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A Series on Hope: The difference between hope and optimism – Part 1

hope and optimism

By Rev. John E. Jackson

There is a difference between optimism and hope. Optimism is grounded in what happens to you. It is founded on the thought that things will eventually change around you to make you feel better about yourself.

Hope is grounded in an internal assurance that whatever circumstance you are in, you are still valued by God, you are still cherished by the eternal one and you have a divine destiny vouchsafed to you by the Creator that cannot be diminished by circumstances, cannot be erased by evil and evil people, and cannot be taken away by systems that seek to limit you. Hope is the faucet of joy, and true joy comes from the inside and not the outside.

In fact, one can have joy in the midst of misery because one can express joy in a minor key or the blues keys of music.

As we approach the end of the Lenten season, culminating in the celebration of the Resurrection of that African Revolutionary named Jesus, this thought was the theme of his earthly ministry.

This is seen in his presentation in the gospel of Matthew, the fifth chapter. This is what has come to be called by interpreters “The Sermon on the Mount.”

It was in that series of affirmation called “Blessed” that Jesus gave a powerful pep talk to poor, peasants and oppressed people who were at the bottom of society in the first century.

These were people discounted by the religious elite. Those religious elite could be likened to their twenty-first century counterparts called right-wing conservatives, who gained fresh renewal in the wake of the 45th president. The same 45th president emboldened and enabled a new round of white nationalistic hate in this nation.

The right-wing conservatives’ goal is control of systems and people in order to preserve white privilege in this country in the wake of a fastly changing demographic.

The religious elite of Jesus’ earthly ministry of the first century wanted to preserve their privilege, profit and connection to their master from Europe, the Caesar in Rome.

It is Jesus who speaks hope into the hearts of a beat down, burdened and beleaguered people whose skin had been kissed by nature’s sun, when he tells them, “You are the light of the world…”

Jesus does not say, “You will be the light of the world,” but Jesus says, “You are the light of the world,” right now.

This is not something that will mysteriously happen to them when their economic, social, political and educational circumstances change, but it is an assurance that they are the light of the world right now.

Jesus is letting them know they are the apple of God’s eye right now; they are the crown of creation right now; they are loved, valued and cherished by God right now. And Jesus is letting them know they have power to make God changes right now. They have agency to create a beloved community of justice right now.

Jesus is speaking hope and joy into them that they have the wherewithal right now to reform their communities and societies, right now, to make them take on the theology of God’s sufficiency, right now.

Jesus is not sugar coating the challenges and crises they will face in making the inclusive, loving, and compassionate Kingdom of Heaven a reality. Jesus also prepared them for the reprisals they would face, many times from those in their own communities who had been either brainwashed by a system of injustice or were too fearful as a result of oppression or by those who willingly try to take on the ways of their oppressors in order to profit from the poor.

What Jesus is emphasizing is that they are God’s instruments of inspiration in this world. Jesus is asserting that they are God’s means to offer mercy to people marginalized in a society of plenty. Jesus is affirming they are ambassadors of hope in a time where it seemed like “hope unborn had died,” to quote James Weldon Johnson’s hymn for Black Americans.

When Jesus says, “You are the light of the world…let your light shine so that men and women will see your good works and give God glory,” Jesus is establishing their view and vision of themselves, other people, and of God, and will not only redound to generations to come but will engage the very heart of the eternal who will marshal all the powers of the universe to ally with them in their marvelous movement of hope.

This is what this season of Lent, Holy Week and the resurrection of Jesus is all about. It is the theological principle that hope can gain victory from defeat, triumph from tragedy and joy out of sorrow.

The late Jegna and Black freedom fighter Marcus Mosiah Garvey used to say, “Up you mighty race, you can accomplish what you will.”

And as the old hymn of the church says, “time is filled with swift transition, none on earth unmoved can stand, build your hope on things eternal, hold to God’s unchanging hand.”

Be the hope you were born to be, today!

Knowing The Truth - Part I
Rev. Dr. John E. Jackson Sr.

Rev. Dr. John E. Jackson, Sr. is the Senior Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ-Gary, 1276 W. 20th Ave. in Gary. “We are not just another church but we are a culturally conscious, Christ-centered church, committed to the community; we are unashamedly Black and unapologetically Christian.” Contact the church by email at [email protected] or by phone at 219-944-0500.

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