Most every Hub Sunday, we have a focus on missions and/or serving in one way or another. We have talked about places we have served, places we could serve, heard from others who have served, etc. We take up a small collection each month on this day to send to a couple of pastors in Africa. Last month, we had a family here from India to discuss the opportunities for ministry there.
And, amidst everything that has happened in 2020, these special services are a welcome bit of news and provide encouragement for many who hear these messages. A constant barrage of bad news can lead to extreme pessimism. And, as I have said before, we become the average of the five people we are around the most. In a time where contact with others is more limited than it has been since the invention of the automobile, for many, the five people are all news anchors and they paint as pessimistic of a picture as is possible.
But we need to do more than not be pessimistic. We can move past pessimism and never truly reach optimism. The gap that lies between is often called realism. The idea of being a realist may sound better, but realism is really just pessimism-lite. Being a realist means that you don’t want to be labeled a pessimist, but you do not want to be let down, so you do not allow yourself to be an optimist.
But my point here is not about pessimism, realism, or even optimism. Today, I want to share an idea that is greater than all three. And, yes, the idea of faith is at the core, but I want to re-claim another term. And by re-claim, I mean I want to return the term to its biblical meaning, not what it has come to mean in our culture. That term is hope.
As I have said before, hope is more than a wish, but that is the way we use it. I hope the Chiefs beat the Ravens tomorrow night. I hope I do not get COVID. I hope my boss gives me a raise. Whatever. In each instance, the word “hope” in those sentences is really just a wish. But real hope is a certainty that is based upon faith.
Let me share two verses that point to this truth.
Hebrews 11.1 is the verse that “defines” faith. The verse says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” So, in a verse that uses the terms faith and hope, we also see the words assurance and conviction. Thus, what is hoped for, is not some wish for these things, but a conviction that more exists than we can see, and we are eagerly desiring these things.
The other verse is about Jesus and He is equated to being our ultimate hope. The verse is Titus 2.13, which reads, “waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,…” That is, our hope is in Jesus and the promise of His return which will set everything straight.
So, hope and faith are directly intertwined. And as I have said many times this year, faith requires obedience. I have been harping on this point in some ways since we studied the book of James back in the fall of 2012 (per James 1.22) and much moreso since we concluded the series on the Sermon on the Mount in May of 2018 with the words of Jesus about the wise and the foolish being distinguished by whether or not they were obedient to the teachings of Jesus.
So, to go back to the beginning of this message, we have heard a lot of talk about missions and service, but talk can be cheap (and perhaps never cheaper than it is today). But Jesus did not just say to “Listen to my words,” He also said, “Follow Me.” In other words, do what you are to do, as I do what I am to do.
Let’s put this into the context of a couple of stories from the life of Jesus. These stories may be separated by a couple of pages in the Bible, but they are in the same town – and that town is the basecamp for much of Jesus’ earthly ministry – the town called Capernaum.
The first story I will mention actually happened second chronologically. It is the story of a woman who had the issue of bleeding for 12 years. We read about her in Mark 5 and in Luke 8. As I was thinking through this story this week, I had a thought that never occurred to me before, and I will share it with you below. (I expand her story on this week’s videos). But this woman had every reason to be pessimistic. She spent twelve years not being able to control her bleeding, not being able to find a doctor to cure her, not having any money left because she had to pay for her treatment, not having any family wanting to be around her because not only was she unclean (as the Jews considered her based upon OT commands), but anything she touched, including her furniture, would be unclean as well. Maybe at the beginning she was optimistic about being cured, but that optimism quickly turned to realism (at least), and eventually pessimism. But here she was, and maybe it was one last gasp, but Jesus said her faith is what made her well. And, as I said a moment ago, faith and hope are intertwined, so amidst the pessimism, she mustered up the courage to hope. And that hope led her to take action which allowed her to be healed. She was healed not because she wished it to be true, but because she did something about it. She risked everything to try to touch Jesus.
The second story I will share happened a short time earlier. We do not know how much earlier, but it was likely a fairly short period of time – maybe even just a few weeks, or even less. This story is no less miraculous from our vantage point. We find this in Luke 5.17-26 (also Mark 2.1-10). Please take a moment to read from Luke 5.17-26.
Jesus was teaching in a home and the people were crowded all around to listen. The Pharisees and other religious leaders were there as well. And four guys show up carrying a mat with their friend lying in it. They want to get to Jesus so he can heal their friend. Long story, short, their friend is healed. But let’s explore this story further in light of hope.
<Please note that I am going to take a little license with this story to suggest what may have happened that was not included in these verses, but which could have happened.>
If the friends had been pessimists, imagine their thinking:
“Jesus is too busy. He is not healing today, it is a day for teaching. He always draws a big crowd anyway so there will be too many people are around him, we have no way to get through.”
If they were optimists, their thinking might have been:
“Today is the day. I think you are going to be healed today! Just keep thinking positively. It’s gonna happen.”
See, the pessimists would not have even taken the guy. Pessimists do nothing because “it can’t get any better than it is, so why try?” They want to complain about the need to make something better, but do nothing to make it happen.
The optimists are sure (or at least wishful) the man will get better, but many optimists are simply about wanting things to get better (and even believing things might get better), more than they are in being willing to work to make the situation better.
And that is where hope is important. Again, the hope I speak of is not a wish, it is a conviction based upon faith that things can be better. But the reason that hope is better than optimism is that those who have authentic hope are willing to take action to make something happen that otherwise is not likely to happen.
So, let’s reimagine that morning.
The people know Jesus is in town. The friends have talked about the possibility of having their paralyzed friend healed, but one is a pessimist, and on the day they have the chance to go, he starts making excuses and has one of the others nearly convinced. (The second friend is a realist!). But the other two are more optimistic and one of them says, “You may be right, but let’s try it for the sake of our buddy.”
So, they arrive at the home where Jesus was teaching. And it is packed. Standing room only does not begin to describe the crowd. So, the realist says, “Well, we tried. We came. Buddy, we brought you. It was a good idea, but it just wasn’t mean to be. Maybe we can find Jesus when He is walking through town on another day. But, at least we tried.”
That convinces the pessimist who already had determined this would be their fate. One of the optimists has lost a little of his gusto. But one hasn’t. And it only takes one. He looks around and sees his three friends with dejected looks on their face. He looks at the friend on the mat and sees how disappointed he is. After all, this was going to “the day!”
So, he buys himself some time. He suggests that they wait for a few minutes to catch their breath. They have just carried this man. And the story does not say that they were even from Capernaum. They could have carried him several feet or several miles. So, the one who is still optimistic asks them to wait for a few minutes. This gives him time to determine a plan.
He disappears for a few minutes.
He slithers through the crowd and finds the stairway to the roof of the house. (Many 1st Century homes had this feature because it allowed people to find a cooler spot in the evening than being inside their home.) He goes up the stairs and sees what it would take to remove a portion of the roof. As he climbs back down, he estimates about where Jesus is standing in relation to the roof above Him.
When he gets back to his friends, he says, “Ok, are you ready?” They pull themselves together, thinking he means it is time to take their friend home. They are still disappointed, but console themselves because they had tried. Then, the optimist says, “I found a way to get up on the roof. We can tear out part of the roof and then lower him down to be right at the feet of Jesus. Then our buddy can be healed.”
“WHAT!?! You want to do what!? Are you crazy?”
“No, it will work. I have a couple of people guarding the stairs so no one else goes up there that way we have the room and the time we need.”
“You’re serious, aren’t you?”
“Absolutely! We brought our friend this far, didn’t we? Why not take him the rest of the way? We promised him we would give him a chance to be healed, and we have come this far. But I didn’t come this far to quit! Guys, we can do this! Are you with me?”
The paralyzed man is starting to get a little excited and says, “Can we just give it a try?”
The other three look at one another and say, “Why not?” But the pessimist says, “I am not paying for the roof if we get sued!”
So, they carry him up the stairs, tear a hole in the roof, lower the man down, and the rest is history.
All because one man had hope.
Please realize that it was Jesus who healed the man. But it was the hope of the men (or maybe even just one man originally) that took the initiative to get the friend in front of Jesus, whatever it took. Jesus said it was the faith of the friends that healed this man. He said it was the faith of the woman with the issue of blood that healed her. But faith requires obedience. And hope requires action. In both cases, it was hope that led to action – action that was in obedience to their belief – and that belief allowed for a miracle.
Ladies and gentlemen, hope requires us to keep acting. It requires us to keep going when others have quit and many more want to quit. The pessimists will whine and complain. The optimists wish for good things to happen, but are not always willing to do what it takes. But those with hope – even one with hope – can change the life of one other person, and maybe change the lives of many other people.
How many people have been encouraged by the story of this man’s healing through the years? How many people have gained courage to help someone else because of the faith and the hope of these four men? And, here’s the part I had not considered before that I promised to tell you, did hearing of this man’s healing provide a return of the hope for that woman who may have lost all hope before hearing the story?
Again, both miracles happened in the same town, and likely within just a few hundred feet of one another. So, that is quite possible. I will share more about the town tomorrow and the woman’s story over the next few days via video.
For now, just consider how many people, and in particular women, have been encouraged by her story down through the centuries?
In both of these healings, it was not enough to simply believe something could happen. No, faith requires obedience. Faith leads to action. And hope inspires that action.
So, yes, many people are pessimistic. Some are optimistic. But we need to be people of hope and that requires us to be people who act – living by faith in obedience to Jesus.
So, on this Hub Sunday, in September 2020, what is your faith calling you to do? What hope do you have for tomorrow? What can you do to encourage someone with the hope that you have? We simply have no idea how much impact a little hope can have. But if we act with intentionality (moving beyond good intentions), our hope can inspire others that we may never know, in places we may never visit, for years after our life is through.
So, put away the pessimism and even leave behind the optimism. Choose HOPE and live in obedience in order to make that hope a reality.