Grounded in Hope

HOPE Point @Wesley Memorial UMC
August 28, 2016

Romans 5: 1-11 (CEB)
Therefore, since we have been made righteous through his faithfulness, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2We have access by faith into this grace in which we stand through him, and we boast in the hope of God’s glory. 3But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, 4endurance produces character, and character produces hope. 5This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.

6While we were still weak, at the right moment, Christ died for ungodly people. 7It isn’t often that someone will die for a righteous person, though maybe someone might dare to die for a good person. 8But God shows his love for us, because while we were still sinners Christ died for us. 9So, now that we have been made righteous by his blood, we can be even more certain that we will be saved from God’s wrath through him. 10If we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son while we were still enemies, now that we have been reconciled, how much more certain is it that we will be saved by his life? 11And not only that: we even take pride in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, the one through whom we now have a restored relationship with God.

I have this little feature on my cell phone where I get pop-up notifications of breaking news from a couple of different news outlets. Most of the time, these pop-ups make me cringe; probably because a lot of them have to do with campaign politics. But the thing is, when it’s not about campaign politics, it’s almost always about some tragedy somewhere in the world. Let me read to you some of the notification headlines that popped up on my phone this week:
• BREAKING: American University in Kabul under attack
• WATCH LIVE: Death toll rising after massive earthquake in central Italy
• WATCH LIVE: CDC warns of second Zika transmission zone in South Florida
Here are some other headlines I ran across this week:
• On cue, hurricane season heats up
• These are peak times for divorce
• Pokemon Go-playing driver kills woman

I’m sure you get the point. Even amid many wonderful things that happen in our world, like the recent show of athleticism and sportsmanship at the 2016 Summer Olympics, we are still bombarded with negative news nearly every day. And the thing is; it’s not just that it’s negative news; it’s flat out bad news; discouraging and terrible news. This is the reality that we live with every week, and sometimes every day. And I haven’t even gotten to the news that strikes home; a dire health diagnosis for someone in our family, the unexpected death of a loved-one, a child who has developmental delays. Even as some of us are trying to simply process the chaos in the world around us, many others are trying to manage the chaos at home.

With this reality in our lives and in our world, it really is no wonder that humanity clings to hope with all we’ve got. And in those times when we may be feeling hopeless, what we long for above all else is hope. Ken once reflected that this world needs Christ because without Christ there is no hope, and what is life without hope? Without hope there is no purpose, no joy.

This morning, we continue to explore the four guiding principles of HOPE Point @Wesley Memorial: Rooted in Christ. Grounded in Hope. Growing in Grace. Giving in Love. And this week we are going to really dig in and explore what it means to be grounded in hope. Last week, if you remember, we talked about being rooted in Christ, and we remembered the fact that when we sink our roots deep in Christ’s love, we are connected to life-giving waters, and we are strengthened to endure everything that life sends our way. But the thing is, the other truth about having lives that are rooted in Christ is our troubles are not suddenly wiped away. We still have to face the tough realities of life in this world today. We still have to deal with the challenges brought about by the natural world and a sinful and mortal humanity. And the fact is, a lot of times those challenges leaving us feeling hopeless.

Right now, over 40,000 families are displaced from their homes because of flooding in Louisiana. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a flood-ravaged place, but it is devastating. When I was in college, I was helping to lead a youth group one summer. We took a week-long mission trip to rural Virginia, where we were replacing siding and roofs for disabled or widowed persons. Then, just a couple of days in, we got a call from UMCOR, the United Methodist Committee on Relief. Just on the other side of the mountains, in West Virginia, there had been terrible flooding and they needed teams to come and help.

Very, very early the next morning, I loaded up a van with a bunch of teenagers and drove across the mountain. As we descended the mountain into a river valley, I’m not sure I can describe the devastation we saw. Everything was covered in mud. Everything. Tree trunks were scattered all over the place like toothpicks. Homes were completely pushed off their foundations. As I surveyed the devastation, I remember thinking over and over again, “Where do we even start?” Not only was I completely overcome with a sense of helplessness, I also felt hopeless. In fact, I think that was the most profound feeling of hopelessness I have ever experienced. And I wasn’t one of the hundreds of people in that little valley who had lost not only their home, but their whole town. But let me tell you what happened, our little mission team walked into the home of one woman, everything on the first floor of her home was caked in mud. And we just started cleaning. And as we cleaned, I watched that woman’s whole demeanor change. Suddenly, she had a reason to hope. “We even take pride in our problems,” Paul says, “because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”

Here’s what I know. People all over this world, and even in these neighborhoods around us, they are facing profound hopelessness right now. If they aren’t experiencing it right in this moment, then they have at some point in the past, or they will at some point in the future. Sometimes the human answer to hopelessness is suicide; sometimes its drugs or alcohol. We try to find ways of numbing the effects of despair, or we look for a good high so we can forget about our troubles for a little while. The thing is, though, humanity doesn’t often provide real hope, but Christ always does. And even when we might find something in this world to give us a little hope, we often later discover that the hope is fleeting; it is there, but it doesn’t last. The hope we have in Christ, though, is everlasting; it does not disappoint because it’s grounded in God’s deep, abiding, unconditional love for each of us. Paul puts it like this in verse 5, “This hope doesn’t put us to shame,” (one translation says it “doesn’t disappoint us”) “because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”

We can be sure that God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit. And if there is any doubt of the hope we have in God, we need look no further than Christ Jesus. Paul says, “While we were still weak, at the right moment, Christ died for ungodly people.” And that action is not bound by time. Even when we are helpless and undeserving of help, even in our weak and sinful state, God acts for us. That’s why we can have hope. Our hope is grounded securely in what God has already done for us through Jesus Christ. Our hope is reaffirmed as we delve into God’s Word and the story of God’s continual salvation of God’s people. Our hope is strengthened as we gather in a community that continually reflects the unconditional love of God; a love that so saturates our lives, we can be certain in hope even as we face an uncertain future. We can have hope because of what we know—we know what God has already done to lift his people out of the deepest, darkest moments of their lives; and in faith we believe that God will continue to work in people’s lives in the same way. Hope is the “light at the end of the tunnel” that God is always shining for us; for all people.

Let me give you another visual. You all have seen those old-fashioned scales, right? (Show picture of scales on screen.) And you know how they work. When you add weight to one side of the scales, that side will drop down; the more weight you add, the further it will drop. Then, if you begin adding weight to the other side of the scale it will drop down, but because the scale is a lever system, when one side drops, the other side goes up. So, let’s just imagine all the bad things we face in this life as weights that push us down, like the weights on a scale. But what happens if there’s a giant boulder sitting on the other side of that scale? Or a train car? Or an elephant? Like this. (Show graphic of elephant on seesaw) Those scales aren’t moving, right? That’s what God does in our lives. God throws all of his weight onto the scales so that no matter how much bad stuff we deal with in our lives, it doesn’t bring us down. And if we know that, then we can have hope even when we are being bombarded by trials and difficulties.

So here’s why being grounded in hope matters: if we do not live in the hope of Christ, then there really is no hope, and the hopelessness of this world will be overwhelming. And so we need this hope, for our own lives, for our own well-being, to experience the abundance of life in Christ. But think about all the others; the countless numbers of people who are “between a rock and a hard place;” all the people who have their backs against the wall and are feeling completely helpless and hopeless today. They need to know that God’s “got their back,” that God is in their corner. If we don’t point people to that one true hope, then who will? If we aren’t the ones giving testimony to the power of hope in our lives, then what will people turn to get a high? If we are not helping people get their lives grounded in the hope of Christ, then in what will they try to ground their lives?

In the face of trials and hardships, people in this world are longing for hope. God in Christ Jesus offers to us the greatest hope we could ever have. The “HOPE” in HOPE Point is an acronym. It stands for Healing, Optimism, Peace, Encouragement. All of these things come through Christ. What we want to be; what this church needs to be—more than anything else—is a place where people can find hope. Because if people can find true hope, they have found Christ.

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