Hope can be difficult to proclaim, especially after these past few days. It can be hard to proclaim hope considering recent events, and with the realities of our current time.
Do not believe it is easy for a pastor, whether it is myself or someone else, to proclaim hope in difficult seasons. Like you, we struggle with wrapping our minds around the senseless and the profane. We are sometimes dumbfounded by the way this world can be and often is.
It is difficult to proclaim hope when there is so much pain in our world. For roughly four years, the world’s economy has struggled with one of the worst recessions since the Great Depression. It is difficult to proclaim hope when so many are facing economic hardships.
It is difficult to proclaim hope when there is so much division. Our country is divided along lines of “progressive” and “conservative.” Lives are affected by broken families. As well, we pursue consumeristic wants and desires that makes us always wanting something more or new.
It is difficult to proclaim hope when we hear of violence in our world and country. Syria is in the middle of a seemingly unending civil war. Various uprisings in the Middle East have, at times, been violent. Iran provides a tense international situation. To put it in context, children in elementary school (5th grade and below) do not know of a time when we were not at war.
As well, two mass shootings affected us all this week. On Tuesday, 17 people were injured in a bar near the University of Alabama. Then early Friday morning an unthinkable event occurred. Twelve people were killed and another 58 injured when a gunman opened fire during a midnight showing of “The Dark Night Rises” in Aurora, Colorado.
It is difficult to always proclaim hope. My friends, today I am here to do just that.
We have a hope to proclaim to our community and world. Our hope is not diminished by the world’s darkness. True hope is not built on the world’s promises, but upon something more lasting. Our hope is built on the “solid rock” of “Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Hope is built on the foundation of grace expressed through the self-giving and loving nature of Jesus Christ. This hope “exceeds anything that we can understand.”
When we face difficult moments we can proclaim our hope. Hope is our confidence in the goodness of the Lord and in the Lord’s promises. We cannot do this on our own. It is only because we are justified by faith that we can have hope. This is a key idea in the Paul’s writing, and is expressed in our passage from Romans 5:1-5. Paul takes a legal team, which means pardoned, and applies it to our relationship with Jesus Christ.
The story of our hope and our status as justified is best understood by going back to the beginning. Our world is not as it was intended. It was not supposed to be filled with these difficult moments. Creation was made perfect and we were intended for a perfect relationship with God. Genesis 1-2 tells of the story of how God’s creation took shape over time. Our part in the story begins with Genesis 1:27. We are created in the image of God. Humanity reflects the character and love of God. We were created perfect and called to be in relationship with God.
However, what was created perfect became marred by sin. Genesis 3:1-7 tells of the story of how sin, disobedience to a known will of God, entered creation. It was not because of something God did, but because humanity, in Adam and Eve, disobeyed God. Each of us continue to disobey God today. We take our freedom to make choices and use it to turn from God’s desires. Creation and humanity were tainted by the cost of our sin.
Since then, God has been in a process of reclaiming creation and humanity. It is a process of bringing everyone back into a relationship with God. The Old Testament tells of how salvation progressed through the era of judges and prophets. It all led to when the Son of God, Jesus Christ, entered the world. From the incarnation to cross, Jesus was actively restoring the relationship between God and humanity. On the cross, Jesus took on our sin. He stood in our place and because Christ died for us and lives today we are free from the guilt and the cost of our sin.
Jesus’ death pardoned us of our sin. We are justified by God because of this. God’s grace redeems us. We did nothing to redeem ourselves. It is entirely the work of God, expressed through Jesus’ self-sacrificial act on the cross. Our part is to accept the free gift of grace, which allows us to experience a renewed relationship with God. That is the essence of being justified by faith. We have faith that Christ died for us on the cross, rose from the grave, and sits at God’s right hand. Truly, we have a “blessed assurance” that Jesus paid the price of our sin.
Assurance of our salvation brings us to a place of deep peace with God. Our status of being at peace with God is a fruit of this renewed relationship. It is a relationship that is no longer defined by distance, but of harmony and unity. No longer is our relationship with God broken, but we are united with God through God’s love. We do not enter this peaceful condition on our own. Peace comes from Christ. We receive this peaceful relationship through the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Peace reminds us that Christ is with us, which is one of the blessings of salvation.
Our faith Christ and our peaceful existence with God is why we can have hope. When we think of hope, we mean our confidence in good things. It is the confidence in the promises of God and the truth of God’s love for us. By having hope in Christ, we are placing our trust that we believe Christ’s salvation is real and God’s promises are true. We can hope in the good times, because Christ’s presence is with us.
It is easy to hope in the good times. It is easy to hope when the blessings are present and continually flowing. Few doubt God’s presence when life is easy. The true test of our faith comes in how we maintain our hope in difficult times. Do we abandon our hope in Christ or do we persevere by clinging to the promises of God?
Paul reminds us that part of our fellowship with Christ means having hope in the difficult. We are called to a life of perseverance. It is a life of staying on the path of following the Spirit’s direction and to maintain our hope in Christ. A Christian’s character is not developed by how much they prosper. One’s prosperity is not a gauge of the strength of a person’s faith. Christian character is developed by maintaining our faith through the temptations and difficulties we experience.
Christian character is not simply about moral ethical character. It is about the content of our faith being shown as real and strong by a faith lived through the good and the difficult These difficult times strengthen our faith and deepens our relationship with Christ. Our struggles, doubts, and difficulties are not times for us to run away from faith, but to embrace God and to grow deeper in our relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In times of difficulty, C.K. Barrett writes, we learn that life is not about looking for ourselves, but to look upon God for guidance and protection. The character of our faith is part of our witness of our faith in Jesus Christ to our communities and world.
As people of the Kingdom of God, we are called to live in hope in the good and bad. We proclaim hope in something greater and deeper to our communities. We proclaim a hope that God will never abandon us and that God’s promises are true. It is a hope that guides us through the ups and the downs.
We can hope through injustice, because we have true hope. When the world tries to tell us to live in a constant state of fear, we are not deterred. We proclaim a deeper and more lasting hope than anything the world can offer. Christ’s peace and presence is in the process of bringing true justice and is reconciling the world back to God. We have hope because of God’s justice and reconciliation.
We can hope in times of economic struggles and droughts, because of our hope in the promises of God. We know that God is our provider. Our promise is that God will provide for our basic needs. We have hope because God has never failed in one of his promises.
We can hope in challenging times, because we are never alone. It may seem like we face our struggles and challenges on our own, but that is not true. We are never alone. When we are struggling, the presence of the Holy Spirit is with us as our comforter, healer, and guide. God never abandons us. We have hope because God is always with us.
We can hope when the church fails to be the church, because we are God’s vessel to proclaiming the truth of God’s great love. There are many things to love about the church, but there are many things to be frustrated by the church. Yet, God loves the church – in its strengths and its weaknesses. The church is the ongoing mission of Jesus Christ in a broken world. God may call us to repentance and may desperately seek our renewal. God will never abandon the church and neither should we. We have hope because God will never abandon the church.
Finally, we can hope in the Lord when we hear of acts of violence, whether they be in a movie theatre in Colorado or in streets of the Middle East. We can hope, because God was there. It may not seem like it, but it is true. God was there in providing comfort to the families. God was there in providing help to the survivors. God was there in bringing the police to the scene before the shooting could get any worse. God was there and continues to be there. God is wiping away the tears we felt and embraces the hurts we feel. We have hope because God’s presence is always with us, especially in these painful moments.
Having hope is not always easy, but it is our loving response to the world. When the world proclaims fear and frustrations, we proclaim something deeper. We proclaim hope. When the world wants to be scared, we proclaim something lasting. We proclaim our hope in Jesus Christ, a hope that cannot, will not, and has not failed us.
We hope in the Lord, which builds love, patience, and character in us all.