Saturday, 23 November 2019

Hope in a bewildering world


Well that was pretty gloomy, wasn’t it? In the gospel passage (Luke 21.5-19) Jesus spoke of beautiful things being thrown down; good people being led astray; wars and insurrections; nation rising against nation; arrest, persecution, betrayal, family breakdown, hatred.

It sounds gloomily familiar. We’re going to hell in a handcart?

It’s hard, watching the news at the moment, not to wonder what on earth is happening to our world.

On a global level the rules based order of international affairs is being undermined by newly dominant powers, and not helped by those trying to hold on to their place in the world: walls figurative and physical are going up; trust is going down.

Nationally our country has got itself in a terrible stew about over how our common future might be shaped; the less said about General Election campaigns, perhaps, the better.

In families the pressures of finance, be it from Universal Credit or the drive to work more and more for diminishing returns, is corroding the bedrock of society and social wellbeing in the family.

And in many individual lives the stresses and strains of navigating life in a complex and overwhelming world can lead to huge anguish, poor mental health and questions and bewilderment over identity.

And on every level those in power and in positions of influence seem desperate to meet our desires by promising that we can have it all without any cost. We don’t need an election campaign to have politicians, the advertising industry and sophisticated algorithms all telling us what we really want; and yet it is never quite within reach.

It seems, then, that Jesus’ words are less gloomy than at first glance. Jesus unmasks the deep powers of the world which we inhabit and then point to that which transforms the human predicament through hope.

Hope is one of the theological virtues, along with faith and love. As St Paul says, the greatest of these is love, and that is beyond dispute, but love is only complete with faith and hope: these three endure.

Hope has had a bad name because it has come to mean the frothy optimism of the adman and the politician, those people who try to indulge what we want which simply mask or dull our deepest yearnings.

The hope of Christians is not frothy optimism; it is earthed in reality and in the promises of that which endures. With faith and love, St Paul tells us that hope also abides, lasts, endures.

The gospel passage closed with these words: ‘By your endurance you will gain your souls’ (Luke 21.19). That is the hope-filled promise of the way of Jesus Christ. And that endurance is not dependent on our stamina, our own energies, our own self-belief, but is dependent on drinking deeply from the enduring hope of God. We endure when we allow hope to endure; if we shut out the possibility of deep hope, they we will wither and not endure.

Christian hope is a promise that is rooted in heaven and lived out on earth.

That hope is of the life of the world to come; which is a life and a hope that can be lived out now. It is a hope that knows the end of the story; a hope that knows that it is in dying we are born to eternal life.  It is a hope that takes us, with Jesus, to the cross.

Our prayer after communion today will put it like this:

Gracious Lord,
in this sacrament you give substance to our hope:
bring us at the last
to that fullness of life for which we long;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

It is a prayer first and foremost, but also a wonderful definition of hope. Hope has substance and brings us to the fullness of life for which we long.

That hope is literally placed in our hands. Hope is not a credit card in the hand; hope is not a mirror in the hand to gaze upon ourselves; hope is not a smartphone in the hand which draws us more into our selfie-ness: the hope placed in our hand today is hope in the bread of Life, Jesus Christ.

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