Romans 5: 1 – 5_A Living Hope_May 17, 2020

Please enjoy Pastor Elva’s message this week:

Here are the words:

A Living Hope

Romans 5: 1 – 5


(preached May 17, 2020)


A little more than two months have gone by since we gathered, in person, for worship.  We suspended our services to help stop the spread of the corona virus.  Now it seems to be slowing down. We’re beginning to think about how we might come together again.  Cautiously, we’re considering steps we can take, like staying six feet apart and wearing masks, things that will keep us safe as we gather.  We’re praying for God’s guidance.  We’re hoping for the best.


Hope has a special meaning for us as followers of Jesus.  We see that in the apostle Paul’s message in our passage for today from Romans.  Paul never knew the man Jesus.  But one day, when he was on the road, Paul encountered the risen Christ in a brilliant flash of light.  From that moment on, Paul was convinced that Christ was alive and at work in the world.  He was convinced that in Christ, God would empower believers to be Christ’s body on earth.


The Christians in Rome were going through hard times.  They were suffering.  Here Paul tells them, and us, that we will suffer at times, but that suffering will strengthen our character.  We will endure suffering, but our endurance will produce hope, a hope that will not disappoint us.  That hope springs from the love God pours into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.


Paul could testify boldly in that hostile city because he had a living hope, hope in God’s life-giving power.  He could go on spreading the good news, even while suffering, in spite of impossible odds, because he had hope.  His hope was rooted: not in human capabilities, but in the life-giving power of God.


That living hope continues to empower the church today.  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.  Few people would make the claim that hope is not a helpful thing.  But too often hope is confused 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.  Hope, though, is a gift from God.  The power of hope springs from the life-giving power of God.  Hope is grounded in a God who knows no limits.


Pastor Jim Brasel sheds some light on the difference between optimism and hope.  He uses the analogy of a deck of cards.  He writes, “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 who empties tombs and raises us to new life].”


Still it often seems that people prefer those limited cards of optimism.  Instead of hope, people stress “positive thinking.”  Positive thinking says that, with certain attitudes, we can create good things.  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, optimism doesn’t get us very far.  When we find we can’t create the degree of positive thinking we’re 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.


A few years back, American author Barbara Ehrenreich wrote a book about positive thinking. The book has a long title: it’s called Bright Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. The book tells about Ehrenreich’s experience after everything came crashing down around her.  In the year 2001, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.  She was in the depths of despair.  But she was continually told “to be positive… [She writes,] The unrelenting message was that you had to be cheerful and accepting 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.”


Her breast cancer was successfully treated. Ehrenreivh got better.  But over the next few years, she continued to encounter the same smiling insistence that a positive outlook was the solution to every problem.  She became convinced 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 notes, 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 that positive thinking can be a spiritual problem.  Positive thinking closes us off to God’s work.  Positive thinking and optimism both 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, after all our efforts, the glass is still empty, optimism says it must be our fault because we didn’t think hard enough.


Over the last couple of months, we’ve been through very hard times.  There may be more hard times ahead.  When times are tough, we have a choice to make.  We can settle for optimism and positive thinking.  Or we can open our hearts to hope.  We can allow ourselves to hope deeply: not only in human capabilities, but also in the life-giving power of God.  We can live with optimism, that begins and ends with us, or we can live with hope, hope without limits, hope that springs in our hearts through the love of God.


It wasn’t optimism that gave Paul the strength to spread the good news of God’s love in a hostile city.  It wasn’t optimism; it was a living hope, hope in the life-giving power of God.  It wasn’t positive thinking – that would have left him high and dry.  What gave him strength was hope, hope that the God who had raised Jesus from the dead would also raise us to new heights, hope in the new life God intends for all of us.  In the days to come, may we also open ourselves to that hope.











Rev. Elva Merry Pawle                                                                                                   Easter 6



This week’s piano music is here:

And the lyrics are here:

“Be Thou My Vision”

Eleanor Hull/Carlton Young


Be thou my vision, O lord of my heart:

naught be all else to me, save that thou art

thou my best thought by day or by night,

waking or sleeping, thy presence my light.


Be thou my wisdom, and thou my true word;

I ever with thee and thou with me, Lord;

thou my redeemer, my love thou hast won,

thou in me dwelling, and I with thee one.


Riches I heed not, nor vain empty praise,

thou mine inheritance, now and always;

thou and thou only, first in my heart,

Great God of heaven, my treasure thou art.


Great God of heaven, my victory won,

may I reach heaven’s joys, O bright heaven’s Sun!

Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,

still be my vision, O Ruler of all.


This week’s organ music is here:

And the lyrics are here:


The Gift of Love

   Hal Hopson



Though I may speak with bravest fire,

and have the gift to all inspire,

and have not love, my words are vain,

as sounding brass, and hopeless gain.


Though I may give all I possess,

and striving so my love profess,

but not be given by love within,

the profit soon turns strangely thin.


Come, Spirit, come, our hearts control,

our spirits long to be made whole.

Let inward love guide every deed;

by this we worship, and are freed.