Hope Will Not Disappoint Us
12“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. 14He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. 15All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.
John 16 is part of the most extended commentary on the Holy Spirit in the gospels (John 13-17). Here, Jesus points out how the Holy Spirit (the parakletos) aids and helps the church and the whole creation in times of difficulty. Here we learn how the Holy Spirit comes to mend our brokenness, to cheerfully lift our hearts and to ready us for what is ahead. The passage points to divine help. The Holy Spirit brings encouragement to the disciples in the face of opposition from the “world.” This encouragement enables the disciples, and us, to do the same. It is a hopeful account of receiving and passing on.
We also see the Holy Spirit as an advocate. In Mark 13:11 Jesus promises: ‘And when they put you under arrest, do not worry what you should say. For you are not the ones who are speaking, but the Holy Spirit.’ The Spirit accompanies us as we make a case for Jesus to the world.
The Holy Spirit is a gift to all human life. With the Holy Spirit, God fills creation with hope. God furnishes us with good gifts. God leads us into divine truth. God walks with us, and talks with us, and tells us we are His own.
1 Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
2 through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.
3 And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,
4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,
5 and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
In the second reading, Paul offers a broad and formidable response to persons who were living under the hardship of empire. Caesar, whose followers declared Deus et Dominus, God and Lord, whose image appeared on pocket coins, was notoriously hostile to the Christian community and had little problem weighing in against the faithful, yes, putting to death even the writer of the letter to the Roman Christians. Read again what Paul wrote: “we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”
Paul roots the Christian’s hope in something that could not be taken away. It is a hope anchored in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is a hope that cannot die. No border wall, no persecution, no discrimination, nor sorrow, or hardship could put hope to death, because this is the Gospel hope. It is a hope that outdoes all misery. It is a hope arising out of hades and grief and the foulest woe.
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-32
1 Does not wisdom call, and does not understanding raise her voice?
2 On the heights, beside the way, at the crossroads she takes her stand;
3 beside the gates in front of the town, at the entrance of the portals she cries out:
4 “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to all that live.
22 The LORD created me at the beginning of his work, the first of his acts of long ago.
23 Ages ago I was set up, at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24 When there were no depths I was brought forth, when there were no springs abounding with water.
25 Before the mountains had been shaped, before the hills, I was brought forth–
26 when he had not yet made earth and fields, or the world’s first bits of soil.
27 When he established the heavens, I was there, when he drew a circle on the face of the deep,
28 when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep,
29 when he assigned to the sea its limit, so that the waters might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth,
30 then I was beside him, like a master worker; and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always,
31 rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the human race.
The Proverbs reading reminds us that whatever the circumstance—global warming, rude political outburst, domestic violence, economic injustice—when any of this is introduced with seething ferocity, we need the wisdom of Proverbs. Wisdom is intimately associated with Yahweh and is instrumental in creation (3:19-20).
Proverbs offers to anyone who is seeking to move on from the vagaries of life a plan. Proverbs offer joy and celebration. She is present on the pinnacles, in the streets, at the intersections, and especially at the gates (the public square) where people congregate.
The city gate is the habitation for justice (Deuteronomy 21:19. At the city gates, the wise “open their mouths” (24:7). These “openings” of the city are places of meeting, where life’s simple dealings occur. Here discussions are made and people “enter into” new situations and get aboard new journeys. Here starting points begin and the questions of life decided. Here Wisdom takes her stand and converses. But so does foolhardiness (7:11-12; 9:123-15).
The city is the values-shaped world of humans, a replication of the world itself where Lady Wisdom has been active from the beginning (8:22-31) and where she presently speaks to all humans (8:4, 31) in their condition of moral and spiritual ambiguity. Since Wisdom determines cosmic order and addresses human beings concerning that order, she is the prior condition for the existence and functioning of all things. Cosmic joy, delight, and feasting are basic to Proverbs 8. We have here a hopeful world that combines joy in building with celebration. The joy in 8:30-31 is joy at the construction and completion of the ordered world, including the human world.
Keep this in mind as you read these lessons. God does not let loose misery in the world. God did not fashion the fires that devastated Paradise, California, nor Hurricane Michael that devastated Mexico Beach, Florida. God is not amused by human pain.
Instead, God promises to be with us through the storm and the night. God promises to go with us through the fires, and the floods, and we undoubtedly awake to see in our suffering the possibility for some larger good, and in and through all things to convert our pain by linking it to Jesus Christ. We celebrate our salvation through Jesus Christ every Sabbath (Genesis 1; Exod. 20:8-11; 31:7). When God put the creation in order, “all the heavenly beings shouted for joy” (Job 38:7).
In the Church Year, the coming of the Spirit is celebrated as an event that happened at Pentecost. The call and task of the disciples and those who come after them is to bear fruit, to let the seed sown in death rise to new life. What matters is life and love and joy. This is the wisdom of those who want to see Jesus even breathing out the Spirit to his followers from the cross (19:30). For John, the cross defines both Jesus and the Spirit – and ultimately, God.
The Reverend James R. Thomas, PhD
Associate Professor of Church and Ministry, and Worship Director of The Southeastern Synod Lutheran Formation Experience
Director of ELCA African Descent Ministry – Region 9
Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary of Lenoir-Rhyne University, Columbia, South Carolina