Who’s asking about hope? Who’s gonna ask about our hope? And why would they have to ask us, Mister Apostle Peter? Wake up and smell the progress! I mean, welcome to the Roman Empire! You’re writing during the good old days, the golden age, classical antiquity, the height of human civilization. We’re living in the Pax Romana, the peace of Rome, an awesome civilization beyond the best years Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, or Greece ever saw. Over 200 years of bliss and economic growth. We are at the height of technological innovation and philosophical insight. They paint masterpieces and put up monuments to our society. Half the calendar is named after our era. Our cultural achievements will epitomize the western world for millennia to come, often imitated but never duplicated. Hope? We don’t need those stinkin’ pledges! We’ve got tonight; who needs tomorrow? Carpe diem!
How’s that working out for us?
Well, we do treat slaves like animals. Popular superstitions involve sacrifice, sometimes even children. We do encourage rampant promiscuity, encouraging everyone to live as pleases their hearts and even more so their flesh and desires. And of course, bribes buy government corruption and judicial discrimination. We expect and accept rampant fraud in commerce. We do discard the elderly, exile the disabled, abort or abandon babies. Floods and famines devastate. New diseases seem to come up and destroy lives daily. Days run long and cut lives short. What were you saying about hope again?
Fast forward to the 21st century formula. We’ve trademarked new, improved humankind. We’ve discovered what previous peoples lacked. We say we’ve become enlightened after 2000 years’ experience. We can capture and manufacture exactly the satisfaction you seek. Our medical advances have extended life expectancy. Our automated mechanisms have lowered costs and increased leisure. Our agricultural revolutions have produced a great surplus of resources. We’re establishing representative government the world over while exploring and inhabiting outer space. We’re enshrining in global law justice and choice for education and employment, self-expression and sexuality. We’ve domesticated earth’s raw materials and tamed nature’s ways while preserving the planet’s diverse environments. We’ve swapped conquering for cooperation.
And much like first century Rome, people ask, who needs hope anymore? Who’d ask Christians about hope anyway, Mister Preacher? We have long since shown Christians and churches to be obsolete, irrelevant, unsuccessful, and pathetic. We find them ignorant, gullible, and unrealistic. They’ve proven themselves intolerant and annoying. Christians get themselves ridiculed, evicted, imprisoned, tortured, and murdered clinging to their legends and their delusions and their traditions. Their kind of hope, with its ludicrous doctrines and silly little rituals, leaves them loners, losers, fundamentalists, and fanatics with a fetish for fabrications, from Peter’s epistle to the present.
Ah yes, but we may ask back, are we happy, do we have true joy and hope? And replies usually are along the lines of: well, we’ve gotten really prosperous and powerful; we’ve grown to be quite productive; our way of life seems to say we are winning history. Now, I suppose our workaholism hasn’t added to our joy and beauty. I guess our obsession with physical youthfulness hasn’t led to fulfillment or contentment. I’ll grant that liberating sexuality from marriage or childbearing hasn’t laid to rest guilt or grief or fear or indifference. I will acknowledge that abortion on demand and embryonic experimentation haven’t eliminated discomfort, dysfunction, disease, or natural disasters. I admit that deals with death can’t destroy or control suffering but only transfer it or try to distract from it. Actually, it’s compounding the competing and complaining we do. In many ways, it’s amplifying our abusive behaviors and chemical dependencies. As a matter of fact, it’s aggravating our anger and conflict. Truth be told, it’s intensifying isolation and multiplying evil.
So no, I’m not celebrating. I’m settling. We’re all settling. We secretly sense how we do not suffice in and of ourselves. We detect deep down that we have earned the affliction and deserve it. We let go of what’s right for us to lay hands on instead on what’s easy and in front of us. We naturally gravitate toward what we can own rather than waiting for what we will enjoy. We instinctively accept ourselves as cheap imitations and poor replacements for the Almighty Maker.
Nevertheless, hope persists. Hope has a thicker skin. Christian hope has a better way, a better life, for us too, even for you. We tend to underestimate God and likewise overlook hope’s hardiness. In imagining ourselves as gods, we envision our Lord similar to us. Only God doesn’t give up so easily. He remains wonderfully steadfast, magnificently stubborn. With the vigor of Father, Son, and Spirit, He pesters all our failures and our every pain with His hope, badgering tragedies and hounding wreckages, however unexpected and inescapable they appear, until He wrings respect out of evil and renders death itself gentle. As Lent looms around the corner, we are reminded the dust settles, but hope stands, because Christ Jesus is Lord.
Jesus is here. He has come in the flesh, first as a baby embryo in the womb of Mary, his life as a carpenter’s boy, God in true body and blood. He has suffered—physically, visibly, right alongside us. He invades the world’s poverty, promiscuity, and perversion. He engages sinful fear and indifference. He takes our grief and guilt. He accompanies the unborn, infant, adolescent, impaired, and elderly. He escorts the lonely and abandoned. He involves God in our dependencies, discomforts, dysfunctions, and disasters with the presence, compassion, and power of the Most High. Christ Jesus is Lord, and hope springs!
Jesus has ascended to subject all powers to His good and gracious will. He who has brought us salvation from His servanthood lives and reigns over all creation. He who has worked for us forgiveness from His crucifixion orchestrates our lives. He who has reaped for us everlasting life from His execution is with us in our times and troubles. He who has won for us resurrection from His comforts us in our lives and losses. He who has forged for us unconditional grace from His ultimate abandonment takes our hardship and turns it to hope. Christ Jesus is Lord, and hope grows!
He does what’s best, not just what’s easiest. He makes folks get better and not just feel better. He relieves His children and their despair they may may enjoy the confidence and conviction they’ve found. He redeems His people so that our lives may express the encouragement and trust in Him. He consecrates His household and your aching for your experiences to reflect the gentleness and generosity you live by. He sanctifies His Church and your breaking for your existences to sparkle the enthusiasm of the hope you have in Him. Christ Jesus is Lord, and hope yields!
So many will ask, sinful hearts will ask, “What hope is there in unintended pregnancy?” And we will answer gladly, in the womb of Virgin girl just before her wedding celebration “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14), and “He bore our griefs and sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4). Friends will wonder, “What hope is there in zygotes and embryos?” And we will declare readily, “God chose what is low and despised in the world so that no human being might boast” (1 Corinthians 1:28-29). Relatives will inquire, “How is there hope in congenital abnormalities?” And we will proclaim cheerfully, “We have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). Neighbors will ask, “How is there hope in conflicted marriages?” And we will confess joyfully, “We are his workmanship” (Ephesians 2:10), “made in his image” (Genesis 1:27), “chosen and royal and holy” (1 Peter 2:9). Acquaintances will insist, “Why is there hope for incapacitated or unresponsive cases?” And we will testify heartily, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
And others will ask, your families and friends will demand, “Why is there hope in miscarriage and barrenness?” And we will happily verify, “He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all will also with Him graciously give us all things” (Romans 8:32). Clients will question, “Where is the hope for abortion advocates and euthanasia enthusiasts?” And we will eagerly respond, “If while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more shall we be saved by His life!” (Romans 5:10). Critics will object, “Where is the hope in modesty and chastity?” And we will humbly assert, “He is transforming our lowly body to be like His glorious body” (Philippians 3:21). Skeptics will speculate, “Can I have hope when the damage is irreversible, the condition incurable?” And we will warmly assure them, “This light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17). Sufferers will plead, “Can I have hope when my diagnosis is terminal?” And we will affectionately promise them, “If one member suffers all suffer together” (1 Corinthians 12:26) for “whether we live or die we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:8).
There’s humanity even in midst of suffering. There’s still opportunity in uncertainty. There’s promise even in weakness. And there’s still enjoyment in the unexpected. Wherever there’s life, there is God’s grace and Christ’s compassion. God never gives up and neither do His people. There’s hope for us. There’s hope in this life now and in the kingdom to come. There’s hope for world and most especially for you. Amen.