I Peter 1: 3 – 9 Acts 5: 12 – 32 Don’t Hesitate to Hope     April 24, 2022

Don’t Hesitate to Hope


I Peter 1: 3 – 9

Acts 5: 12 – 32


(preached on April 24, 2022)


The book of Acts, or, to use its full name, Acts of the Apostles, is the story of the early church.  One of its main characters is Peter.  Peter and his partners in ministry had been disciples of Jesus.  A disciple is a student, someone who learns from a master and follows the master’s teachings.  But after the disciples witness Jesus’ resurrection, they become apostles. An apostle is someone who is sent, who goes on a mission, who spreads the word.


Against incredible odds, Peter and the other apostles succeed in spreading the good news of Jesus’ resurrection.  In the face of harassment, persecution, and prison, they succeed.  They were empowered by Jesus.  They felt his presence with them in a mysterious and wonderful way.  When Jesus appeared to them, his presence set them on fire.  As the years went by, they continued to feel his presence among them, giving them strength and courage and, most of all, what Peter calls “a living hope.”  Jesus remains among us today, in the church, his body in the world.  Many Christians believe in the resurrection simply because of the fact that the church has existed for more than two thousand years.


In the book of Acts, the apostles encounter great obstacles.  But they are inspired by the unfailing conviction that the risen Christ is alive among them.  They are inspired by the unfailing conviction that Jesus has conquered death and will empower the church to be his body on earth.  At first they didn’t call it the church.  In our passage from Acts for today, even the angels don’t have a name for the movement the apostles had started.  They instruct Peter and the others to “Go to the Temple and…tell the people everything there is to say about this new life.”  This new life is the life they have found in Jesus Christ:  the life that blazes forth in the lives of those who believe in him.


The angels were speaking to the apostles in a prison cell.  The apostles had been locked up by the Temple authorities.  They had been preaching and healing, literally, on the doorstep of the Temple.  It’s no surprise that the high priest and the other clergy would see this movement as a direct threat to their authority.  It’s no surprise that they’re afraid that this new movement will tear apart the very fabric of their religion.  So they throw the apostles in prison.  But prison doors are no obstacle for the God who raised Jesus from the dead.  Angels come and set the apostles free.


When Peter is brought before the high priest, he says, “The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, …[and] exalted him at his right hand.”  A statement like that could get Peter locked up for good, but he could testify fearlessly because he had a living hope: hope in God’s resurrection power.  He and the other apostles could go on, in the face of incredible odds, because they had hope, hope that sprang from the empty tomb, hope that was rooted: not in human purposes, but in the resurrection power of God.

The church lives on today because of that living hope.  The church continues to spread that hope all over the world.  Of course you don’t have to go to church to hear about hope.  There’s lots of talk about hope today.  People generally agree that hope is a helpful thing.  But it seems to me that too often today people confuse hope with optimism, and there is a difference.  Hope and optimism are not the same thing.  Optimism is a human invention.  The power of optimism begins and ends with human capabilities.  But hope is a gift from God.  The power of hope is rooted in the resurrection power of God.  Hope is grounded in a God who knows no limits.


Pastor Jim Brasel talks about the difference between optimism and hope.  He uses the analogy of a deck of cards.  He says, “Optimism plays the cards in a known and limited deck, but hope believes there are still more cards to be dealt, cards we have not yet seen or understood.  As followers of Jesus, we hope because [we know a God of resurrection power, a God who empties tombs and raises us to new life].”


Many people today, though, seem to prefer those limited cards of optimism.  Optimism can lead to something called “positive thinking.”  Positive thinking says that, by having certain attitudes, we can create the perfect life, or get the perfect job, or even cure cancer.  But positive thinking, like optimism, is limited.  It begins and ends with human capabilities.  When we find ourselves in a really horrible situation, positive thinking doesn’t get us very far.  When we find we can’t produce the degree of positive thinking we are told is needed, we’re left with a sense of failure…positive thinking makes it all about us!  It leaves God out of the picture.


Some years back, American author Barbara Ehrenreich wrote a book about positive thinking.  The book is entitled Bright Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.  The book describes Ehrenreich’s experience after everything came crashing down around her when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Even though she was in the depths of despair, people urged her to be positive.  She writes, “The unrelenting message was that you had to be cheerful and that you would not recover unless you were.” She adds that she was once given the infuriating advice to “consider her cancer as a gift.”


Ehrenreich’s breast cancer was successfully treated, but, over the next few years, she continued to encounter the same smiling insistence that a positive outlook itself was the solution to problems.  She became convinced that this smiling insistence is eroding our spiritual health as Americans.  Ehrenreich describes what she calls “an epidemic of forced cheerfulness” that is sweeping the country.  Over and over again, she says, the culture tells you to surround yourself with other positive thinkers and “get rid of negative people.”


To me, some of Ehrenreich’s arguments are a little over the top, but I do agree with her point that positive thinking can be close to denial, to putting our heads in the sand.  We see something like that in a mayor who was trying to put a positive spin on the troubled economy in his city.  When a reporter asked how the recession was affecting the city, he replied, “We don’t have a recession here, but I do admit that we’re having the worst boom in many years.”


Both positive thinking and optimism say that overcoming obstacles is simply a matter of making up our minds; that it’s all about us.  When life gives us lemons, it’s up to us to squeeze and squeeze that awful situation for a drop of lemonade.  And when, in spite of all our efforts, the glass is still empty, optimism says it must be our fault because we didn’t think hard enough.


You and I go through tough times sometimes.  We may not be thrown in prison as those apostles were, but we do go through tough times.  When times are tough and everything seems to be crashing down around us, we have a choice to make.  We can settle for optimism, a human invention, based on probability and chance.  Or we can open ourselves to God’s gift of hope.  We can allow ourselves to hope deeply, not in human purposes, but in the purposes of God.


It wasn’t optimism that gave Peter the strength to confront the high priests – it was a living hope, hope in the gracious purposes of God.  It wasn’t positive thinking – that would have left him high and dry as he sat in his prison cell.  What gave him strength was hope, hope that the God who had raised Jesus from the dead would also raise him to new heights, hope in the new life God intends for all of us.


Those first apostles, and you and I, can get through tough times because we are blessed with a living hope, hope in God’s resurrection power.  When it seems like everything is crashing down around us, we can go on.  We can look to the living hope that is ours as followers of Jesus Christ: hope that springs from the empty tomb, hope that is rooted: not in human purposes, but in the resurrection power of God.






Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Easter 2