I must begin by admitting that it is a bit of a challenge to preach on a theme that will be used over several weeks that someone else has established, especially perhaps when you’re giving the first sermon in that series like I’m doing here today. Meighan has told me that your theme for July is “what is our moral compass?” It seems appropriate to me then to start this sermon series on that theme with some definitions. I mean, if you’re going to be talking about the theme of “moral compass,” it would be good to know just what that theme means. Perhaps Meighan will define it for you differently, but I’ll start with a definition of “moral.” According to one online dictionary “moral” means “concerned with the principles of right and wrong behavior.” That sounds about right, doesn’t it? Morals or morality in the sense relevant here are about right and wrong. They are about not just what it is permissible to do or not do in a particular situation. They are about what it is right and what it is wrong to do in that situation. And I think we all know what a compass is. It’s a device that tells us which way north is, or at least which way magnetic north is. It “orients” us, which means shows us where east is. A moral compass then is something that points us toward what is right and away from what is wrong.
Now, as I was thinking about what to say to you this morning, I did what I always do when I have a sermon to write, or even when I don’t. I looked in the Revised Common Lectionary for the scripture readings it designates for today. We just heard one of them, Psalm 30. I frankly am not sure I’ve ever preached on a Psalm before. Maybe the Psalm 23, and maybe most if not quite all of Psalm 139. I probably haven’t preached on any others. But this past week as I read Psalm 30 there arose for me what I think can actually be a moral compass of sorts for us. There are of course lots of things than can be a moral compass—Jesus, the Bible, tradition, our family, philosophy, and I suppose many others. The theme that arose for me out of Psalm 30, however, is hope. I find the theme of hope especially in verses 4 and 5 of that psalm: “Sing praises to the Lord, O you his faithful ones, and give thanks to his holy name. For his anger is but for a moment, his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” Let me explain first how I see hope in these verses.
It certainly seems to me, and perhaps it seems to you too, that we are living today in a time of the darkness of night and of weeping over the condition of our nation. As tomorrow we mark the anniversary of the beginnings of our nation, there certainly seems to be little to celebrate. I won’t go down the entire list of today’s horribles. I don’t want to keep you here all afternoon, and you know them as well as I do. I’ll just mention a few. A rogue Supreme Court is hurling us backward in time, not forward, and constitutes a real threat to our freedom. A climate crisis we are unwilling to address in a truly meaningful way threatens life on the only planet we have. Racism still rots the core of our culture and our society. We face a crisis of homelessness we want just to go where we can’t see it. We lack the will to address it in any truly constructive way. But enough. Facing these and all the others can seem simply overwhelming.
That’s where hope comes in. What is hope? It is the desire for something good to happen combined with the expectation that it will someday even if we know not when. The psalmist of Psalm 30 knew a time of darkness in his life—all of the psalmists were certainly men, unfortunately. He faced danger from what he calls his “foes.” He has been near death, which he calls going down to “the Pit.” He has felt God hide God’s face from him, or so he thought. Like all ancient people he attributed his ills directly to God in a way most of us today do not. He attributed them to God’s anger and saw that anger and the ills it produced as grounds for weeping. He attributed his mourning and his sackcloth, a symbol of woe, to God. He surely knew trouble in his life, just as we do.
But he also knew hope. He knew that things had gotten better for him, or maybe he just anticipated that they would. He sings—the psalms were meant to be sung—that God’s anger is but for a moment. We can understand him to mean that there is hope that our woes will not last. We may weep through the night, but we can hope that we will come out on the other side of that night and find joy, or I’d say find joy at least that things are getting better, not necessarily that they are already good.
How can we have that hope, a hope that can get us through the night both literally and figuratively? Because God. That’s why. God is where we find hope. God is, it seems to me, the only place we can find hope these days. Trusting in our fellow human beings seems a mere vanity, but with trust in God we can hope for a better tomorrow. Without God, to me at least, all would seem hopeless. If there is to be joy in the morning, if our troubles are to be only for a moment, it must be because God wills that it be so. We can at least hope for a better tomorrow because we know that our God of hope is with us and never deserts us, not even in the worst of times.
So OK. If there is hope we must ground it in our trust in God. But how is hope a moral compass? I find it to be a moral compass because it points us forward, not backward. It keeps us moving in the right direction. See, hope is not just a state of mind. It is a way of being. It is a way of action. Pope Francis says, “You pray for those who are hungry. Then you feed them. That’s how prayer works.” Hope works the same way. You hope and pray for a better future, then you act to bring that better future about. Whatever our hope for the future is, it is the hope itself that points the way. The way forward. The way toward the world of justice and peace that Jesus called the realm of God.
It is true of course that hope as a moral compass is only a beginning. We need something that can direct us in deciding what is right for the future for which we hope and work. Perhaps in future sermons Meighan will discuss with you what that something else might be. In any event, in our present national darkness let us cling to the hope that comes from God and that can come from nowhere else. Trust in God. Cement your hope in that trust. If we can do that, we will have a moral compass. We will keep moving in the right direction. May it be so. Amen.