I have been wanting to preach about hope for a while now. There are a couple of reasons for that. First, I don’t think we know what hope is, or at least, I don’t think we think much about what hope is. The world, our society, gives us an idea of what hope is, and of course, it’s not the right idea, not the complete idea. And second, I think there is a general lack of hope in the world right now: I think this world could use some hope, and the ironic thing is that it’s there for the taking, if we know what it is and where to look. So it’s fortunate that our scriptures today give us a look at hope, and tell us where we can find it and what we must do with it.
So the dictionary defines “hope” as “the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best.” And I think that’s a good place to start. When we commonly refer to “hope,” we usually mean something like: “I hope it will be sunny today” or “I hope I get that promotion I applied for.” When we say those things, there’s often a certain tone of uncertainty, which implies that the hope isn’t real hope, or that there’s no hope, but we’re just waiting for a lucky break.
Real hope doesn’t have that sort of uncertainty. Real hope means that we want something, and we know it can be attained or realized. It means that we know there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and no, it’s not the headlight of an oncoming train! Real hope implies a sense of certainty, even amidst seemingly overwhelming odds.
And so, I think a lot of people might agree that we don’t have much hope in the world today. Just tune in to the news to see that in action: wars, skirmishes and unrest in many parts of the world; bizarre weather and killer tornadoes in many places of our country this spring; cataclysmic natural disasters over the past few years that have left whole countries reeling. Closer to home, we could cite high unemployment, rising prices on everything from gas to food, foreclosures on homes and failures of businesses, and so much more. It doesn’t take much looking around to feel like there’s no hope of hope anywhere.
So the problem, I think, is in what or where that we place our hope. Often we place our hope in ourselves or our own efforts, only to find ourselves at some point over our heads. Or maybe we place our hope in other people in our lives, only at some point to be disappointed. We sometimes place our hope in Oprah or Doctor Phil or their ilk, only to find out that their pep-talks at some point ring hollow and their philosophies are shallow. You can’t find much hope in sources like these, or if you do, you might find that hope to be short-lived.
I think you know where I’m going to say we ought to put our hope. Obviously, we have to hope in God, because the hope that he brings is an immovable rock that isn’t subject to the failures of human flesh and human reason. What God teaches us in Christ provides a hope that cannot be overcome by changing fads and a desire for better television ratings. If we want real hope, the only place we need to look, the only one we should look to, is God.
Now, I say this, knowing full well that some of you have prayed over and over and over for something to change, only to be disappointed after you say “Amen.” And there’s no way I’m going to tell you that all you have to do is pray and everything will work out all right. God doesn’t promise us perfect happiness in this life, and so often we are going to go through periods of sorrow and disappointment. That’s the unfortunate news of life in this passing world. The sorrow and disappointment are not God’s will for us, they are by-products of sin – our own sin or the sin of others – and those things grieve God very much.
But even in those times of grief, God still gives us hope, if we turn to him. The hope that he offers is the knowledge that no matter how bad things get, we don’t go through them alone, that God is there for us, walking with us through the sorrow and pain and never giving up on us.
Some of my friends are going through vocational issues or other dark times in their lives right now. Recently, they told me about the hope that they find in their relationship with God, and that’s a hope that inspires me. The hope that we Christians have is based on our faith in God and his undying love for us. This is a hope that can never die, a hope that provides a light in the darkest times of our lives.
As I mentioned, today’s readings give us a foundation for this hope. In the second reading, Peter awakens our hope of forgiveness. He says, “For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God. Put to death in the flesh, he was brought to life in the Spirit.” Even our sinfulness is no match for God’s mercy. Because of Christ’s death and resurrection we have hope of eternal life in God’s kingdom. Because God loved us so much, he gave his only Son for our salvation, and now we have hope of forgiveness, hope for God’s presence in our lives.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells us that we can hope in him because we will always have his presence. Even though he ascended to the right hand of the Father, as we’ll celebrate next week, he is with us always. “And I will ask the Father,” he says, “and he will give you another Advocate to be with you always, the Spirit of truth…” We receive that Holy Spirit sacramentally in Baptism and Confirmation, and we live in his Spirit every day. The presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives gives us the hope that we are never alone, even in our darkest hours; that the Spirit intercedes for us and guides us through life.
We disciples have to be convinced of that hope; we have to take comfort in the hope that never passes from us, in the abiding presence of God who wants nothing more than to be with us. We have to reflect that hope into our sometimes hopeless world. As our second reading reminds us, “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts. Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope…” The reason for our hope is Christ. We find our hope in the cross and resurrection. We experience our hope in the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit. We spread that hope in our hopeless world by being Christ to others, living as disciples of Jesus when the whole world would rather drag us down. Even when life is difficult, we can live with a certain sense of joy, because above all, we are disciples of hope.