So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while,
“He who is coming will come and will not delay.
But my righteous one will live by faith.
-Hebrews 10:35-37 (NIV)
Here’s a good sports trivia question for the next time you want to stump your friends. Just ask them which President hosted the 1985 Super Bowl Champion Chicago Bears at the White House.
If your friend knows anything at all about United States Presidents, he’ll likely say something like, “1985? Well, that would be Ronald Reagan.” And, of course, your friend would be right that Ronald Reagan was in office in 1985. He might even think for a moment, just to reassure himself that 1986, when the Super Bowl the Bears won was actually played, wasn’t an election year. Your friend would be absolutely sure: Ronald Reagan was the President who hosted the ‘85 Bears at the White House.
And, of course, your friend would be absolutely wrong.
The President that hosted the Bears at the White House was actually Barack Obama. On October 7th, 2011.
Two days after the Bears beat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX, on January 28th, 1986, the space shuttle Challenger exploded just over a minute after launch. It wasn’t a time for celebration, and the White House cancelled the Bears’ trip. No one, apparently, ever got around to rescheduling the traditional trip.
But when President Obama was elected, someone in the NFL decided that with a resident of Chicago in office, the time was right to see that the Bears got their trip. They called, and the President was eager to oblige. So, 25 years after the Bears’ win, 100 players, coaches, and staff from that team finally got to meet the President at the White House. With the Marine Band playing “Bear Down, Chicago Bears,” Players Jim McMahon, Willie Gault, Richard Dent, Shaun Gayle, Otis Wilson, defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, head coach Mike Ditka, and most everyone else connected to that team met with President Obama on the South Lawn. Obama said the ‘85 Bears were the “greatest team in NFL history,” and that they “changed the laws of football.”
“This is as much fun as I will have as president of the United States,” Obama said. “This is one of the perks of the job, right here.”
I wonder if any of those players or coaches held out any hope all these years that they’d get to make their visit to the White House. I wonder if they felt a small pang of sadness when they saw other Super Bowl champions honored. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if they had just stopped thinking about it, had written it off as one of those things that happened so long ago that it didn’t really matter anymore. Certainly, all these players and coaches went on with their lives, retired from football and turned to other careers, other pursuits.
And I wonder how many believers have done the same thing. Sometimes, the moment of glory that we look forward to, the moment Christ returns and everything we hope for is fulfilled, seems unlikely, doesn’t it? The world turns on, and sin, injustice, and corruption seem to carry the day. Wicked people take advantage of the powerless, the poor, and the weak. Righteous people are persecuted for their faith. War, famine, and disease decimate whole nations.
It’s easy to see, in such a world, how even the most hopeful could lose hope, the most innocent be turned hard and cynical. When hope is deferred for as long as the Christian hope has been deferred - well, it can be hard to keep hoping.
And, yet, that’s really what faith is.
“Faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see,” said the author of the New Testament epistle we call Hebrews. Paul wrote, “Hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has?” The implication is obvious, isn’t it? There’s something about the hope we have in Jesus that has to be deferred. And so faith always carries an element of expectation. In fact, as soon as we place our hope too much in this world, we find our faith weakening and our hope shrinking.
The opposite of faith isn’t doubt. It’s the absence of expectation.
To lose our faith is to stop believing in a God that will act, a God who’s too good to tolerate injustice, violence, sin, wickedness, death, and corruption forever. It’s to stop believing that he loves his people and will vindicate them. It’s to stop believing in resurrection, in eternal life, in new creation, and it’s to stop believing that God will topple Satan and the power structures we human beings invest so much time, money, and effort in maintaining.
To lose our faith is to stop expecting.
The writer of Hebrews calls this expectation “confidence, boldness.” There’s some irony in that, since he’s writing to believers who were marginalized, disenfranchised, and persecuted in their society. “Whatever you do, don’t throw away your boldness,” he warns. Raise your head. Puff out your chest. Dare the world to do its worst, and tell them why. Tell them that you expect your God to act.
Some of the ‘85 Bears couldn’t make the long-awaited trip to the White House. Walter Payton died of cancer several years ago. Dave Duerson took his own life earlier this year. William Perry, “The Refrigerator,” has an illness that makes it difficult to travel. President Obama noted their absence.
When our expectation is fulfilled, of course, there will be no need for such a note. That’s because even death doesn’t blunt the edge of our hope. Maybe that’s why you hear believers speaking so expectantly about their hope at funerals: faith makes the most sense in the face of something like death.
Four-year-old Donna Hornik died, of cancer, just about two years ago. Like a lot of other people, I’ve gotten to know Donna a little through her mother, who has written a series of articles on her blog, Mary Tyler Mom, about their experience of losing a child. In one of her posts, “Choosing Hope,” she writes about running across a quote from Martin Luther: “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” The reason Luther could say that, of course, was because of his expectation that God would act, finally and ultimately, in Jesus to vindicate the hope of his people.
So may we live hopefully and expectantly. May we plant apple trees, no matter which direction the winds may be blowing, no matter that the world seems to be collapsing upon us. Because that world needs our expectation, our confidence, our boldness, our faith. Our hope.
Even if you never get to meet the President, one day you’ll meet the Lord.