Living Hope

Video of Matins is here. The sermon begins around the 25:40 mark.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Everyone’s an expert. Everyone’s got opinions, and everyone is more than willing to share them with you. Everyone knows what you should be doing or not doing. We’ve got our Christian experts too, who know exactly what the Church should be doing or not doing, what the Church must do or can’t do. And all the experts know that if you do this or that, what’s going to happen tomorrow, or next week, or next month, or next year. Everyone’s an expert.

But the fact is, no one is an expert about the future. No one knows what’s going to happen even ten minutes from now, let alone next week, next month, or next year. We have only today. Jesus says that tomorrow—and the day after that and the day after that—has enough trouble, enough anxiety, enough worry of its own. Each day has trouble sufficient for it. Since today has enough trouble, we don’t need to go adding all the trouble of tomorrow or the day after that to today’s trouble. All we have is right now. Since tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, all we have is right now.

And St. Peter tells us how we should live here and now—not in the sense of living for now, or living in the now, or living however we want today because tomorrow doesn’t matter. But living today in the light of the resurrection. The resurrection is like the creation. The creation was begun once, made, and is sustained by the power and mercy of God. The new creation was begun once in the flesh of Jesus, in His resurrection, then given to you in Holy Baptism. It was begun once, and continues ever after.

You have been born again, born new—born from above, as Jesus says—to a living hope. It’s not a what-if hope; it’s not a maybe hope; it’s not a wish hope. It is a living hope. All of our human ways of hoping are based in the uncertain future. But the living hope to which you have been born is through the resurrection of Jesus, something that has already happened and is already sure. Your living hope is tied, first, to Jesus’ resurrection and, second, to the revealing of that salvation on the last day, when Christ appears in His glory. That means that your hope is tied always and only to Jesus. Your joy is always and only in Jesus. Your peace is always and only in Jesus. And that means that it does not depend on anything that’s happening around or in you. Even if, for now, for a little while, it is necessary to be grieved or sorrowful because of various trials, we rejoice. We rejoice, no matter what the trials, no matter what the sorrows, no matter what the trouble, not just now in the obvious. Whether it’s now in this trial, or at some other time in some other trial, we rejoice because our joy isn’t tied to whether or not those trials are happening.

The disciples were hiding in an upper room, locked in. They were locked in because of fear of the Jews—that is, that what happened to Jesus would happen to them. (And, of course, they were right about that, in the long term.) But while they are locked in, Jesus comes and stands in their midst. And if you were locked in a room, and someone came and stood in your midst, but the door didn’t open, then you might think the same thing that the disciples did: that it’s a ghost, a spirit, maybe a hallucination. They were afraid until Jesus shows them His hands and side. Then they rejoiced because they saw the Lord. As in the rest of the Gospel of John, this is the seeing that is equivalent to believing. They saw Him and knew that the same Jesus who had died was now alive and standing in His resurrection body in their midst, and they believed. So let it be for you, John says: that you may believe, even if you haven’t seen, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that, believing, you have life in His Name.

To those disciples, locked in, fearful and anxious about everything outside those walls, Jesus says three times in two weeks: Peace to you! On the evening of His resurrection and then a week later, when Thomas was there: Peace to you! This is not the peace that the world gives, or that the world wants. This is not the external peace where everything around me is good. The only kind of peace the world wants is the removal of all the difficulties and trouble and circumstances that are disturbing my peace. Peace means the removal of what is causing me anxiety and worry and fear.

That’s not Jesus’ peace. Jesus doesn’t take away the things that are causing the disciples fear. He doesn’t change, really, anything outside the walls, not yet. Just as God did not take away the poisonous serpents in the wilderness, but planted a sign of His peace and life in their midst, so Jesus brings a peace that the world cannot give, a peace in His own resurrection life, that cannot be changed or affected or taken away by anything outside. You have a living hope tied to the salvation which is going to be revealed in the last time, so in that you rejoice. In the midst of trouble, you rejoice. Not because of the trouble, but because you have a peace in the midst of it that no trouble, no trial, no difficulty can take away.

We are very quick to focus on what’s going on around us; what people should do or not do; what the government should do or not do. But these trials are not for that end, because everything that happens in the world will continue to happen as long as this world endures. But Peter wants the trials to turn us, in repentance and faith, toward Christ and His living hope. In the movie The Seventh Seal, the squire discovers the man who convinced them to go to the crusades for the glory of God living only for himself and only for today. But the crusades, and the plague, had a purpose beyond whatever human motives there were. He says, “The Lord wanted to chasten our pride. We were too well-off, too satisfied with ourselves.”

That is our primary danger and our primary temptation: to be too comfortable, too well-off, too satisfied with ourselves and our circumstances; too proud in view of all our expertise. But the various trials and difficulties we face, any suffering and sorrow, ought to burn all of that away, like fire purifying gold of its dross. Let there be nothing in us except trust and hope in Christ! No pride, no false trust, no confidence in ourselves or our circumstances or our experts. We can be prudent and take advice for what it’s worth, but there is no one and nothing in which we can find certainty except the Jesus who has certainly risen from the dead.

Let us have no what-if hope, no maybe hope, no wish hope; let us have only the living hope of Christ, raised from the dead. It can’t be in things we can see, all of which are passing away. Thomas said, Unless I see and touch, I will never believe. And Jesus shows His hands and side, and invites Thomas to have the physical assurance that he was seeking. But when Thomas saw Jesus, as the other disciples had, he didn’t need anything more: my Lord and my God. Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed. You haven’t seen, but you love Him. You haven’t seen, but you believe, with a joy inexpressible and filled with the glory of Christ, so that you will obtain the outcome of your faith—what is waiting at the end of all this believing—the salvation of your lives, body and soul. There is an inheritance that is waiting for you, incorruptible, undefiled, unfading, because you have been born into that living hope, born through a seed that is itself imperishable, the living and abiding Word of God, the Gospel that was preached to you (1 Peter 1:23).

This is not the hope of experts, of models, of graphs or charts or human opinions. This is the living hope, which is enough for today, enough for tomorrow, enough for each day until you receive the resurrection and the new creation and the end of all Christian hope and faith.

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.

– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 4/17/20

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