the promotion of human improvement by material means; it proposes these positive agreements as the common bond of union, to all who would regulate life by reason and ennoble it by service.

Secularism does not, inherently or of necessity, deny any religious claims, but it does separate the religious realm from the non-religious realm in order to try to arrive at core truths unembellished or uncolored by abstractions such as faith. Holyoake was not one of those secularists who affirmed much that was passed along by organized religion. One other quote from him: “Secularism is a code of duty pertaining to this life founded on considerations purely human, and intended mainly for those who find theology indefinite or inadequate, unreliable or unbelievable.”

Many secularists have no argument with religion per se, but they don’t think religious persons or institutions should be in any way privileged in whatever society they exist. Speaking as a professional “religionist” (is that a word?), I’m in full agreement with that much of secularism. Especially in a society that purports to espouse “separation of synagogue/church/mosque and state,” this is exactly as it should be.

In Professor Harvey Cox’s classic book, The Secular City, he argued that secularism can’t always be a bad thing. He gave two reasons that secularism can be a good thing: “It prevents powerful religions from acting on their theocratic pretensions. It allows people to choose among a wider range of worldviews.” Cox went on to say:




God can be just as present in the secular as in the religious realms of life, and we unduly cramp the divine presence by confining it to some specially delineated spiritual or ecclesial sector. This idea has two implications. First, it suggests that people of faith need not flee from the allegedly godless contemporary world. God came into this world, and that is where we belong as well. But second, it also means that not all that is “spiritual” is good for the spirit (Cox’s paraphrase of parts of his book).

The impetus for this summer’s sermon series comes from a famous liberal Baptist preacher from last century.  One of his most remembered sermons is “The Sacred and the Secular Are Inseparable.”  How brilliant an insight is that!  Trying to tie all things or anything “sacred” to organized religion is compartmentalizing at its worst.  “Sacred” experiences, if you will, happen all the time in secular settings.  This is an important realization both for those who don’t find organized religion either sacred or inspiring as well as for those who gather and worship frequently, but who are in those specifically religious settings from one to four hours a week—depending on how long your rabbi, pastor/priest, or imam preaches.




One of Sigmund Freud’s several books was titled, Moses and Monotheism.  If you were to pick up that book and start reading, you’d probably not expect Freud to display much enthusiasm for organized religion, and you’d be right on target.  Getting back to the idea that hope, as opposed to wishful thinking, involves as much effort as we can expend in a situation, I think it is worth a moment of our time to ponder a key quote from this book that ties in perfectly with our subject for today:

Religion is an attempt to get control over the sensory world, in which we are placed, by means of the wish-world, which we have developed inside us as a result of biological and psychological necessities. But it cannot achieve its end.

Latch onto his perspective for a bit:  religion operates by means of a wish-world and, therefore, cannot achieve its own end.

If you are or ever have been or if you know some Christian fundamentalists, then you might well be informed about the concepts of millennialism.  Based on a single obscure reference in the book of Revelation to a thousand-year reign of Jesus at or near the end of time, doctrines of millennialism have developed.  Most conservative Christians believe in PRE-millennialism; this is the idea that Jesus will return to the earth—not as a helpless baby as was the case with his so-called “first coming,” but rather as its undisputed almighty ruler.  At this “second coming” Jesus, pre-millennialists say, all the faithful who have ever lived on the earth, both the already deceased as well as those living at the moment of this return will be caught up into heaven with him and taken to their eternal reward.  A one thousand year reign will follow during which time evil will be seriously trounced upon, and the reluctant as well as the wicked not destroyed as evil is dismantled will get a second opportunity to get right with God.  Failure to comply with this second opportunity means no way to avoid eternal alienation from God and palpable punishments.

Post-millennialism holds that the world becomes, in a one-thousand year time frame, such an idyllic place that Jesus sort of strolls back to earth to congratulate a rather perfected humanity.  It’s been a while since anyone of note held to this idea; I’m not sure who if anyone holds to it today.

A-millennialism refers to a belief that there will no be literalism thousand year reign of a returning Jesus.  The singular literary reference to it is obvious symbolism.

One of my seminary Greek professors, James Blevins, added another millennial option.  He called it “pan-millennialism,” by which he meant things will all pan out in the end!  This is a kind of hope.  The world is and becomes what people who hope for a better world do to make it such…or not.  I love that “pan-millennial” view and my beloved, late mentor, Dr. James Blevins.

You likely have heard it said in one way or another that only persons of faith can have hope or stated negatively, “Atheists have no hope.”  Oops!  Atheists are fighting back these days saying, “Balderdash!” to that uninformed slam.

One most articulate atheist who online identifies himself only by his first name, Derrick, explains why atheists and other secularists have mounds of hope.  He writes,

Atheists realize we have only one shot at this life. We get one chance. As a result, most atheists tend to think very actively about human existence, the relationship this singular existence has to other people, and the impact it will have in the long run….The promise of hope requires action. Thus, a proactive life begins with hope. It is mired in hope. It oozes hope.

Regardless of what causes you to hope, and don’t discount anything that does, here’s to oozing!


Readings used in today’s Gathering

Gathering Focus (from Frances Moore Lappe and Elie Wiesel)

“Honest hope has an edge. It’s messy. It requires that we let go of all pat answers, all preconceived formulas, all confidence that our sailing will be smooth. It’s not a resting point. Honest hope is movement.” 

“Just as despair can come to one only from other human beings, hope, too, can be given to one only by other human beings.” 


Thought Challenge (from Emily Dickinson and Howard Zinn)

“Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul–and sings the tunes without the words–and never stops at all.”  

“Human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places — and there are so many — where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.”

Response of the People (from James Baldwin, Pearl S. Buck, George Washington Carver, Allan Chalmers, Cicero, Norman Cousins, Pope John XXIII, Aung San Suu Kyi, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin)

One:  Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.

Many:  Life without idealism is empty indeed.

One:  Where there is no vision, there is no hope.

Many:  While there’s life there’s hope.

One: The rand essentials of happiness are: something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.

Many:  One has no right to hope without endeavor.

One:  The capacity for hope is the most significant fact of life. It provides human beings with a sense of destination and the energy to get started.

Many:  The future belongs to those who give the next generation reason for hope.

All:  Consult not your fears but your hopes and dreams. Think not about your frustrations, but about your unfulfilled potential. Concern yourself not with what you tried and failed in, but with what is still possible for you to do.