A Spirit of Hope
“A Spirit of Hope”
a message by Rev. Dr. Bruce Havens
Coral Isles Church, UCC
June 12, 2022
Romans 5:1-5 NRSV
1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. 3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not disappoint us,
because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
This morning I want to talk about a spirit of hope. I am not here today to boast about
suffering. I am not here today to glorify suffering. In my mind there is no glory in
suffering and I do not believe God causes our suffering. I don’t think God sends
suffering to teach us a lesson or to make us change or in any other way. I do not
believe God “controls” our lives. I believe God gave us free will. If God were in
control of everything and everybody why are things to messed up? I would suggest
we cannot blame God for our messes. I believe it is because of our free will.
We love freedom don’t we? We love it so much we would rather be free to kill
one another than protect one another, wouldn’t we? Or we have a very distorted view
of what it means to protect one another. I wonder sometimes if God didn’t make a
huge mistake creating us to be free to choose how to live. But here we are. We are
free to live well and we are free to live like crazy people. But here is another thing:
we often suffer because of other people’s freedom. We also suffer because of natural
forces and realities. Gravity is a law. You are free to step off that cliff if you want to.
But gravity will not be denied just because you are a fine, free, foolish person.
Hurricanes are not sent by God. They are a result of natural force of the creation. But
they can kill you just the same.
So when Paul gives us this wonderful spiritual pep talk about suffering,
endurance, character and hope I am a little bit too jaded to tell you things that aren’t
true, if I can avoid it. So let me be careful not to sell you on a mathematical formula.
I won’t tell you that all you have to do is endure and you will automatically have
hope. I have met too many hopeless people who endured some horrible things but did
not ever come to have a “spirit of hope.”
Paul has spent the whole of the previous chapter, Romans chapter 4, arguing
that his spiritual ancestors like Abraham were ok with God because they trusted God,
not because they were perfect people who kept the commandments perfectly. He ends
that chapter by stating that we too – by trusting God and God’s love for us- are also
on good terms with God. He begins this chapter by using a legalistic term –
“justification” as a metaphor for being in right relationship with God. I don’t believe
Paul meant that God literally needed payback for loving us when we fail, but he used
that language to convey something his readers at that time would understand. In the
Roman world these terms would have made sense to the people he was writing to. I
don’t believe Paul ever meant for his legal metaphors to become the definition of our
relationship with God. His experience of Jesus had turned his life from one of obeying
commandments to rejoicing in a relationship. Relationships are not built on legal
terms or economic exchanges.
So, I hear our Scripture reading as a word of encouragement to a people who
were enduring great trials. The Christians in Rome faced persecution and even
execution. I believe he was trying to tell them this wasn’t God’s judgment, that
suffering is never what God sends, intends, or creates to cause us to suffer. He was
saying that if we keep looking through our tears, we may see the way to find the
endurance to keep “faithing.’ I want to use that word as a verb because I think it
really is. I think faith is an action. Belief is a mental assent, but it should lead to
faith, which is the action in response to what we believe. I believe in a redeeming
God, a God who takes evil and transforms it for good. I believe in a God who takes
injustice and works to transform it for what is just and right, a God who takes a cross
and turns into a resurrection. Because I believe in that God, then in the face of what
we currently see, despite the tears we may feel fill our eyes, I have hope that God will
bring light through the tears. And if we believe that, then our endurance will produce
the character that becomes hope. But like faith, I don’t believe hope leaves us sitting
Paul talked a lot about three things: faith, hope, and love. And like faith, and
love, I believe hope produces action. Hope is never static. It gives us courage to
change things, to imagine new realities, to work for a different world than the one we
find ourselves in. Paul says, “hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has
been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” To me
this is what it means to be “inspired.” The word literally means to “have the spirit in
us.” Paul says it is God’s love that pours hope into our hearts. If love requires a
response, requires me to act on what I love, and if faith is the way I live out my
beliefs, then hope based on the love of God pushes me to act in ways that bring hope
I believe hope is like the light that allows us to see in the darkness. It shines
through the shadows and leads us to move toward the light. We have always
associated Jesus with light. John tells us he is the light of the world. So my hope in
dark times is filled with the light of the One who overcame darkness.
In that spirit let me offer one more piece of inspiration, and may that inspiration
be the source of hope for us all:
Chad Abbott is the Conference Minister for the Indiana-Kentucky Conference
of the UCC. I read a poem he wrote and asked him if I could share it with you and
what the inspiration for his poem was. He said that in the midst of all that is going on
now he asked an artist friend to do a stained-glass piece for him to give to a friend.
The artist designed the piece in the shape of a teardrop. but Chad said, “in the midst
of the pain and the tears emerges the light of hope. We sit somewhere in between
hope and grief and dare to look them both straight on.” His friend said he would do
the stain glass piece if Rev. Abbott would write a poem to go with it.
The title of the poem is
At the end of the streets of grief and
the roads of hope and joy meet.
At this intersection a refracting light
It touches us all. How could it not?
Tears cascade between eyes that can see,
the tearing apart,
the wearing thin,
the baring of skin made from the gods of
Raindrops plunge to an earth waiting to
embrace them with a thousand “thank yous.”
Because, out of this earth comes
daisies so golden even the sun seems a bit
and grass so green we begin to remember
that to walk the earth barefoot is to walk
Sunlight dims to darkness and back again.
They are siblings, these two.
So, just when the world bends us toward
the breaking point,
perhaps it is an invitation to reach with all
our might towards the place where a
tattered tear and a hovering hope create
It is you. It is me.
It is all of us…… breaking through.
I believe God gives us a spirit of hope. Paul says it is God’s love poured into us
in the Holy Spirit that brings that hope to life. I believe Jesus Christ is a sign of that
hope. He is a light that shines in darkness. I don’t believe we are called to sit and
admire that hope and do nothing. I don’t believe we are called to hope someone else
does something. I believe the spirit of hope comes from God’s love that moves us to
not only feel love towards others but moves us to work actively with the love of God.
We can do what is needed to build a movement of love that is stronger than hate, a
spirit of hope that is greater than fear and anger, and a world that is a reflection of the
light of Christ every day. May that spirit of hope fill you and me and everyone we
touch every day we have to live and breathe. AMEN.