One of the greatest struggles of Christianity is to have belief and conviction in something that is not visible and often feels unattainable. However, it is the Hope in that very thing that underlays the Christian experience. So coming out of last week's discussion on the prodigals, I thought it would be good to explore our hopes as a foundation for how we begin to live into our faith.
Therefore, this week we are going to explore hopes and dreams as it relates to a couple of passages that are connected to the apostle Paul. The first is from one of Paul’s trials found in Acts. In this excerpt Paul witnesses to his faith “I admit to living in hopeful anticipation that God will raise the dead, both the good and the bad. If that’s my crime, my accusers are just as guilty as I am.” Interestingly within this short statement Paul challenges the convention of the community by embracing an inclusive resurrection, one that will be open to both “the good and the bad.”
The faith that Paul has is subversive to the status quo of the community. As we know, an understanding of the resurrection was not new to that part of the world, but an inclusive one was not accepted. In both the Greco-Roman community as well as the Hebrew community, many groups believed in a resurrection, though that resurrection was tied a particular practice, there are those who are saved and those who are lost.
In his letter to the Romans, (thought to have been written soon after the trial that the above excerpt was from) Paul talks about the hope of faith from Abraham. This example paints Abraham as the exemplar of Faithfulness, as much of the New Testament does. As he does he specifically highlights an understanding of faithfulness that comes with the hope that when we embrace our faith God will restore us to fullness.
That’s why it is said, “Abraham was declared fit before God by trusting God to set him right.” But it’s not just Abraham; it’s also us! The same thing gets said about us when we embrace and believe the One who brought Jesus to life when the conditions were equally hopeless. The sacrificed Jesus made us fit for God, set us right with God.
The problem that the early Christians faced, as well as many do today, is that when we speak of hope, salvation, etc. we look forward to clear and present confirmations that the faithfulness is being both recognized and embraced. There is also the desire for immediacy, we want salvation, and we want it now. Ironically, that would mean that we would also be calling on our own demise for we know that the fullness of salvation will come when our life here has ended.
Nevertheless, it is our human nature to want a clear and identifiable proof of our salvation. Unfortunately, this never happens. In fact, this immediacy is often a sign of succumbing to things that are not of God. Think about Jesus in the wilderness with Satan. He could have had everything, but he knew better. The easy life would have given in dominion, but would ultimately be his folly. The story we receive from Paul on faithfulness can be seen alluded to in both narratives, but is exemplified in his whole story. In his life and in his preaching, Paul shows that through hope, we find salvation and the promise of a life beyond this one. In other words, the reward of this life is not something that is found here, but is found elsewhere, in heaven. When we let our hope be our guide, we make our choices and follow where God calls.
This week ask yourself if you have the conviction to stand up and claim your hope if an authority was going to kill or imprison you for doing so. Furthermore, ask yourself if you accept that Christ frees us from hopelessness.
Rev. Dr. Bryan James Franzen