About twelve years ago in a large dark crawl space under the Sanctuary in the old church building that we were renting in downtown Denver, I think I evangelized the undead dead.
I know that’s weird, and you may think I’m a freak, but I’ll tell you anyway. It was the third time it had happened in the span of a few weeks. This day my wife had heard weeping through a crawl space door, and when we entered, she saw figures cowering in the darkness. They weren’t demons. They were ghosts (“ob” in Hebrew, “phantasma” in New Testament Greek). I believe that they were souls that hadn’t surrendered to the Word.
I prayed that Jesus would reveal himself, and my wife saw him appear with an open door behind him leading to what she described as a new creation. She said to me, “Peter they won’t look up.” And so, I simply told them about Jesus. “He loves you. He forgives you. He likes you. You can trust him. Look, he makes all things new.” Susan began whispering in my ear, “Some look up, and, when they do, they rise and go to him, transformed by him, and they go through that door.”
So, what made them look up? It was hope—hope in Jesus, the name means “God is Salvation.” “In this hope we are saved (Romans 8:24).”
But some didn’t look up. Why wouldn’t they look up? I bet it was “Me-sus.” It was shame. It was a lie that they had to save themselves.
You can’t help people hope in “God is Salvation,” by threatening that he might not be salvation, particularly when we all need to be saved from ourselves.
The last thing Susan heard the Lord say that day was, “I’m leaving this door here for those that will still come.”
I used to remember that as I’d preach directly over that very spot on Sunday mornings and it felt like the message went nowhere, but would just drop—like a seed—into the ground. I believe that one day they will all stand, and enter, for God is able to make them stand (Romans 15:4). “Every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will confess to God (Romans 15:11).”
Death can bring us to our knees, but only Hope will make us lift our heads, stand, and pass through that door. I can’t save anyone, but maybe our Father in heaven would let me, and let you, plant the Seed.
In Romans 15:4-21, Paul tells the Romans that all Scripture was written that “we might have hope.” And then Paul plants “seeds of hope.” He recites five texts from the Old Testament, all inspiring hope. As he puts it, “So that you may abound in Hope.”
I compiled some more and passed them out during our service. You don’t have to defend them, explain them, or even comprehend them, just dare to believe them and so plant them. Like we learned last week, the word can work all on its own; It (actually He) is a seed.
I hope that you would hope and plant seeds of Hope. But don’t be surprised when people get angry; the proclamation of Jesus is the death of Me-sus. And don’t get discouraged when you discover where the Seed grows.
In Romans 15:22-32, Paul talks about his hopes. He hopes to visit the Romans “in passing” on his way to Spain. He hopes to bless the church in Jerusalem with an offering from churches throughout the empire. And he asks the Romans for prayers that he would be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea.
From the book of Acts we know that upon arrival in Judea, Paul was arrested by unbelievers and imprisoned for two years before he was sent to Rome in chains. Most Scholars seem to think he never did make it to Spain and are fairly certain that he was beheaded in Rome in 64 AD, six years before the Jerusalem that he longed to bless was utterly obliterated by Roman legions.
So, did Paul hope too much, or for the wrong things? Did his hope put him to shame?
Maybe you hoped, and were disappointed in hope? Did you hope too much? Did you hope for the wrong things? Did your hopes put you to shame?
Romans 5:5 “Hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts.”
“Love… hopes all things.” wrote Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:7.
How could you hope for the wrong thing when “Love hopes all things?”
Evil things are simply no “things” disguised as something.
“All things are yours. You are Christ’s and Christ is God’s,” wrote Paul in 1 Corinthians 3:21.
All things are yours, but perhaps you can’t enjoy all things until you’ve learned to hope all things.
Romans 8:24 “In this hope we’re saved… But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.” If we don’t wait with patience, perhaps we’re not hoping… just craving and coveting.
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a coming desire is a tree of life.” Sin is hope deferred . . . by us; Grace is a coming desire.
The Sheep that leaves the Shepard to find the grass is “wanton.”
The Sheep that follows the Shepard does not “want.”
And yet that sheep hopes in the Shepard for grass and all good things.
Hope is surrendered desire, but it’s still desire; it’s a desire so big and so beautiful that you know that you, yourself, cannot fulfill it. If you think you can fulfill it, you’re not hoping all things, or even hoping at all; you’ve crucified hope. . . but Hope is a Seed.
Paul probably didn’t make it to Spain, but today you’ll find him in Spain . . . everywhere. And Paul was rejected by that old Jerusalem, but now he is the New Jerusalem. And Paul has been delivered from unbelievers, for Christ in Paul has delivered unbelievers from themselves. Paul’s hopes were never too big and always too small.
My hopes are never too big and always to small—I seize control of love, and so can no longer enjoy love; I’ve crucified Love. And it’s Love that hopes all things. And all I could truly hope for is Love.
It’s the greatest of desires, that most tempt us to crucify hope, and so give in to despair. So, hope grows from a seed; it often hurts when it grows; hope is space for grace, space for all things filled with love.
Hope is faith for the distance from our house to the Magic Kingdom (Watch the video!) Hope is faith for the distance from all our broken relationships to the ecstatic communion that is the kingdom of God. Hope is faith for the distance from your “Old Man” to your “New Man;” it’s courage to lose yourself that you might find yourself and thoroughly enjoy yourself . . . and everyone else.
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for (Hebrews 11:1),” and we all hope for Love and God is Love. Hope is the Seed of Love creating space for the Kingdom of Love. The Hope of Jesus grows in the death of Me-sus, the soil of our sufferings. Hope deferred is Me-sus; hope fulfilled is Me-sus filled with Jesus and “all things” experienced with “all joy (Romans 15:13),” Eternal Life.
The shadows in the darkness are not the only undead dead. According to Paul, we’re all the undead dead, until we die with Christ, rise with Christ, stand up and start walking toward the door—and we will.
“How great among the gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, Christ in you, the hope of Glory (Colossians 1:27).” There was Seed in that fruit that we took from the tree, and there is Seed in every word offered in Love. Perhaps it’s sprouting right now?
Zechariahs 9:12, “Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope!”