Tag Archives: Paul

Hope Springs Eternal

Hope springs eternal

 

Romans 5.1-11

 

I recently renewed

by broadband package

and in the process

decided to read

the small print.

 

Of course,

it meant little to me

as it was a mixture of

gobbledygook;

legal-ese

and contract speak.

 

So much so

that the famous Marx brothers

sketch came to mind.

 

You might remember it.

 

It’s when they are discussing

a contract a

and they start off

by read the document –

 

the first clause was

the first part will be known

as the first part

—– and so it went on.

 

Well I have to say

sometimes reading Pau

can feel like reading

a legal document

generated

in the bowels of the EU.

 

Since his pen produces

dense texts

that needs careful reading.

 

In fact,

like most theology,

we need to read it

three times

before sense

starts to appear.

 

Today I won’t foist

two further readings

on you.

 

So if you will allow

I will lead your eye

and ear

to what I,

at least,

think is important.

 

In essence,

let me bring a hope of understanding

even

an understanding of hope.

 

Now hope

is a very interesting word.

 

So much so,

that it features

in many

of our well known sayings.

 

Take the adages –

hope against hope,

living in hope,

hope springs eternal

or there is always hope.

 

Yet each of these clichés

has a negative connotation.

 

In fact, they are used

when hope

is really

not much of an option.

 

When indeed hope

is hardly even a chink of light

in a bad situation.

 

And that is why Pau

l is so very valuable.

 

Because he suggests that,

bleak as

apparently impossible situations are,

they not hopeless.

 

Instead they are the roots

of perseverance and character.

 

These qualities

in turn

germinate into hope.

 

Put bluntly, hope

comes from adversity

rather despite it.

 

Maybe that is the meaning

of a less well known saying –

where flowers bloom

so does hope.

 

Yet despite saying all that,

it still seems

that to blunder

into someone else’s

desperate moment

prattling about hope

is at best offering another cliché.

 

To offer

that tribulations

are a great road to character

is no less than crass.

 

To counsel that awful circumstances

are good for perseverance

can be utterly insensitive.

 

And it is for that reason

we need to read on

in Paul.

 

Since it is then

he adds the essential ingredient.

 

He introduces

the factor X t

hat turns wistful

even forlorn hope

into genuine expectation.

 

In truth, he gives the way

to turning platitudinous waffle

into real comfort.

 

Because he then points out

that the veritable soil

that allows

the painfully won

seeds of character

and perseverance

to blossom into hope

is faith.

 

To him, faith is seeing

in Christ’s selfless sacrifice

the unrestrained love of God;

a love that defies hopelessness.

 

To him, faith that Christ died

and rose

is proof that the impossible

is most likely for God.

 

Moreover, to him faith

is knowing

we can always to tap

into a greater glory.

 

Because it is the phrase

‘hope in the glory of God’

that gives us

not just an aimless hope

but a focus

what we can hope for.

 

Since we cannot hope

to avoid trying times

nor can we hope

to escape tests

that build character and persistence.

 

But we can hope

wholehearted

that through faith

we have a new purpose

and value;

that through faith

we have a refreshing

and everlasting destiny

and that through faith

our life’s meaning

will be eternally fulfilled.

 

Or as David Odunaiya wrote:

“Faith and hope

work hand in hand,

however while hope

focuses on the future,

faith focuses on the now.”

 

All of this is summed up

in a story told

by Linda Ellis.

 

Hope Stout

was a twelve-year old girl

who was offered

a “wish”

in early December 200

by the “Make-A-Wish” Foundation

after being informed

that she had a rare type

of bone cancer.

 

 

However, when she found out

that more than 150 children

in her area

were waiting for their wishes

to be granted,

she unselfishly used her wish

to ask that those children

have their wishes fulfilled.

 

She also asked

that it be done

by January  2004.

 

Unfortunately, however,

the organization informed her

that her noble request

could not be granted

as the funds

were simply unavailable.

 

They calculated that

they would need to rise

more than one million US dollars

in thirty days in order

to grant her wish.

 

Disappointed,

but not discouraged,

she turned her dismay

into an enthusiasm

that inspired caring individual

s to spearhead fundraising

to help grant the wishes

of the other children,

and eventually hers as well.

 

Newspaper columnists

and reporters

for radio and TV stations

shared the story

of this caring young girl

who had touched

the hearts

of so many

and as word spread,

the community was challenged.

 

Committees were formed

and schools, corporations

and various organizations

assisted in raising money

to help bring Hope’s dream to fruition.

 

Though she lost her battle in 2004,

knowing that her wish

was going to come true,

Hope lives on.

 

Her heartfelt efforts

were not in vain

as they continue to help others,

not only physically,

but spiritually

and emotionally as well.

 

At the initial fundraiser

and gathering

to celebrate her life,

“A Celebration of Hope”

In  2004,

the announcement was made

that they had

indeed

received donations

totaling more

than one million dollars

on behalf of Hope Stout.

 

Her wish had been granted!

 

Well I truly pray

you are not facing

the trails of young Hope Stout.

 

But other tests

seem to be in our paths

individually,

as a congregation

and as a nation.

 

In fact, there is much

to try us

each and every day.

 

Yet with hope

we will grow

in character and persistence.

 

With hope

we will be certain

that we will not just prevail

but achieve God’s purpose

as well.

 

Indeed, with hope,

we will know our new direction

in Christ

is toward eternal glory

and victory.

 

All we need do is

to have faith now.

 

Since as Paul’s great guarantee reminds –

faith is the assurance

of things hoped for

and the conviction

of things not seen.

 

Amen

 

 

 

 

Fame or Fortune or..

As a child of the sixties, it easy to look back at that era with rose tinted spectacles. Of course, in some ways it was a more innocent and cohesive time. Yet within that greater trust and togetherness we now know that there were many dark corners in our national life; areas which are only coming to light today.

 

This can no better be illustrated than the celebrities of back then. Most have faded into well earned obscurity. Others are pillars of society or, even more cringe-making, awarded the status of national treasure. However, a few have been found to have been the proverbial wolf in sheep’s clothing. Whatever – however they are seen today, none have retained their ‘god like’ status of 50 odd years ago.

 

Nevertheless, despite the experience of history, we continue to thrust divinity onto celebs, politicians and other ephemeral worthies. It seems then that the time-honoured wheel of human psychology demands we ever confer immortality on humanity.

 

Now I think I said not so long ago that when I did my Naval Instructors course, we were taught to start each lesson with something to engage interest. Well, that day in Lystra, Paul and Barnabas certainly did that (Acts 14.8-18). Yet, I have to say, by conducting such a spectacular curing, Paul and Silas did rather ask for the adulation they gained. I am not saying they courted it, but it was pretty obvious what the outcome would be. Nevertheless, they quickly realised their danger and to their credit soon put it right. They made clear they were but agents of the living God; a caring divinity that stood just outside of the pagans’ line of sight. And as a result of rejecting this unmerited fame, they returned to being the type of followers which earn the highest honour – that of being called ‘disciple’.

So where does the Lystra story leave us? How do find our place within the short lesson from Matthew (Matthew 10.37-42)? How indeed do we find greatness within the sometimes uncertain framework of being Christ’s disciples?

 

Well, rather as Paul did, we need to keep our eyes open. For there is little point trying to serve as Christ’s disciples to someone whose mind is closed. Instead, like Paul let us spot faith no matter how ill-formed or ill-informed it is and use it. Let us respond to an openness to things beyond self. Let us work within that space created by the sense of beyond. Since after all, few here would claim to absolute certain of their doctrine on this issue or that, yet we can lay testimony of Jesus’ present and curing in their lives.

 

Next, we need to let matters not lie there. Instead we need to move the another’s spiritual awaking to a sharper focus. It needs to be – front and centre – aimed at the life and teaching of Christ. Because in the false deifying of Paul and Barnabas the greatest danger was not in them becoming too big for their boots. No the real threat was the distraction – the distraction from a God who nurtures humanity, provides for humanity and wants every human life to have meaning, purpose and worth.

 

But then what can we cure?

 

The university faculty gathered for their weekly meeting. A professor of Archeology brought with him a lamp recently unearthed in the Middle East. It was reported to contain a genie, who, when the lamp was rubbed would appear and grant one wish.

 

A professor of Philosophy was particularly intrigued. He grabbed the lamp and rubbed it vigorously. Suddenly a genie appeared and made him an offer. He could choose one of three rewards: wealth, wisdom, or fame. Without hesitating, the philosophy professor selected wisdom. “Done!” said the genie and disappeared in a cloud of smoke.

 

All the other faculty members turned toward the professor, who sat surrounded by a halo of light. At length, one of his colleagues whispered, “Say something. What wise insight do you now have?”

 

The professor, much wiser now, sighs and says, “I should have taken the money.”

 

Today, most people would have taken not the money but the fame. It seems worth is popularly measured in fame and attendant wealth. And if they don’t have it, then they feel their lives are humdrum, unfulfilled even worthless.

Consequently there is a huge amount of people around who suffer from a lack of self-value. Moreover, there are many whose  abject sense of  inner poverty is a genuine handicap to living a full and free life.

Here then is an affliction,we as Christ’s disciples can aspire to cure

 

 

For the sixties are well behind us. And the years may not have brought fame and wealth. They most probably have not brought outward beauty. Yet they may well have brought the internal beauty of wisdom. The wisdom to see that in using  our godly gifts we  can bring real healing. The wisdom to know we can bestow worth and meaning and purpose with simple listening. The wisdom to offer, through Christ, the quiet encouragement that transforms – transforms the everyday into  the outstanding – transforms the commonplace into the priceless and transforms the  ordinary into true greatness.

 

Above all, we need the wisdom to be ourselves.

 

Since others will then see a priceless dignity in our ordinary discipleship,  they will find the living Jesus in our cheerful everyday-ness and they will rediscover in our godly contentment their own way to inner valuing and meaningfulness.  For Thomas Moore said that by learning to discover and value our ordinariness, we nurture a friendliness towards ourselves and the world that is the essence of a healthy soul.

 

So go and don’t just have an ordinary day, instead be someone else’s great day!