“A Living Hope” – Part One
Text: 1Peter 1:3
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
This particular text popped up in the lectionary this week; I don’t usually preach from the lectionary, but I do look at it each week and see if something happens to fit neatly with everything else that is going on. This week the text in First Peter really caught my eye; what really jumped out at me was the idea of a living hope. This might not seem like a big deal, but if you think about it, at least for me, the idea of a living hope is extraordinary.
The first thing that comes to mind is that a living hope would be the opposite of a dead hope. Now when hope is dead, I would think that all is lost. There is no future, there is nothing to look forward to. I think a state of non-living can also be applied to many things which we often think about, but end up never quite getting to. Perhaps a couple of those New Year’s resolutions that you made just a few months ago, are those living or are those now dead? We sometimes set goals which eventually die, we may have hoped to get that new job or that promotion, and when the company hires someone else, our hope dies.
But this idea of a living hope I think goes well beyond what we may think about at first glance. In order to fully comprehend what a living hope might look like, I think we need to fully understand what living really implies. What does it actually mean when something is alive?
If we leave the realm of our faith for a moment, leave the theological implications of being alive and venture into the scientific world, or the world of biology for example, we can define living in more precise terms. I did a little bit of research and found some interesting examples of how a biologist, for example, would decide if something is alive or not.
One list of definitions had nine different criteria that need to be met before a biologist would consider something to be alive. These include things like being organized and being made of a single cell or cells, requires energy to survive, ability to reproduce, ability to grow, ability to metabolize, ability to respond to stimuli, ability to adapt to the environment, ability to move and the ability to respire or have respiration of some kind.
That’s quite a list! But I also think it is fascinating for us to take that same list and apply it to this concept of a living hope. As we do, there may be some clarity that develops with regard to what this text actually is trying to say with regard to our hope.
We can’t possibly look at all of this list in a single sermon. But we can take on a couple of the items and begin to think about the implications that lie beyond the simple words of having a living hope.
The first item in our list of nine was that the organism has to be organized and made of a single cell or multiple cells, in order for it to be considered alive.
Think about your hope for a minute. What dreams and aspirations do you have? What do you want to see happen for you or for others before you die? What are those things you still hope to accomplish? Is your greatest hope a closer and more meaningful relationship with the Divine? It can be that and so much more.
Now, as you think about those things, is your path forward organized? Can you think about the different steps required to accomplish your hope? Can you see each step of the way as a cell that is a part of the whole? What cell can you do today that will move your hope forward? What step can you take in this moment, now, today, that will sustain your hope? If you have a living hope you should be thinking about it each day and doing one thing, accomplishing one cell, if you will, toward that hope becoming a reality. That is what keeps it alive, that constant attention and presence of mind. If it is a living hope, it has a presence with you daily.
The second item in our list is a critical one. Biologists have determined that an organism must require energy to survive if it is to be considered alive. Think about us for a minute. We need to eat food and drink water in order to survive. That is our energy intake, we eat and drink for survival. If we are for some reason deprived of food or water, we will eventually starve to death. This is true of any living thing. I also believe it to be true of a living hope. A living hope requires energy in order to survive.
So this begs the question, how do you give your hope energy? We won’t get very far into this list before we realize that one criterion impacts the others as well. In other words, one way to give your hope energy is by doing some of the things we just talked about. But you can also give it energy just by having your hope present with you in a daily routine. To think about it, dream about it, picture it in your mind; all of these things bring energy to your hope. Without the sustaining energy of presence of mind, your hope would soon die.
The third item on our list of nine is the ability to reproduce. Now, all of us are familiar with cell division, and I guess that is the simplest and perhaps purest form of reproduction. But when it comes to hope, I’m confident most of us are not thinking in terms of biology and reproduction. But the ability to reproduce I think should not be overlooked when it comes to a living hope. One example is how hope can become contagious. When you express your hopes and dreams to others, that hope reproduces as life giving hope within the hearts and minds of those you have shared it with. Your hope reproduces as living hope in others.
This also happens within our own thinking. Sometimes our hope begins small; like hoping we can become more dedicated in our prayer life. Once we begin to focus and pay attention to that hope, we move into a larger hope, like learning to meditate, or becoming an expert in intercessory prayer. Often one hope leads to another, and in that way, I think hope really can reproduce.
I have my doubts that the author of First Peter considered all these biological criteria when he wrote the words “a living hope” in our text. But the words are there and the benefit of modern science is with us as well. As one of our slogans states: we think science and theology work together.
So consider your hopes for the future and acknowledge that with the help of the spirit of the Divine, or with the help of the Holy Spirit, or with the help of Jesus, your hope can be transformed into a living hope. And it is through the promise of a living hope that we all move closer to the relationship with God that we desire.
I hope to continue this discussion next week, so stay tuned.