A promise of hope.

Dear Friends
How many of us have said recently, I do hope that 2021 will be better than 2020? I certainly have and for obvious reasons it figured in messages in Christmas cards from across the world. Hope is a small word, but big in terms of expectation. Yet so often we use it in such a very casual way ….. hope you don’t have too long to wait for a bus….. hope you have a good holiday ….. hope the exams go well, and so on. That’s not to say that the intention is not well meant, but it’s become more just a way of wishing someone well and its strength depends on the strength of the intent. Hope is about being optimistic, that there will be positive outcomes to issues in our lives or of those we know. But for us as Christians hope means so much more, even in the time of Covid. After Lucy preached two sermons in December about hope in the season of hope, joy, peace and love, it got me thinking even more about it. For us hope is the confident expectation of what God has promised and its strength is in His faithfulness. Romans 15:13 says:

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

But what does God’s promise of hope mean in interpreting how we should ‘live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28)? Anyone who has ever been to the Peak District will almost certainly have been through the picturesque village of Hope and the valley of the same name. They are close to Eyam, the Derbyshire plague village where the inhabitants quarantined themselves in a famous act of self-sacrifice to prevent the spread of bubonic plague in 1665. I wondered if they had chosen the village’s name because the selfless action of their neighbours had given them hope of life and might therefore offer us a clue as to how to cope with our own plague. No such luck, the village of Hope existed at the time of the Domesday Book in 1086 and gets its name from an old English word meaning “land or valley in a marsh,” which it’s kept for over a thousand years. I say no such luck and yet, and yet, it suddenly dawned on me that it’s actually the people of Eyam who give us the clue. It’s not necessarily about our own hopes, but about giving hope to others.

Hope is a gift from God, and His hope is for all of those who are struggling and suffering wherever they are. Last year, hope figured in many appeals and charity programmes.

The Allchurches Trust’s ‘Hope Beyond’ grants programme aims to help churches and others reach out to those in need in their communities and give them hope in meeting the challenges and opportunities presented by the pandemic.

Christian Aid’s Christmas Appeal was entitled “Celebrate a love that builds hope”, reminding us of someone who turned the world upside down, and in a time of oppression introduced a hope that transformed the world as the news spread. It also reminds us that God works through us to show love to others. A love that never fails. A love that unites. A love that builds hope.

In similar vein, The Children’s Society’s appeal was entitled ‘Keep hope alive’ as so many children’s lives are overshadowed by exploitation, abuse and neglect. For them lockdown has meant that hope is under threat, perhaps more than ever before. They need help and support, but above all they need hope – hope for a happier home life, hope of getting a job, hope of getting away from those who exploit and hurt them and hope that tomorrow can be better than today.

If you listened to Desert Island Discs on Radio 4 just before Christmas you will have heard Minette Batters, the current NFU President, say she can see both Salisbury Cathedral and her local parish church from her Wiltshire farm. She explained how important that was to her because for her they are places of hope.

As we start this New Year with perhaps a real hope at last that the various vaccines coming on stream will enable Covid-19 to be brought under control so that we can begin to live more normally again, let us never forget that WURC is, and should be, such a place of hope. We offer hope to one another day by day, to our Syrian friends, to the many others who use our premises, to the homeless and long term unemployed at YRP, to the women and children in the women’s refuges, to those whose lives have been changed through our donations to Water Aid, Christian Aid, Commitment for Life and so on as well as to those who come into the Forum week by week in need of help, or just a coffee, a friendly ear and a chat.

For us hope is always accompanied by faith. Faith is almost always accompanied by hope. As Isaiah 40:31 says:
“But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”

God’s Blessings

Robin Gray

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