1 Peter 1:3-9

A Living Hope

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1 Peter 1:3-9

A Living Hope

Dr. Keith Wagner

Recently we have been watching reports on the news about the Kosovo Albanians. Imagine what it would be like to be forced from your home with no time to take any of your precious belongings. You barely have enough time to assemble your children and get their coats. Nor are you able to take any food. Then you have to walk for miles in bad weather and hope that you will be permitted to enter into another country. You have no rights, no money, no resources. The fact that something like this could be happening in our time is incomprehensible.

If it were you, would you have hope? What would motivate you to continue? Would you give up and lose faith? Would you cease to believe in God? How would you cope with such a catastrophic event? As I see the thousands of people arriving in neighboring countries I wonder, “What keeps these people going ? What is the source of their hope.”

It is almost impossible for us in this country to relate to the tragedy that is taking place in Yugoslavia. Unless you are an immigrant who fled to the US during the Nazi regime or an American Indian who was forced to relocate to a reservation in the far West, you probably have no idea of the crisis that the Kosovo’s are experiencing.

When Peter wrote this letter, about AD 64, persecutions were still taking place among the young Christian churches. They had been alienated from society because of their faith. Peter was reminding them of the grace of God and that they must remain true to their calling. Life is a difficult pilgrimage, one that demands insight and endurance. There is a heavenly reward for remaining faithful to the end. Hope, however is not only in the future it is also in the present. “Salvation” has already begun.

Peter promised the early Christians a “living hope.” Incidentally, the word “salvation” is rooted in the Latin word SALUS. It has nothing to do with life after death. It means health or wholeness. It is also very close to the Hebrew word SHALOM, which means peace. The hope that Peter advocated has to do with a wholeness or peace that is possible today. For Peter hope is an active and living reality. He goes on to say that this living hope is one that can never perish, spoil or fade.

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I bought a new pair of shoes recently and I paid about $75. I buy quality shoes because I am on my feet a lot. But, about every two years I have to replace them. They simply won’t last forever. The cars I drive usually last about 5 years. I put so many miles on them that they too have to be replaced in time. Some things I own last a little longer. My wife and I have a few antiques. Although some of them are over 75 years old they won’t last forever.

The living hope that Peter talked about is a hope that never wears out. It will be there longer than any antique. In the newspaper the other day there was a story about a mummy who was discovered in South America. It was an Inca. It was thought to be centuries old. But, the face of the mummy was distorted. It was probably a man, but you couldn’t tell for sure. The hope of God is a hope that never dies or fades. It is infinite, permanent.

The early church was in danger of giving up their faith because of the persecutions they endured. No other hope could keep the faithful from giving up. Peter assures his followers that God is with them in the present moment. They were to live with a hope that never perishes, spoils or fades. With hope like that they could withstand any sufferings, hardships or crises that came their way

When all seems hopeless we have three choices. The first is to abandon hope. The Allied Nations could say that the problem with the hundreds of thousands of refugees is so overwhelming there is nothing to do but pack up and go home. In that sense there would be no hope for world peace or for the plight of the Kosovos.

When all seems hopeless do you give up? Do you abandon your faith and resolve that nothing can be done? Recently a young man in the community came to me for counseling. He said his wife left him and he didn’t know how to get her back. It seemed impossible to resolve their differences but he still felt that there was a glimmer of hope and as long as that glimmer of hope existed he would have to try. He owed it to himself to make an effort. As we talked he told me of his roots. He and his two brothers attended a neighborhood church which strongly influenced his faith. His “living hope” was directly related to the faith he had acquired early in life. Without that he said he would have given up.

His marriage may fail. He is realistic about that. By recalling his roots and reaffirming hope he said he felt better. “Regardless of what happens,” he said, he could endure. When we try we have hope. When we give up we abandon hope and all is hopeless. If we truly believe that we can’t overcome the struggles we face then there is not much to live for. If we believe that Aids or poverty can’t be controlled then why even bother to try? If we don’t believe that we can help the Kosovo’s there is not much use in giving help. Without hope we are desperate. Without hope we will likely crack under the pressures of life. Abandoning our faith will only make things worse.

The second choice we have is to pretend. As a nation we could pretend that the situation in Yugoslavia doesn’t really exist. We could stick our heads in the sand and continue to live as though there is no crisis in Europe. Pretending is nothing more than a defense mechanism. It is a way to ignore the suffering that is taking place around us.

When we pretend we live with a false sense of security. We build fences, create fantasies, and create safeguards which we believe will protect us. We develop a naïve optimism which causes us to remain indifferent to the sufferings of others. Our hope is not real and therefore diminishes as reality finally sinks in.

We can either abandon hope or pretend. Both lead to hopelessness. There is a third choice. We can believe, just as Peter did, that there is indeed a living hope. Most everyone here remembers Woody Hayes, the immortal football coach at Ohio State. Shortly before his death he was interviewed by Bob Greene. He asked Hayes if anything was more important than winning. Woody said, “Yes. The important thing is not always to win. The important thing is always to hope.”

Dr. Harold Wolff, Cornell University Medical School, once conducted an investigation that involved 25,000 American soldiers who were imprisoned during WWII. Under terrible conditions, inhuman treatment and forced labor many died and just about all became sick. But, Dr. Wolff discovered a few who showed only slight physical problems. One characteristic stood out among them. They all had above average ability to hope.

But, to simply “hope” is not enough. There must be some form of action. The prisoners didn’t sit and do nothing. They drew pictures of the girls they intended to marry. The drew pictures of their future homes. Some even planned and organized business seminars. Dr. Wolff concluded that it was hope that kept them well and in some cases, hope that kept them alive.

Early in my ministry I was attending a Church Council meeting. The church treasurer said that offerings were a little soft that winter and unless their stewardship improved they would not be able to pay all the bills. One man said that all they needed to do was pray and God would deliver. There was a few moments of silence. Finally one of the oldest men in the church spoke up. He said, “In all my years in the church I have never once seen God hand down a check from the clouds.”

Hope is being made possible to the Kosovo’s because countries around the world are sending aid, housing refugees, and providing services. Hope is possible for those who have need or suffer in your world when you are willing to take action. None of us has to carry any burden alone. God is always intervening on our behalf to make our hope real. It is a lasting hope, one that will be there to the end of time. For the hope that God gives will never perish, spoil or fade.

Copyright 1999, Keith Wagner. Used by permission.