Sabbath Day Thoughts — “Living Hope” 1 Peter 1:3-9
On Monday of this past week, President Biden signed a bill putting an end to our National State of Emergency in response to COVID-19. The US Department of Health and Human Services had already determined that their pandemic public health emergency would end in just a few weeks on May 11. Restrictions are easing. Perhaps you didn’t need your mask this week at the hospital. My doctor’s office sent me a letter stating that before I have a colonoscopy in August, I won’t need to take a COVID test. As we emerge from the shadow of the pandemic, we are learning that these past three years have not only been hard on our health, with more than 104 million reported cases of COVID-19, they have also been hard on our hope.
We all need hope. It’s the expectation that we’ll have positive experiences or the confidence that a threatening or negative situation won’t materialize, or if it does, it will ultimately resolve in a good way. When we are hopeful, we believe that our future is going to be better than our present. Hope is tied to optimism and a can-do attitude. It serves as a buffer against negative stressful experiences. Hope motivates us to get out of bed in the morning, feel good about what is next, and plan for the future. Christian hope trusts that we belong to God in life and in death.
Researchers have found that the COVID-19 pandemic put a dent in our American hope. It’s true for all ages. 37% of High School students experienced poor mental health during the pandemic. 44.2% say that they experienced persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness. A whopping 20% considered suicide. School closures, distanced learning, social isolation, family stress, and fear of illness for themselves or others were contributing factors to those scary numbers.
The pandemic rattled the hope of folks in the workforce, too, whether they were laid off, working from home, or standing on the frontlines of the epidemic. Nurses, for example, saw a 29% increase in feelings of hopelessness, thanks to those high-stress, long hours in crisis. Grocery store workers, first responders, and even clergy have all voiced feelings of hopelessness and despair. We may be emerging from the pandemic, but many are experiencing burn-out or have left their jobs.
Even retirees are feeling less hopeful these days. Research has determined that depression levels among older adults have worsened considerably. Fear of disease, uncertainty about the future, and social distancing are contributing factors. For most seniors, social contacts, like family and friends, community centers, churches, and part-time jobs, are away from home, and when those social lifelines got stretched or cut, their hope suffered. Just ask our friends at Will Rogers who have just experienced another wave of COVID and the consequent lockdown. How is your hope this morning?
Our reading from Peter’s first epistle suggests that those exiles in the Diaspora were short on hope. The Apostle was writing from Rome to Christians in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). These were former-Jews and Gentiles, who trusted in Jesus as their Messiah. Their belief had brought suffering. The synagogues had thrown them out with charges of blasphemy. They were alienated from family and friends who would not accept their faith. They were viewed with increasing suspicion by their neighbors, who spread rumors that they drank blood and ate flesh, like first-century vampires. As time passed, Christians attracted the scrutiny of the empire. Local officials were troubled by news of people who reverenced a man executed as an enemy of Rome, and they really didn’t like the Christian refusal to worship Caesar at the imperial shrine. That official scrutiny would eventually explode into persecution. It must have been hard to keep the faith in a world that wanted to change you back, shut you up, and strike you down.
The Apostle Peter had known feelings of hopelessness. He had been the first to see that Jesus was the Messiah, yet an unholy alliance of Temple and empire had dashed those dreams. On Good Friday, Jesus had been publicly, brutally executed. What may have felt just as bad for Peter were his personal failings. Peter had slept when Jesus asked him to wait and pray in the Garden of Gethsemane. When the soldiers came, Peter had taken up the sword, even though Jesus had called for peace. Then, before the cock had crowed twice, Peter had denied Jesus three times. On the first Easter morning, before the women returned from the tomb with their startling news, Peter had been about as hopeless as a man can get. All that changed on Easter evening. There in the Upper Room, behind their locked doors, Jesus had appeared—living, breathing, eating, reaching out. Jesus had given the disciples the gift of hope. Jesus breathed new life into friends who had felt as good as dead.
Today’s verses allow us to listen in as Peter wraps language around what he named “living hope.” He believed that the resurrection allowed Christians to hope, even in times of suffering. We could trust that God would have the last word. Jesus had risen. Christ had won the victory over sin and death! Because we have faith in Jesus, we can trust that God is at work for good in our world and that good will reign triumphant in the world that is to come. That’s right—we have a precious inheritance, imperishable, uncorrupted, unfading, kept in heaven for us. Peter believed that we are called to a living hope. The hope we find in Jesus has legs. Living hope shapes our lives and empowers us to support the lives of those around us. That living hope inspired Peter to preach powerfully, heal the sick, pray with strangers, plant churches, and pick up the pen to write to exiles in the Diaspora who were desperately in need of hope.
Peter knew the importance of hope, an importance that we are still learning to better understand today. Researchers at Harvard University have determined that we reap big benefits when we have high hope. We have more positive emotions. We have a stronger sense of purpose and meaning. We have lower levels of depression. We report less loneliness. We even have better physical health and reduced risk of mortality. That’s right: we have fewer chronic illnesses and lower risk of cancer. We also have fewer sleep problems and stronger relationships. I like to think that when those exiles read and re-read Peter’s words, their hope rose from the embers of isolation and fear. Their hope was fanned into flames that would bring strength and encouragement to face head-on the very real challenges they knew.
The COVID-19 state of emergency is coming to an end, my friends, but those widespread side-effects of loneliness, depression, and hopelessness may be with folks we know for the foreseeable future. We all know people who are suffering lasting effects of the pandemic. They are permanently fearful and unable to relaunch social contacts. They labor joylessly in jobs that no longer feel fulfilling. Their good grades have taken a tumble. They feel lonely or depressed. They are plagued by the fuzzy thinking, fatigue, pain, and shortness of breath of long-COVID. They are our family members, friends, and neighbors.
Peter reminds us this morning that we are called to be the living hope in this post-pandemic world. The hope that we have found in Jesus needs legs. The hope that comes with the resurrection must find expression. When we go forth in hope, we make a difference. Those same researchers who have documented the benefits of hope have also found that hope needs social support. Said simply, to be hopeful, we need hopeful people around us. We need people who show up, share their optimism, speak words of encouragement, and demonstrate their caring. This world needs people like us, who have a living hope.
Churches like this one—small, vital, active, engaged, loving—are hope factories. Indeed, if we are looking for hope, we have come to the right place. When we gather on Sunday mornings, we get inspired by the Word. We feast on the fellowship. We remember that God loves us enough to die for us. We know that we have a friend in Jesus. We feel connected and blessed in the shared prayers, the holy fist-bumps, and the swapping of news. We feel that we are welcomed and cared about. We find the courage and the fresh perspective to go out and face the week in a world that for three years felt long on the state of emergency and short on hope.
Perhaps, like Peter, we can resolve to make a difference this week. We could wear our hope on our sleeves. We can take up the pen or pick up the phone or simply reach out to those who need what we have to give in abundance. We could even invite them to church, welcoming them into this hopeful community that rests in the love of God, revealed to us long ago in Jesus Christ. This world may be plagued by those lasting effects of the pandemic, but we have the antidote. May we go forth to be the living hope.
Richard Jensen. “Commentary on 1 Peter 1:3-9” in Preaching This Week, March 30, 2008. Accessed online at workingpreacher.org.
Daniel Deffenbaugh. “Commentary on 1 Peter 1:3-9” in Preaching This Week, May 1, 2011. Accessed online at workingpreacher.org.
Judith Jones. “Commentary on 1 Peter 1:3-9” in Preaching This Week, April 23, 2017. Accessed online at workingpreacher.org.
Camille Preston. “The Psychology of Hope” in Psychology Today, October 24, 2021. Accessed online at psychologytoday.com.
Traci Pedersen. “Why Is Hope So Important?” in PsychCentral, September 26, 2022.
Sherry Everett Jones, et al. “Mental Health, Suicidality, and Connectedness Among HS Students During the COVID-19 Pandemic” US Dept. of Health and Human Services/CDC, April 1, 2022. MMWR, vo. 71, No. 3.
1 Peter 1:3-9
3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead 4 and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5 who are being protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. 6 In this you rejoice, even if now for a little while you have had to suffer various trials, 7 so that the genuineness of your faith—being more precious than gold that, though perishable, is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8 Although you have not seen him, you love him, and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9 for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.