The current state of the world is deeply saddening. The atrocities that go on are horrendous – not just people towards each other, but even to the planet. At any given moment, just take a look at the headlines on the BBC; it feels like we are watching a crazy horror movie. But this is no movie; this is our world, the world we live in, and too often the Media report that we are in a state of hopelessness.
Week after week, we watch news reports on the biggest issues the 21st Century is likely to face: from war, conflict and discrimination, to inequality, poverty, gender violence, human trafficking and climate change. Remaining hopeful, in spite of all this, feels like an insurmountable task. As individuals, we may think we can’t change the state of the world but, with the help of God and through a revelation of Christ, we can bring about a positive change in our own lives. Furthermore, as church communities, we can seek to lead a more peaceful, spiritual life, and together believe we can change the state of the world. But is that enough? What will big change require? And how exactly does the world see the Church at work?
Well, I don’t have all the answers, but I think one of the things we need is a greater degree of hope. I am not talking about a wishy-washy hope that is wrapped in a fuzzy wish; I mean a hope that is firm and secure, in a God-given promise. Jim Wallis calls it a “more foundational and spiritual understanding of hope that is rooted in our identity as the children of God, made in the image of God, as the only thing that will see us through tough times like this”. And perhaps the most important thing the world needs from the faith community today is hope.
Hebrews 11:1 says “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” It is a well-worn text, paraphrased as, “Hope means believing in spite of the evidence, and then watching the evidence change.” Hope is what the people of God need to provide, and the most important thing that every movement for change needs. In the Church’s work for justice, we need to wrestle with this question: Where and how is this hope to be found? And how do we demonstrate hope in practice?
Let me give you a concrete example in my context of work overseas. In Kenya, my organisation supports an integrated community health programme that reaches 344,000 women and men. We work with local partners to improve access to quality maternal and child-health services; we encourage the use of health and nutrition services, and we advocate for increased government investment in rural healthcare provision. By working with faith and traditional leaders, we are also addressing the underlying social and cultural norms that prevent women and adolescent girls from accessing maternal health services, and that discourage men from a more significant role in childcare. Outcomes within the first year included: an increase in skilled deliveries; an increase in new family planning uptake among women of reproductive age, and successful integration with the national campaign on zero maternal deaths.
Our vision and hope is to safeguard life. This progress is real, and it can be documented in the lives saved. And yet we come together today, knowing that our work is far from complete, but we have hope!
The hope is not just for us, but for the whole of humanity. I think hope is synonymous with the message of Easter, in the way that Easter celebrates not only the resurrection of one Man, but the resurrection of the whole human race. Jesus became the new generation of humanity and, by proclaiming His resurrection now (not at the end of time), we are inviting people everywhere to join Him in a new birth, as part of a new humanity, celebrating a new covenant, to walk ‘in newness of life’. We are saying, “You don’t have to wait for some distant future to start practising kindness, non-violence, reconciliation, reverence, joy, hope, neighbourliness and peace. You can leave the old humanity behind and start practising this new humanity now.” We can live out that hope today!
It’s worth noting that Paul may have left us with the best example of hope in Romans chapter 8: “For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience,” because “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31). If God is on your side, how sure is that hope! Whether you hope for an individual prayer or a collective crisis, hope is carried through the people who believe and live out the belief through their actions.
We are the messengers of good news in both action and deed, so this Easter, remember to celebrate hope, because that’s the reason we press toward the mark of a higher calling.
Happy Easter to all!