October 28 – Hope Beats Optimism Every Time

I know what I am talking about. I took this quiz on American politics a friend posted on Facebook and I aced it. 100% correct. I am told only one in fifty quiz takers do so well. They said I am a genius. I must know what I am talking about. Armed with such impressive credentials, then, I tell you I am optimistic about our political future.
A long time ago we survived the 12-year succession of Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and James Buchanan. We ended it with someone named Abraham Lincoln. I believe the nation and the system that survived Warren G. Harding and Richard M. Nixon will make it through the vulgarity of a Donald Trump presidency or the corruption of a Hillary Clinton presidency. 
I do not believe either of this year’s major party candidates will usher in the end of American life as we have known it. And, yes, I believe both are among the most seriously flawed candidates we have seen in our long history. Despite our sad choices, the election is important; we should vote, and “none of the above” is a legitimate vote, but not showing up to vote doesn’t count as a vote.
Optimism is choosing to look at things in a positive light. Optimism is not denial, which simply refuses to look at things, preferring a fantasy to reality. Optimism is an informed choice. I choose to be optimistic about the American political future. But, looking at things, even as an optimist, we see a tough time ahead. It will take time and hard work to make our way through and past the things this dismissal election represents.
By the way, don’t put much stock in my optimism. It’s just my choice, even though I did score 100% on that Facebook quiz.
Hope is altogether different from optimism. Hope is not a choice, it is a gift. The New Testament word translated as hope means expectation, confidence, trust. There is a sense of security and guarantee about hope that is not dependent on how I happen to see things. In fact, biblical hope is rooted in things unseen.
Writing to his friends in Rome, those living in very center of a vulgar and corrupt system, the Apostle Paul says we are to rejoice in hope. He goes on, “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:2-5 ESV)
Elections have consequences.  We are foolish to imagine a party platform eliminating suffering, and few even reduce it; some shift it. Sometimes people suffer as a consequence of the choices we make on election day. Elections have consequences and even my optimism about the American system asks first that we do as little harm as possible and then, maybe, that we might do something good to alleviate the suffering of those who know injustice and whose share of our bounty is small.
Hope goes where optimism fails. Hope walks right into the middle of suffering. The word used to describe suffering is broad enough to encompass the personal and the political; it stretches from a hospice center where a loved one lives her final days to Aleppo in Syria or Mosul in Iraq.  Hope is not just a way of looking at things, of positive take-aways from the hospice center or the beleaguered city. 
Hope is powerful gift, the product of a divine alchemy, the ingredients of which are suffering, endurance and character. But it involves more than suffering, endurance, and character boiling in a cauldron of tough times. The catalyst for the miracle of hope is, as Paul says, God’s love poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
Hope is not our desire for things to get better, it is God’s promise that all things are working to his glory and for our good. It is about a “yet to come,” finally, that he, Christ, will come and with his coming all things made new. Hope is also about an “already here,” God’s love already poured into our hearts through the gift of his own Holy Spirit. God is there with his people in the hospice center and in worst places of Aleppo and Mosul. Hope comes from God’s love. We endure suffering and character grows, hope sustains us, because God has poured his love into our hearts. 
We remember no more dismal election than this. It is a choice between vulgarity and corruption where “none of the above” may be the best we can do. However discouraging the choice, though, please, go vote and take a little optimism with you when you do. We made it through Warren G. Harding.
After we have voted, there is a still a gift waiting to be opened. Receive hope. Open the gift of God’s love.
See you Sunday