Prepared by Anne Rowland, and presented by her on July 10, 2004 to the members of Hope Anglican Fellowship. Briefing slides and web presentation prepared by Andy Figueroa. Each of the thumbnail-size images links to a larger image of a slide used in the original presentation. Use your back-arrow button to return to the presentation.
I looked up hope in the dictionary this week and found this definition: "to long for with expectation of obtainment, to expect with desire." I was surprised that hope is defined as such a heart-felt attribute. But it is, and I think it's probably something we've all felt deeply over the last few months. The topics of discussion in tonight's talk have all worked together to give me hope, both in the current circumstances of the church, and in other more personal ways, as well. I hope they lift your spirits, too.
First, tonight, we'll talk about the way we came up with the name Hope for our Fellowship, and how people in the Fellowship responded to the name. Next, we'll talk about how hope fits into our situation — not exclusively our church situation, though you could take it that way — but in a broad sense, and the things upon which the Bible says to base our hope: Jesus Christ and the promise of heaven, and over all, the grace of God. Finally, I'll mention a couple obstacles to hope and how to counter them, and then we'll be done.
We've already sung a number of songs that are hopeful, if not necessarily specifically about hope. 1 During Compline, we'll sing a couple more songs that ALWAYS give me hope. 2 Even when I'm upset — about the state of the church ... or the state of my life, or my soul — they bring a smile to my face, and lift the burden from my heart, at least for a while. I hope they'll do the same for you.
ORIGIN OF OUR NAME
The idea for the name Hope originally struck us as our Bible Study was studying the book of Jeremiah, specifically verses 14:8-9, "O the Hope of Israel, his Savior in time of trouble, ... You, O LORD, are in our midst, and we are called by Your name; Do not leave us!" By the time the prophet Jeremiah was saying these words, the people of Judah had committed horrible sins in the sight of God, and God was punishing them for their iniquity. Yet Jeremiah still called God "the Hope of Israel."
Almost immediately, other verses referring to hope were thought of and discovered. (A few of these you'll hear again, later, as well.)
When the Fellowship was asked for comments about the name, we found that it resonated with almost all who responded. "Hopeful" seems to be an accurate description of who we are — or at least who we want to become.
Here are some comments that were received from members of the Fellowship:
Today, Jeremiah's prayer becomes ours (or at least mine): "Lord, be our Hope; be our Savior. In your mercy, do not leave us during this time of rebellion in your Church, but rather guide us through — show us the way."
OUR PROPER VIRTUE
A few weeks ago, Andy and I went to a class on healing and pastoral care out at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry (TESM). Most of what I say about hope tonight is taken from the lectures by the teacher, the Rev. Mario Bergner, and a German theologian named Josef Pieper, whom we read for the class, who wrote about what it means for a Christian to hope.
On the Way
Pieper starts off by saying that hope is the proper state for those who are "on the way" (status viatoris). From the time we're born till the time we die, we're "on the way" in a BIG way, and live in its uncertainty. And in each of our lives, we're on our way in smaller ways, too. It lasts as long as we are alive. 3 When we finally reach our destination, the status comprehensoris (the state of having comprehended, or arrived), ultimately either heaven or hell, hope is no longer needed. We've arrived, for good or for ill. We're there. But as long as we are on the way, we're called to hope.
The apostle Paul stresses this point a number of ways, alluding to the journey and the hoped for destination. Phil 3:12-14 states, "Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me ... I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus." Pressing on shows the journey. The prize is the destination. Philippians 1:6 promises that "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." Here carrying on shows the journey, and the completion of the good work is the destination. Pressing on, carrying on — good words for being "on the way."
The Not Yet
When Jesus began his ministry, he told his disciples that the kingdom of God is at hand. The sick are healed; the blind see; the dead are raised. In a very real and tangible sense, the kingdom of God was initiated with the Incarnation. And yet it's obvious to all that bad things still happen. War, disease, poverty, and countless other evils still abound. Though God's kingdom has come, and through Christ's death the war is won, the fighting still isn't over. The struggle continues, globally, personally, and at every level in between. Biblical writers point to a future day, the Day of the Lord, associated in the New Testament with the Second Coming of Christ (the Blessed Hope!), as the time that the kingdom of God will finally come in its fullness. Evil will be destroyed, the Church will be cleansed, and Christ shall reign over all.
We often describe this time in which we live, the time between Christ's first and second comings, as "the already and the not yet." "Already" because God's kingdom has been initiated through the coming of Jesus Christ. And "not yet" because it isn't yet complete, and won't be until Christ's Second Coming, when he shall reign as Lord and King. Until then, the struggle goes on.
We see this in verses like Heb. 2:8: "You [God] have put all things in subjection under [Jesus'] feet ... But now we do not yet see all things put under him." And I John 3:2 tells us, "Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when [Christ] is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is." What a wonderful promise!
So theologically, hope is also the proper virtue of our place in the Christian story, the in-between time, the "not yet." 4 And boy-oh-boy, are we living in the "not yet!"
REASONS FOR HOPE
Other than the fact that we're told to be hopeful, why are we? Upon what do we base our hope? The Archbishop of Canterbury? The Lambeth Commission? The primates of the Global South? In the end they may ALL let us down. And the future may be difficult and murky beyond our imagining. Yet there is still hope. There is ALWAYS hope. And now seems to be a good time to reflect on why.
The Bible gives us two main reasons for the virtue of hope — Jesus Christ and the gift of eternal life — and grounds hope not in our own effort, or the merit of the Church (or the Communion), but in the grace of God. Listen to the following verses, and let them inspire you.
Jesus Christ 5
The first reason to hope is Jesus Christ. According to Col. 1:27, "Christ [is] in you, the hope of glory." In fact, in the Bible, hope is identified so exclusively with Jesus that those who don't know Christ are said to have "no hope." (I Thess. 4:13)
In Jesus Christ, the virtue of hope embraces the living source of its expectation. 6 1 Peter 1:3 says, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead?"
Christ is the foundation of our hope. Hebrews 6:19 describes those who, like us, "have fled for refuge 7 to lay hold of the hope set before us. This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast ..." The messianic prophesy of Isaiah 28:16 calls Jesus "a foundation stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation ..." In I Cor. 3:11, Paul states: "no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ." Songs like "On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand" and "How Firm a Foundation" speak to this truth and hope.
Finally, Christ is the fulfillment of our hope. Rom. 8:24-25 says, "For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see [like the future of the Anglican Communion!, then] we wait for it with patience."
Pieper reminds us that "Hope expects from God's hand the eternal life that is God himself", 8 and that even "all our natural hopes?are like vague mirrorings and foreshadowings of, like unconscious preparations for, eternal life." 9 Peter Kreeft, in his book Back to Virtue, writes "Hope means that our heads do not bump up against the low ceiling of this world; hope means that the exhilarating, wonderful, and terrifying winds of Heaven blow through our ears." 10
But for Pieper, the ultimate statement of hope in the Bible occurs when Job says, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust him." The key to hope, then, is the power to wait patiently during the painful "not yet" and still be able to look forward to this heavenly future. In his first epistle Peter says (in verses 1:4-7) that by God's mercy we've been born into "an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you ... In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials ..."
This kind of thinking about heaven is foreign to many of us. The Episcopal Church doesn't often speak of heaven, or sing about it. But we're going to sing some songs about heaven tonight during Compline.
Of course, all of this hope in Jesus and in heaven is ultimately based in the grace of God. "Hope is a gift from God that is always available." 12 Pieper points out that "Hope is grounded above all in God's mercy and omnipotence ... Hope's unfailing certitude is based on the grace-filled nature of supernatural hope." 13 One of the verses of "Amazing Grace" states it well: "Through many dangers toils and snares I have already come. 'Tis grace that brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home." And Titus 3:3-7 has it all: grace, Jesus, and eternal life. It says, "For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life."
OBSTACLES TO HOPE
The two biggest obstacles to hope are despair (giving up too early) and presumption (assuming or demanding success too early), both of which, in opposite ways, destroy the "pilgrim character of the status viatoris" — of being "on the way" — tempting us to fix ourselves at our destination before the trip is really over. 14
In writing of despair, Pieper is very careful to define his terms, pointing out that usually when we speak of despair, we're referring to a psychological state into which someone "falls" almost against his will. As Pieper uses the term in his book, however, "the term describes a decision of the will." 15 Remember that. We're defining despair as a willful act. So, Pieper describes despair as "a denial of the way of fulfillment," "the true antitype of hope," 16 and states that it is "the state of being that is proper to the damned. And the despair of one in the status viatoris is ... a kind of anticipation of damnation." 17 For the Christian, he says, "despair is a decision against Christ. It is a denial of the redemption." 18 Those are serious words!
Pieper goes on to say that despair grows out of the sin of acedia, which has to do with refusing to become all that God created one to be. Humans run from God because He has exalted them and holds them to a higher standard than they desire. In acedia, "man expressly wishes that God had not ennobled him but had 'left him in peace.'" 19 C. S. Lewis uses similar words in The Problem of Pain: "We are, not metaphorically but in very truth, a Divine work of art, something that God is making, and therefore something with which He will not be satisfied until it has a certain character. Here again we come up against what I have called the 'intolerable compliment.' ... it is natural for us to wish that God had designed for us a less glorious and less arduous destiny; but then we are wishing not for more love but for less." 20
If despair lies on one side of the coin of hopelessness, presumption lies on the other. Whereas despair denies fulfillment, presumption anticipates fulfillment before the proper time. Pieper calls it the perverse anticipation of fulfillment. Both negate hope by denying the reality of being "on the way." Pieper goes on to describe presumption as "an attitude of mind that fails to accept the reality of the futurity [the fact that it's still in the future] and 'arduousness' that characterize eternal life." 21 It fails to recognize that the end is "not yet" achieved. St. Augustine of Hippo described it as "a self-deceptive reliance on a security that has no existence in reality." 22
There are two classic forms of the sin of presumption. The first is that "man is able by his own human nature to win eternal life and the forgiveness of sins." (Historically this has been expressed as the heresy of Pelagianism.) These days this attitude is generally associated with the liberal moralism (often found in the Episcopal Church) that says that a "decent individual who does his duty will be able to stand the test before God." 23
The second form of presumption is found in the absolute certainty of salvation based solely on the merit of Christ, which then leads to moral license. ("If I'm saved anyway, then why not [fill in the blank]?") How many times have we all heard someone say, "My God is a God of love?" Their idea of God is what Lewis called the "senile benevolence that drowsily wishes you to be happy in your own way." 24 They want God's mercy without his judgment. This is nothing new. One of the earliest Christian heretics (Marcion), insisted that the God of judgment of the Hebrew Scriptures was a different God than the God of love whom we know as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. But what the Church insisted on was the acceptance of both God's justice AND mercy, two sides of the same coin. Pieper relates this to our discussion by pointing out that "one who looks only at the justice of God [one who despairs] is as little able to hope as one who sees only the mercy of God [one who presumes] ... Only hope is able to comprehend the reality of God, ... to know that his mercy is identical with his justice and his justice with his mercy." 25
So how do we fight despair and presumption, and embrace hope?
Despair (Remember that despair is giving up and not accepting what God has called us to be.) is destroyed by the hope of eternal life (as we've mentioned) and a combination of magnanimity and humility. 26 Magnanimity is "the aspiration of the spirit to great things" ... "A person is magnanimous if he has the courage to seek what is great and becomes worthy of it." 27 Bergner called it the willingness to become noble. Humility is "the attitude of man before the face of God ... the knowledge and acceptance of the inexpressible distance between Creator and creature ..." the knowledge of the truth of man's nature with respect to God. "Humility, with its gaze fixed on the infinite distance between man and God, reveals" our limitations. 28 Augustine of Hippo says that "only to the humble is it given to hope." 29 So magnanimity and humility — accepting our true glory side-by-side with our limitations, fallenness and need for God — together help to form and guide our hopes.
We battle presumption, on the other hand, through a healthy fear of the Lord. The virtue of hope is inextricably linked to the fear of the Lord, which Pieper says is among the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Partly, this is a realization of the precariousness of our existence, especially the possibility of our own sin. Pieper describes the fear of the Lord as a fear that "somehow turns us to God," 30 and stresses that it is a real fear, not just respect. Solomon called this kind of fear the beginning of wisdom, and in the New Testament, Saint Paul speaks of it as well when he tells us to work out (or live into) our salvation "with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12)." Sometimes this is a fear of punishment, sometimes a more pure fear of the sin itself, but either way, as long as we are free to choose, the real fear of the Lord and hope, together, walk hand-in-hand as our proper companions "on the way." Pieper states, "Holy fear guards the summit of hope." He then ends his book with Psalm 115:11, "They who fear the Lord trust in the Lord." 31
I want to be a magnanimous church. I want to be a God-fearing church. What are our hopes and prayers for this church? To what great things should we aspire? Of what should we properly be afraid?
So, we've talked about how we came up with Hope as our name; that hope is the proper virtue for being "on the way" and living in the "already and the not yet;" that our primary reason for hope is the grace of God, expressed especially through his Son Jesus Christ and the gift of eternal life; that despair is fought with magnanimity and humility, and presumption is countered with holy fear.
I'd like to close with a quotation from the Rev. Dr. Gavin McGrath: "I am hopeful that things can change for the better ... The need is great and, at the same time, the opportunities are great. There is something of a paradox today: as our western culture slips more and more into confusion and darkness, the light of Christian communities, energized by the gospel, biblical theology and a commitment to a biblical worldview, becomes a beacon of sanity and hope. Like any paradox, there will be tension [and sometimes opposition] ... But I do not think we are like the ancient English king, Canute, who tried to defy the incoming tide by his royal command. My confidence that the tide can be turned is not so much with [even the best teaching or human efforts] as with the assurance from the King who is the creator of all seas and tides — who is the Lord of history and the Lord of his Church." 32
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