A Letter from the General Minister to Pittsburgh Presbytery
Hope That Never Disappoints
February 20, 2020
In his litany of the good fruit Christ bears in us, Paul says that Jesus gives us hope that “does not disappoint us.” (Romans 5:5) In today’s public life, fear and suspicion are far more prevalent social and political drivers. And sometimes hopelessness also grips the church, especially when its membership, influence, and funding are dwindling.
When we are rooted in Christ and all he has done for us and promised us, irrepressible hope carries us through all life’s vicissitudes. We joyously and confidently affirm that in every circumstance (again quoting Paul) “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)
For the past year I watched my mother decline from her life-long robust health. Her strength was sapped by spinal stenoses that constricted the nerves to her upper body, gradually robbing her of the ability to do things for herself. A person of fervent faith, she prayed regularly, “Jesus, take me home!” She was anything but suicidal, but the ravaging of her body left her longing for the release from mortality into the glory that lies beyond this life, the place Jesus has prepared for us to be with him forever.
Because of this hope, Paul declared that he would rather be “away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 5:8) Mom said “Amen!” to that daily in recent months.
Three weeks ago Mom went into hospice care, and when it became clear that she was nearing death last Thursday, I was graciously excused from that day’s presbytery meeting in order to stay at her side. Early that evening my only brother arrived from Kansas City to say his farewell, and a few hours later her hope turned into reality as she departed from this life into the next.
Our hope in the Lord Jesus convinces us that death is not an enemy, but a portal into something far beyond what we can imagine or think. It marks the end of what was, and to the extent that something good has come to an end, we naturally grieve. We love how things used to be, when we were strong and surrounded by those who loved us and cheered us on the way. Yet Christian hope insists that the death of a loved one, or of a congregation, or even of a wider circle of Christian witness, is not the end, but a portal into better things than we can imagine.
If hope that never disappoints us is alive in us, we have no reason to fear or defend ourselves from death. We can follow Christ unrestrained, rather than with cautious reservation or self-protectiveness.
Jesus calls us to a holy abandon in how we live out our calling. We need to be ready to take a plunge for Jesus into threatening waters, if we hear him calling us out of the boat – what’s the worst that can happen? Just ask Peter, who walked on water (until he didn’t, at which point Jesus rescued him). Hope in Jesus will never disappoint us.
Yes, we should count the cost before taking on bold new initiatives. Jesus does not call us to be reckless. But the cost should be figured on the calculus of hope, rather than of worst-case scenarios.
Hope does not guarantee that we won’t struggle or suffer. Mom suffered much as her strength waned, and she could no longer do the things she loved to do for others, and eventually could no longer take care of her own self. Though her physical abilities atrophied, her mind remained razor-sharp. It was an agonizingly difficult road, yet she never abandoned her hope of glory ahead.
People of God who know what God has done for us in Christ Jesus should, of all people, be people of hope. Hope in Jesus will never disappoint us, no matter what struggles we may face. We rightfully thank God for blessing and prosperity when they abound, but hope in the Lord Jesus remains just as strong when all seems to be going against us.
Christian hope is not wishful thinking, but sure confidence that the One who began a good work in us will complete it. (Philippians 1:6) Nothing we do can earn what we hope for, nor can anything we do obliterate it. Hope in Jesus is rooted not in who we are or what is happening to us, but in who he is and what he has promised.
Christian hope never disappoints, even when its fulfillment seems nowhere near. People of God, we are called to be people of hope in every circumstance. We boldly and joyously confess that nothing can separate us from the love of God revealed in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:38-39)
Keeping hope strong,
The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, General Minister