Pastor Bob Woods: Audacity of hope in our hearts

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Matthew 25:1-13

The weather forecast in a newspaper said "there is a 90 percent chance of tomorrow."

I personally hope that the chances are better than that. We are living in challenging times. However, we have a choice: We can turn to fear, or we can turn to faith. Remember Roosevelt's words "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." I am very excited about our President-elect Barack Obama. I have faith that he has his lamp full of oil and also has a container full of extra oil.

On the David Letterman show, Tom Brokaw said Barack woke up the day after the election and realized what had happened - that he had won - and he demanded a recount. Can you imagine the job he has before him?

We are at war in two countries, Iran is not behaving well nor is North Korea, the US and world economy is in the gutter, our image in the world is the lowest probably ever, and on, and on, and on. If it was me, I'd want a recount. That is a job I'd never want.

Martin Luther King Jr. came along 40 years ago and challenged us. He told us none of us are free until all of us are free.

"I have a dream," he said. "I say to you my friends that even though we must face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men and women are created equal." King's speech always will be remembered. His was a new and passionate voice. He went to jail for preaching his message of love and equality. Finally, we killed him.

I grew up during all of the race issues of the 1960s, but though I saw on TV what was happening around the country, I never really understood, because in the small town where we lived in upstate New York, there were only people with light skin.

It wasn't until I was in the Air Force that I had any experience and began to understand. I took an African American girl that I had been dating to a Christmas party. After the party, I was told that my supervisor had made some derogatory remarks about me because I was dating her, and that he had said he couldn't give me a 9 on my report if I was dating the woman, whom he described using a racist epithet.

I heard plenty of racist comments during that time. The North Vietnamese were referred to using a racist epithet, and fellow soldiers talked about cutting their ears off and hanging them around their necks as ornaments.

When I was in seminary, my car was stolen. The policeman who came to fill out the report said in front of my Asian roommate, "It was probably those Asian gangs who stole it." It turned out to be my white, drug-addicted neighbor who stole it.

I've been told that this town used to be a sundowner town. There were signs at both ends of the town that warned African Americans - in a word not so polite - not to "let the sun go down on you." I don't know if it happened here, but in many of the thousands of towns where this was the case, if an African American were caught in town after sunset, he or she would be hanged.

I am so proud of this country because of this election. Our country has entered a new era. Barack has had the audacity to put hope in the hearts of Americans. When I watch TV and see the tears running down the faces of African American people like Oprah and Jesse Jackson, I cry. I heard an African American football player say that his mother told him, "Now, when you have your first child, you can tell him or her they can do anything."

Can you imagine being one of Barack's children? How exciting. He promised them a puppy if he won the presidency. My 3-year-old, Briana, wants a dog, also. I made her the same promise. If I win the presidency, she can have a puppy. That's a safe deal for me to make.

This election has had the audacity to give hope to the world. Barack is a brother Christian, a member of our denomination. He is not the messiah. But, he has gifts, as do we all. Lets make sure we are prepared also - prepared to do our part. Do we have our lamps full, and do we have a container full of extra oil? Who knows what tomorrow may bring? The bridegroom comes unexpectedly. Are you prepared?

They asked Jesus: "Lord, when will You return to establish Your kingdom?" And Jesus said: "No one knows the day or the hour."

I take this parable of the 10 maidens in a very personal way. We know from experience that when our world comes crashing down on us, when hope and happiness are gone, when we are most afraid and most alone, when we cry out in the night, the bridegroom comes. When we are most lost, that is when we are found. When we are at our weakest, that is when Christ's love comes in to lift us up, to give us the audacity of hope in our hearts. Faith or fear - its your choice.

Our economy may be in the gutter, but God's economy is booming.

Bob Woods is the pastor of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Craig.

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