Hope, a transformative power

I gave this talk last week.  Sorry you couldn’t be there?  Guess what!  I’m gonna post up the whole thing for you to read.  Enjoy.  It was a short talk.

Today we’re going to talk to you about hope. I’m excited to talk about hope, because that means obviously I get to talk a lot about President Barack Obama, who is a very popular figure and an obvious inspiration to us. I’m just kidding folks, relax. [1]

No, specifically I want to talk about how we can gain hope in our lives, how do we get hope. But I also want to talk about how hope impacts our view of the world, how our perception of life changes when we are hopeful. 

How the World shapes our Hopes

I find it really interesting how our circumstances shape our hope: how we become hopeful people. We get hope from the world and from Christ. We all hear about scientific advancement, stories of sacrifice and bravery, and it gives me some hope that our world is becoming a better place. But the problem is that the world is probably not becoming a better place. Here’s an example:

A girl in Mississippi was born prematurely to an HIV-infected mother, who was not diagnosed with HIV until the time of delivery and who did not receive antiretroviral medication during pregnancy.  Because of the high risk of HIV exposure, the infant received liquid, triple-drug antiretroviral treatment within 30 hours of life. Within several days, testing confirmed that the baby had been infected with HIV. The baby was discharged from the hospital and continued on liquid antiretroviral therapy after two-weeks of age. After 18 months on treatment, the girl stopped treatment. Then weeks later, when she came in for a checkup, she showed no signs of the virus. This was heralded as a big advancement in HIV treatment and people were hopeful that infants with HIV might now have a path to overcoming the virus. 

But last week the virus was found to have replicated. A pediatric HIV specialist who treated the baby called the news “a punch to the gut.”

That is the way hope goes in the world. We can trust in science, we can trust in our institutions, we can trust in politics, but we all know that this is not a source of eternal hope. It will all pass away. The world is a place where hope is more than audacious; it is ridiculous. The world is full of good men and women, and wonderful things can happen in the world, but the arm of flesh is a false security. We cannot hope that the government will save us. We cannot hope that our home teachers will save us. We cannot even hope that we can save ourselves, despite everything we can do. This does not mean that we should give up on the world or that we should retreat to the hills with food storage and ammo; it just means that ultimately, a broken world cannot fix itself. Thanks, Obama. [2]

How Jesus Christ forms our Hopes

For Christians, hope means, ultimately, hope in Christ. The hope that he really is what we say he is. The hope that, despite the fact that sin and death still rule the world, he somehow conquered them. The hope that in him and through him all of us stand a chance of somehow conquering them too. The hope that at some unforeseeable time and in some unimaginable way he will return with healing in his wings. [3]

To the world, hope in Christ sounds really crazy. The story of Christ is folly – it must be a fiction. That Christ would rise from the dead is impossible – that he would raise us from the dead sounds like delusion. The notion that someone else could clean us of our sins is some mystical nonsense. Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” 

But it’s this ridiculousness that makes believing in Christ so valuable. Dostoyevsky wrote, “If anyone proved to me that Christ was outside the truth, and it really was so that the truth was outside Christ, then I would prefer to remain with Christ than with the truth.” [4]

We gain hope by believing patiently, by studying the words of Christ, and by the gift of the Spirit. As we work towards understanding God, we begin to feel the atonement acting within us, and this evidence gives fuel to our hope. Hope is belief in a world that does not yet exist. 

Noah is my favorite story of Christian hope, and I’m going to borrow heavily here from one of my favorite Christian authors. The corrupt world is flooded by God — Noah tried to preach to them, but he was mocked, cast out as a fool.  He weeps deep tears for his kindred that he knows will die. Humankind is almost destroyed, and Noah, the prophet that the world thought was crazy, now is a witness to the end of the earth. For weeks on end the survivors cling to the ark, tossed around in the sea.  “Then finally, after many days, Noah sent forth a dove from the ark to see if the waters had subsided from the earth, and that evening she returned, and lo, in her mouth was a freshly plucked olive leaf. The place to look, I think, is Noah’s face. The dove stands there with her delicate feet on his upturned palm, clasping a tiny sprig of an olive branch. Noah can feel the tiny panic of her heart. His eyes are closed and Noah cries. Only what he weeps with now is no longer anguish, but wild hope. 

That is not the end of the story in Genesis, but maybe that is the end of it for most of us-just a little sprig of hope held up against the end of the world.” [5]

This story is our story. We only have to look at the news to know that, left on our own, we are doomed. Yet we have hope. Noah was a type for the One who was to come, Jesus; the one who breaks through our hopelessness and whispers ever so gently in our ears that love still exists, it is possible and it is good. We can hope for a better world. Moroni says: 

wherefore, whoso believeth in God might with surety hope for a better world, yea, even a place at the right hand of God, which hope cometh of faith, maketh an anchor to the souls of men, which would make them sure and steadfast, always abounding in good works, being led to glorify God.

Hope Transforms Us as Individuals

Hope is not just a feeling of optimism – but optimism is a very powerful thing. A great man once said that the essence of optimism is “that it takes no account of the present, but it is a source of inspiration, of vitality and hope where others have resigned; it enables a man to hold his head high, to claim the future for himself and not to abandon it to his enemy.” [6] But hope is more than this. Hope is transformative; hope is more than an emotional product of our circumstances; hope is a philosopher’s stone that actually transforms the world around us.

My favorite legal scholar – and I know all of you have favorite legal scholars – is probably Louis Brandeis. I know! A controversial pick. Louis Brandeis is probably best known for his defenses of free speech, and is the man who helped form the notion of a right to privacy. He is famous for the saying that “sunlight is the best of disinfectants.” He was talking about the need for transparency in public institutions, but I believe that the brightest sunlight – that perfect brightness of hope in Christ – is truly the best disinfectant we can have in our lives. It can clean us when we are caught in destructive cycles. It can disinfect us of the poison that tells us, “you’re not good enough, and you never will be.” That brightness of hope can fill us and transform us completely. 

People who have hope can see beyond the short term failures that everybody faces. When our harvest is poor – and sooner or later, we know it is going to be poor — it is the hopeful man who lays up his grain to plant in the coming season, instead of eating it now and cursing God. Hope tells us that the fruits of the spirit will come from seeds we plant and nourish for years. Hope tells us that despite all evidence to the contrary, there is a chance we can be saved. Hope tells the addict that even a momentary lapse does not mean ultimate failure. Hope tells me as a sinner: I haven’t given up on you, so don’t give up on yourself. Hope tells us that even when we lose our battles, that Christ has already won the war.

Hope Transforms Us as a Community

Let me just get sidetracked a bit for a moment here. Some of you may recall a few weeks ago the big news story about how Facebook secretly performed social experiments on its users. It does hundreds of these experiments all the time, and while you should probably freak out about that, my point is not to freak you out about Facebook. This recently published study took a sample size of about 700,000 people (they have about 1.3 billion users), and changed what sorts of updates appeared in their news feed: some got emotionally negative stories, others emotionally positive stories. The title of the paper is ‘Experimental evidence of massive-scale emotional contagion through social networks’, and the point is this: emotions expressed by others influence our own emotions, and for example in social networks this can result in massive-scale contagion via social networks.

The point is this: if hope in Christ can shape an individual and their outlook on the world, it can spread to others. If we’re lucky enough, we all have someone in our lives with a contagious smile, with that sort of personality that brings light into your life. It is fun to hang around others who love life. This is the core of missionary work, but there is enormous potential here. We can cause massive-scale contagion of hope in our social networks and our communities. This is the ultimate potential of what Christ hints at when he says that the kingdom of heaven is like that little bit of yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened. It is hope that takes the small stone rolling down the hill and causes it to fill the whole earth.

—————————————-

[1] This one bombed.  But beforehand I introduced our family and told a pretty good lawyer joke.  All in all, a wash.

[2] I didn’t say this one b/c of [1] above.

[3] If stealing from Buechner is a crime, lock me up!

[4] I don’t actually think that this quote has much to do with the topic at hand, but everybody loves Dostoevsky.

[5] From “A Sprig of Hope”.

[6] Bonhoeffer.

Comments

  1. I really like this, Steve. Thanks for posting it. Sorry about the Obama joke bombing. Because I thought the second one was nicely placed.

  2. I thought that an Obama joke would be easy pickings, but nooooooo. But the lawyer jokes went over well.

  3. Steve, talks on hope:Obama :: Blue Oyster Cult:cowbell. You can never have enough. My recommendation would be to end the talk with this conclusion: “and so brothers and sisters, we see that the hope of Christ is available to all, yes, even to Obama.”

  4. It’s a nice talk. I really like this line: “Hope tells us that even when we lose our battles, that Christ has already won the war.” I needed to hear that today. Thank you.

  5. Really great sermon. Thanks for sharing it.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    Fantastic talk! (But you forgot to talk about the giant stone Watchers…)

    And fwiw, I enjoyed your Obama jokes…

  7. Kev, get yourself a copy of the Noah graphic novel that predates the movie (and was its basis). Truly remarkable.

  8. Good stuff. I needed it, too. Thanks for sharing.

  9. Great talk. I once opened the gospel doctrine D&C lesson on the law of consecration with the line “Today we are going to talk about the law of consecration or why Joseph Smith would have voted for Obama.” I was released a few weeks later.

  10. Classic!

  11. I’m just wondering how you managed to get ” liquid, triple-drug antiretroviral treatment” to roll off your tongue without a glitch.

  12. Same way I got to Carnegie Hall, Mark. The Q train.

  13. The Obama joke probably came from the wrong source. If an obvious conservative in the ward made that joke with the appropriate eye roll, it would have gotten a few guffaws. But I assume people are aware of your leanings and felt that you are a big proponent of Obamahope.

  14. DQ, you know what happens when you assume. In your case, it turns out that you are mistaken on multiple levels.

  15. Steve, you had me at “short talk.”

  16. Jason K. says:

    Nice work here, Steve. Your next talk-giving goals should involve 1) working in a Dwight Eisenhower joke (stealing from Woody Allen ok), and 2) leaving the low-hanging Dostoevsky fruit and quoting Notes from Underground, especially the first section.

  17. Excellent talk, Steve. It’s quite easy to have hope when life seems to conform to a formula – or even just a pattern. It’s when the formula breaks or the pattern shatters that hope is the most powerful – and, in some cases, stunning.

    DQ, thanks for the laugh. It’s so hard sometimes to understand people from just words on a screen and incorrect assumptions.

  18. Jason, I hate to admit it, but I’ve never read Notes from Underground (I know!).

  19. J. Stapley says:

    Solid sermon, Steve. Moving and fun. Thank you.

  20. You have given me ‘hope’ that there really can be interesting, thought provoking sac mtng talks.

    Off topic, but my ideal Sunday would be to hear one of Steve Evans’ talks during sac mtng, then off to Kevin Barney’s SS lesson and top it off with Kristine’s RS lesson, which I’m sure would include some form of choral music. Maybe during the “passing period”–what exactly is everyone passing?do I want to know?–I can sit in on Rebecca J’s primary lesson. Sounds heavenly!

  21. KC, sounds like that ward would be a heavy hitter in the Fantasy Ward Sports League. I’d love to draft ward members. I may be on to something here….

    PS loved the talk, Steve. The last few years my hope of a brighter day has grown stronger. Hope is my favorite.

  22. Thanks guys!

  23. I still think you should have gone with the talk on the evils of rock music.

  24. KC,

    That would be the biggest ward in the church, if we got to choose. :-)

  25. Beautiful, Steve!

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