“A Living Hope” – Part Two
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.
Last week I explained that this text from First Peter was part of the lectionary reading for that week and this idea of a living hope really intrigued me. So we began to look at the definitions of what it means to actually be alive, or living, from the perspective of a biologist. What I discovered is there seems to be a remarkable amount of overlap between what science says now and what our text said over 2,000 years ago.
When I began to research this idea, I came up with a list of nine criteria which a biologist might use to determine if something is truly alive or not. Last week we looked at the first three of this list of nine. The entire list of nine looks like this; 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.
So that moves us to the fourth item in our list, which is the ability to grow. Of course we are all aware that living plants and animals around us grow. But growth can be measured in a number of different ways, and spiritual growth is every bit as important as physical growth. So while we as humans may grow taller, for example, it is equally important that we grow deeper in a spiritual sense. The same is true of our hopes and dreams. They must grow stronger, they must grow more detailed and they can grow bigger as time goes by. If your hopes and dreams cease to grow in any way, eventually they will die.
The next item may seem like a bit of a stretch. This item on our list is the ability to metabolize. Just in case it has been awhile since you have been in biology class, let me remind you what that actually means. Most definitions use the words “chemical transformation” to describe the process of metabolism. In other words, we take in food of some kind, and our bodies break the food down into substances our bodies can actually use. I would like for you to think about information and inspiration in the same way. When we receive information or creative ideas into our lives, we break that information into little pieces that our hopes and dreams can absorb. For example, we may have a hope to travel to a particular country or perhaps a particular part of this country. Then we receive more information about the place we want to visit and that new information informs us and helps define our hope more precisely. I have always been a fan of the desert southwest and had hopes of visiting there someday. After I read an article in National Geographic about the slot canyons in the area and saw the photos, then my hope to visit became even greater and more detailed. So my living hope metabolized the information I had received.
I think the next item on our list is very much the same as what we just discussed. Item number six on our list of nine is the ability to respond to stimuli. Well, information is certainly stimuli, but there are other ways our hopes can be stimulated as well. Using our previous example of hoping to visit a certain place, if you have a friend who visits and then comes back and tells you about it, that verbal stimulus can have an impact on your hope. If you hope is a living hope, it will change and grow and become more defined as you receive more information and stimuli along the way.
Item number seven on our list of nine is the ability to adapt to the environment. This is really common sense, but if our hopes and dreams are to survive, they must adapt to a changing world. We might move to a new location or take a new job that impacts our hope. A living hope must be able to adapt to a new situation, or else it will simply cease to exist. I remember years ago I had a hope to one day learn how to ski; this was before we moved to Texas. My first career in marketing and advertising led us to the Dallas/Fort Worth area where we spent a number of years. If you haven’t been to Texas recently, there isn’t a lot of skiing, at least the type I was interested in, available. There were lots of people with boats and water skis, but I really wanted to learn how to downhill ski in the snow. With three kids and quite a distance to travel before any skiing could be found, you might think my hope of learning to ski was over; had we stayed in Texas, it very well might have been over; but the environment changed and we found ourselves in Colorado, so the hope continued and was eventually realized. I guess flexibility is the key ingredient when it comes to environment.
The balance of the list also requires flexibility just as the ability to adapt to a new environment requires the flexibility we just spoke of. At this point I wanted to actually get back to the text because while we may all have hopes and dreams that exist outside of our spiritual lives, I think the text is focused on our relationship with the Divine. It may be our personal prayer life, it may be a spiritual discipline that we are trying to develop, it could be any number of things, but I think most of us have an area of our spirituality that we hope to improve.
If that is the case with you, if you are not yet the person you want to become, if you feel your spirituality could be improved, if you have questions about your relationship with God or if you wonder about any of the hundreds of other aspects of our faith tradition, then your hope is not yet complete. When a hope is not yet complete, it must be a living hope so it can be sustainable until you feel like your dream has been realized. This isn’t always easy, because sometimes our faith is tested, sometimes things don’t always go as planned and we have to adjust our hopes and dreams to match the circumstances we find ourselves in. Without a living hope that can adapt, we would eventually be lost.
Many years ago I had a very different attitude about prayer than I do today. The simplest way to describe how I felt about prayer was that you asked for something and God either said yes or no. You pray for someone to be healed for example, and the person dies anyway. The simple answer is that God said no. But what kind of God says no sometimes and yes other times. What about all those other stories of healing? Why should one person be healed and not the next? Does God play favorites?
Without a living hope that is flexible and adapts to changing environments and changing stimuli and adapts to new information, without that living hope, questions like those I had about prayer would drive you crazy. When it comes to our faith, there are no easy answers and one size does not fit everyone. A living hope with the flexibility we need allows a personal customized hope that can be designed specifically for you.
We all have questions, we all struggle at times to make sense of our faith. There may have been times we want to give up. A rigid and brittle hope is easily broken; a flexible living hope is sustainable through the years and through the ups and downs of life. We have been given a living hope to guide us through; a hope that changes and adapts and grows and lives and breathes with us. I believe a living hope affords us the opportunity to approach our faith as John Wesley has said to “think and let think”. A rigid and brittle hope will soon die; a living hope will sustain us all the days of our lives.