December 6, 2020 A+D
St. Paul writes: “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.” (Romans 15:4, NKJV)
God creates faith through the Scriptures that you might have the patience and comfort of hope that is needed to endure evil in this life.
I want to make two points today. First, hope is certain. It is the birthright of Baptism. It belongs to you. You should seize it. Secondly, I want to consider what hope is in relation to faith and love that we might better understand and put to use the fullness of God’s gifts.
Hope is the birthright of Baptism and therefore I am not thrilled with the translation that says we “might have hope.” All the modern English translations and even the King James take it this way. The verb “to have” is in the subjunctive mood in a purpose clause. The grammar does not imply uncertainty. Those of you with the skills and interest can read all about it in Wallace’s Greek grammar. But on top of the grammatical argument, in the Christian mind, in both the Old and the New Testaments, there is almost no distinction made between God’s intent or purpose and the consequence of that intent. If I intend to go to the gym 5 days this week, I might or might not follow through. My intent and the consequence of that intent are related but not identical. In contrast, what God wants to happen, always happens. So if He wrote the Scriptures for our learning so that we would have patience, comfort, and hope then we will have patience, comfort, and hope. There is no possibility of any other outcome. Christians have hope. They must.
Despair is a sin. It is a refusal to believe in God’s goodness. It refuses to rejoice in what we already have, in the inheritance and name of our Father, in the forgiveness of sins, and in the promise of the life to come. Despair is ingratitude and self-righteousness. It turns a man in on himself as though he and his circumstances and his sorrows or the injustices that he suffered were all that mattered. It takes him away from the history of Israel and away from the promised glory to come.
The Scriptures set a man’s feet on the ground. They tell him the truth of God’s love in history and direct him to the present Sacraments and promises of the risen Christ with an eye on the future. That future orientation and distancing from this body of death and world is not naive or delusional, the opium of the weak-minded. It is not wishful thinking or theodicy. It is objective for it conforms with the promises of Holy Scripture which give the patience and comfort of hope.
The world is bad. It is going to get worse. Your life is hard. There are always things to complain about, to regret, and even to fear. This will continue until the end and there will continue to be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars. Nations are in distress. People will betray you. Horrors will abound. Pregnant women and babies and the elderly are most at risk, devalued by the powers of the world except as pawns to increase their control. Even nature is given to violence. The earth is wearing out like the heart of an old man. It cannot last. It will end.
But, despite all that, Jesus tells you to look up and lift up your heads, to welcome these things, to rejoice in them, to abound in hope, because your redemption draws near. Let go of this world. Take up the mantle given to you in Baptism. Hope is your right and it receives already now a foretaste of the joy to come.
Hope cannot exist apart from faith. We lift up our heads because it is our redemption that draws near. The Bible teaches us that salvation comes to mankind from God at God’s own expense. The Father has sent the Son to become a Man in order to punish Him in our place so that He could pardon sinners and receive them again as His own. God has no pleasure in the damnation of the wicked and He does not wish to punish the rebels. He even prays directly for those who crucify Him. His sacrifice reconciles all of humanity to Himself. He desires that all would turn from their wicked ways, trust in His mercy, and live.
Whoever believes this, that is whoever has faith, is saved and therefore rightly looks forward to the future. Faith is itself a gift, bestowed by the Holy Spirit. It comprehends grace, receives Christ, and clings to Him. Knowing that God loves us and that we have a future home with Him as is written in the Bible, gives the patience and comfort of hope that enables us to endure what we must and to wait for what we love.
So it is that hope is always the consequence of faith. The Scripture has been written for our learning, that is for our knowledge. Here knowledge is tantamount to faith. It recognizes and trusts the reality presented in the Bible. God is not only the almighty Creator whom we have offended by our sins and rebelled against, but He is also the seeking Shepherd who comes in mercy to rescue us from sin, death, and the devil. He comes on the Last Day in glory in the midst of violence as He Himself destroys the world, but faith knows that He is our redemption who draws near, that He comes to pull us out of this dying and lying place, that He comes for us in mercy. Faith knows that what God intends, happens and that the Father Himself loves us.
That knowledge creates patience and comfort for endurance. By this God enables us to suffer evil, to resist temptation, and to be unafraid to return to Him in repentance when we fail. That is hope.
Faith necessarily precedes hope and also love. Faith believes that God is good and sincere. Love springs forth from that reality, conforming to and desiring God Himself. Faith also believes that what God has promised, eternal life and freedom from sin, is possible. Hope springs from that. Hope happily and eagerly expects to be given what God has promised.
Faith is the brain. Love is the heart. Hope is the backbone and muscle.
Faith sets the course, lays out the plan of attack. Love is the fuel. Hope is the engine moves the wheels.
Faith is a father teaching his children. He is concerned with doctrine and the family name. Love is a father providing for His children’s physical needs and playing with them. He delights in their laughter, marvels at their beauty, and tucks them safely in bed. Hope is a foretaste of the father’s inheritance. The children already bear their father’s name. They live in his house as their own house. Knowing and loving their father, they look forward to the future in eager confidence, expecting not only for it to continue but for themselves to grow into the image of their father.
Hope is faith enacted, the backbone and muscle, the engine, and the working out in the mundane realities of life.
God creates faith through the Scriptures that you might have the patience and comfort of hope that is needed to endure evil in this life. Cynicism is not a virtue. It does not bring comfort or energize or make you sophisticated. Hope is a virtue. It is yours by right of Holy Baptism. Do not be ashamed of it or afraid to get your hopes up. Christ returns. You will not be disappointed.
Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.