Thursday, February 11, 2016

Lenten Hope

Greetings, I haven't updated my blog in awhile (I'm hoping to start posting my sermons with a little more frequency soon), but with the recent encouragement of my cousin, Toni, thought I'd work on it a little more during Lent. There aren't any themes or promises of daily updates this year, just the promise to write what God is speaking to me.

Today, God is telling me to write to you about hope, and specifically, to write that hope is something that Jesus didn't posses. You read me correctly, Jesus didn't have hope, and the reason  that Jesus didn't have hope is because he didn't need it. Rather, Jesus is the object of our hope, and when this object of our hope is fully revealed in our lives, we will experience the fulfillment of all things, and there will be nothing left to hope for.

If indeed Jesus has no need of hope, what does it mean for us, to place our hope in him? This is the question at the heart of our season of Lent. It seems to me that we have a vision of Lent as a time of self denial, often trivial self-denial at that. Take for example the year I gave up potato chips for Lent. During those 40 days, that sacrifice served the purpose of giving me greater anticipation for the coming of Easter, but the reward was potato chips. In other words, eating potato chips was the fulfillment of my hope. (This particular season happened while I was in Slovakia, and in all fairness to myself, those potato chips were not only delicious, but a true staple in my diet.) I'm quite certain that Jesus didn't die so we could have potato chips.

As we frame Lent in terms of self-denial in our own lives, we often project this same dynamic on Jesus. In our Christian frame of belief, there tends to be an underlying premise that Jesus went through these sufferings in the hope of an Easter reward. Granted, the denial and reward of Jesus' story are a little better than the potato chips example I used before, but the premise is the same. The problem with this premise, is that Jesus didn't "deny" himself. Yes, Jesus humbled himself, taking on the form of a human, but Jesus never rejected his own divinity, instead, he proclaimed it on many occasions. Similarly, Jesus' resurrection to eternal life wasn't a "reward" for undergoing such great suffering. The coming Easter promise wasn't God's way of saying, "Don't worry Jesus, those 40 lashes and the nails will all be worth it someday!"

When we remember that Jesus, as God, wasn't in need of hope, we can hear his story from a different perspective. Jesus' story is about trust. The temptations, trials, persecutions, and crucifixion weren't because Jesus hoped that one day he would be rewarded, Jesus underwent these things because of the trust that he had that God was with him through it all. The humanity of Jesus humbly obeyed and served his divinity, because he trusted that the reward, eternal communion with our creator, was something he already possessed. When you already possess this reward, what is there to be hopeful for?

What then, does it mean, for us to place our hope in the One who isn't in need of hope? It means total transformation of our lives, a reorientation so that we strive more and more so that Jesus becomes are "all in all". Some people will tell you what you need to do to accomplish that, and to them and those who would follow, I say, "Good luck with that!" The truth of the matter, is that Jesus isn't our hope. Potato chips, money, security, prestige, and whatever else you can think of that could end the phrases "I want..." and "I need..." If Jesus truly was our hope; our lives, and our world would be much different.

We humans can try all we want to achieve hope in the One who has no hope, but it's when we realize that we can't do this that we begin to experience the transformational power of Lent. It is in our failures as human beings, it is in our troubled spirits that Jesus meets us, and gives us his amazing grace. When Jesus meets us with this grace, when we are given his body and blood and experience his life, occasionally it becomes something we want more of, something we may even begin to hope for. When Jesus meets us with this grace, the Holy Spirit transforms our hearts, and our minds, so that following is simply our way of life.

The season of Lent, is not a time when either us, or God, take away something from our lives, so that we can have something to hope for. It's the time when the Holy Spirit nudges us, and distracts us from our futile attempts trying to achieve the life we hope for, and in its place, gives the hope found in the eternal life of Jesus.

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