Christ Episcopal Church, Valdosta
“Christian Hope” (Romans 5:5)
June 18, 2017
Philip Ryan

I love science fiction! If it has to do with outer space, time travel, aliens, fantasy, you name it I more than likely will enjoy it. One of my favorite Sci-Fi shows of all time is Dr. Who. If you’re not familiar with the show, the synopsis is a time traveling alien named the Doctor travels through space and time saving countless worlds, races, and creatures. Dr. Who, like lots of Sci-Fi stories, explores deep issues and existential challenges that humans experience. One of my favorite lines from the Doctor is at one of his lowest points. When all seems lost and he and his friends think death is imminent, he tells his closest companion, “I am and always will be the optimist, the hoper of far-flung hopes and the dreamer of impossible dreams.” I think we could all use a little hope today. We’ve seen our cousins in Britain hit by a series of disasters and terrorist attacks, political upheaval. In our country, we continue to bicker and fight along partisan lines since the last election. We continue to struggle with racism in this country as the most recent in a long series of not guilty decisions was reached in the death of Philando Castile earlier this week. Then today we celebrate Father’s day when for so many, some may be here today, father is not something to celebrate but forget. Or something desired but sadly never granted.

So what is hope? If you ask a student before a test about hope, it is usually a desire for the test to go well no matter how little they prepared. If you ask a baseball team about to play a game what hope is, they will say they want to beat the other team. This is not biblical hope. This is simply wishing something to happen in their favor. Biblical hope is this, the confidence that Christ is at work in you and in the world and is making all things sad untrue, turning darkness to light, and death into resurrected life. For too many of us our starting point for hope is not from a position of desperation but contentment. We are such an affluent country that most of our hopes are largely material and in the end won’t add meaning to our lives or really affect us. In the Romans passage today from St. Paul, he tells us where hope comes from, “we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” Suffering produces hope? According to St. Paul, yes and he would know. In his second letter to the Corinthians he lists out the dangers and punishments he endured for the gospel: he received forty lashes five times, beaten three times with rods, stoned once, ship wrecked three times once being adrift at sea for 24 hours, and he goes on about being in constant danger and trials. He ends his chorus of woe with this, “Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10). Biblical hope accepts the weaknesses of the self and the world and puts all of its trust and desire in Jesus Christ to be strong and bring redemption.

Biblical hope is not delusional hope. It is not a denial of pain and suffering. That is how much of our culture wants to handle problems. They believe that if one  “thinks positively” or spends enough time being good, suffering and pain will leave them. Judeo-Christian theology has always taught the opposite. There is an entire book in the Bible about a good man who endures a series of terrible tragedies and the only comfort he receives from his friends is that he must have done something wrong and that is why he suffers. Job is eventually answered and is not disappointed. Biblical hope, St. Paul tells us, does not disappoint, and here’s why, “because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” God’s love is what drives Christian hope not the power of positive thinking. We know that this love is not abstract but a concrete reality – it is our Savior Jesus Christ. As the most famous verse in the Bible reminds us, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.” The Holy Spirit is what spurns our hearts to trust in God and see light when everything else seems dark. The Holy Spirit gives us boldness to speak for justice when it seems like evil and wickedness are prevailing. The Holy Spirit gives us hope that because Jesus Christ rose from the dead, the world is being redeemed, restored, and returned to God the Father as it was supposed to be. Jurgen Moltmann, a famous theologian, says this about Christian hope and the resurrection, “[Faith] sees in the resurrection of Christ not the eternity of heaven, but the future of the very earth on which his cross stands. It sees in him the future of the very humanity for which he died. That is why it finds the cross the hope of the earth.” Christian hope is grounded in the death of Jesus, which brings life and light to the whole world.

When I was at Emory, I had the chance to take a class with one of the top scholars of Judaism in the world. His name is David Blumenthal and in a short time he became one of my favorite teachers ever. The question in all theology since the holocaust has been focused on theodicy, or why God can still be good in an apparently evil world. We were discussing how Jewish scholars after WW2 began to wrestle with God in light of all that had happened to them. I was the lone Christian in the small graduate course and he looked at me at one point in the discussion and said, “We Jews have a great theology of suffering. You Christians have a great theology of hope.” One of the Jewish students asked, “hope in what?” Before I could answer Dr. Blumenthal said, “A hope that the resurrection is powerful enough to heal the world.” I couldn’t have said it better. If today you are weary from the demands of your job, family, life, there is hope. If you are, like me, tired of on going injustices in the world, there is hope. If you are sick or love someone who is sick, there is hope. Now as we go out into a world in desperate need of the Christian message of hope hear these words from St. Paul found near the end of Romans, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).