February 24, 2018

Speaking of Hope

Luke and Acts are thought to have been written primarily for a Gentile audience. This means that from the very beginning, Luke has a challenge. How does one “set down an orderly account of the events that have been fulfilled among us” when the listening audience does not share a common language of hope and fulfillment? For a Jewish audience, the question, “What are we waiting for?” would have had a fairly clear answer, even if individuals and groups would have argued (and certainly did) over what shape the Messiah’s coming would take.

For a Gentile audience, the question of “What are we waiting for?” is a much tougher one. So Luke starts with hope. For a people who have not imbibed the promises of the Hebrew Scriptures with their mothers’ milk, Luke lays out a number of interlocking statements of hope. In a few chapters, the gospel introduces a whole new people to centuries of shared history and commitment and faithfulness – on the part of both God and the people.

Luke travels from faithful person to faithful person, posing the question of hope and reporting the answers. Elizabeth hopes to regain her place in a community that has rejected her for her infertility. Zechariah retells the story of God’s faithfulness through the ages and speaks to God’s tender mercy, the dawn from on high, the way of peace. Mary boldly imagines the hungry filled with good things and the powerful cast down from their thrones. The shepherds venture out from the fields to see the Messiah who has been promised to them. Simeon expresses the hope of a salvation big enough for Gentile and Jew alike. John the Baptist quotes Isaiah, imagining a landscape of welcome and ease for the traveler on life’s road. And finally Jesus answers Satan with a series of words of hope and resilience from Scripture and opens his public ministry with the hope of the poor, the captives, the blind and the oppressed.

The church today is not so unlike Luke’s audience. As we invite new neighbors and speak to new people, we are less and less able to presume a common vocabulary of faith or a common set of agreed-upon hopes. And yet all of us live in hope. Hope is what makes the human condition survivable. We are once again called out into a world of diverse hopes and dreams and invited to share the hope that we have been given, rooted in ancient stories and promises well kept. We are invited to offer our words of hope, our testimonies. And we are reminded that our mission is not to teach others to parrot our hope, but rather to invite the hopes and dreams of our neighbors to take root in the fertile soil of the gospel. As churches, we are meant to be the space and the communities where that rooting can happen. Being good news is about solidifying others’ hope and hoping alongside them, inviting one another into a diversity of ancestral stories in which God has loved and been faithful to God’s people.

This blog is part of a series for the Good Book Club. Learn more about the Good Book Club here.