Rose Park Sunday School (Adults and Children) at 8:45 a.m. / Worship at 9:45 a.m.

Madison Sunday School (Adults and Children) 10:15 a.m. / Worship at 11:15 a.m.

Hopeful Characters

Based on Psalm 8, Proverbs 8:1-11, Romans 5:1-5, John 16:12-15

          Many of you know that I’m both a fisherman and a lover of baseball.  Baseball and fishing have imbued in me a certain hopeful outlook on life.  It is a perspective that is focused on looking outward from the moment to the future of what might be.  There’s a joke that illustrates this philosophy:  there was a man who attended a youth baseball game.  The home team was down by 18 runs and the man called one of the players over during a pitching change (one of many in the game). The man talked with the boy awhile and then asked him if he was disappointed by the score.  The boy said, no way, sir!  Just wait until we get to bat!  In my view, it is the same thing with fishing – the next cast will always produce the big fish that I’ve been looking for; or the next bait or lure I throw will be the one that the fish are biting on today.  It often doesn’t work out in either scenario – my Twins were most often eliminated from contention by the All-Star break growing up (not so this year, however), and I often come home from a fishing trip with no fish.  The good news with baseball and fishing, however, is that there is always a next time.  Fishing seasons are long and baseball lasts 6 months out of the year (not counting playoffs and Spring Training).  There’s always tomorrow and the hope that things will turn out better.

          Have you ever met a person whose character is consistently hopeful?  Someone who always looks at the glass half-full?  Children, especially the younger they are, consistently look at the world through hope-filled eyes.  It is one of the aspects of their personalities that I love so much.  They can find the positive in any situation and can call their elders attention to the need to seek a positive outlook when so much that is happening in the adult world is negative.  Hope was the focus of the fifth and last night of Vacation Bible School last week, and it is our focus for today.  Today we focus our hope on the almighty love and constant activity of the fullness of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Let us go to God and give thanks for the hopeful characters in our lives and how our own spiritual journeys can give us hope through God’s grace…

          The writer of Psalm 8 makes my point about hope and younger humans saying, “…Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark…to silence the enemy and the avenger….”  When we look out in awe at the majestic stars and planets, and contemplate the magnitude of outer space, it puts our human issues in context.  The writer reminds us that we have been created in the image of God, slightly lower than the angels (Hebrew word “Elohim”).  We have been given stewardship over this world – which continues to evolve as we interact with it.  We when look at things in this light, how can we be anything but hopeful since God is on our side!

          This is what Lady Wisdom (aka the Holy Spirit) is hoping for as she speaks to us from Proverbs today.  Beginning in the 22nd verse of Chapter 8, Lady Wisdom tells us that God created her in the beginning before anything else – and that she was a master worker rejoicing in the creation of the human race.  In our reading for today wisdom calls to us, she pleads with us to heed her call because, “…wisdom is better than jewels and all you may desire cannot compare with her….”

          Jesus picks up on this theme as He tells the disciples in today’s reading that there is much to be said, but that the disciples cannot bear to hear it from Him.  The Holy Spirit (aka Lady Wisdom) who speaks truth will guide them into the fullness of the truth of God.  Just before our passage for today, starting in the eighth verse, Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will teach the world the truth about belief in Him, about following Jesus to the righteousness of God, and about the in-breaking of the kingdom of God that happened when God became incarnate in Jesus and walked among us.  The disciples were sorrowful because Jesus was leaving, but He gave them hope through the Holy Spirit.

          Paul has just written about the witness of Father Abraham who was “hoping against hope” in a God who could give a legacy to both he and Sarah in their old age.  Hoping against the reality of what he knew happened to all those around and before him who achieved his age (“…his own body, which was already as good as dead…”) and were childless.  Abraham persevered and hoped in God’s promise and thus was rewarded for his righteousness.  Likewise, we who believe that Jesus died and rose again to forgive our sins discover ourselves to be forgiven in the sight of God (i.e., Jesus justified us).  Thus, Paul writes, we can “boast in hope of sharing the glory of God”, but also in our Abraham-like doubts and sufferings which produce spiritual endurance, wise character and life-event tested hope which can never disappoint.

          It seems to me as I travel my spiritual path that having a hopeful character and being a hopeful character are what life lived with the fullness of God is all about.  When we view the whole of the biblical canon, and what it tells us about our evolving understanding of God’s love for us, we cannot help but be hopeful that the God who created the universe and all that is in it, will continue to create in our time and to intervene as necessary to create God’s preferred future for all of us believers.  When I read the whole of the Bible and look deeply at what is happening in both Testaments, I see again and again how the characters portrayed find a way to look beyond themselves to a greater power – to the fullness of God to meet their needs.  They rejoice when they are freed from Egyptian bondage, when they enter the Promised Land, when they have King David, when they return from Exile, when Jesus comes, and when the Holy Spirit is sent to guide and counsel.  There are some really bad times narrated in the Bible, don’t get me wrong, but even the 50 lament Psalms all have a bright spot in them – and sense that God will not stay turned away forever.  These hope-filled characters help us to put into perspective that which is happening in our own day and time.

          During Lent we studied the book, “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brenee Brown.  In it she describes her research on shame and how some folks are immune to it or more resilient than others when bad things occur in their lives.  In a chapter (Guidepost #3) entitled, “Cultivating a Resilient Spirit”, she notes that she found resilient people have five attributes in common.  They are: resourceful and good problem solvers, likely to seek help, believe that there is something they can do to manage their feelings and to cope, they have good social support, and they are well connected to family and friends.  Undergirding these resilient persons she found that they were hopeful – in fact they cultivated hope.  She found that hope is not an emotion, rather it is a mix of “…Tolerance for disappointment, determination, and a belief in self…” Thus, our lives and our spiritual foundation work together to make us into hopeful characters.

          This is the resilient hope that the Apostle Paul says we find in suffering for the sake of our belief in the Christ.  Our faith that we have been made right with God through the death and resurrection of Jesus, allows us to be hopeful that we will reach salvation (Paul’s “glory of God”).  Because of this hopeful worldview, we can then boast about suffering for our faith trusting that, “…suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love (aka grace) has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us….”           Thus, we can become hopeful characters because we know that disappointments and tough times have always ended, we can be determined to work as hard as we can spiritually to see the current tough times and discord in The United Methodist Church come to an end, and we can develop a strong belief in ourselves that trusts that God has gifted us for just such a time as this.  Our trust in the fullness of the Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) which is always working on our behalf, can lead us as a Body of Christ to overcome all obstacles.  It will neither be easy nor pain free over these next years – far from it.  However, when we have hope-filled character and live out of the fullness of the Trinity, then we become hopeful characters for God in a world that needs our reality-based hope.  Trust that God has gifted us all, has given us the fullness of the Almighty to work for us, and has promised us that one day all shall be well.  Let us trust in the grace of God which never disappoints – let us become hopeful characters as we labor together on God’s plan for us.  Amen and amen! KI�