Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.1 Peter 3:15-16
Always be ready to defend the hope within us, Peter writes in our second reading. So, I ask, are you ready? Are you ready to defend your hope? As Christians, we should be full of hope, even now, and regardless of our current circumstances. We should always ready to share our hope with others. Hope, along with faith and love, describes how we as believers approach life – with faith, with love, and with hope.
Since you have probably heard more sermons on faith and love than on hope, and since hope seems like something that we all need right now, I thought I would focus today on hope. And, I don’t usually do this, but let me start with a definition, because hope can mean different things to different people. A good definition of the hope I am talking about is: “wanting something to happen or to be true, and having a good reason to think that it might.”
Often in our world, we use the word ‘hope’ to express a mere wish, regardless of whether we think that it will happen. I hope this pandemic is over soon, for example. Or, I hope that the people I love don’t get this virus. Or, I hope that there will be college football this fall, and that things start getting back to normal. These are just examples of things that we might hope for – that might happen, and might not.
In Scripture, hope means something different. It means wanting something to happen, and having a good reason to think that it will. So, in Scripture, we hear about about a sure and certain hope, a confident hope, because it is a hope that is grounded in God’s promises. It is a hope based on our faith and trust in God. It is a hope that we know and believe will not disappoint. It is a hope that gives us a deep sense of joy and confidence, because it is a hope that is built on our faith in God’s promises to us.
We see this hope in each of our scripture readings today. So, let’s look at each in turn, to get a better picture of this hope that we have as Christians.
First Reading – Acts 17:22-31
In our First Reading, Paul is challenged by the Athenians to share the reason for his hope, and he does so in a very famous sermon on Mars Hill, the Areopagus. Paul has looked around Athens, and he has found a city that is clearly longing for hope. They have built altars and shrines to every god imaginable – even one to an unknown god, just to cover all their bases. They are desperate to please the gods, and they are searching frantically for for hope.
I suspect that if Paul were to look around any of our cities or communities, he would find something similar: People looking for hope.
Paul points out in this famous sermon that God has “allotted the times of our existence.” God has made it so that we know that we are mortal; we know that we will die. Why? According to Paul, so that we would “search for God and perhaps grope for God and find God.” You see? It is the knowledge that our time on earth is limited that drives us all to search for hope.
But where is that hope to be found? Where is our true hope to be found? As opposed to our false hopes? The Christian author Marva Dawn writes that “we keep shifting to false hopes, because the hopes that we create are hopes that we can control.” And we love to be in control. So we shift to these false hopes that we can control. And there are many of these.
Paul shares in his sermon that he went through their city, and looked carefully at the objects of their worship. If Paul were to do that today, what might he conclude were objects of our false worship? What are our false hopes?
Let’s take a brief walk with Paul, and look at our world through his eyes. As he walked through our cities, he would certainly notice our skyscrapers. In ancient times, the highest building in a town was always the church. That’s certainly not the case anymore. Our skyscrapers would point to what might be considered a false hope – the false hope of materialism and worldly success. It’s a false hope, because no matter how large our skyscraper – or our house – we can’t take it with us.
As Paul continued to walk around our cities, and observed all of the billboards and advertisements, he might suspect that physical appearance has become a false hope of ours. He would find lots of beautiful, air-brushed people advertising lots of different things. And lots of those things would be promising that we could look more like them if we purchased it.
As Paul continued his walk, he would find some of those advertisements pointing to yet another false hope, and that is our government. Our ultimate hope should never be in our government. (Now, don’t misunderstand me here – I do believe that we are blessed to live in an incredible country, and in a democratic society that gives us all a part to play in making sure that our government does what we believe it should. We should all have an interest in politics. But politics and our government is not where our ultimate hope is to be found, or shouldn’t be.)
What other false hopes might Paul find in our world today? What other altars and shrines would he find, tempting us to place our hope in things that will only disappoint? Technology and science? Wealth? Health? The question to ask of any of these things is: Have they died for us, and been raised from the dead? If not, they are false hopes.
But to go back to Paul, he sees a purpose for all false hopes. They drive us to search for the one, true hope, the hope that never disappoints. They drive us to search for the one who died for us and was raised from the dead. And I believe that every human being is searching for this hope, and that we are called to help them find it.
Second Reading – 1 Peter 3:13-22
And so, in our Second Reading, Peter reminds us to always be ready to defend this hope. “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.”
We must always be ready to defend our hope. Why? Because our hope needs defending. People may very well look at us as Christians, and wonder why we have so much hope. Can’t we see how messed up this world is? Especially now, with this pandemic still raging on? With this terrible recession? With everything that we read or hear and see every time we dare to turn on the news? How can we have so much hope? That is why we must always be ready to defend our hope.
Peter himself is writing to a community going through tremendous trials, a community that could easily give up hope. But he reminds them to keep their hope focused on Jesus, and to rejoice, even in the midst of their trials, for they have been given a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And we have been given that same living hope, through that same resurrection, through Jesus. This hope is true, it is real, and it is always worth our defending.
Gospel Reading – John 14:15-21
This hope has a name, of course. And the name of our hope is Jesus. In today’s gospel reading, Jesus makes a very powerful promise that should fill us with hope: “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.” Jesus promises to come again. He has gone to His Father’s house to prepare a place for us, but he promises to come again. And that promise fills us with hope, with a confident hope. It is not a hope that we can control. But it is a true hope.
Remember that definition of hope? “Wanting something to happen or to be true, and having a good reason to think that it might.” That is our hope in Jesus. We want to believe that Jesus will not leave us orphaned. We want to believe that he has given us the Holy Spirit to comfort us and guide us, until he returns again. We want to believe it, and we have a good reason to think that it will. Because Jesus told us so. And then he died for us, to make sure that it will happen. And then he was raised from the dead, to prove that it will happen, that he has conquered death forevermore. We want to believe all of this, and we have a good reason to think that it will.
There is this wonderful statement made about this toward the end of John’s Gospel:
Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.John 20:30-31
These words from Jesus, recorded by John, and the words from Paul and Peter, are all written: so that we may believe; so that through believing we may have life in his name; so that we may discover the true hope is found in Jesus, and only found in Jesus; and so that we may always be ready to defend this hope. May each of us be filled with this hope – this sure and certain hope – and always be ready to share it. To the glory of God. Amen