“Trinitarian Hope”

May 22, 2016

Trinity Sunday


Text:  Romans 5:1-5


    For those of us who have been following the United Methodist General Conference in Portland, Oregon that ended on Friday, this past week has been nerve wracking.  The conference had already had some pretty contentious moments, especially related to the ongoing debate around human sexuality, and on Monday a rumor was going around that the Council of Bishops was considering a plan to break up the denomination.  Of course, with social media being what it is today, soon there was widespread alarm about what this could mean.  I know I felt considerable distress over this prospect.  However, on Tuesday morning the Council of Bishops made a statement indicating that they were dedicated to maintaining the unity of the church.  There were additional developments later in the week regarding the way forward, and I will share those in the newsletter.

    I bring this up only because in this kind of turmoil and confusion, it can be hard to be hopeful.  After all, central to hope is the sense that there is a future with promise.  When that future becomes uncertain, hope becomes difficult.

    But where does our hope lie?  Does it lie in human institutions, such as church, government, or society?  The problem with placing our hope in such institutions, even the ones set up for the purpose of doing God’s work on earth, is that they are human.  They are imperfect.  They get caught up in their own self-importance and often tend to focus more on self-preservation than on doing what they are intended to do.  

    With that in mind, hear again what Paul wrote in today’s lesson from Romans:  “Therefore, since we have been made righteous through his faithfulness combined with our faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  We have access by faith into this grace in which we stand through him, and we boast in the hope of God’s glory.”  In other words, our true hope is in God, who makes us right with God and brings us into relationship with him through trust in Christ, which gives us peace that no earthly entity can give.

    But Paul doesn’t stop there.  He continues:  “But not only that!  We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope.  This 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.”  Paul is telling us that even trouble can strengthen our hope.  When we trust in God in the face of trouble, we learn to endure that trouble, because God is with us to help us in the midst of our difficulties.  When we learn to endure difficulty by trusting God, it builds our character.  We become stronger, more able to encourage others going through troubles of their own, more patient with life and with others.  This produces hope, for when we reach that point we come to realize that the future is not in our hands alone.  The future ultimately belongs to God, and we can trust that God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, has poured his love into our hearts, further growing us in character as we learn to love as Jesus loved--loving sacrificially, loving all people.

    All this reminds me of a story that has been making the rounds of social media:  “One Sunday morning at a small southern church, the new pastor called on one of his older deacons to lead in the opening prayer.  The deacon stood up, bowed his head and said, ‘Lord, I hate buttermilk.’  The pastor opened one eye and wondered where this was going.  The deacon continued, ‘Lord, I hate lard.’  Now the pastor was totally perplexed.  The deacon continued, ‘Lord, I ain’t too crazy about plain flour.  But after you mix ‘em all together and bake ‘em in a hot oven, I just love biscuits.  Lord, help us to realize when life gets hard, when things come up that we don’t like, whenever we don’t understand what You are doing, that we need to wait and see what You are making.  After You get through mixing and baking, it’ll probably be something even better than biscuits.  Amen.’”

    I believe this is the kind of hope Paul is talking about--the hope that recognizes that although we have trials and tribulations and troubles in this world, although human beings and human institutions often disappoint and even do harm to us and to others, our true hope is not in the people and institutions of this world, but in the Triune God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, who created us, saved us, and continues to live in us.  I pray that we will continue to grow in that hope as we live our lives and face the challenges and opportunities that are before us.  Amen.

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