Hope. It’s different than optimism.
That may seem like a distinction without much of a difference, but on that score I beg to disagree. Optimism, you see, is the belief that things will always get better, circumstances will naturally improve, present challenges will eventually pass, and so are not to be worried about.
Hope, however, is rather different. Hope asserts that no matter what may come, no matter how dark or difficult things may get, yet God’s word and promise will prevail. More importantly, the hope to which we bear witness is born not of our own accomplishments, abilities, or prospects, but rather is founded upon the activity of God in Jesus Christ, and particularly God’s activity hidden in the cross and resurrection.
When you look around today, there seems little reason to be optimistic. Most of our congregations are declining. Seminary enrollment across the board is down. Our emerging generation seems increasingly disinclined to make church involvement a priority.
And that’s only in the church! Matters in our country and world are no better and, arguably, much worse. We are in the midst of a hugely negative presidential campaign. Racial tension simmers in many of our cities. Violence seems rampant and injustice unchecked. And there have never been more refugees at any previous point in history.
No, there is very little that would make any of us optimistic. Which is why hope is so important. We come together on Sundays to be inspired by the Gospel, to see friends and community members we value, to lift our voices in thanksgiving and in prayers of supplication. And all of this is good. But we also come to church on Sundays to be rooted once again in the source of our hope so that we may leave equipped to share that hope with people and a world in tremendous need of hope and courage.
Consider the words of the Apostle Paul to his stubborn, unruly, and often quarrelsome congregation in Corinth:
If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have died in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died. (I Corinthians 15:17-20).
Paul grounds his hope — both in this world and the next — not on the circumstances surrounding him or his congregation, and not on his own abilities or that of his colleagues, but rather on the promise that God raised Jesus from the dead. And because God raised Jesus from the dead, death does not have the last world, the future is forever open, and all things are possible. And this is the core of our hope.
Because God raised Jesus from the dead, therefore we will continue to call on our elected officials to enact policies that protect the vulnerable and promote justice. Because God raised Jesus from the dead, we will not absent ourselves from elections, even when they turn negative. Because God raised Jesus from the dead, we can open our hearts and homes to people in need. Because God raised Jesus from the dead, we can remind each other that violence solves nothing and that the only answer to hate is not more hate but love. Because God raised Jesus from the dead, even when there is little reason for optimism, we remain hopeful and invite others to share in our hope for our communities, nation, and world, a hope rooted in God’s steadfast promise to work for the good in all things.
At LTSP we are training leaders to nurture and lead communities of hope. Whether serving in congregations, camps, social ministry organizations, or other communities, our graduates are not only grounded in the hope of the Gospel but work to create communities where others hear this Word of hope, are encouraged by it, and are equipped to take it with them into the world. It is a privilege to do this work, work that, in my opinion, has never been more important. Thank you for your support of the mission and ministry of LTSP to graduate leaders fashioning communities of hope for a world that has never needed hope more.
Yours in Christ,
The Rev. Dr. David J. Lose is President of The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia
PS: Two quick notes: 1) The Distributed Learning MDiv launches this fall, making it possible for people to work on their degree while remaining in their homes by studying via a combination of online and residential intensive courses. If you know of anyone who has wanted to prepare for ministry but could not relocate, please let us know by emailing admissions@Ltsp.edu or calling 215.248.7302.
2) We still have full tuition scholarships available for all full-time, residential, ELCA candidates for rostered ministry. We are also matching all scholarship gifts from congregations and church bodies to all other students. If you know someone with the gifts for ministry, please encourage them to be in touch with us by emailing admissions@Ltsp.edu or calling 215.248.7302.