Jer. 29:11 – 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.

Isaiah 40:31 – 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.

Psalm 31:21-24 “Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD.” –

Psalm 130:5 – I wait for the LORD, my whole being waits, and in his word I put my hope.

Romans 5:4-5  We know that suffering helps us to endure. And endurance builds character, which gives us a hope that will never disappoint us.

For the word of God in Scripture, for the word of God among us,
for the word of God within us, Thanks be to God!

For the last the last five years, every fall,  Angie’s family signs up to compete in Fantasy Football as a family. This is the first year her great nephew Asher feels he is is old enough to play on his own. He is 9. He sent an email to the whole family this week stating: I obviously have the worst team in Fantasy Football, so I quit the league. I will try to win next year. Sincerely, Asher I know that feeling, Asher!   

Each of us has had experiences of suffering. When we are in the midst of emotional, physical or spiritual agony, our natural impulse is to quit, withdraw. Those are the moments when quoting this scripture from Romans 5 is not necessary helpful even though it contains wisdom. If somebody quoted Romans 5 at  me in the midst of personal suffering, I might not be thrilled about it. Should be used judiciously.

We know that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope! To that I would say,

I have enough character, thank you very much!

Paul reminds us that the journey through hardship is a process, and the journey is a part of the transformation. That idea might seem hard to swallow, but it’s a consistent theme throughout Scripture. Hope is almost always paired with waiting and enduring in the midst of present suffering –  in the shadow of despair. It requires building strength and stamina to endure challenging times. That’s what athletes are doing in training. When I get out of shape and get back into working out after taking even a few days or a week or two off, my muscles cry out, my lungs explode –  it truly feels like suffering as the exercises stretch the limits of my current stamina, flexibility, and endurance. With enough practice of “suffering” over time, my muscles and my lungs are able to lift more, do more, go the distance. That’s why there are training guides called “from Couch Potato to 5k”. You don’t get there all at once. Use it or lose it is the saying. That is one kind of suffering and building endurance. 

There are other, more serious times, when suffering visits us through difficult circumstances, when we are just trying to survive until something changes – like this pandemic that is keeping us from gathering with our loved ones during the holidays or any time, and keeping us from gathering with our beloveds at UCUP. Some people suffer from physical ailments, mental illness, chronic pain. Others suffer from watching a loved-one face difficulty. Some hold fear & anxiety. Some suffer from financial stress. Others suffer from loss or addiction. What we need to remember is that suffering is not God’s way of teaching us a lesson. Paul knew that those times of suffering is what having faith in God is all about. It is not shelter from the storm; it is the power to endure when the storms descend

Theologian Peter Gomes described endurance to students about to graduate.

“Instead of seducing you all with notions of greatness, we need people, who are not waiting for their moment in which to excel and perform a heroic act: rather, what we need are people who regard their daily life — the routine, ordinary, mundane — as the place in which they mean to do ordinary things extraordinarily well. What is really necessary is something that will get you through when everything that is supposed to work doesn’t; something that will get you through when all else fails. That is what we call endurance. We should be preparing you to cope with failure when things don’t turn out right.” 

On the same theme, in another commencement address, Sheryl Sandburg, said:

“Challenges will come. Remember that anchored deep within you is the ability to learn and grow. You are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. Like a muscle, you can build it up, draw on it when you need it.”

Endurance comes when we trust the long arc of justice beyond what can see; that, even in the midst of our suffering there is more to life, a future beyond these present circumstances. When we place our trust in God as the One “who will keep us when all has failed; the one to whom we turn when all alternatives are exhausted; when the bottom drops out; when we pass through seasons of doubt or despair, when life itself doesn’t seem worth living. When faced with life’s most difficult moments, endurance helps us recognize that God didn’t cause our suffering to happen. Everything doesn’t happen for a reason, but we can still learn from what does happen in this life. We can use each experience to expand our hearts, enlarge our understanding of humanity, deepen our empathy. The secret to endurance, is to place our fragile lives in the hands of God recognizing that good things happen, bad things happen, and God is in the midst of it all. God our consoler, and God motivates our sense of justice. Since Endurance is essential to our live we cultivate this capacity to endure with hope.

Philosopher Ernst Bloch coined a phrase “anticipatory consciousness” which is the basis of hope. Gunderson & Gray call HOPE a leading cause of life. It is informed hope, not wishful thinking. I don’t think hoping & wishing should be used interchangeably. With Hope we believe something is possible. While we might make a wish when blowing out birthday candles, we don’t necessarily believe it is really possible. Definitions of hope include words like “expectation” or “feeling of trust.” While wishing includes phrases like “probably won’t happen”. Optimism devoid of reality can lead to denial and despair. Informed hope admits, “Yes, these events have happened, and there is no way to change what has happened. But you still have a life to live so live it!” This kind of philosophy of hope holds a commitment to the future, echoing the verse from Jeremiah:

“For I know the plans I have for you,
I will bless you with a future filled with hope.” 

In the book LCL the authors write:

When we anticipate, expect, or weigh the likelihood of something happening, then our actions begin to align with what we anticipate. Humans have the capacity to imagine the future, to take risks and face dangers because hope moves us forward. The future entices us to take risks because of the promise of life beyond our present fear.  To the extent that our action is informed or reflective, rather than just instinctive, reactive, or impulsive, hope is about an expectation we can realistically risk. 

David Ingvar, a renowned neuroscientist and major figure in brain physiology called it “a memory of the future”. The future draws us as if we remember it already happening. 

One of my favorite movies is “The Shawshank Redemption” It focuses on two characters in prison, Andy Dufresne & Red, played by  Morgan Freeman. There are questionable ethics going on within the prison by those in charge. The Warden exploits others for his own gain. He would rather stomp out any hope in the inmates in order to extend his reign of power. Andy slowly carves out his purpose in prison, he has a sense of coherence. He works tirelessly to get funding for a library. Eventually, the government sends a shipment of books, some records and a record player. Andy found a way to bring culture into his life, or more importantly, hope. When a guard is gone, Andy plays “The Marriage of Figaro” over the speakers of the prison and says: “For the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free.” After being sent to solitary confinement, Andy says, “You need hope so you don’t forget. That there’s something inside that they can’t get to; that they can’t touch. It’s yours. Hope.” Red responds, “Hope is a dangerous thing in a place like this. Hope can drive a man insane. Andy says: “Remember Red, hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things. And, no good thing ever dies. It comes down to a simple choice: Get busy living or get busy dying.” Remember where you’ve been, where you don’t want to stay. Hope can get you through most anything. Even the cruelest and hardest of times. In the film, even in desperate times, Andy never lost hope. Ultimately, it saves him. 

Hope is a powerful thing. It is what allows us the vision to imagine a future that is different to our current situation. Hope gives energy to our sense of agency – that we have the power to DO something that will be meaningful and make a difference in people’s lives. Hope brings creative energy to our sense of purpose and coherence, creating a spirit of belonging and being able to connect with the world around us. Hope is not limited by one’s current circumstance, but transcends it, not through wishful thinking, but through reasonable expectations.

How do we spend our energy. DO we just tread water to keep your head above water and look back at the end of our lives and say “Well, at least I didn’t sink!” Not drowning isn’t the same as using the same energy to swim toward something. Hope can spur us along by desiring and trusting in God that something is going to happen: Hope for healing. For a more positive attitude. For reconciliation in your family. A better job. A stronger relationship. Most of us have issues and struggles we’re dealing with. Pick something each day that will move you toward the hope you hold in your heart, strengthening your muscles of endurance.

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.  

Anne Lamott: “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come. You wait and watch and work: you don’t give up.”

Frederick Buechner had a dream that seemed so real. He dreamed he was staying in a hotel and was given a room he loved. He couldn’t remember what it looked like. But there was something about the way it made him feel –  happy and at peace, that everything was as it should be. Buechner wandered off and went many places and had many adventures. He came back to the hotel but was given a different room. So he explained to the clerk that while he wondered if he might have the room again, except, he couldn’t remember where it was located. The Clerk was very nice and said, yes, all he had to do was ask for it by name and he could go there whenever he wanted. Buechner asked what the name of the room was. The Clerk told him the name of the room was Remember. Buechner writes that there can be healing and peace in remembering that gives us hope to go on. Hope stands up to its knees in the past and keeps it eyes on the future. There has never been a time past when God wasn’t with us as the strength beyond our strength, the wisdom beyond our wisdom… To remember the past is to see that we are here by grace, that we have survived, endured, as a gift.”  This is the grace in which we stand. The room into which we are ushered, where we may wait and endure and hold on to hope. Thanks be to God. Amen