The Fruit of Hope: Mission

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The first post in this series looked at nurturing hope. Here, I want to think about its fruit.

It’s not an accident that people into the missional church movement are also often rooted in the sort of eschatology emphasized by theologians such as N.T. Wright, Scot McKnight, and Jurgen Moltmann. These theologians focus on God’s intent to bring about the redemption of creation—the reconciliation of all things to God. The sort of hope that this kind of theology cultivates points towards mission as its natural fruit. Here are four ways that a robust sense of hope moves us towards mission.

1. Hope helps us deal with the brokenness that we experience in ourselves. Hope allows us to see our own conversion as something that has begun but which is not yet completed. Our own discipleship has a trajectory, even if the specific turns and twists along the way remain mysterious to us. In hope, we see ourselves as in the process of being formed, and that takes place for and by God’s missionary work in the world. Thus, mission is no longer something that we only see as being given to the elite super-spiritual, but is something for all of us. It is not for those who have already arrived, but is a part of the journey towards God’s future, the source of our hope.

2. It allows us to engage in broken systems. As hope grows within us, we we have new energy to struggle against the dark powers of the world, knowing that God will indeed defeat them in the end…their ability to crush and grind people is destined to fall, and when they are defeated, the systems they use to break people will crumble to. That knowledge allows us to actively subvert those systems through story and action, even while facing the frustration that comes from facing their current powers. I know this particular point sounds super nerdy and theoretical, but there’s one last one that we meet every day:

3. Hope sustains our ability to love people. People are tough to love sometimes, and there are moments when our frustrations with their behavior can overwhelm our loving desires for their well-being. That’s just speaking about the people we already have affection for—we still have to deal with the surely strangers who rub us wrong from the beginning! Hope can help us deal with those frustrations. It provides us the resources to be able to see people for what they can be, rather than only as they already are. Realizing that everyone we meet is on a journey frees us to think about how our relationship with them, even the smallest interactions, might move them along the way towards wholeness. I think this is part of Jesus’s own way of dealing with people, an imitating it is a step on the path of discipleship.

4. Hope broadens our vision. It’s perhaps most obvious how this happens temporally, as we expand our view from the present moment towards a long view. However, hope properly conceived also contains within it a vision of how God reconciles all of creation, and so we find it broadening our field of vision spatially and relationally as well. We begin to see how God’s mission, and perhaps to some extent our place in it, relates to all humanity and the wholeness of God’s world. Hopeful people see beyond themselves.

Cultivating a Bias towards Hope

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No reason to be coy here, to keep up any pretense of objectivity. Let’s just put this on the table from the very beginning: I have a bias towards hope.

Generally and theologically speaking, I trace that seed to the work of God in the world especially the movement of God in Jesus. I haven’t scientifically studied the origin of this bias in me particularly, though I suspect my family and the church collaborated in planting it within me, and it probably also began to take root because of my sunny genetic disposition. The origins are tough to nail down. Easier to see are the fruit of that hope, and I’ll write a bit more on that tomorrow. Today I’m thinking about the middle part of hope’s lifespan…the growing of hope.

Hope doesn’t skip from seed to fruit, and the movement doesn’t happen automatically. Hope must be cultivated. Hope must be nurtured. The seed requires care and attention, or it will shrivel up and die, and there’s hardly anything more tragic than dead hope.

Hope must be cultivated. Hope must be nurtured. Click To Tweet

The importance of nurturing hope becomes even clearer when you think about the opposition it faces. The relentless chatter of cynics stunts its growth, our abundant experiences of scarcity and loss chips at its branches, and our perpetual busyness poisons its roots. The news cycle provokes a climate of stifling fear, and the more sentimental corners of facebook and youTube try to replace real hope with something immediate and shallow.

In the face of all this and more, the seeds of hope wither and die without protection, and cultivation. Hope must be nurtured—and it can be! Here are six ways to actively cultivate hope.

1. Connect with a foundation of hope. For me, this is the resurrection of Jesus, which I take to be a signal to the world of God’s intent to defeat the enemies of hope. This isn’t the only possible foundation for hope, but it’s been a reliable spring of hope for me. So I try and connect with it consistently enough that I can view other stories and events through that master story of hope.

2. Embed yourself in a community of hope. Hope struggles in isolation. It seems to me like there is a tipping point, a place when a community struggles to muster up the courage to believe in the future anymore. On the other hand, a community that holds and practices a sacred hope can sustain your hope and develop its character.

3. Remember you’re playing a long game. Hope requires patience. What you’re cultivating is not going to pay off immediately, maybe even within your lifetime. You can’t allow yourself to be dominated by the demands of the present, even though you seek to be fully alive in each moment you are given.

4. Expect trouble. Don’t shelter your hope by refusing to acknowledge the possibility of dark days. Hope doesn’t benefit from naïveté.  In fact, that causes hope to suffer, as unexpected trouble inevitably come to challenge hope’s promise. But you’re not cultivating a naïve hope, but a resilient one. And that means that your understanding of hope has to be big enough to hold trouble. This isn’t anything new, by the way. Isaiah and Revelation, which are arguably the great books of biblical hope, both arrive at their visions of hope by routes that promise times of suffering. This doesn’t nullify the hope they contain. It fortifies it.

5. See both the forest and the trees of hope. Practice perceiving both the world and individuals through the lenses of hope. Let your sense of God’s future be grand enough for the whole world and gritty enough to hold the complications of flesh and blood people.  Let both of these senses inform each other, and your hope will become more and more robust over time.

6. Pray for God’s future. Hope is formed more deeply within us as we prayerfully look forward to the redemption and reconciliation of creation. The New Testament ends with Jesus’s promise to come and bring about the reconciliation of heaven and earth. “Surely I am coming soon,” he says. And revelation closes with John’s reply: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” We do well to join this prayer, even as we join in his mission of reconciliation in the present.

You might also want to read the next post in this series, The Fruit of Hope: Mission.

Reversal—A Sermon on Hosea 2

Hosea the prophet lives in a time of false security, when his nation manipulates politics to acquire a sense of independent security, and manipulates religion in an attempt to acquire economic stability. Their political/military life and their worship both lead them away from dependence on God, from faith. For both of these he speaks words of judgment, fiery words which call Israel (and now, the church) to see her sin for what it is, and to learn true repentance.

We normally think of repentance as being about the past. We avoid it because we think it means a reliving of our worst mistakes, but nothing could be further than the truth. In repentance we confess and name our sin—not as a way of reliving it, but as a way of moving away from it. Repentance is about freedom from the past. Repentance is a consequence of hope.

It grows out of two convictions about the future, convictions which Hosea leads us into by sharing God’s mind with us.

First, God owns the future. God declares the future through Hosea, not because he has some secret power of prediction, but because the future consists of the actions of God. God does not predict sports scores or the playing cards of a magician’s trick, but is simply stating what he intends to do, with the knowledge that he can and will in fact do these things. While humans have plenty to say about what will happen in the mean time, the future—the ultimate future—will be as God wills.  And so, God can declare that Israel will be exposed, that they will be stripped of all that they hold dear, that they will be confronted by the futility of their quests for power, security, and independence from him—not because it’s a magical prediction, but because God himself will act to do these things.  “I will strip her naked…I will expose her as in the day she was born…I will make her like a wilderness…I will turn her into a parched land…I will kill her with thirst…I will hedge up her way with thorns and I will build a wall against her, so that she cannot find her paths…I will take back my grain, my wine, my wool and my flax…I will uncover her shame…I will put an end to her celebrations…I will lay waste her vines and her fig trees…” God can make these announcements because they are his actions. God is free and powerful to act in whatever way he wills. God owns the future.

Second, God wants us to share his future. Hosea’s word is ultimately one of invitation—God intensely desires for Israel to join him in the future. All of the judgments issued are for this purpose, and point toward the day of its completion, the day when Israel is restored to God. God acts to provoke a repentant response in Israel, so that she will come to freely love him and live in a covenant with God marked by peace, righteousness, justice, love, mercy, and faithfulness.

What’s remarkable about Hosea is the kind of language that God uses to describe his passionate desire for Israel to have a part in this future. God won’t force Israel into repentance, but he will do almost anything else. Besides the prophetic word of warning, God flirts with Israel, gives her gifts, tries taking them away, exposes her other loves as frauds, finally draws her back out into the wilderness—like a husband who takes his wife back to the site of their honeymoon. He speaks softly to her, whispering, “we can just start over.”

His goal is the day when she responds with repentance, when she sees that he alone truly does own the future and yet offers her a place in it. His goal is a day of dramatic reversal, when all the pronouncements of judgment find their fulfillment—which is not to say, the destruction they foretell. No, Hosea’s warnings only find their fulfillment in the repentance they are meant to provoke, whether or not that occurs before or after the impending calamity. His goal is the day when Israel responds with repentance, and all that is wrong can be made right.

Hosea plays off of the warnings of chapter 1 to describe he dramatic reversal, flipping each name from its message or warning to one of hope. The stigma of bloodshed that brought about the name “Jezreel” will be replaced by the word’s linguistic meaning—”God sows”—and God will plant the people in the land, establishing her with peace and abundance from his own hand, not as a result of her political or religious manipulation. To those whom he gave the name, “no mercy”, he will now have mercy, and to those whom he called “not my people”, he will again say, “you are my people.” The renaming is completed, not by a word from God, but one from the people, as they finally and dramatically will say, “you are my God.” God paints the picture of this future, seeking to inspire hope in Israel—for where hope lives, repentance is possible.

Repentance happens in the lives of those who understand that God owns the future, and who believe they have a place in God’s future. Reading Hosea now, some 2700 years later, and reading it on the other side of Jesus, we know that God has taken a dramatic step to bring about this future. While we wait for the final scene to begin, God has invited us to share in his future…now!

God declares that his rule will be over all the earth, and in repentance we begin to live in that future now; we join God now, leaving the past behind and orienting ourselves by a future that redeems the present.

And so it is that within these words of warning there is also a seed of hope, the promise of God’s willingness to honor repentance, his burning desire to take back what belongs to him and make right what has been broken. I urge you to heed the warning that the future belongs to God, to take on the hope that he has a place for you within it, and to let it that hope bring forth the repentance by which God may enact his reversal.