What Are We Waiting For?—Part II
December 9, 2007
Isaiah 11:1-10 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots. 2The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. 3His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord. He shall not judge by what his eyes see, or decide by what his ears hear; 4but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth; he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked. 5Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist, and faithfulness the belt around his loins. 6The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. 7The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together; and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den. 9They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
Romans 15:4-11 4For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. 5May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. 8For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, 9and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles, and sing praises to your name”; 10and again he says, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people”; 11and again, “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles, and let all the peoples praise him”; 12and again Isaiah says, “The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope.”13May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
I’m showing my age, but do you know the old Dusty Springfield song:
Wishing and hoping and
thinking and praying,
planning and dreaming
each night of his charms
that won't get you into his arms?
I have been thinking about hope this week. And wondering about the difference between wishing and hoping. How would you explain the difference between a wish and a hope?
I have been mulling over these passages and another one in Romans about faith. Paul says For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:24) And in Hebrews, the writer describes faith as the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1)
Hope plays a major role in our Christian faith because fundamentally we believe the world is not as God would have it. Our world is a world filled with violence. Wars abound. Our world is a world where so many do not have enough to eat, a safe place to sleep, clean water to drink, while others waste money on that which does not satisfy. Our world is a place where some people have access to the finest medical care, while others die because medicine is too expensive and they cannot afford it or they live in a part of the world where there simply is not medical care. Our world is a world where the wicked seem to prosper while the good shrivel up. If we are honest with ourselves, we are not the people God wants us to be. We are self-centered. We want our own comfort. We are concerned about our own safety. We are concerned about our own financial security. We are concerned about our own desires. We are filled with fear.
And so we hope. We hope for the time when the world will be the world God wants it to be. We hope for the time when wars cease: when the lion and the lamb will lay down together, when we won’t study war no more. We hope for the time when all are fed. We hope for the time when all are sheltered. We hope for the time when all have clean water. We hope for the time when all people have access to good medical care. We hope for a time when the wicked will be punished and the good flourish.
Isaiah promises such a time. A bit of a history lesson may be in order here. Long before Isaiah’s time, the Israelites decided that they wanted a king like the other countries around them. Samuel, who was a holy man warned against having a king. But the people believed that with a king they would become a powerful people like those around them. And so, Samuel reluctantly gave them Saul and then David. And Samuel’s warnings came true. Even with David, whom even the scriptures idolizes as the ideal king, was not. He imposed more taxes and forced the people to work for free to build his palace. Solomon was even worse, imposing heavier taxes and more forced labor. And the kings after Solomon were even worse. In fact, Solomon’s son was so horrible he cause the northern tribes to rebel to form the northern kingdom. In the time Isaiah is prophecsying, the Assyrians are threatening both the Northern Kingdom and the Southern. Eventually the Northern Kingdom falls to the Assyrians. And so, Isaiah tells of a time of an ideal king in an ideal time.
We hope, sometimes, for the time when our lives are transformed. We hope for the time when we can let go of our concern for ourselves first. We hope for the time when we can let go of hurt. We hope for the time when we can let go of anger. We hope for the time when we can trust again. We hope for the time when we are not afraid, when we can trust God. Paul promises that the God of hope will fill us with hope so that we may experience joy and peace.
So, what is the difference between a wish and a hope, at least a hope in the scriptural sense. First, I think a wish is a desire for something that we have no assurance of its coming to pass. For example, I often wish to win the lottery. I pass the lottery sign on the Union-Walnut Grove fly-over that tells what the lottery pay off is. As I pass the sign, I think about what I would do with the money if I won: hmmm, so much to this charity and that, so much to my friends from seminary who are in poorly paid calls, so much for the seminary for support of foreign students, so much for Buntyn, of course. And then figuring how much is left for me. It’s a great day dream and wish. Of course, I’m like the guy in the joke who kept praying to God that he would win the lottery. After hearing his prayers for days on end, God responds and tells the guy: “Help me out a little here, buy a lottery ticket.”
Hope is an expectation, the assurance of things unseen. I think hope is like faith: it is essentially trust. We trust that one day these things will in fact come to pass. Faith is trust in God’s presence with us, here and now. Hope is trust in God’s presence in the future. Hope is trust that God’s promises will be fulfilled.
Archbishop Oscar Romero voiced that hope. Monsignor Romero had been a bookish priest, one known not to be interested in the political situation that battered El Salvador in the 1970s. In 1977 the pope appointed him archbishop. His appointment was viewed with elation by the conservative forces in El Salvador and with disappointment by the priests who were known as followers of the ideas of liberation theology. Soon after his appointment, a friend a fellow priest, Rutilio Grande was assassinated along with a seven year old boy. Grande’s murder changed Romero. Romero began to speak out against the violence of the Salvadoran government against the peasants who were pressing for co-operatives and a fairer distribution of land. At the same time, he clearly spoke out against the Marxists who were choosing to use violence against the government. In the year after his appointment, over 75,000 peasants would be killed in the fighting, more than one millions fled El Salvador and another million left homeless. The population of El Salvador was only five and a half million.
Romero could not promise the people and end to the atrocities, only that the church of the poor would continue. A few days before his death, he said to a reporter, "You can tell the people that if they succeed in killing me, that I forgive and bless those who do it. Hopefully, they will realize they are wasting their time. A bishop will die, but the church of God, which is the people, will never perish." On March 23, 1980, in his radio broadcast, he urged the peasants in the army to lay down their weapons against their fellow peasants. The next day, as he ended his homily and prepared to celebrate the Eucharist, he was murdered.
Romero lived in hope. He lived in the hope of the resurrection. He lived in the hope that God’s promises and desires for God’s children would be fulfilled.
Hope is our confidence that God is with us and that God’s promises to us will be fulfilled. Our desires may not be what God is promising us. God does not promise that we will have all we want; that we will get our way; that our dreams and wishes will be fulfilled. God does promise us joy and peace in this life. God surprises us if we dare to see God’s fulfillment of God’s promises.
The signs of God’s fulfillment of God’s promises in our daily lives gives us hope that God will fulfill God’s promise of a day when the poor will have enough food and water and shelter; when justice will reign and when peace will prevail. God calls us not simply to trust in that hope, but to live into its fruition. Each day as we are transformed more and more into followers of Christ, we are a part of that promise being fulfilled. Each day as we follow God’s call to us, we are a part of God’s kingdom coming, God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven.