and hope will not disappoint

Romans 5:1-11 Easter 5 May 10, 2015

“What gives you hope?” Brian Tillmann asked a little old lady at the Expo where we had our root beer float stand set up and our game. The game is to simply toss a rock into the river but before you do, you have to talk about hope. This lady on this day simply said, her face darkening, “nothing.” Nothing gave her hope. But then. She threw the rock into the River of Hope cups and hit one of the cups, winning a prize (everyone’s a winner!). Her face lit up and she said, “Well, that right there just gave me hope.”

It was this little moment, watching a person’s mood change, watching her reality be altered through a little momentum with a piece of pressed glass, it was that little moment that embodied hope.

It’s a subversive question, “what gives you hope.” It’s the question that gets asked all through the fair to young and old alike as part of the game. They often need prompting and re-framing so they can answer. It often becomes about what they wish for or want. Yet, at its core, the question begs for the source of your joy and peace. I mean, how often are you asked that question?

If we really made the time and wanted to change the flavor of our booth, we should really take out the game and put in rocking chairs and have people tell stories about hope. Because, when you get down to it, if you’re gonna tell a story about hope you’ve experienced in your life, then it’s going to be a story that you’ve got to sit down to tell.

Because hope is not born of unicorns and rainbows. Hope is born in the dark night of the soul. Hope is born from the bottom of despair and from frail edges of grief. Hope does not come from maybes and fingers crossed. Hope is born straight out of broken hearts and ended lives and shattered dreams and unmet expectations and disappointment. Hope is born from suffering.

And this is what Paul has to tell us about suffering: Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.

Just this week, a new line of cards is on the market designed for those going through a hard time, especially serious illness. The card maker is a cancer survivor. This one’s my favorite:

In this letter, I don’t think Paul is saying, “God won’t give you anything you can’t handle.” I don’t think Paul is saying that your suffering is happening for a reason, to teach you a lesson. Paul is not saying, “what goes around comes around.”

Here is what I think Paul is saying: it’s through faith that we know the peace and love of Jesus Christ. And of course we boast in our hope of what we know God can and does do: raises us from the dead to new life! Paul is saying, sure, you can boast about your hope in Jesus when things are great, when life is going your way. But what about when your life has been turned upside down? But what about when you are suffering? This is where Paul digs in to tell you that suffering does not exist for the sake of suffering but that it produces fruit. It produces life! He says suffering produces endurance and endurance produces character and character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us.

And some of you may be saying, “I’ve got enough character, thankyouverymuch.” I think about and pray for the Pollmanns as they roll with another broken bone in the midst of a year of cancer treatments and a few other broken bones. I think about and pray for the Hoffmans as they adjust to a new normal of Kristi always having cancer. If we all sat and shared our suffering stories, well, it’d chill you to the bone. There is a lot of hurt and betrayal and devastation just sitting in this room right now. We know our own versions of suffering, don’t we.

But here’s the thing: suffering isn’t the period at the end of the sentence. Suffering isn’t the end of the story. It is often the beginning of a new story. Even as Kristi and Josh and Jean Gray are in the midst of this cancer thing, I always leave their homes encouraged and hopeful – always. Because we share a mutual hope in things that we cannot see. We share faith in Jesus Christ who is the one to bring peace. And yet, these folks see things and invite me into it with them. They show me very clearly: here is what life looks like in the midst of suffering. It’s hard. It’s devastating. There are good days and really bad days. But there is love. There is hope. There is new life.

What are you stories of suffering? When did you think you’d had enough, didn’t think you could make it another minute or even a second more? How did you get through those next 10 seconds and then the next 10 seconds after that? Kimmy Schmidt, a fictional character on a Netflix show named after her, tells how she gets through her 10 seconds:

You see, it’s not our hope. It’s not hope generated by happy thoughts or a positive attitude. It’s hope that scoops you out of the mire you swore was going to take you down. It’s hope that raises you from the dead. It’s hope that makes the dead walk. So that means it’s hope that can only come from Jesus Christ. It’s not based on our ability to be hopeful – it is because the Holy Spirit stirs up living stuff out of the dead stuff. Not out of your best efforts or your fake smile or your “I’m fine.” No, Paul says For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.

For while we were still weak. While you were despondent over the death of your loved one; while you were cursing God for your circumstances; while you were certain you would not show your face in public again; while you were so angry and removed; this is right where Christ comes in and saves you. Creates new life. Raises you from the dead.

Paul spells it out so nicely: hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.

So that lady that Brian talked to at the expo that day? Maybe that was the Holy Spirit working on her heart through an interaction with Brian and a little piece of pressed glass.

It is our only hope.