Powers and Principalities
Duration:15 mins 34 secs

This morning we continue with our fall theme, “Treasures of Grace: Living the Reformation,” as we mark the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation. Each Sunday during this commemoration I will be lifting up a theme or theological ideal which grows from our Reformation roots as we remember that we are a people of grace, completely dependent upon God’s love for us. This grace is a treasure known in our history which inspires us, for we know that God is not finished with us, with the church, or with this world yet, so we earnestly seek to live the Reformation.

In some ways we are circling back this morning toward the beginning of the series. We began with the first sola, scripture alone, and then discussed God as Father and Creator and Jesus Christ as Lord. Today we complete the trinity with the Holy Spirit and Hope. And our scripture text is a single verse from Romans, chapter 15, verse 13. Let us hear this Word of God.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer.

Occasionally, when it seems to be the appropriate question, I will ask on a pastoral visit, “What are you praying for?” This often illuminates the state of someone’s spirit and helps me know how I might join them in prayer. This morning it seems to be the appropriate question. Yes, what are you praying for? I invite you to reflect, just for a moment, on some of your own prayers, particularly your hopes and dreams. What do you hope this afternoon will bring – that the projected rain will quench the thirst of a parched garden, perhaps that you will find time for a nap, or even a chance to see someone you’ve been missing? Yes, what is it that you hope for this afternoon?
Because we are all hoping for something. I once took the youth of First Presbyterian Church, Lumberton on a mission trip to New Orleans in the years after Hurricane Katrina. Each day we worked on a different project and on the last day I found myself at a day shelter for the homeless. It was a place where those who spent their days on the street might find shade in which to sit, a meal at mid-day, a doctor, a place to wash the clothes they wore, a telephone to make a call, and in the area I worked, a shower in which to bathe. There were eight showers and almost 100 names on a list waiting for their turn. Someone would finish, we’d quickly clean the stall and floor, and then call the next name. In those who responded I saw a hope that the water and soap would not only wash dirt from faces, hands, and feet, but a hope that the simple act of bathing might also wash away some of the pain and fear. Yes, there was hope in the eyes of those who heard their names called.

So, if I ask you the question again a bit more generally this time, I suspect that we are also hoping for something more than just a nap this afternoon. Perhaps it is healing from a disease that wracks your body or the body of someone you love. Perhaps it is a friend who will listen and break the silence of loneliness. Perhaps you hope that your children, no matter how old they are, might find joy and fulfillment in life. Perhaps you hope for comfort for those whose lives are disrupted by violence. Perhaps you hope for silence and time to think because life seems to be spinning out of control. Perhaps you hope for a paycheck because savings are rapidly dwindling. Perhaps you long for retirement so that you can have time to do what you really want to do. Maybe you hope that nothing will change because you like things exactly the way they are or maybe you hope that things can get back to the way they used to be. Perhaps you hope that your son or daughter will find their way back to church. Perhaps you hope for a flash of divine wisdom in the face of particularly difficult decisions. Yes, for what do you hope? What are you praying for?

These are important questions for, as we have seen time and time again in recent weeks, the world in which we live is so often marked by tragedy. And yet, my friends, I want to suggest to you this morning that in this tragic world we as Christians are given a great gift to carry. It is the gift of a very particular hope.

Thus we hear in our text for today a prayer from Paul: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Yes, Paul prays for hope. It is a particular hope that does not come naturally. It is a gift from the God of hope. It is a hope that fills us with all joy and peace in believing. It abounds and overflows from us into the lives of others. It comes with power from the Holy Spirit. Yes, that is the kind of prayer we need more of in this tragic world.

For the Holy Spirit is not just a part of God; the Holy Spirit is fully God. And thus, in the same way God the Father called creation into being with power, in the same way that God the Son healed and performed miracles with power, in the same way that God conquered death through the resurrection of Jesus Christ with power, the Holy Spirit brings that same power of creation, healing, and resurrection to you and to me. And that resurrection power is expressed here as “Hope.”

Thus Christian hope is so much more than optimism. It is so much more than positive thinking or a wish upon a star. Christian hope is a power, an assurance of resurrection. It is a confidence, an energy, a gift and presence of the Holy Spirit that changes our lives. Our theological ancestor John Calvin puts it this way:

Paul further adds, that ye may abound in hope; for in this way also is hope confirmed and increased in us. The words, through the power of the Holy Spirit, intimate that all things are the gifts of the divine bounty: and the word power is intended emphatically to set forth that wonderful energy, by which the Spirit works in us faith, hope, joy, and peace.

Yes, the Holy Spirit is at work in us with power, with that wonderful energy, that bursts forth in hope. That is why hope is so vital in the midst of a tragic world. It is not just the sense that everything is ok. Everything might be most definitely not ok. And yet, still the Holy Spirit is at work even in the darkest tragedies to point us to Christ, to draw us nearer to Christ, and thus to sustain us this day and each day.

That is why Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. could say this about hope: “If you lose hope, somehow you lose the vitality that keeps moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of it all.”

Yes, this Christian hope compels us to keep moving, to go on. On some days it might be easier for us to just accept things exactly as they are, to despair at the violence, division, and destruction we find in the world by throwing up our hands, silencing our prayers, and crawling back into bed. But the hope we carry, the wonderful energy of the Holy Spirit, the resurrection vitality that keeps us moving will not let us rest. Theologian Jurgen Moltmann once put it this way:

That is why faith, wherever it develops into hope, causes not rest but unrest, not patience but impatience. … Those who hope in Christ can no longer put up with reality as it is, but begin to suffer under it, to contradict it … for the good of the promised future stabs inexorably into the flesh of every unfulfilled present.

Yes, our Christian hope transforms the present. It changes how you and I act today. Our hope in Christ that life can and should be lived differently, leads us to actually begin to live differently. Let me say that again because if you remember nothing else today, I want you to remember this:

Our hope in Christ that life can and should be lived differently, leads us to actually begin to live differently.

That is why in a world full of tragedy and despair, we baptize children.
When I asked you what you were praying for, perhaps you remembered that in this very service we have pledged and prayed for young Myers at his baptism. As I laid my hands upon his head I prayed, “Defend, O Lord, your servant Myers with your heavenly grace, that he may continue yours forever, and daily increase in your Holy Spirit more and more, until he comes to your everlasting kingdom.” Together we begin to live differently as we seek to fulfill that prayer.

It is out of our Christian hope that we receive new members. When I asked you what you were praying for, perhaps you remembered that in this very service we have prayed together for Jones and Barbara as they became new members at Reid Memorial: “Together, may we live in your Spirit, and so love one another, that we may have the mind of Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom we give honor and glory forever.” Another prayer for the Holy Spirit, another prayer not just about today but about a future hope. A prayer that as we pray it changes the way in which we live and interact with one another today.

My friends, God is at work in this world. The Holy Spirit even today brings us resurrection power. In the midst of whatever it is that we are praying for today, may our prayers not just be empty words. May our prayers fill us with hope and stir us to action. As I once heard a wise and faithful saint say, “May our prayers have hands and feet.” And may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: