Pittsburgh Theological Seminary

Bridging the Word and the World

5/8 2014

Flickers of Hope

Hope is a peculiar thing.

The Christian life, I’m told, ought to be characterized and defined by hope. In many biblical passages, hope is given an exemplary status, described as something we retain. Christ’s work on the cross and the resurrection we are now celebrating means that we have hope in the authentic reality that God is “for us.” While this resurrection reality goes beyond strictly ourselves, we are privileged to participate in it. The Christian does not sit around wishing for something, but instead actively lives into hope, allowing it to transform his or her life. Hope must be a possession—something we hold onto, indeed cling to, and wield against life’s slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. As a possession, hope is not abstract and vague, but palpable and practical. It is something not to be studied or contemplated but embodied.

What, then, can be said of hope in the midst of sorrow?

If hope is a possession, why does it sometimes seem to abandon us when we most need it? When we experience suffering and grieving, hope can seem more absent than present. People who are generally hopeful may be surprised to find that in times of grief and despair, hope is nowhere to be found, like a warrior who has carried her sword in her belt all her life, yet is shocked to find her belt vacant suddenly as her enemies approach. When hope seems insipid, it begs the question: Does real hope never waiver? Is fair-weather hope a sign of a lack of faith? And when hope does flicker in the surrounding darkness of my soul, where does it come from? Is it real? And will it ever be here to stay?

I want to contend that hope is something that we can possess constantly, though the warm, fuzzy feeling it exudes is not constant. Life is finite, fragile, and, sometimes, quite difficult. There is far more to hope than feeling positive and happy. It is easy to depend too much on the extent to which we feel hope when we consider whether or not we possess hope. Sometimes, when darkness surrounds us, we realize how deep-seated the hope within us really is, a rooted assurance at work in our lives even when we do not feel elation. The temporary disappearance of positive feelings does not necessarily imply that we have no longer have hope. Over time, joy will return, and our hope will be easily recognizable again.

Yet in the meantime, we can still possess hope when it is beyond our conscious recognition. Hope keeps pushing us, often kicking and screaming, back to God. And once in a while, its light flickers in our souls, offering us a reminder that deep inside of us, beyond our present experience, hope is still at work deep within by the power of the Holy Spirit, making us whole and leading us onward toward the goal of life in Christ, which we celebrate in the light of the empty tomb.

Written by Brian Lays, middler MDiv student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

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5/1 2014

A Mission Reflection: Remembering

 

When traveling, especially to a foreign country, I am often first struck by the
new landscape or smells, but by the time I leave, my lasting memories are of the
people I have met. There is always a temptation to get stay caught in the
“picture:” the scenery, the smells, the newness of the experience and never move
into three dimensions: the people, their lives, their pains, and their joys.
But as my trip to Haiti this spring break reminded me, moving into three
dimensions is most important part of life no matter where I am; to see the
people for who they are, because human nature transcends time and space.

In Haiti I saw a lot of disturbing things. I saw a woman with a tumor
the size of an orange on her face sitting in her back yard while I was painting
the overlooking fence. I saw an 11-month-old baby who was so malnourished he
couldn’t pick up his head. I played with a little girl for a couple of days,
met her mother, and was asked later by one of her friends if I was going to
adopt her because we loved each other. A small group I was a part of was asked
extremely tough questions, like, “why doesn’t God answer my prayers?” and, “does
the faith of a nation determine their prosperity?” But in spite of my
challenging feelings, I was left reflecting upon God’s love and upon His
sovereignty that gives purpose to the lives of those I encountered and to my
life.

It is easy for me to remember the challenges I observed and faced
and the images will never be erased from my memory, but the challenges did not
define my trip. What I will remember most is the wisdom with which our
translators spoke: the insight that they brought into our journey in Haiti. I
will remember the joy I heard with every song that rang out from the church and
filled the community. I will remember how God used the people I met to move me
away from the contentment that I had gotten accustomed to, to a place where I am
asking God to use me for His glory, even if it is at the expense of my comfort.

What was important about our trip was not the work that we did for the
mission, the mixing and carrying of concrete, the painting, and the picking up
of trash, but the realization that despite material possessions and the lack
there of, we are all the same. In all honesty we are no more fortunate than
they are. We may have more possessions, but we lack the richness of communal
responsibility. This is a hard concept for those of us who come from tight
communities, however, I guarantee that our sense of community and our
responsibility to one another does not begin to compare to that of the people I
met in Haiti.

For instance, we met a young man who is not getting married for
several more years in order to fully devote himself to providing for parents and
siblings. We encountered many multigenerational households full of individuals
who put the needs of their family members before their own. And we met teens,
full of ambition, whose life goals were not to become doctors or lawyers, but to
run orphanages. But it is these things: the sense of community, hope, and
happiness, despite a lack of basic necessities, that I will remember most about
my trip to Haiti.

Written by Lisa Davis, current M.A. student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

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4/25 2014

A Mission Reflection: Pray, Bring Good News, and Build Relationships

In Luke chapter 10, verses 5-9, Jesus teaches the disciples how to find the other hospitable:

5 “When you enter a house, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6 If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. 7 Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house.”

8 “When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is offered to you. 9 Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”

My time in Brazil taught me to do this very thing. This short term mission trip was not about saving or fixing the other; it was about building relationships, so we could learn from one another.

The purpose of our trip was to learn about church planting outside of a Western
context. In the span of ten days, I learned many things, but three themes struck
me in particular: pray, bring good news, and build relationships.

These three themes boiled up in every church plant. My hope is to reflect on the three
themes I learned from my brothers and sisters, in order to engage with the community God is sending me to.

Written by: Brendan Ashley, current MDiv student at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

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