Romans 6:1-15 “Spirit of Hope”
What do you hope for in your life? We always hear that we must follow our dreams and live for our hopes. So, I have been asking people what their hopes are. I was surprised to hear some of them. I thought I would start by sharing some of them:
“I hope for peace on our planet and an end to needless violence.”
“I hope for good health so that I can be strong.”
“I hope that they outlaw rap music!”
“I hope not to be a burden to anybody.”
“I hope to see Jesus some day!”
Now, when I asked “What do you hope for?” some folks answered honestly that they did not know what to hope for because their lives seemed to them to be hopeless. One answered: “Since my wife has just left me for another man, I do not know if I should be hoping for a quick and easy divorce or some kind of reconciliation.” Marriages always start out with so much hope, but often times the marriage does become hopeless.
Another person said that she did not know what hope to lift up because her terminal cancer was causing her to just want to stop the pain. She did not know if she should hope to have her pain lessened or if she should just hope to leave her failing body sooner rather than later. She was very tired of the struggle that had turned in the end rather hopeless. Our lives when we are born always start with so much hope, but as we reach the other end of our timelines, all of that hope usually has been either fulfilled or abandoned along the way.
In the stage play “Waiting for Godot” by Samuel Beckett, two men spend three days and nights waiting by a tree for a fellow named Godot to show up. Instead a messenger boy shows up to tell them that Godot will be delayed another day, or in the end will not be coming at all. Those who know the play will remember the point is that we ALL are waiting for some guy to show up. That is always our hope. Isn’t it?! When the person does not show up, then we abandon hope.
It was so important therefore that the early Christians in John’s time not give up on the hope of Jesus coming again. One day we will see Jesus again. Hebrews 11:1 “faith is the hope of things not seen.” Unlike Gadot, Jesus will come to us, for those who would wait on the Lord.
This line from Hebrews got me to thinking about hope in the aftermath of the Hurricane in Texas. Probably two weeks ago the people of Houston were hoping for such things as a raise in salary, time off for a vacation, or maybe a new member of their family. Today many of those same people are hoping that they will have a place to live once the flood waters recede.
The same people who were hoping that their favorite show on television would start up again in the Fall Season are now hoping that they have a television, that they have a couch to sit on, or that the electricity will be turned back on any time soon. Those of you who have survived such times as Hurricane Iniki will empathize with these realities. Our hopes should perhaps therefore never be pinned to the “seen” things in life, but really be pinned to the unseen. Our hopes should always be related to our faith. If we can do this, then our lives will never be hopeless.
The spirit of the people of Texas in their reaching out to one another in their time of need tells us that as long as we trust in God and His Spirit in each of us doing what is Godly and right, then even the darkest of days will not lead to despair. We are and remain the people of Hope on this planet.
On Thursday morning I was chatting with a lady in our community who shared with me the story of her brother who lives in Houston. The brother was watching the water rise in his street. He could see just a few blocks up that his neighbors’ houses were already flooded. The water was creeping up his driveway. What do you think his hope was in that moment? The water stopped and receded.
Compare this to the story of Noah from the Bible. The water was creeping up the gangplank to the Ark that Noah had built to God’s plan. What do you think Noah’s hope was in that moment? He was probably hoping that he got God’s instructions on survival right! He was hoping that he could save what he could of the world. He was hoping that he could save humankind.
(By the way, I do not mean to infer in anyway that God is punishing the people of Texas as was the case in the time of Noah. I think the Charlie Hebdo magazine cover depicting Nazis drowning in Texas to be incredibly offensive. Shame on them!)
Going back to our “hopes,” we hope that we got God’s instructions right like Noah! We hope that we are able to save humankind.
In the text from Revelation, we see the Apostle John nearing the end of his natural life is banished to the island of Patmos, an obscure backwater of the Roman Empire. He has seen his compatriots of the mission summarily martyred. They have been thrown to the lions in the Coliseum in Rome or otherwise crucified or stoned. He is the last one left of the original twelve disciples at the time of his writing this. What do you think he is hoping for? He is hoping that he got God’s instructions for his life right. He was spared for a reason. He will write a gospel. He will write a series of letters that we still have in the bible today. And, he will write the last book of the Bible. Just like Noah was told to build an Ark, John is told to write a book.
When we are studying this on Tuesday, one of the members of the Bible Study in Lihue at the Pua Kea remarked that this was the first time in her long life that she had ever cracked open to the book of Revelation. This fascinated me. Again, I did not hold it against her that she had never read the last book of the Bible. But, the last book of the Bible is the hope of Christianity in its very essence.
John sees Jesus before he dies. Let me say that again, “John sees Jesus” before he dies. Was that not his ultimate hope in this world? To see His Lord again?!
A few years back, again at the Regency Pua Kea care home, there was a woman of great faith who was very close to death. She was in her bed in her apartment. She had stopped eating. She did not open her eyes anymore. She spoke in whispers. I went in to pray with her and her family who had gathered around her. The daughter was bent over her mother and listening carefully to what the mother was whispering. The daughter never spoke.
“Is she talking to you?” I asked the daughter.
“No, I think she is talking to Jesus!” the daughter replied. I asked if I could listen, too. We both huddled in to hear the words of joy and praise.
When we face our last breath in this world, what will our hope be? Will it not be that which John sees in the vision that is given to him by the angel? Will we not hope just to see our Lord, our Savior, in all of His glory right there before us?
The vision that John sees is not just of Jesus, but the angel shows him the lampstands of seven churches. The lamps in those days were just bowls of oil with a little wick on one side. They did not put out a lot of light. We left comparing the barely flickering light of a lamp to the light and glory of Jesus in that moment. What was the angel showing John?
The flame of the single lamp of a church is the last little bit of hope that is left in the world. The light of Christ is struggling even in our churches. If the church does not have the light of Christ, then what is there left for us to say? There is no reason for us to be the church anymore.
If we continue to read in Chapter 2 of Revelation (homework!) we see that the seven churches are all in trouble. My favorite description is of the church in Laodicea that is said only to be neither hot nor cold but only lukewarm and so it will be spat out again.
In spite of this tragic description of these churches, we see the hope that Jesus gives us when he states that he “holds the keys to the gates of Hades.” I just see that as the greatest hope of all for us in this world. Even if we are too make a total mess of everything in our lives and in this world, even if we do not make it to heaven. . . .think about that! Jesus holds the key for our salvation.
That will be my hope then. You know, this last week I got a phone solicitor on the church phone who was very annoying to me. Honestly, I just could not listen to her anymore. I told her, “Please take the church off you calling list. I am putting down the phone now.” So, I basically hung up on her—although I tried to do it politely. She called me back!
“How do you guys call yourself a church? I thought you were a pastor.”
I do not know sometimes if being a pastor gets one an automatic “get into heaven free” card. I think probably not. I think my soul is just as “hell-bent” as anyone else’s. So, I will just hold onto the hope that Jesus really is holding the key that will free my soul when the time comes.