Let us pray…
Lord, I ask that Your message come through. May this be entirely from You and anything from me fade and disappear. This is Your time for the Faithful.
I am so thrilled to be here once again. Eric and I had lunch last week, and I shared some of the “ponderings” that I’ve had in the intervening months. And it so happens that Hope was one of the topics. So he asked me to share.
Such a simple word, and yet everything about it is complex. Let’s start with a little historic overview.
A famous Greek myth is the story of Pandora’s Box, or more accurately, Pandora’s Jar. (Jar was mistranslated to box). Hesiod is credited with telling a popular version of the story of Pandora, who was given by Zeus to Epimetheus, the brother of Prometheus. You will remember that Zeus is the most powerful of the Greek pantheon of gods. It seems that Zeus was still miffed that Prometheus had given humanity the gift of fire. Zeus had punished Prometheus by chaining him to a rock and having a vulture tear out his liver each day, (it grows back each night). But what about mankind? They must be punished as well. Zeus had reasoned that a vessel (a jar) that Epimetheus had, could be compromised by “the curiosity of Pandora”. In other words Zeus knew that he could punish man through the actions of a bad wife.
According to myth the Earth was pretty much a heavenly place. Now that we had fire, people were quite comfortable. All the evils of the world were safely locked away in the jar watched over by Epimetheus. Pandora changed all that. She removed the lid, and in an instant everything escaped the jar, except hope. Pandora replaced the lid, keeping hope contained within.
Why is this important?
Our historical ancestors in thought and faith are the Greeks and Hebrews in that order. The Israelites tried keeping perfect by adhering to 613 laws from the Torah, which was impossible (by the way, as a memory assist, there were 365 negative commandments, one for each day of the year, and 248 positive commandments, so do the math to get to 613).
The Greeks tried to believe in a pantheon of gods that seemed bent on terrorizing humans.
Please understand that I am not equating the 613 laws as on the same level as mythology. The Law is sacred and a gift to man, and it is meant to be fulfilled. Mythology is only the filter that the Gentiles had before they became believers. It is important to know where we came from.
Why have a myth about hope? What does it teach? It doesn’t make sense that hope was living in the jar with a ton of evil. Does it mean that hope is not in the world? In fact, there was lots of debate in Ancient Greece about this myth. Sure there were the questions of what is democracy, what is truth?, what is beauty, but also what is hope?When Paul first visited Athens this very thing was still an active topic, he might have even been a witness.
Hope is also translated as expectation. There was the belief that “containing expectation” meant that humanity still had access to it because is wasn’t flying around loose in the world. So this might help to explain why hope was in the jar.
Another suggestion was that it wasn’t expectation, that it was deceptive expectation! Now that makes better sense. It wasn’t hope trapped in the jar, it was hopelessness. If all the evils were loose in the world, at least hopelessness wasn’t out there with them. This makes the most sense to me.
The earliest myth about hope (decades and decades before Hesiod) is that Pandora is the first woman, created from earth and water. Her name means “all-giving”, because she carried a jar filled with all the good things for man’s living.
No wonder there was a debate about Hope from the earliest of times. Was hope left in the jar as a denied gift? Was it kept in the jar allowing man’s access? Hesiod is credited with turning the myth into a somewhat anti-women statement. Pandora became a symbol of a bad wife, untrustworthy, allowing all the evils loose in the earth. It might have signaled the change from a matriarchal society to a patriarchal society.
It’s important to know the background of our earliest thoughts and how they evolved.
We were certainly created by God, but we were not gifted with God’s plan from the very beginning. Man was born with a desire to understand why we are here, what is the purpose of things? We struggled to put words to make sense… the world is balanced on the shoulders of Atlas, or perched on top of a tortoise as he slowly crawls through the Milky Way. Until God inspires, we are lost to find the right words.
We often speak of God’s revealed word. It takes time, thought, and a relationship with God to understand God’s intent.
As Christians, where do we find hope? Paul taught us that It isn’t lost, it isn’t locked away in a jar. So where is it?
Hope can be found in the printed word. Reading Scripture is obviously a wonderful resource. It is a good idea to memorize those passages that are already familiar. There are thousands that speak directly to hope, even if the word isn’t specifically mentioned. This is a particularly powerful tool because it can be accessed by choice, at any time.
In preparing this sermon I accessed a website, Sermon Central, that gathers sermons from hundreds of pastors across the nation. It’s a great resource to learn what is currently taught and emphasized in the Church. I was a little shocked to see that the scripture sources on “Hope” was mostly from the New Testament, outnumbering Old Testament 5 to 1. This is strange because searching the entire Bible on hope is pretty evenly split between Old and New.
One thing did stand out, looking at the first 20 sermons on Hope, five of them used Romans 15:13 as their source.
May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.
Hope may not be certainty, but it looks to the future with the certainty of the good that is coming.
Get ready, I’m going to load you up on scripture, if one strikes you, I’m going to end it with the reference. My favorite references for hope are:,
Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord! Psalm 31:24
Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you. Psalm 33:22,
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. Psalm 42:11
The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore. Psalm 121:7-8
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; Psalm 130:5,
But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint. Isaiah 40:31
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Jeremiah 29:11
“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” Lamentations 3:24
But as for me, I will look to the Lord; I will wait for the God of my salvation; my God will hear me. Micah 7:7
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. Romans 5:3-4
But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. Romans 8:25
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:23
Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Hebrews 11:1
For me the starting point is from Paul in 1 Corinthians 13;13
‘So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” All three are incredibly linked, and as a Christian we must attend to how God has woven the concepts together. Yes, love is the greatest, but without an understanding of faith and hope, we will never grasp the understanding of God’s love.
All this is reference and background. How to we activate this thing called hope?
I have often heard that the first thing noticed by new Christians is that swearing becomes painful. Something that was second nature becomes a trigger. Maybe there are other areas where change is as dramatic.
I would suggest cynicism is not fundamentally Christain. It is being non supportive, being oh-so very certain in a negative way. I’ve been reminded that cynicism is a subset of being a know-it-all, and a smarty pants. We need to be reminded that God does not appreciate the “haughty eyes” of cynicism.
To carry hope within you, to offer hope to others, is something Christians need to learn and act out. We have a great example right here in our congregation. Many of you have prayed and are praying for my brother and my sister-in-law. Her Parkinson’s has progressed to such an extent that she has entered into hospice.
I have an except from a recent email from my brother,
‘If you have time, please thank all in the congregation for the thoughts and prayers that have been sent up for Joanne, and myself, we know they were heard! And a special thanks to Gretchen, who never fails to send us an uplifting card every week, telling us the good news of the church.”
Gretchen brings hope!
Here’s another very easy skill to practice with people. Just sit quietly (but intently), and listen. Even if you are asked for advice, often that is just the invitation to listen, without judging… to hear without solving, to encourage by giving hope.
Bringing hope is not easy, it takes commitment and practice. First, you need to care. You can’t do this without thought or feeling. It takes planning to buy just the right card, to find a stamp, to get it in the mail. It take time, such a precious commodity. It takes effort!
Remember, Hope is not certainty, yet the promise of hope is certain.
Hold on to the skill of bringing hope because you can use it again for hope’s twin brother, encouragement!
Shall we pray?
The LORD bless you, and keep you;
The LORD make His face shine on you, And be gracious to you;
The LORD lift up His countenance on you, And give you peace.’
I like to end sermons with Aaron’s blessing. It is sometimes useful to look at the original Hebrew to understand the context of the translation. The following can also be said to be a “translation of intent.”
Adonai will kneel before you presenting gifts and will guard you with a hedge of protection, Adoni will illuminate the wholeness of his being toward you, bringing order, and he will beautify you, Adoni will lift up his wholeness of being, and look upon you, and he will set in place all you need to be whole and complete!