The vision of the Lord is that we become people of HOPE! READ Rom. 15:13. Joy and peace sprinkled with trust results in overflowing HOPE. Abundant HOPE. HOPE is the destination…. Hope is a deep optimism rooted in a realistic view of God, far more than wishful thinking in which I cross my fingers and hope everything works out. Here’s a fun little story that is getting at the meaning of hope as a way of life:
A man approached a little league baseball game one afternoon. He asked a boy in the dugout what the score was. The boy responded, "Eighteen to nothing--we're behind."
"Boy," said the spectator, "I'll bet you're discouraged."
"Why should I be discouraged?" replied the little boy. "We haven't even gotten up to bat yet!" ~ Unknown.
Do you know what the word “Advent” means? HOPE. Hope is in our church name. Live are changed when people have Hope! I love this story I found of a boy in a hospital who was changed when he found hope:
The school system in a large city had a program to help children keep up with their school work during stays in the city's hospitals. One day a tutor in the program received a call asking her to visit a child. She talked with the child's regular teacher. "We're studying nouns and adverbs in class," the teacher said, "I'd be grateful if you could help him so he doesn't fall too far behind."
The tutor went to see the boy that afternoon. No one mentioned the boy had been badly burned and was in great pain. Upset at the sight of the boy, the tutor stammered as she told him, "I've been sent by your school to help you with nouns and adverbs." When she left she felt she hadn't accomplished much. The next day, a nurse asked the tutor, "What did you do to that boy?" The teacher felt she must have done something wrong and began to apologize. "No, no," said the nurse. "We've been worried about the boy, but ever since yesterday, his whole attitude has changed. He's fighting back, responding to treatment. It's as though he's decided to live."
Two weeks later the boy explained that he had completely given up hope until the teacher arrived. Everything changed when he came to a simple realization. He expressed it this way: "They wouldn't send a teacher to work on nouns and adverbs with a dying boy, would they?" (Bits & Pieces, July 1991)
Sometimes the smallest acts of acceptance are huge to the person who feels rejected! Here is how the Bible says you give people HOPE: READ Rom. 15:7. Accept one another, just as Christ has accepted you. HOPE, at it’s best, is a shared experience, we are called to be a community of HOPE, a people of optimism rooted in the promises of God. In v. 7 there is a jaw dropping phrase that gives perspective: “just as Christ has accepted you.”
One of our greatest needs is acceptance. It’s one of the greatest needs of all people. [Love, acceptance and forgiveness]… Who does not know the sting of rejection? In our own strength we seek to overcome rejection by setting ourselves up as the king of our domain and dig in our heels and control every square inch we can lay our hands on. We seek stability by controlling as we try to prevent as many changes as possible.
A controlling person will only accept other people under conditions ~ think like me, act like me, look like me, my kind, my way, my preferences. The reason the Bible says, “accept one another” is because it is common we don’t. We reject others unless they bow to my way of thinking. Control. It’s not so simple to dig in your heals and start living as a person of hope ~ we need to get rid of the old ways.
The situation of the church at Rome, of which this letter is written by Paul to the Romans, is that the church is changing. It probably started with Jewish believers in Christ, they established their patterns. Over time a transition took place and Gentiles started coming into the church. Two groups of different people, different backgrounds, different opinions, different ways of looking at the world are trying to figure out how to be one group under God. Paul is like the cowboy trying to figure out how to bring two groups of horses into one (flock? Herd?....)
Give up control, and “Accepting one another” that’s the paramount desire, become one in Christ. You are all sinners we are told in previous chapters. “The ground is level at the foot of the cross” is an absolute truth. We are not called to accept others out of charity, because we feel sorry for them, not out of me being stronger than you. For me to accept you I must first be humbled by the way Christ accepted me.
We are to accept each other as Christ accepted us. How did he accept me? He accepted me “while I was yet a sinner.” He accepted me when I was an ungodly rebel. He took me when I was hopeless and he gave me hope. He loved me in spite of my sin and welcomed me when I did not deserve to be welcomed. He opened heaven to me when I deserved only hell. This is a high standard, so high that we will never meet it in our own power. Only Christ himself can give us strength to accept others this way.
Paul has talked about the strong and the weak, the Jew and the Gentile, welcome each other. Be hospitable. Be large-hearted. Open your arms and draw people in. Just as Christ accepted you. There is nobody too low but that Christ loves them. He loves sinners. He loves the emotionally spent. He loves the underdog. He loves those who have been rejected by man. And praise to the Lord, he loves even me.
The last phrase of Rom. 15:7 gives the reason for accepting others: The glory of God. If I were to ask how we bring God glory, my first answers might be worship, obedience to the Lord, learning his will…. good answers, but this verse adds: we bring glory to God by accepting others who are different from me. You bring glory to God when you embrace the unlovely, because you transform the unlovely into the beautiful.
We are called to give up control. We must resist the temptation to narrow our circle in order to surround ourselves with like minded people. The Church is to find unity in Christ through the differences ~ all for ONE and ONE for all. Like the tuning fork ~ 100 pianos tuned to the same tuning fork will all be tuned to each other!
I found a wonderful example of what it means to accept others who are different.
In the late 60’s Hudson Armerding was the president of Wheaton College. He had fought during WW II. He was conservative in his appearance. He despised the counter-culture movement, because to him it represented unpatriotic draft-resisters, flag burners, and “those kind of people”. He did not like it when students dressed in the disrespectful grubby counter-cultural fashion. He also thought it was biblically inappropriate for men to have long hair. But the staff at Wheaton was trying to permit a degree of liberty among the students on this matter. There was tension.
One day Armerding was scheduled to speak in chapel. Just before the service, they gathered for prayer. A young man with a beard, long hair, a sash around his waist, and sandals on his feet, walked in to join the prayer group. Armerding looked at him and was sorry that he had come in. Worse yet, the student sat down right next to the president. When they started praying, Armerding did not have a good attitude.
Then the young man began to pray: “Dear Lord, you know how much I admire Dr. Armerding, how I appreciate his walk with you. I am grateful for what a man of God he is, and how he loves you and loves your people. Lord, bless him today. Give him liberty in the Holy Spirit and make him a real blessing to all of us in the student body. Help us to have open hearts to hear what he has to say, and may we do what you want us to do.”
As Armerding walked down the steps to go into the chapel, the Lord spoke to him about his attitude. After giving his message, he asked the young man to come to the platform. A ripple of whispering went through the students, many of whom thought the president was going to dismiss the young man from school as an example to the rest of the students. Rather than rebuking him or dismissing him, everyone, including the young man, was surprised when Dr. Armerding put his arms around him and embraced him as a brother in Christ. It broke up the chapel service, as students stood and applauded, cried and embraced one another.
God used that simple act of one man laying aside his prejudice to turn the mood on campus to greater love and acceptance of one another. (Hudson Armerding, Leadership).
When you accept others who are different from you, you will be amazed what they can teach you. They will enrich your own Christian faith. Unless you are expecting to learn and be enriched from others, you have not fully accepted, because you will still be thinking in terms of a hierarchy that you have more to offer than they do.
Romans 15:8-12 are quotations Paul uses from the Old Testament to show that God’s plan from the very beginning was for Jews to be reconciled with Gentiles. A Gentile is anybody that is not a Jew. The application for us is to not close ourselves off, but to be open to accepting others as Christian brothers and sisters who are different from us. To welcome people who love the Lord. Paul is speaking to the Jewish Christians in Rome who were overthinking the church in Rome (we would never do that!), who were becoming too narrow-minded in their ideas of who belonged in the church. But the purpose of Christ, Paul shows, is that the Gentiles will glorify God. “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people” it says in v. 10. “Praise the Lord, all you gentiles” v. 11. “The Gentiles will HOPE in Him” v. 12.
This scripture today is a scripture of contrasts. Give up control and accept others just as he accepted you. His plan from the very beginning was to bring people together as one people so that together we may glorify the Lord and live as people of HOPE. All for ONE and ONE for all! Hope is necessary only when your world is hopeless. Hope is a spirit that we can overcome, overcome the darkness of this present world, overcome the war of Satan, overcome our own sins and transgressions, overcome the destruction and failures that are dragging us down, and instead believe in Jesus Christ, believe in his love, his power, his acceptance, his forgiveness, believe that he has a better future that is waiting for us, believe that victory is ours.
The most satisfying phone calls I ever get/FB message: “Pastor Carl, thank you for believing in me.” All I did was listen. All I did was give a little bit of time. I only wish I could do more! Give people a chance, ove them, open your heart. That’s what Jesus Christ did for you and me when he died on the cross. He loved me just as I am.
When you accept others, when you look for the best in them, when you affirm their worthiness, you are giving them the opportunity to discover HOPE. May that Spirit of Optimism as you embrace the promises of Christ fill your life with the Hope of the Lord. May together we be a people of Joy and Peace, trusting in Jesus Christ, radiant with Hope! Amen.