The church where I work changed its name recently and is now officially known as Hope Presbyterian Church...and in this particular context (i.e. the blogosphere) I dare to add "of Spotsylvania, Virginia" given that Hope is a rather common moniker assumed by churches all across this fair land of ours. Fortunately no one has changed the locks and thus I've continued coming into the office day after day, using the phones and computers, and shooting hoops with the local riffraff that often assemble in the parking lot after school. We made t-shirts with the new name emblazoned on it and the web address printed across the back. This week my wife and I even painted what will become my office, since I'm being moved to make more room for the youth group. In light of these developments I believe there is reason to hope that my employment here will continue at least a little while longer. I'm fairly confident of that.
Hope, by definition, is accompanied by expectation and seasoned with confidence. When we lose hope, whether it is for something as trivial as the United States to win the World Cup or something serious as for a friend's recovery from a potentially terminal illness, we no longer expect much less have confidence that the desired outcome will actually occur. Thus attaching the name Hope to a church begs the following question: What is it that the people associated with that particular community desire and are in fact confidently expecting? I'm glad you asked.
1. First and foremost, we confidently expect to be people who are transformed by the good news of Jesus Christ. That good news is in the Bible and basically it goes like this: God is holy. People are not. God sent his son Jesus to make a way for those previous two statements to be reconciled to one another. This way requires us to do nothing more than receive the free gift of God's forgiveness and grace, by faith. There are a lot more details of course (the Bible is a fat book after all), but that's the good news in a nutshell. None of the following confident expectations are possible without it.
2. We confidently expect that God will continue even in the 21st century to speak to us through his word, the Bible. In the Bible, remember it's a fat book, God shows himself to us. We see him creating the world. Then we are witness to the first coming of his son, Jesus Christ who in turn sends the Holy Spirit. The Bible teaches us what is wrong and what is right. It demonstrates the ease with which we fall into the wrong as well as the impossibility of attaining the right apart from God's grace. We believe, we hope, we confidently expect that the Bible will continue to guide us still.
3. We confidently expect that God is at work within our midst. That's not to say that we think he is at work only within the confines of our little church building. Quite the contrary in fact. We confidently expect that God is at work in your midst too; in surrounding neighborhoods, schools and workplaces, neighboring counties, Maine, Haiti, Kenya...indeed the whole world in order to accomplish his purposes. Simply put, there's a plan.
4. Given that there is a plan, we confidently expect that we and you are part of it. That being the case we don't intend to sit quietly off of to the side of Leavells Road guarding our hope. We'll cross the road once in awhile to shower the elementary school with pencils, backpacks, and cookies. Some of us will play chess with the students. We'll continue lugging our toolboxes to the homes of widows. We'll always throw a little extra in the oven so we can give it away later. If you have trouble staying warm in winter we chop firewood like nobody's business. If you're from Kazakhstan and having trouble reading this we have people who can teach you English. We intend to initiate relationships with those around us, seeking ways in which we can be a blessing to others and being prepared to answer anyone who asks the reason for the hope that is in us. That reason would be number one above.
5. We confidently expect to be able to overcome our differences in light of what we hold in common. See...another not-so-veiled reference to number one above. Like any other group of people we have our less endearing characteristics. We argue over silly things, gossip, ignore, offend, and step on toes...sometimes literally. Sometimes we confuse politics for religion and vice versa. Our kids make too much mess and noise. Our senior citizens can be too crotchety. Those of us in middle age are too self-centered or preoccupied to care either way. We have people who speak and then occasionally put their feet in their mouths. Worse yet we have bloggers who must occasionally eat their words. (And sometimes the speaker and the blogger are the same person...so it gets complicated for him.) But it is all good so long as we constantly remind ourselves of the good news we hold in common and strive to be gracious and forgiving both of ourselves and of others.
6. We confidently expect that others will join us, thus we are preparing to welcome them even if they don't think exactly like we do or act quite the way we think they should.
There is a lot to unpack in these statements of confident expectation. There are some pretty harrowing presuppositions that may throw onlookers and casual observers for a loop. I intend, no...I confidently expect to address those down the road. Those are conversations worth having. But for now, I work at Hope Presbyterian Church (you know...the one in Spotsylvania County, Virginia) and this is what we desire and indeed hope for.