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Hope That Won’t Disappoint
John 16:12-15; Romans 5:1-5
Holy Trinity C
About nine years ago, 33 miners were trapped underground in Chile. Maybe you remember how the world watched anxiously as technicians and engineers worked to rescue the men who were 2300 feet below ground and three miles of tunneled distance from the entrance of the mine. They were brought out not a couple days or a week later, but 69 long days after the mine collapse.
They survived because there were medical personnel and psychologists who tended to their needs and dieticians who sent food down the three-inch pipe that was threaded down to the rooms in the mine where they had found shelter. They were told how to exercise and keep a day and night rhythm to stay healthy. But the most important factor in their survival was hope. They were able to communicate with their families, who continuously sent messages of love and encouragement.
Today is Holy Trinity Sunday. The last thing that would be helpful to you is my attempt to explain the doctrine of a three-in-one God to you. I’m grateful for Paul’s letter to the Romans, where he talks about hope. That is something we have some experience with. And we will talk about how the Holy Trinity is at play in our hope.
Despair, or lack of hope, is about giving up, thinking there is no way out of your situation, no solutions possible. But our mistake sometimes is in believing that God has given up on the world. That somehow God has run out of answers and won’t rescue us from ourselves anymore. That is to imply that God’s patience can run out. But patience is a time-related word, and God’s story is not a time-story about deadlines or dates in history books. God’s story is about love, which isn’t bound by time at all.
The hope we profess and cling to is inspired by love. God embraces the world. We read Psalm 8 this morning, about the glory of God manifested in the vastness of the universe. The most amazing part is in the question: What are human beings that you are mindful of us, mortals that you care for us? Yet you have created us and put us right up there next to You, God. Not only that, you also gave us the world to use and care for in all its beautiful abundance. Wow!
Why would God do that except out of love?
The quintessential image of God’s love is the father of the prodigal son. You remember the parable of the young man who was impatient to get out from under his father’s authority. He asked for his inheritance ahead of time, virtually telling his father that he wished he were dead. The father grants his wish for some reason. The son proceeds to squander all his money on partying and finally ends up in the lowest position imaginable: feeding pigs. He realizes that his only hope is to return to his father’s estate and offer to feed pigs there, where at least his father might have pity on him and give him room and board.
When he limps home, his father is at his post where he has been watching the road every day since his son left. He can hardly believe his eyes when he recognizes his son, haggard and bent over as he is. He runs to meet him, hold him up and walk him the rest of the way. He not only settles him in his bed to recover; he also starts planning a homecoming party.
That is the image of God embracing all the world as it is. Just so, God goes to the periphery to meet all the people there, the ones who don’t fit into the mainstream, middle class ideal. The prodigal son was a lowlife, and God goes to them too.
That’s what the incarnation is all about: God becoming a human being in Jesus the Son, who insisted on hanging out with the rejects like the poor and the sick, foreigners and sinners of all stripes.
In the parable, the father takes the most expensive robe and the heirloom ring to that kind of people like his son the ingrate, not to the people in the center who are taking care of business along with the older son. We don’t appreciate the father taking what we expect to be ours and ours alone and offering it to…well, those other people.
But God invites us to come together, wastrel and responsible, native and immigrant, conservative and liberal, and calls us one. A big, messy, diverse church that follows Jesus together. A place where we struggle to understand one another, but where love drives us to work and worship together despite our differences.
The trouble is, God just won’t stay put. Just when we figure we have God figured out and things are more or less manageable, God goes rogue again and gathers in another group! Back and forth, back and forth God goes from what we consider the center to the periphery.
We don’t like all this commotion, but if you think about it, this is our reason for hope. Because a) we might be fooling ourselves about being in the stable, reasonable center (maybe we are the misfits) and b) God is forever with us in all of our back and forth too. We don’t stay put either!
We need to let go of our compulsion to nail God down to a set of doctrines we can memorize and use as a filter. Ideas don’t create hope; God does. If the Scriptures show us anything, it is that God comes to people in myriad ways, including a burning bush, a shepherd, a mother hen, a judge, provider, protector, helpless baby, quiet breeze, servant, king high on a throne or riding a donkey, fellow sufferer. When God told the people to build a tabernacle, God said it had to be portable, and God has been on the move ever since.
On Holy Trinity Sunday we admit that God is a mystery to us. These three persons of the Trinity—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—are not forever posing nicely for a doctrinal portrait. God is the relationship of those three. Relationships don’t sit still either. They are alive, and they change. Any scientist or farmer can tell you that if something doesn’t change, it’s dead.
God is dynamic, life-giving, guiding, cultivating, transforming all the time. Jesus told his disciples that he had revealed as much as they could handle at the time, but the Holy Spirit would go with them, help them learn and adjust and grow. Here is Eugene Peterson’s version of what he said in John 16:12-13: “I still have many things to tell you, but you can’t handle them now. But when the Friend comes, the Spirit of the Truth, he will take you by the hand and guide you into all the truth there is. He won’t draw attention to himself, but will make sense out of what is about to happen and, indeed, out of all that I have done and said.”
This is the God we hope in, the God who loves us now and always. Again I’ll borrow from Eugene Peterson as he describes hope in his rendering of Romans 5:1-5:
1-2 By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.
3-5 There’s more to come: We continue to shout our praise even when we’re hemmed in with troubles, because we know how troubles can develop passionate patience in us, and how that patience in turn forges the tempered steel of virtue, keeping us alert for whatever God will do next. In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit![i]
Thank you, Rev. Peterson! You call hope “alert expectancy” for “whatever God will do next.” We don’t have to understand God to be excited about what God does. God is a mystery to us, but that doesn’t keep us from experiencing who God is, what God does, and how God loves us. God insists on going with us all the way, calling us forward at times and pushing from behind at others. God wants more than anything to transform our cold, suspicious hearts into warm vessels chock full of holes so the love keeps spilling out. This is the God who resurrects people, and dreams, and hopes! The God driven by self-giving love.
The Apostle Paul had the challenging task of putting all this good news into letters like the one to the Romans. “Hope doesn’t disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit…” That love is alive. It has to move, and grow, and spread.
The hope that those Chilean miners clung to wasn’t a commodity that people from the outside could send down the pipe and try to keep robust with their own feeble strength. Hope is like an organism that has to be kept alive.
And here is the good news. Our hope doesn’t come from hundreds of feet above us or miles away from an old way in. God our Creator is with us in the struggle, right beside us and within us to keep us from giving up, showing us the way forward, infusing us with life. Jesus the Son walked the earth to be with us, and sent his Spirit to dwell in us and guide us. Our hope is fueled by a triune, loving, living God who meets us where we are every single day and invites us to share our hope with everyone around us.
The love and hope of God never run out. Not even close. There is so much of God, enough to go around the world and across the universe with the infinite flow of divine, relentless love. The doctrine of the Trinity seems like merely a good start when we try to take it all in.
And here’s the thing. We are made in the image of God! So the force of our love is like God’s,
seeking an opening wherever we go.
Dispensing hope for everyone whose life is a moving target as well as
those who have settled in. Alert for
what God is going to do—and do through us—next.
Thanks be to God.
[i] Peterson, Eugene. The Message., 2018. (Colorado Springs: NavPress)