Most of you know that I'm a "word nerd". When I study the scriptures, I love analyzing the Hebrew of the Old Testament or the Koine Greek of the New Testament. These ancient languages help us move toward a better understanding of the meanings of the biblicals texts--how they might've been said and in what historical context they were used. Through the years I've stumbled across Greek words like "splangnizomai" (deep seated pity, bowel-centered compassion) from Luke 10 and Hebrew words like "hesed" (God's lovingkindness) from Micah 6; these words bring light and life to the preacher and the layperson! Original language study informs the way we pastors prepare sermons--it's a kind and careful way to look intently into the word that truly gives life (James 1:25) in order that pastors and congregations alike might be challenged to live like Jesus and his ethic of Kingdome love.
The Greek word for "hope" is "elpis". Interestingly, Greek mythology teaches us a lot about this word; after all, Elpis was a Greek goddess who was captured by Zeus. Listen to her story, told from https://www.theoi.com/Daimon/Elpis.html:
ELPIS was the personified spirit (daimona) of hope. She and the other [spirits] were trapped in a jar by Zeus and entrusted to the care of the first woman Pandora. When she opened the vessel all of the spirits escaped except for Elpis (Hope) who remained behind to comfort mankind. Elpis was depicted as a young woman carrying flowers in her arms. Her opposite number was Moros, the spirit of hopelessness and doom.
I share this story with you because, though the Koine Greek word "elpis" is our word for "hope" in our New Testaments scriptures, originally the word stood for this Greek Goddess, someone who decisively remained behind in order to bring comfort and compassion to mankind. In pictures you can see her holding a cornucopia of flowers, representing optimism and faith-filled expectation.
Though we don't put our faith and trust in Greek mythology, there is something to be gained about finding Jesus in her example. When the New Testament writers speak of hope they speak of the strong expectation that God is actively at work to bring his word to completion. We find this hope in the opening chapter of Paul's letter to the Philippian church: "...being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Phil. 1:6). What God has said, he will do (Isa. 55). Nothing God says will come back to him empty; he will accomplish what he set out to do. And what did God say? God said everything in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. God said that he came to bring a Kingdom of healing and restoration and yes, hope, to those not only who had lost their way but also to those who were left out, excluded, and treated unfairly. God promised in Christ that he would be with his people always, even to the end of the age. God promised in Christ that those who put faith in God through Jesus would have eternal life. And God promised in Christ that those who receive the Holy Spirit are now enabled to share the good message about God's Kingdom with the world. God's patience has yielded more time for the body of Christ to trust in the Lord, put away selfishness and learn to listen to one another lovingly and honestly. God has given his people more time to look intently into the scriptures that bring true life, life that is not just for the elite or the well-to-do or the appropriately cultured, but life for any and all. There is hope that the work we are called to accomplish in Christ is still in progress; much work still needs to be done so that all nations might receive the teaching of Jesus, be baptized in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Like the Greek Goddess, hope doesn't just sit around and wait for God to act; hope is active, it brings comfort and compassion to those who suffer and believes that God's best is yet to come. It follows that an inactive hope is no hope at all--yet, an active hope brings its companions, faith and love (1 Cor. 13:13), to every conversation and to every relationship.
This, too, is our call, whether or not we are suffering a COVID-19 pandemic or attempting to address the cruelty of bigotry and racism in our communities. We are called to hope--actively!
- Active hope brings comfort to those around it, seeking to desire God's best over self: ("Do nothing out of selfish ambition, but consider others better than yourselves" [Phil 2:3]).
- Active hope remains optimistic, regardless of the dark shadows that the Enemy tempts us to think will always remain: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose" (Rom. 8:28).
- Active hope yearns for the opportunities to listen carefully, honestly and patiently with opposing viewpoints, seeking unity above all else, knowing that the goal of the cross is to reconcile the entire world to God in Christ: "Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all." (Eph. 4:1-3).
- Active hope keeps the end-goal in sight, knowing that sacrificing and suffering for others is what the humble race of loving ministry is all about, looking forward to the day when we will all join God in the homes in heaven the Lord has prepared for those who love him: "So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal" (2 Cor. 4:18).
- Active hope learns from its past but doesn't dwell on the negative of its past; instead, hope seeks to share these valuable lessons in order that others might find refuge and strength in difficult days: "But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize of God’s heavenly calling in Christ Jesus..." (Phil. 3:13b-14).
So, perhaps Elpis, the Greek Goddess, does have something to teach us after, especially since we find so much of the ethic of Jesus in her mythical "existence". We, too, must live lives of hope, more than ever before, in order that people know that our hope is dynamic and active. We must hope that reconciliation will take place with people at war with one another over religion or politics or race; we must actively hope by listening longer, more intently, more humbly. We must listen all the way. We must actively engage one another in ways to lovingly keep one another safe during this pandemic: wearing masks, maintaining 6 feet or more of distance, and caring for those over 65 years of age alongside those with underlying health conditions. After all, God desires that we look after the widow, the orphan and the elderly. In order for us to love one another well, we must provide the healthiest environments for our most vulnerable and seek one another's best at all times. We must find hope in prayer, in Bible study, in safe outdoor meetings, in Zoom conference calls or in Facebook livestream services and in phone calls, texts and cards/letters. And we must never lose hope that God always keeps his word. For, in Christ, all the promises of God are factual and trustworthy! This means that, like the writer of Hebrews reminds us, we serve a Savior who isn't ever going to leave us alone! "For God has said: 'I will never leave you, and I will never forsake you'" (Heb. 13:5).
With that in mind, dear friends: "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful" (Heb. 10:23).
And all God's people of "active hope" said?
Amen and amen!
Seeking to live hope actively with you and all people,
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