The text for one of my first sermons was Romans 12:1-8. You might know the opening line or two from memory. It reads,
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
The sermon was not great, but one thing stuck with me from my time of study. The whole text is built from what proceeds it—note the therefore. The call for a radical life comes on certain grounds. A life lived well is drawn from the view of God’s mercies. Now this is the brilliance of Paul’s letters. He spends the first 11 chapters painting a picture of God’s mercy, love, and salvation. God’s grace informs our grace. God’s mercy, our mercy. This is not a new idea, but it is crucial to our way of life.
In my last post, I wrote a bit about Christian hope, but this hope is much more than a feeling in my mind. It is bigger than cognitive expectation. It is that which I live and move and breathe. My imagination of hope calls me into a particular way of life. I think it does for all of us. This is why it is so important to have a broad imagination of Christian hope.
As mentioned previously, Christian hope is often related to the individual. We are people that are called into life with the living God. This reality is described in different ways all over Scripture. In Christ, we are made new. Part of what it means to be saved is we all are welcomed back into relationship with God. The prodigal son story becomes our story. Although we all left for the far country, the faithful God welcomes us back. Even more, 2 Peter says we can become participants in the divine nature.
This means we live as children of God. Paul calls us to participate in the faith of Jesus. A faith that relies on the will of God—even in the uncertain moments. The garden moments of our life are when our prayers are more let this cup pass, than make this happen. Christian hope calls us to serious trust in God. A trust I often have little interest in.
But Christian imagination offers much more than a simple individual faith and practice. Much of the salvation imagery is related to a communal life that moves beyond our comfort zone. Jesus models this way of life as he eats with sinners, touches the untouchable, and welcomes the outcast. Learning to be participants in the faith of Jesus demands a similar way of life. Each week we celebrate a table that is for all and this hope must come to life. A major part of the good news of God and one of the ways we are being saved is by a gracious embrace of others. Living out this kind of hope means sharing what we can with the world. It means opening our homes. It means loving the unlovable. It means narrowing the divide between the haves and the have nots. It means welcome the alien, stranger, and enemy.
This is no easy practice because if we are really driven by this kind of hope then we do not just volunteer with the least of these every once in a while. The practice of hope calls us into a neighborliness that calls us outside of our control. Christian hope is more than random good deeds; it is a consistent commitment to loving others where they are. This kind of life for the oppressed, broken, alien, and poor is not driven by piety, instead, it is driven by an imagination of God’s kingdom. A new world where there is neither Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, but all are made new by the renewing of the Son.
Often we focus on the miraculous activity of Jesus, but the powerful action was more than supernatural. It was found in the openness to the other. Christian hope, while individual, calls us beyond our self-centered concern toward a life for the other. God’s grace is more than a transaction that makes us residents in heaven, it is way of noticing and embracing the other.
Central to the Biblical imagery is peace. From Isaiah to the Gospels to the Epistles, reconciliation is central. Christian hope envisions a world where division is replaced by unity. As participants in the faith of Jesus, we are to model a different way of life. Hope invites us into forgiveness and away from retribution. The Christian community should be a place where people come together under the name of Christ. The kingdom comes as we learn to live out peace. We participate in salvation when we accept someone who has wronged us with a full embrace. This kind of action is what Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 5. He calls us into a partnership with the living God. We are called into the reconciling work of God. Salvation happens as we learn to live peacefully with the other.
Hope is not just a part of belief. It is the way of God; it has a practice. A robust hope finds expression in the now. It means we take seriously the lives of people now. It means we take care of the poor, the outcast, and the prisoner now. It means we take relationships seriously. It means we take identity seriously. Not because taking care of the poor is a fine thing to do or forgiveness is a moral quality or because peace is better than war. These practices are born from a robust Christian hope. It the way we participate in the faith of Jesus and live as ambassadors to the living God.