Scripture: Romans 4: 13-25
(My church is doing a mental health focus throughout the season of Lent. This was our scripture for Sunday, and the focus was on moving from despair to hope)
Romans 4: 18 “Hoping against hope, he had faith in the hope that he would become the father of many nations, in keeping with the promise God spoke to him”
This scripture tells the story of Abraham, and describes his ability to hope in God’s promises, even when all seemed impossible. God had promised Abraham descendants. Now 100 years old, Abraham knows his body, and his post-menopausal wife’s Sarah’s body, are beyond the conception of life. Yet, he didn’t despair. He didn’t hesitate with lack of faith. He remained fully convinced that God was able to do what he promised. Abraham trusted that somehow, someway, God would fulfill God’s promise. He hoped against hope.
As the story goes, God did keep the promise; Sarah gave birth to a son and named him Isaac. Hope took on arms and legs and a face and a name. God was faithful.
This is a great story of hope. What about those who struggle with infertility, though, and an “Issac” never comes? Are they not hoping enough? Are they not as faithful as Abraham? What about those who suffer under devastating diseases for which there is no cure? Are they not hoping against hope enough?
Perhaps such ponderings require a shift in the understanding of hope. Hope isn’t getting what we earnestly desire and long for. Hope is really trusting in God. Hope is the expectation that God will fulfill promises, even if we don’t see it in our lifetimes. Hope is expectation that God will be with us. Hope is faith in the midst of the unknown. Hope takes legs and arms and work and heart. Hope often looks like someone coming alongside of us in our pain, and helping us to keep going.
John Wesley, the founder of the people called Methodists, believed in the power of hope. He thought that hope could strengthen mind and body against even most inveterate condition, whether physical, psychological or spiritual. Wesley sought to offer hope in his book Primitive Physic for those suffering from chronic, intractable disease by offering home remedies for those without access to healthcare. He thought that hope offered a powerful aid to physical recovery and encouraged that all should engage in prayer for spiritual and emotional nourishment. In that spirit, he wrote a letter encouraging a friend to hope:
“Expect that God will do nothing but good both to your soul and body. Look up! Is health not at hand, both for soul and body? You have no business with fear. It is good for nothing. We are ‘saved by hope.’ You have every good reason to bless God for the continuance of your health, and expect from him every good thing.” Letter to Alexander Knox(1775)
Wesley came alongside a friend who was struggling to hope against hope, and exhorted him to hope again. Sometimes, God uses us as merchants of hope to someone desperately in need of such a good. We offer our arms and legs and arms and work and heart. . . and someone else feels encouraged that they can keep hoping on, even when all seems impossible.
Perhaps God is urging you to be a merchant of hope to someone today who is in despair and in desperate need. Perhaps God is sending a messenger to you to bring hope when you can’t find it yourself. Keep on hoping against hope.
( my thanks to my colleagues Bill Roth and Ray McKinnon for their sermons yesterday on this passage)
In the yoga class for this scripture, we did lots of backbends and inversions to stimulate hope in our bodies. We worked through a practice of handstand. Handstand always calls forth a gritty hope for me. Due to my own inveterate health condition, I’m not able to kick my legs into handstand on my own. I need an assist from another person, or in the case of the picture for this blogpost, a tree. Handstand embodies hope to me, not only because it naturally invigorates and refreshes, but because it means I must seek support outside of myself. This is the invitation of hope–it seeks community for support.
(pose directions taken from Yoga Journal, https://www.yogajournal.com/poses/handstand)
Handstand: Step-by-Step Instructions
Perform Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose) with your fingertips an inch or two away from a wall, hands shoulder-width. If your shoulders are tight, turn your index fingers out slightly; otherwise arrange them parallel to each other. If you’re uneasy about this pose, you’re not alone. To ready yourself for and secure yourself in this inversion, firm your shoulder blades against your back torso and pull them toward your tailbone. Then rotate your upper arms outward, to keep the shoulder blades broad, and hug your outer arms inward. Finally spread your palms and press the bases of the index fingers firmly against the floor.
Now bend one knee and step the foot in, closer to the wall (we’ll say it’s the left leg), but keep the other (i.e. right) leg active by extending through the heel. Then take a few practice hops before you try to launch yourself upside down. Sweep your right leg through a wide arc toward the wall and kick your left foot off the floor, immediately pushing through the heel to straighten the left knee. As both legs come off the ground, engage your deep core abdominal muscles to help lift your hips over your shoulders. Hop up and down like this several times, each time pushing off the floor a little higher. Exhale deeply each time you hop.
Hopping up and down like this may be all you can manage for now. Regularly practice strengthening poses, like Adho Mukha Svanasana and Plank Pose. Eventually you’ll be able to kick all the way into the pose. At first your heels may crash into the wall, but again with more practice you’ll be able to swing your heels up lightly to the wall.