Making it real

In this series of messages, we continue to talk about hope. Two weeks ago, I urged you to choose hope as an attitude of life. Last Sunday I urged you to be a carrier of hope to others. Today, I want to look at your role in making hope a living reality.

Before we go there, I want to explain again that I have borrowed the theme and broad outline for these messages from the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection, which kindly offered them to other churches right after Easter. I doubt that many of you have been comparing my messages with the ones Adam Hamilton has been delivering, but if you have, you may have noticed at least two things.

First, I’m a week behind Adam. That’s because I already had something else planned for the week Adam began the series. Second, our messages are very different. That’s because we are very different pastors addressing very different churches. At the same time, of course, our messages are quite similar, not only because we’re using the same rough outline, but more importantly because we’re preaching the same essential message: the hope we have in Jesus Christ.

I mention that primarily because I want to start off with something Adam said last Sunday that I found to be strikingly true.

He said that for his first message, he searched the Psalms for words of hope. For his second message, he searched the Old Testament prophets for words of hope. For his third message, he wanted to focus on the gospels, so he searched Matthew, Mark, Luke and John for words of hope.

Do you know how many passages he found? In the King James Version, he found one mention of the word “hope” in the gospels. One.

In other translations, he found two or three mentions, but none of these passages offered hope in themselves; they were simply passing references to hope.

You may wonder, how can that be? How can the gospels appear so little concerned with hope? When you think about it, you know why, of course. The gospels don’t have to talk about hope because they are focused on Jesus.

Jesus is hope. Jesus is the embodiment of hope. Jesus is the incarnation of hope. Jesus is hope brought to us up close and personal – nose to nose, if you will, despite our current concerns for social distancing.

Hope comes from God, and Jesus says that if you’ve seen him you’ve seen the Father (John 14:9), so hope comes from Jesus. Reading the gospels, you won’t hear Jesus talk about it, but he provides hope wherever he goes.

First, he announces the coming of God’s kingdom to change the world. “Here it comes!” he says (Matthew 4:17 CEB). Then, he shows what the coming of the kingdom means. People approach him seeking new lives, and he gives them hope. He cures them of diseases. He forgives their sins. He casts out demons that have misshapen them physically and mentally.

He gives all who come to him a renewed sense of worth. He treats everyone as a valuable human being. Whatever bad decision or bad break or adversity or calamity has befallen them, he assures them that God loves them, and he gives them a new confidence that things will go better for them. He gives them hope.

He does not solve all their problems, but he solves the main problem that is blocking them from receiving God’s hope. They have to take it from there. The hope he gives can be realized only if the person fully invests in it, as when he gives sight to someone who is blind or the ability to walk to someone whose legs just won’t work. What are they going to do with their sight? Where are they going to walk? It’s up to each of them how they realize their hope.

Hope frees us to believe that better days are ahead, but it also demands that we live into that hope, that we grasp the ramifications of it and seize the moment and live it out to the fullest.

Hope is empowering. It gives us energy and stamina. But it has to be engaged. It has to be used. You’ve got to grab onto the power that hope gives you and use that power to make things better.

I invite you to look again at the opening sentence of Psalm 40. Most translations of it say, “I waited patiently for the Lord.” But the Common English Bible says, “I put all my hope in the Lord.” There’s one key word in there that you can translate as hoping or waiting because hoping and waiting are related in Hebrew, and we know that hope always involves waiting.

But it has to be more than mere waiting. It has to be active waiting. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, was disturbed by the trend he saw in his time toward quietism. Quietism is the thought that we should just sit patiently and wait for God to act and do nothing to help make our hope a reality. Let God do it all, quietists say.

One problem with quietism is that so often your hope dies with you without ever being realized. You waited and you waited, and it never happened. You kept hoping, but that’s all you ever did. You never got out of your rocker to help make it happen, and it died with you.

But true Christian hope is always proleptic. “Proleptic” is one of those five-dollar academic words I thought I’d never use in polite conversation, but here I am using it. To speak proleptically is to speak of the future as if it were already here. To hope is to live proleptically. To hope is to live so confidently it’s as if your hope has already come true. It’s acting as if the better future that you anticipate is already here, and living into that as much as you can, praising God for it, even though it’s not yet fully here.

Hope is an active verb. It’s not sitting in your rocker watching the cobwebs gather. It’s actively anticipating and working toward the better future you hope for. If you don’t live in anticipation of a better future, I can almost guarantee you that it will never happen.

To live hopefully is to seize hope and run with it. God gives us hope, so let’s run with it.

Well, that’s easy for me to say, isn’t it? Sheltering in place is darn inconvenient, but the biggest harm I’ve suffered in recent weeks is that I really need a haircut. But I haven’t lost income. I haven’t lost a loved one to the virus. I haven’t suffered.

Still, I know that the reality of hope isn’t just “pie in the sky” stuff. It is as real as we make it. Some people think that we’re not being faithful to God when we hope for material things that we need but lack. I don’t think that’s the case at all. When you hope for the things you need, what you’re doing is giving yourself to God’s keeping.

It’s understandable that you feel nervous when you don’t know how you’ll feed your family in the next week; and you don’t know how you can afford to repair the car you need to get to work; and you don’t know when you’ll be able to go back to work; if it’s safe to go back; if there’s still a job for you; if your employer doesn’t go broke; if so many other things that are out of your control, leaving you feeling powerless and, yes, on the verge of hopeless.

We all know what Jesus says. “Don’t worry,” he says. “Your heavenly father knows your needs. So seek first God’s kingdom, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6.31-33).

It’s not automatic. God is not a cosmic vending machine dispensing goodies to the faithful. When you’re at the end of your rope and there’s nothing more you can do, that’s when you most need to hope in the Lord. There’s no other place you can go, no one else you can turn to.

And that’s when you discover, as the Apostle Paul says, that God’s power is made perfect in your weakness, and Christ’s power comes to you most directly when you recognize and accept your own powerlessness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

Whatever your financial situation at the moment, scripture advises us not to place hope in our finances, which are always uncertain. Instead, we should hope in God, who richly provides all we need for enjoyment (1 Timothy 6:17 CEB).

Our ultimate hope is that the God who made the world has come into the world to set things right and to heal our brokenness. From that hope springs another hope – that not only does history have a direction set by God, but each of our lives has a direction set by God.

Martin Luther King Jr. said that “the arc of history is long, but it bends toward justice.” We also believe that though the arc of our lives may be hard to see, especially in hard times, the trend of events does bend toward our good, and that God is with us even when we cannot sense God’s presence – maybe especially when we cannot sense God’s presence.

Or as Paul says, in his letter to the church at Rome: “God works in all things for the good of those who love him and have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28).

Even in this pandemic, which has turned so many lives upside down, God is working for our good so that we who are called according to his purpose will continue to live according to his purpose and by our lives and our love draw others to him.

So we continue to hope in the Lord, waiting for our hope to be realized, working to make it a reality, sharing our faith and our hope day by day.

Next Sunday we’ll talk more about how to give hope some feet. We’ll conclude this series the week after by talking about what hope we have for the end of things – not the “end” as in the termination of things but as in what end God is pursuing, God’s purpose for all things.

Amen.

A message delivered online May 10, 2020, the  Fifth Sunday of Easter, for Edgerton United Methodist Church, Edgerton, Kansas.

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