A while back…possibly more years ago than I would care to remember, I ran a study course at church based on key words from the New Testament. One of those words was ‘hope’: it’s a word that occurs in our bible reading this morning where the apostle Paul says:
‘. ..We boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God…and we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.’
These are strong words but ‘Hope’ is a difficult thing. Apparently, in the ancient story of Pandora’s box when Pandora opened her box out came all the evils of the world….and then, finally, ‘Hope’. People read this story and its meaning differently. Some read it to mean that ‘Hope’ comes out of the box to counter all the bad stuff that afflicts us. Others however, read the story to imply that ‘Hope’ is rightly placed amongst all the bad stuff: it’s a curse in itself. This reading suggests that Hope, in an awful situation, is most likely to lead us to even greater despair. Perhaps the reading you choose depends on whether you are a ‘glass half full’ person, or a ‘glass half empty.’
Which leads us to compare and contrast hope with ‘optimism’. On the surface they appear to be the same and we confuse the words in modern usage but optimism isn’t as ‘strong’ as Hope. Optimism looks for something cheerful to turn up but offers no grounds for that ‘cheerfulness’ to come about. Hope has a greater sense of expectation to it. Hope can be ‘disappointed’ precisely because it is grounded in this expectation that something will come about.
Christians are called to be people of hope. We have a view of ‘His- story’ that says that God is at work within His creation, struggling to renew and restore it, working towards its fulfilment – leading it to what Paul calls in our reading ‘glory’. That’s not a view that everyone shares. Some religions see ‘Time’ in cyclical terms, it is going nowhere, an unending circle or pattern of life, death and renewal. Many people live with a story of human or scientific progress that struggles to cope with the horror of much of humanity.
Paul, a first century Jew captivated by Jesus, believed that ‘God is working His purposes out’: he longed for a time when God would ‘dwell’ with His people, the earth would be put to rights, injustice would be swept away and the rule of God established. Till that time came he believed it was the task of God’s people to be faithful, to stay true…and, if necessary to suffer for God’s sake – to bear witness to the One True God before others, come what may.
But then this traditional Jewish belief took the turn we saw in our reading. The hoped for ‘glory’ comes closer to us in the person of Jesus Christ. God’s promise to come to His people was fulfilled. Hope rested on even firmer ground, for Paul now knew that God’s promises were sure: he was still at work intending to bring all of creation to fulfilment. And Paul knew this because he (Paul) has been filled up with the Holy Spirit of God. This Spirit helped Paul to be aware of God’s enduring, ever faithful, tough love in a new way – helping him to see the extent of that love in the total outpouring of love and life seen in the most unlikely place: the death of Jesus, ‘who was prepared to die for us’.
Where does this leave us? It was Martin Luther King Jr who said that ‘the arc of history bends towards justice’. Too right. Many of those whose lives we remember as the world reacts to the death of George Floyd lived with this hope, suffered with this hope, endured with this hope that one day ‘hope would not disappoint them’. This hope has indeed produced ‘character’, it has inspired ‘the long march to freedom’ down the ages, transcending generations, embracing centuries as Christians have worked and prayed for the kingdom to come on earth as in heaven.
If you are struggling at the moment don’t give up hope. God loves you. He has proven his love for us (for you) in that whilst we least deserved it Christ died for us and He offers to all who ask, the Holy Spirit to help us to know the depth, breadth and height of this love.
Let us pray
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