Seeing Hope

How can Paul say that hope does not disappoint us?

Read Genesis 9:8-17, Romans 5:1-5

Hope does not disappoint us.  That’s what verse 5 of the passage we read from Romans says.

Does that ring true for you?  Or does it sound like the opposite of true?

This week I’ve been thinking about that statement, hope does not disappoint us, and about rainbows. We know about the science of rainbows.  After a storm, the clouds part and the sun shines through. That sunlight refracts through the moisture that remains in the air. 

I get excited when I see rainbow.  Do you?

Maybe I get excited because we don’t know when they will happen.  Not after every storm. Sometimes we’re not in the right place to see them when they do happen. 

When we see a rainbow, do we think about God’s promise from our Genesis passage for today?

14 When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.” (Genesis 9:14-15 NRSV)

This is how the story of Noah and the great flood ends.  A beautiful rainbow.  Boy, did they need that rainbow and God’s promise, because Noah and his family had just come through a harrowing experience.

The story begins in Genesis 6, where the Bible says that God saw so much violence and evil on Earth that he decided the world needed a “do over.”  Creation 2.0. God told Noah to build an ark and collect two of every kind of creature, and seven of each of the clean animals to be used for sacrifices.[1] And when the ark was done and filled up with animals, it rained for 40 days, and water covered the earth for 150 days.

I have a question for you.  Noah collected every kind of creature, and that includes insects, so where did Noah put the bees?  . . . In the archives.[2]

In 2014, there was a movie called Noah starring Russell Crowe.[3] It was hard to watch the part where the water starts rising and all the people who are NOT in the ark realize that they are going to drown.  We like the children’s version of this story without the difficulty of thinking about all those people dying.  A whole bunch of animals died, too.  That’s the reality.  It was an extinction event. The only ones who survive are the ones in the ark. The water must have been littered with dead bodies.

The Bible says that Noah was a righteous man.  He obviously listened to God and did what God said. So he probably had compassion, and was saddened by the tremendous loss of life.  In the movie, Russell Crowe portrays Noah as serious and grumpy.  I think that’s how I might be if I were having to make the kinds of decisions Noah was making, or if I were stuck in a smelly, noisy ark for 150 days.  Can you imagine having to clean up the bottom of that ark?

The first thing Noah did when they were finally able to get out of the ark and onto dry land, was to build an altar and make a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God.  In Genesis 8, that’s when God first makes the promise:

21 And when the Lord smelled the pleasing odor, the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.

22 As long as the earth endures,
    seedtime and harvest, cold and heat,
summer and winter, day and night,
    shall not cease.”

God says “I will never again curse the ground because of humankind…” but not because the new generations that descended from Noah did a better job. God says that expecting better from humans is pointless, “for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth.” (Genesis 8:21)  The Message version says we are “bent towards evil.”  Does that sound harsh to you?  If we examine our motives honestly, I think we’ll find that we all have made decisions based on selfishness, pride, greed, prejudice, and maybe even hate.

Over the past year, we’ve had the unique opportunity to see those evil inclinations at work in our world. 

  • When the pandemic started, people were hoarding supplies without a thought for how that would affect their neighbors, or the supply chain that makes those things available. 
  • We watched a policeman murder a black man by suffocating him with a knee to the man’s neck.  Many who thought we didn’t have issues with racism anymore were suddenly faced with the horrible reality that we do.
  • This week, the state of Texas became like a third world country as their electricity went out in the midst of record-breaking cold temperatures, causing pipes to burst and water supply systems to fail.  Now millions of people are having to stand in line for food and water.[4]  At the same time, those at the top of the companies that control the energy supply in Texas are profiting greatly off the increased demand.[5]
  • We’re still in the midst of a global pandemic that has caused 2.5 million deaths worldwide, and nearly half a million in the United States.  More than 4600 right here in Kansas![6]  And while so much of the impact of the pandemic is outside of our individual control, the one thing experts agree that we can do is to wear masks.  As people argue about this, we’ve seen denial, selfishness, even hatefulness.

A pandemic and extreme weather may not be on the same scale as a massive flood that wipes out all living things, but there have been days that feel like the world is ending.

And yet, Paul says in Romans 5:5 that “hope does not disappoint us.” [pause, repeat]

Are you saying, “Amen!”?  Or are you saying, “C’mon, really?!” (It’s ok if you are.)

Let me tell you where I see hope.

In Genesis, when God makes the promise to never again wipe everyone off the earth, God promises this even though the inclinations of human hearts are still evil.  God promises – not because we can earn God’s grace, but because God loves us anyway.[7]

Think about that. God loves us anyway.  That is a reason for hope.

I also love that God makes this promise to Noah, but also in verse 12 God includes “every living creature” (Gen. 9:12).  All the people and all the animals.  God cares for them all.

So whenever we see a rainbow, we can remember that this is a sign of God’s promise and God’s love for us all. 

An interesting point to note, here.  God says in verses 14 and 15, When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds,I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature…”

God doesn’t say “YOU will remember.”  God doesn’t say, “WE will remember.” God says, “I will remember.”  The rainbow is there to remind God.

Does God really need a reminder?  Probably not.  But if we remember that God says, “I will remember…” that helps us to trust that God is doing what Paul tells us God is doing in Romans 8:28:

“We know that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.”

I saw that verse on the wall at the doctor’s office this week and it gave me hope that even though things aren’t going the way I would like them to, and most of that is out of my control, God is still working things out.

Romans 5:5 says, “Hope does not disappoint us . . . because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit.” (ellipsis added)

How? Why? 

Paul tells us in verse 6:

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. (Romans 5:6 NLT)

Now Romans 5:1 makes more sense: “Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peacewith God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us.” 

And verse 2 reminds us again that this is a gift from God’s graciousness:

Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.

Undeserved privilege.  So not only does hope not disappoint us, but we can boast in our hope, as the NRSV puts it, and we can boast in our sufferings, because suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope. (Rom. 5:3-4) 

And THAT is the hope that does not disappoint us, because we have made it through the suffering and we know that if God carried us through before, God will do it again.

That is our time-tested, Jesus-invested, God-trusted hope.

Can you tell I’ve been listening to some black preachers this week? 

I’ve started watching the documentary on PBS about the Black Church.[8]  The four-hour film tells the story of the Black church in America starting all the way back in slavery.  Did you know that slave-owners didn’t want their slaves to become Christians because then they would have to free them?  Somebody figured out a way to get around that, but then as the slaves started learning about Jesus, and his promise to free the oppressed, the slave owners realized that this could get out of hand, and so they did everything they could to make sure that the slaves heard only the peaceful, obedient parts of the Bible, and not the righteousness and justice parts.

But they read the Bible themselves, and before long the story of God freeing the Israelite slaves in Egypt became a favorite of the slaves in America.  It’s not hard to imagine how encouraging it was to find that God cared about the slaves.  Their faith gave them hope. 

The documentary producer and writer Henry Louis Gates, Jr. says:

“The Black Church was the cultural cauldron that Black people created to combat a system designed in every way to crush their spirit…And the culture they created was sublime, awesome, majestic, lofty, glorious, and at all points subversive of the larger culture of enslavement that sought to destroy their humanity.”[9]

In spite of everything they were enduring, hope did not disappoint them because the Holy Spirit sustained them.

Seeing their journey and their faith gives us all hope that what Jesus said in Luke 4:18-19 is coming true.  Preaching in the synagogue of his hometown, Jesus read from the scroll of Isaiah:

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free,
19     and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.

Then Jesus said, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Jesus is the foundation for the hope that does not disappoint us.

I wouldn’t be surprised, though, if some of us are still asking questions.

But what about this situation?  How does this really happen?  Why should we trust this?

Good questions.  I don’t have all the answers.  Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, the writer of The Awakening of Hope,[10] the study we’re using for our Lent Small Group says that we need to keep asking questions, because they lead us back to God.  He also says that the biggest question needs to be, “How then shall we live?”[11]

If we’re trusting God, holding on to hope, and actively seeking to live differently, people will ask why we do the things we do.  In our group tonight, we’ll talk about why and how we eat together, and how our food choices have impact.

Hope does not disappoint us. Rainbows remind us of our hope. But rainbows don’t appear on cloudless, sunny days.  They appear after a storm. 

The promises of God are experienced as we live through life’s challenges and even as we struggle to have hope.[12]

God has brought us this far, and God will sustain us.

May we remember that even in the midst of the storm, even many storms, there is hope for a new tomorrow.[13]


[1] How did Noah know which animals were clean? https://www.gotquestions.org/animals-clean-unclean.html

[2] https://upjoke.com/noah-jokes

[3] https://www.nbcnews.com/pop-culture/movies/animals-arks-how-noah-movie-compares-bible-n63926

[4] https://www.nytimes.com/live/2021/02/19/us/winter-storm-weather-live

[5] https://www.reuters.com/article/idUSKBN2AI0I6

[6] https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/USA-TRENDS/dgkvlgkrkpb/index.html

[7] “The covenant described in Genesis 9: 8– 17 is rooted solely in the gracious and unmerited action of God.” Ryan P. Bonfiglio in Joel B Green (2020-11-24). Connections: Year B, Volume 2 (Connections: A Lectionary Commentary for Preaching and Worship) (Kindle Locations 1021-1022). Presbyterian Publishing Corporation. Kindle Edition.

[8] https://www.pbs.org/weta/black-church/

[9] https://www.oprahmag.com/entertainment/books/a35520684/henry-louis-gates-black-church/

[10] https://www.amazon.com/Awakening-Hope-Practice-Common-Faith/dp/0310293383

[11] “Our efforts to live faithfully always include action and reflection.” Wilson-Hartgrove, Jonathan. The Awakening of Hope (p. 26-27). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

[12] Adapted from Maryanne McKibben Dana in Sunday’s Coming – Lent 1b, Christian Century.

[13] Adapted from Justin Michael Read at https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/first-sunday-in-lent-2/commentary-on-genesis-98-17-5

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