Reading: Romans 5:1-5
What do you think hope is?
What does hope mean to you?
I asked my son, who is 6 ½ and he said “Hope is making me happy”.
I was speaking to a 23 year old with a long term illness the other day and what she said was interesting. She said that yes, she has HOPE that her illness will get better or that she’ll learn to cope with it better, but if not, then that’s OK as God is with her all the way and forever after and she can cope with that.
Remember Lord of the Rings at Helm’s Deep when orcs and all sorts are gathered in enormous numbers trying to break through the walls to the good guys inside?
There are very few trained soldiers to defend the place and they are handing out old weapons to children and old men. Hope seems lost. Legolas the Elf is downhearted for the first time in his life.
The people look to Aragorn (the hero, king-in-waiting) for hope and although initially despondent, he rises up, encourages individuals and gives them the hope that the sun will rise tomorrow over the field of victory. Logically they are on a hiding to nothing but they have faith in him and give their all – not necessarily because they were sure to win (which they do with significant outside help) but because they were infused with hope, they were on the side of righteousness and would battle to the end. Aragorn has assumed a kind of God-like status and they win the day.
Tolkien when he wrote this must have been influenced by personal experience but also his Christian beliefs.
He will have been aware that in Paul’s time conflict and oppression were the norm rather than the exception and for early Christians HOPE was a huge part of everyday life.
Christians had no place in society, were mainly at the bottom of the social ladder, had little if any influence over their own lives but yet they maintained faith, worshipping in secret, making disciples, healing and helping.
Despite the risk of being stoned, despite the risk of being executed and despite the risk of being exiled, their numbers grew.
This is still happening today yet we still have Christians worshipping God across the world under severe life-threatening circumstances and oppressive regimes. Just what keeps them going? Why not give up?
BECAUSE THEY HAVE FAITH. BECAUSE THEY HAVE HOPE
This started with Jesus laying down His life for them then and for us today. We heard last week about Peter, fisherman, unschooled, not good at talking to crowds being filled by the Holy Spirit and for the first time in his life addressing the masses gathered during Pentecost.
His great and unshakable faith gave hope to all who were there and they too were filled with the Spirit. They came to realise the truth of God being there for us all. He is not just there for teachers of law and the priests in the temple. No, God is here for us all, is with us all at all times. Three thousand were baptised that day. You can’t argue with that.
Through grace we learn to become hopeful as we travel through the hardships we face. It is not easy. We learn to cope with the difficulties and problems of life through struggles. We all have challenges to our faith along the way. Many of these challenges come in the form of our own doubts, those little niggles that whisper in your ear GIVE UP…BE REALISTIC…DON’T BOTHER
– But more of that later.
The first 5 verses of Romans chapter 5 is so short you miss it in a blink of an eye. Yet almost every line carries enough meaning for a book in its own right. It is also full of things which are hard to understand at first glance. Expressions such as “we have been right in God’s sight by faith” which also appears as “we have been justified by faith” in other versions.
As you may have guessed, the part of this which leapt out of the pages for me was about HOPE
And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
I want to present hope as a God given thing. Something He gives us to enable us to carry on along the path He has prepared for us.
But for many of us, Hope is a selfish motivation to make personal gain and I think we need challenge ourselves to stay on God’s chosen path.
These 5 verses introduce the following 4 chapters full of concepts. It talks about a kind of duality of the realities of being a Christian.
On the one hand because of our belief and faith in Jesus Christ we are brought to a place where we are invited to share in God’s Glory. This is a privileged place.
Yes, we are privileged to be invited to share in God’s glory.
BUT the other side of the coin is that although we have faith and although we have God’s Love and protection we can’t be complacent because trouble lurks just around the corner. Verse 3 says we will face problems and trials so it’s by no means plain sailing.
HOWEVER Paul goes on to say that these trials and hardships are absolutely necessary and will help us develop endurance which develops strength of character which “strengthens our confident hope of salvation” and we won’t be disappointed because God’s gives us the Holy Spirit which fills us with love.
So there we are – faith, hope, and love. One follows the other. Easy.
We can sit and nod sagely in agreement but is this realistic for our lives by which I mean what does it take to come to faith then have hope then be filled with love? Importantly, how can anybody maintain this?
Maybe sometimes we are tempted to skip the faith bit and move straight on to hope – “I don’t need to believe/I don’t need faith but at least I can hope” BUT if you have no faith then what is your hope based on? – It would be based on yourself and whatever attracts you from others, social media, peer pressure….
Faith, hope, and love are discussed individually at several points in the Scriptures. In 1 Corinthians 13:13, Paul mentions the three virtues together and then goes on to identify love as the most important of the three:
And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
As believers in Jesus Christ, it is essential for Christians to understand the meaning of this verse. There’s no doubt that each of these virtues — faith, hope, and love — has great value.
This is a matter for another sermon, another time but all the same, let’s look briefly at these 3:
The Bible tells us in Hebrews 11:6 that, …without faith, it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God, must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
The value of faith cannot be disputed. Without it, there would be no Christianity. Without faith, we couldn’t come to Christ or walk in obedience to him. Faith is what motivates us to move forward even when the odds are against us. And faith is closely related to hope.
..and then there’s LOVE (I’ll come back to Hope)
Without love, the Bible teaches there can be no redemption. Redemption means Jesus Christ, through his sacrificial death, purchased believers from the slavery of sin to set us free from that bondage.
Love is what motivated God the Father to send His only Son to die for us. Thus, love is the virtue upon which all Christian faith and hope now stand.
For the believer, love is the foundation for every good thing in our lives. Without love, nothing else matters.
Now let us return to HOPE
For my money the most challenging of these is HOPE.
When you ask people what they think hope means they invariably talk about what they hope for – good exam results, something nice for Christmas, a sensible election result…
BUT this isn’t the kind of hope Paul talks about in this passage. It’s not about what WE hope to achieve for OURSELVES.
“HOPE” here is not about things like “I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow” or “I hope I get home this lunchtime before the roast is burnt” No these are things which are to do with convenience.
Nor is this hope the kind of hope we are offered by lottery cards, insurance policies and extended warranties – you know “I hope my washing machine doesn’t break down but if it does then I hope at least I get it fixed for free”.
Nor is this hope the expectation that we will obtain what we desire, much of which might be superfluous to Christian living.
This is all HYPE not HOPE.
There is a vast difference between the “hype” of our world and the “hope” of the gospel. This world’s “hype” always lets us down. But the hope of the gospel is true, never lets us down and only grows more with time.
No, hope is the thing that keeps us moving forward. The hope that fuels us to face impossible challenges.
I found this quote the other day (sorry, I don’t know who said it):
“Hope is a special gift given by God through his grace to combat the day-to-day monotony as well as the most difficult circumstances”.
Hope was Suffrage over 100 years ago.
Hope is Palestinians carrying their old house keys ready to move back to homes now occupied by illegal Israeli settlers (at least symbolically).
Hope was Terry Waite held hostage in Beirut for 1,763 days (4 years of which in solitary confinement). He was chained to a radiator but gained hope through his great faith.
Hope encourages us to keep running the race until we reach the finish line and that comes from God.
But this is never going to be easy. We are constantly being knocked back. Constantly the Devil gets in there somewhere and spoils the show. We can so easily lose hope and by doing so are open to all sorts of diversions which take us off the path
BUT what happens when what we hoped for doesn’t happen? Is that the end of it? NO! God is there – we have hope in Him to help us through the hard times, those times when what we hoped for just wasn’t part of His plan.
And that’s the really really difficult bit. How can we possibly keep faith when God has let us down so badly?? WHY ME? WHY US? God by nature, by definition, can’t let us down so the fact that what we hoped for hasn’t happened does not mean he has abandoned us- we still have faith and therefore hope as He will remain with us always.
God gives us hope and we should share that hope with others. They may not be Christians but nevertheless are still God’s children and our neighbours.
An aside: A Muslim friend told me this week that according to his faith he should first care for the person living next to him if they are in need – that is, prioritise them over a Muslim person in need living elsewhere even if they are friends and worship together.
God is there to give that leg-up when we need it most but sometimes we, as Christians, as humans, as compassionate creatures, need to let God help us to give hope to others.
SO, HOW HAS HOPE SERVED PEOPLE TODAY?
Open Doors supports persecuted Christians with Bibles, Christian materials, training, livelihood skills, advocacy – and in a whole host of other ways – so that they know they are not forgotten and can stand strong to serve their communities. So that they can give HOPE.
An example from their website:
Aizah faced extreme violence and rejection from her family when she gave her life to Jesus. As a woman, she was doubly vulnerable to persecution. Yet today Aizah has overcome all this to become an inspiring leader in her own right, providing protection, support and encouragement to other women like her.
Aizah made a dangerous decision when she gave her life to Christ. Scared that her father might kill her for her conversion, she ran away from home.
“At the moment of your conversion you bring shame on your family,…you hurt your family and dishonour them.”
“Women expelled from home, lose their honour. They have no protecting shield for them, no father or brother to defend them. In our culture a woman like that deserves to be attacked. It is a big thing. It makes a lot of difference when people know that someone is protecting you as a woman.”
God entered her life and gave her HOPE. Supported by OPEN DOORS, Aizah works with around 60 women who are being supported by Open Doors in different ways. She recognises that these women believers have specific needs and she is well-placed to support them.
Open Doors gave her more HOPE. Aizah gave hope to others.
…..And closer to home
I was at Foleshill Baptist Church (North Coventry) this week at Foodbank. I was there to offer support to people having trouble affording their energy bills, having trouble with suppliers, landlords who won’t fix boilers and so on. (It’s my job).
I also go to Jobcentres and wherever there are people who struggle in a variety of ways – this presents itself financially but the route causes of poverty, isolation and chaotic unmanageable lives is always more deeply rooted – mental health problems, domestic upheaval, abuse, unemployment… the list goes on but the thing that many have in common is a lack of HOPE. A lack of HOPE based on their inability to cope with the pressures of their situations but importantly, not knowing where to turn.
The people are cruelly labelled “no-hopers” by society and called “Hopeless” as it is this that makes them inferior citizens. They may be “Hope-less” but let’s not call them “hopeless”
The Foodbank at Foleshill Baptist Church is one of many who not only give food, but also provides a space to chat with people who listen, seek confidential and ONGOING support and practical advice about things like fuel debt, benefits, housing and more.
This is a Christian response to HOPELESSNESS. Anybody visiting will know – THIS IS A CHURCH, THE DOORS ARE OPEN and regardless of background, faith etc all are welcome. Here, people are valued as people, as God’s children, as our neighbours who we are called to love, who we can give HOPE to through works and words.
AND THAT’S THE POINT – WE ARE CALLED TO LOVE AND BRING HOPE TO THOSE IN NEED.
And here in Allesley there are many ways which we give HOPE e.g supporting Foodbank, Carriers of Hope, Embrace, Fairtrade and so on as well as groups such as the Bereavement Group and various outreach projects.
I suppose giving support engenders HOPE via a third party rather than first hand involvement.
Now, I do like a challenge and before I finish I would like for us all to consider what your CHRISTIAN RESPONSE is when you see someone who needs a bit of hope (whether you know them or not).
It is hard to know how to give hope to others and so easy to avoid the issue.
As one who has been very low and in need of hope in the past I can honestly say that any attempt at all to offer hope seemed like a life-changer. A nod, smile, hug or whatever, it’s all infinitely better than avoidance or looking the other way. Conversation is even better regardless of what you say. Just indicating that you care means the world.
Don’t be afraid if you don’t know what to say, the effort will be so appreciated.
When you walk past the twentieth homeless person asking for money do stop and say hello, how’s the dog, aren’t you cold, best of luck, whatever. You might not approve off their way of life or anything and you don’t need to give money but a bit of human contact can be a wonderful thing for that one person desperately in need of HOPE.
It’s the least that Jesus would do and not too much trouble eh?
I’d like to end with a prayer (found & adapted from www.praywithme.com):
A Prayer for Hope
Heavenly father, I am your humble servant,
I come before you today in need of hope for myself and others.
In times when I feel helpless,
In times when I feel weak.
I pray for hope.
I need hope for a better future.
I need hope for a better life.
I need hope for love and kindness.
I pray for this not just for myself but for all your children
– All your children who are my neighbours who I love
I prey also for the strength to give hope to others
And to shine your light, Lord, in every way.
To know that all is right in the world,
As you have planned, and as you want it to be.
Help me to walk in your light, and live
My life in faith and hope.
In your name I pray, Amen.