Scripture: Romans 8:18-30
When we read the paper or catch the news on line, we often wonder how people can have hope at all in some of the situations they’re thrust into.
Living in Aleppo last year is one such situation many would deem ‘hopeless’.
Drying out a smelly, damp house and all your belongings in parts of Northland, Auckland or the Coromandel after at least two decent deluges during the week will feel like a hopeless task, so entrenched and pungent is the mud.
People in prison for long sentences must find it incredibly difficult to maintain hope.
Those who’ve recently received a serious health diagnosis can find it hard to hang on to hope.
Those living or struggling to stay alive in the parts of South Sudan where famine has been declared, and in Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria which are on the verge of famine must find it hard to live with hope.
Parents of the girls who were captured in Chibok by members of Boko-Haram in Nigeria must have found it almost impossible to maintain hope as their girls were missing and in many cases still will while many of the young women are still in captivity.
Losing a job is incredibly dispiriting because of the loss of self-esteem it arouses and the not knowing how long if ever it will take to find other employment, on top of the obvious financial hit and fear for the future.
Into all these and many other experiences in life Jesus pours hope.
Let’s pray as we affirm our identity as people of hope, people who worship our God of hope.
Living Lord Jesus, You are the hope and the light of the world. Into our insecurities and our darkness you shine as you gather us up in your arms.
Listen to our cries now as we still our hearts to hear your strong voice speaking into our particular situations.
May the power of your word challenge us anew and pervade our hearts today we pray in the precious name of Jesus, our hope and salvation,
Our commitment to Jesus Christ stands on two legs – the legs of faith and hope. The Book of Romans is full of hope, a true and lasting hope- nothing imaginary or fleeting. The joys of unwavering belief in Jesus are extolled throughout Romans and the directions to find hope and faith in Jesus are given in its pages.
Paul’s letter to the Romans was written about A.D. 57 or 58. It is, perhaps, one of Paul’s most well-known letters. In our Bibles it’s the first book after Acts, looking like it would be Paul’s first epistle. But, in fact, Paul had already written five of his epistles: Galatians, 1 Thessalonians, 2 Thessalonians, 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians by the time he wrote this letter to the Romans. It seems that Paul was most likely in Corinth when he wrote this letter, on his third missionary journey, and was keen to visit Christians in Rome. Paul has great faith in the faith of those he corresponds with because he is aware of their prayers for him while he is suffering and of the strength of their faith in Jesus. This is how he can say also to those in Corinth “our hope for you is firm, (the NRSV has ‘our hope for you is unshaken) because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.” (2 Corinthians 1: 7.) What a great description of hope. “It cannot be shaken. It does not waver.”
Paul reminded the church in Rome and he reminds us today that at one time we were enemies of God (Romans 5:10) and needed to be judged accordingly but because of Christ’s death and rising again for us we now have peace with God and we can “rejoice in the hope of the glory of God” because it is by “grace in which we stand.” What a reason to “rejoice in hope!”
Paul has seen God deliver him over and over again and that is why Paul sees hope as unshakable because it is in our unchanging God.
Sometimes we use the word ‘hope’ in a glib way. We say to someone in hospital ‘I hope you get well soon’ or ‘I hope I’ll see you again ‘ to a new acquaintance (one we’ve really clicked with). We all have hope of some kind or another to a certain extent, but if we don’t put our faith in Jesus our hope is nothing more than wishful thinking. However if we are committed to Jesus Christ then our hope is as sure as God’s existence for God gives hope to the hopeless.
We need to remember in our hope that God’s ways are God’s ways not our ways, and not abandon hope when it looks like things are not going exactly the way we planned.
Some of us have to be careful to remember that God’s words in Jeremiah 29: 11 have God as the subject of the sentence and ourselves as the object. I sometimes think we jumble up that promise in the way we live our lives, as if we can tell God what to do.no us “for I know the plans I have for you, Lord – if you can just order this event for me, bring these people together, keep these people apart, and generally do as I ask you, then all will be fine…..
Instead God works in ways that, fortunately, we would never think of, and in ways that seem impossible to us. Remember Abraham had to leave Ur of the Chaldeans and move to a far-away country which seemed a risky and frightening move to make. Abraham, a man of faith, responded to God in faith and with the sure hope that it was God not Abraham who was in control. Wonderfully, truly, God can accomplish what we can never do in our own strength.
Billy Graham, in his book Nearing Home: Life, Faith, and Finishing Well reminds us that God indeed knows best, and when we offer our lives unequivocally and wholeheartedly to the Creator of the Universe then God’s perfect plans for us can be gloriously fulfilled.
Billy Graham recalls in his later years, “I have remained a baseball fan, not necessarily of one team over another but of the game itself–the teamwork, the strategy, and the challenge of defeating the opponent. But baseball was not God’s plan for me. Nevertheless, He taught me how to integrate these important components into service for Him. The Lord has blessed me with a loyal team of men and women whose hearts are united with mine–set on leading others to an eternal home with Christ. Our team strategy has been to fulfill the Lord’s command to go into the whole world and preach Christ for the purpose of defeating the opponent–Satan.
When I started preaching, it was never my intention to preach inside a baseball stadium or any other stadium for that matter. I was accustomed to preaching in churches when I was pastoring and in auditoriums when I was traveling with Youth for Christ (YFC). At the close of the war in 1945, several of us on the YFC team had the privilege of preaching at Soldier Field in Chicago.
The details are sketchy now, but I recall the first time I stood in an outdoor arena to preach the Gospel. I had been invited to hold an evangelistic citywide meeting in Shreveport, Louisiana. When the local auditorium could not hold the crowds, the organizers had no choice but to move the event outside. Uncertain as to how people would feel about attending an evangelistic rally in a large arena, I was rather nervous. Then I thought about my boyhood dreams. Instead of bat in hand at home plate, I had what I now know is a much greater privilege: to stand behind a pulpit, with Bible in hand, immersed in the power of the Holy Spirit. I was not performing before fan-filled bleachers but pronouncing the Word of God to sin-filled hearts searching for truth.
“Life, indeed’, Billy Graham concludes ‘is full of surprises.” We are wise to leave our lives in God’s hands, instead of acting as if we know best
Hopelessness is transformed by the hope we have in the living Christ. Hope sometimes emerges slowly in our lives and at other times is a sudden, unexpected gift from God. The point I reckon is perspective. What is our focus? On whom is our focus? Are we more aware of our hurts than of God’s love?
Slide on screen Romans 8: 18
“The pain you have been feeling cannot compare with the joy that is to come.” Tom Wright’s version of this verse reminds us of the power of perspective and of the riches of God’s glory that awaits us – “This is how I work it out’, Wright puts it. ‘The sufferings we go through in the present time are not worth putting in the scale alongside the glory that is going to be unveiled for us.” Paul for Everyone: Romans, Part 1, SPCK, 2004, p. 148.
Slide on screen Romans 8: 24, 25
Patient and living hope because the Lord of all is our loving God means hope, like faith, is not necessarily seen, but it is certain whatever the circumstances. Groaning and waiting, eager but patient’ this is what Tom Wright describes as the characteristic Christian stance. ibid, p. 152.)
Calvin, one of the reformers of the church, commenting on Genesis 25:21, which describes the answering of Isaac and Rebekah’s prayers for a baby, with twin boys, wrote: ‘God shows that He never turns a deaf ear to the wishes of His faithful people, although he may long defer the answer.”
What say now you think of a past situation in your life and map a flow chart, write a poem or a paragraph or draw picture if you’re artistically inclined, of a time when God poured hope into your life when things were looking hopeless, while we listen to Chris Tomlin’s song ‘Unfailing Love.’ The reverse side of the page inside your notice sheets today with our reading from Romans is free for you to record your reflections and pens and crayons are available. Of course you may prefer to work on this later, at home. While we either reflect silently now on those times when God’s Holy Spirit has filled us with hope, or jot down or draw a few thoughts, we’ll enjoy Chris Tomlin and Steven Curtis Chapman singing ‘Unfailing Love.’
Play CD Chris Tomlin ‘Arriving’, track 5 ‘Unfailing Love’
Let’s pray now as we reach out to our God of Hope who always hears us and answers our prayers