Friday, December 8, 2017

The Hope of Sharing in God’s Glory (Romans 5:1-5, 8:24-25) by Rev. Dr. Alan W. Deuel

When NASA posted a job opening for a "Planetary Protection Officer," a position responsible for the microbial footprint of humans during interplanetary exploration, word about the "coolest job ever" spread widely in the media.   The stringent requirements didn't stop 9 -year old Jack Davis from submitting a handwritten note to NASA.  Jack has big dreams and high hopess about his future.

He wrote:  "I may be nine but I think I would be fit for the job."   "One of the reasons is my sister says I am an alien.  Also, I have seen almost all the space movies and alien movies I can see."  "I am young, so I can learn to think like an alien.   Please consider me.”  The Director of Planetary Science wrote back: "We are always looking for bright future scientists and engineers to help us, so I hope you will study hard and do well in school.  We hope to see you here at NASA one of these days."

What is hope?  It is a mode of anticipating the future.  We are expectant, optimistic.  Our outlook is positive.   We look for good things to happen or good things to come.  Of course there are also other modes of anticipating the future, like worry, anxiety and fear.   Without hope, I believe life loses all meaning and joy.

Hope is both active and passive.    Passive hope is like waiting for a package from Amazon.  There seems to be a lot of that these days.   Hope is active when we are doing something, like planning and organizing, praying and working toward some future goal.

Like the story of three store owners who shared adjacent storefronts in the same building.  As retailers, they had competed for years.  Times were now tough.  Sales were down.  In hopes of picking up sales, the owner of the shop at one end of the building put a sign over his front entrance – “YEAR-END CLEARANCE!”   At the other end of the building, another owner responded with his own sign: “ANNUAL CLOSE-OUT.”  The owner of the store in the middle knew he had to act fast or lose his business.   He hung a huge lit sign over his front door: “MAIN ENTRANCE.”  Hope is sometimes active.

Hope also has enemies.  The greatest enemy is gloom, despair, discouragement.   All we see in the future is a wall, a dead-end, a black hole.  We can’t see a way out.  We can’t find another way.  We feel trapped.  We believe there is nothing left to hope for or to work toward or even to live for.  The light of life burns out.   Our zest and enthusiasm vanishes.

What is the basis for hope?  I believe there are basically two world-views, two belief systems which are the ground of hope.  The first is secularism.  Secularism is pessimistic about God but optimistic about humanity.    The secular basis of hope is not in the heavens but on earth.  Its hope lies not in God which is a false belief because God doesn’t exist, because God is a fantasy, but its hope lies in humanity.   Humans alone can save themselves.  There is no god to save us.   We humans can save the world and preserve the future.  We can rely upon reason, science, technology, and good will.  We depend upon human determination, imagination, curiosity, brain power, and vision.

Together humans can work to create a just society, achieve world peace and save the environment.   There will be disagreements, but humanity will find solutions and transform the world.  We can save ourselves.  We don’t need a supernatural being.  Why – because we are on our own.  That’s secularism.

The second basis for hope is religion.  Christianity is pessimistic about humanity but optimistic about God.   The basis of our hope is God, who revealed himself to the world in Jesus Christ.  The ground of our hope is in the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world.  In Scripture and faith hope literally means confident expectation.

Christianity is pessimistic about humanity because of human sin and moral evil which emanates from sin.  It is optimistic about God because God is the creator and ruler of the world, because God is powerful, just, merciful, loving, because God is leading the world toward its divine fulfillment.  Our hope is based upon our faith that God holds the future, that the future lies in God’s hands, that God is in control, that the future is secure.  Hope is a firm assurance that that which is hidden, unknown, or confusing today will be unveiled by God in the future.   Our Christian hope means that you and I can trust God to keep his promises.

To be more specific, the Christian hope for the future is two-fold.   First, our hope is personal, individual.  It is hope with your name on it.  Our faith inspires hope today.  By faith God’s hope lives within us.  The letter of Romans says: “By God’s grace, through faith, we boast in the hope of sharing the glory of God.”  Character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts and we have the gift of the Holy Spirit within us, who deepens our faith and hope.

We have Jesus’ promise to us personally of eternal life, everlasting life, resurrection of the body.  Jesus speaks about God’s house with many rooms, and promises: “I have prepared a place for you and I will come back to take you to myself, so that you will be where I am.”  Jesus’ wonderful promise is that nothing, not even death, can separate us from God’s love today and forever.  Our Christian hope is of sharing in the glory of God.

Second, our Christian hope is universal.  We find it in the biblical concept of the Kingdom of God.  The kingdom of God is the reign of God, the rule of God.  It is represented in the promise of Christ’s final coming in glory and the final judgment of the world when God will establish His Kingdom forever.

It speaks to God’s universal purpose.  God’s plan is not only to save individuals but to save and transform the world into His kingdom.  God’s ultimate purpose is both individual salvation and world salvation.

The book of Revelation pictures this beautifully: “See the home of God is among mortals.  God will dwell with them as their God, they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.  He will wipe every tear from their eyes, death will be no more, mourning and crying and pain will cease.

As Christians, as followers of Jesus, we are to place our ultimate hope not in people, not politics, not government, not riches, not in hedonism, not even in reason, but God whom we know in Jesus Christ.

The question for the Advent season is this:  Where have you placed your ultimate hope - in man or in God?” Amen!

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