Called to Hope

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Throughout the month of August, we’re taking a close look at 23 verses of the New Testament.  They comprise Ephesians chapter one, which paints one of the Bible’s most comprehensive pictures of what it means for ordinary people to be “in Christ.”  
The Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco is one of the world’s most spectacular feats of engineering. 
It has also become a kind of romantic final stop for men and women intent on taking their own lives. 
Since the bridge opened in 1937, more than 1,700 people have hurled themselves into the frigid waters below.  Only 34 are known to have survived the 245-foot plunge.  In recent years, the rate of suicide attempts has accelerated to nearly one every other day. 
Local authorities have tried earnestly to intercede.  Emergency personnel have been trained to spot potential jumpers.  The Golden Gate is now closed to walkers during nighttime hours.  After years of debate, a suicide barrier is currently being constructed just below the bridge’s deck, extending out on both sides.  A group called the Bridgewatch Angels deploys hundreds of volunteers during the holidays, patrolling the pedestrian walkways for people overwhelmed by depression. 
Every few hundred feet there is an emergency telephone and a blue sign: “There is hope.  Make the call.  The consequences of jumping from this bridge are fatal and tragic.”
What the world needs now is hope.
Little has changed since the first century, when Paul wrote these words in Ephesians 1:18: “I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people.” 
It’s a wonderful thing to put up a sign that says, “There is hope.”  But of course, that sign actually has to mean something.
The dismal news is that our culture offers little reason for believing that hope is real.   
We live in the most advanced society the world has ever seen, yet our problems seem so immense that many people have lost confidence that they can ever be solved.  Globally, we have just lived through the most genocidal 100-year period in human history.  Elected leaders are dismissed with a shrug or barely disguised cynicism.
In previous generations, respected universities were considered reliable sources of wisdom, understanding, and answers to life’s big questions.  But in his book Knowing Christ Today, philosopher Dallas Willard asserts that America’s academic communities have utterly failed to provide intellectually responsible solutions to the classic human dilemmas regarding purpose, hope, and meaning.
As kids we loved stories and movies that ended, “And they lived happily ever after…”  But secular universities haven’t yet been able to produce compelling reasons why human beings should believe there will be happy endings in the future. 
Thus the late Cornell biology professor William Provine had little fear of pushback when he wrote, “There are no gods, no purposes, and no goal-directed forces of any kind.”  Such naturalism manifests all the passions of a new religion – an ideology explicitly barren of both God and hope.
Skeptics and cynics abounded in the ancient world, too.  Paul knew he couldn’t put up a sign or write a letter that said, “There is hope,” unless there were sound reasons for doing so.
“I pray that you will know the hope to which he has called you.”  It all came down to Jesus.  His resurrection (which we’ll consider tomorrow) was the ultimate game-changer.  Death, meaninglessness, and hopelessness would never again be the last word for humanity.  Paul insists this is something we can actually know.
Paul also prays “that the eyes of your heart might be enlightened.”  This is a wonderful turn of phrase.  Human eyes are considered the instrument of both sight and understanding.  In conversation we say to others, “I can see that,” as a way of communicating, “I get what you are saying.”
What does it mean to be “called” to hope? 
Imagine being trapped in a pitch-dark room.  You’ve been feeling your way along the wall for hours.  You’ve almost concluded there’s no exit.  Suddenly you hear someone call out.  “The door is over here.  Just follow my voice.”  There’s a way out after all.
Some of the most authoritative voices of our time have concluded that when it comes to the meaning of human life, we’re all in a darkened room.  And there is no door to be found. 
But followers of Jesus have discovered that there is hope.
The sign says, “Make the call.”
The wonderful news is that God himself is the one who’s always been doing the calling – and he’s inviting us to follow his voice right now.