Kindred in Christ,

For many us, the inauguration this past week grants us a sense of renewed possibilities and hope. Yet, I must confess that I often struggle with hope. I am hesitant to get my hopes up because, like you, I have been disappointed many times in the past. I do not want to make hope my starting point only to end with disillusionment once again. The Apostle Paul speaks about a “hope that will not disappoint” (Romans 5:1-5). Could there be such a hope within our imperfect world of frail human systems?

As I meditated on this text for this Sunday, what stuck out to me was that the apostle does not make “hope” his starting point, but rather our real-life human problems and struggles. He writes, “We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope.” The Greek word translated to problems is thlipsis, which also connotes suffering or tribulations. Rather than a cheerful optimism that ignores the brokenness in our world, the scriptures point us to a hope that can emerge in the midst of a global pandemic, loneliness in lockdown, economic collapse, and systemic racism. And that kind of hope will not disappoint. The surprise encounter with this type of hope is what we call grace, for it is an unexpected gift to us.

John Wesley, the founder of our Methodist tradition, was an intellectual from Oxford University who had many ways of thinking about God, but he eventually came to experience God in the midst of one of the lowest points in his own life. He famously writes, “I felt my heart strangely warmed.” And this unexpected encounter with the Divine eventually led to a felt sense of interior assurance and a peace from God that goes way beyond all scripts, self-understanding, and belief (or lack of belief). This encounter with surprising grace is what empowered Wesley to find a hope that did not disappoint, and to help create a movement that brought renewal to the church and the world known as methodism. Join us this Sunday as we reflect upon God’s grace and the unexpected hope that emerges in our world. See you on Facebook Live!

P.S. If you look closely at the above picture of John Wesley, you may notice it to be yet another Bernie Sanders meme from the presidential inauguration

– Rev. Paul Ortiz