I didn't grow up as a practicing Christian but I am pretty sure being from Buffalo prepared me. Growing up in the Buffalo area requires an awful lot of hope. Living in a thriving city like San Antonio makes being hopeful pretty easy. Home values go up, jobs come to town, the sun shines and the Spurs win. Buffalo, on the other hand, still reels from the painful death of its major industrial base, Bethlehem Steel. The scar of that great loss still marks the shore of Lake Erie and still haunts families who never recovered emotionally or financially. It continues to trickle down economically making every bit of growth hard earned. It continues to trickle down emotionally laying a dim fog of despair on the hearts of so many. And no matter how long you live in it or love it, the long winters of cold and dark can really drain the hope from your soul. And most people who have lived in Buffalo long enough can tell you that the words "wide right" actually produce a physical reaction sort of like nausea but more painful. Many Buffalonians can remember where they sat in January of 91, 92, 93 and 94 as their hopes of Superbowl victory were dashed once again.
As I sat last night watching my Bills try with all their might to scratch out a win against a team from another city that has faced some rough times, Cleveland, as I watched those Bills fans stand in below freezing weather until the bitter end, I realized that these are people of hope. It is easy to be hopeful when victory surrounds you, but it is something else when the entire universe tells you to give up.
This is the type of hope we are called to as Christians. Not hope in the face of victory but hope knowing that, even in the midst of despair our victory has already been won. The apostle Paul loved to write about this hope. In the 10th chapter of 2 Corinthians he writes,
Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation. We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He who rescued us from so deadly a peril will continue to rescue us; on him we have set our hope that he will rescue us again.
In the first letter of Peter we read,
But in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you. (1 Peter 3:15)
This is not to say that all Buffalo Bills fans place their hope in the right place. I pray that their eternal hope is placed in something more reliable than our beloved Bills. But, as Christians, perhaps observing them can teach us something. Can we learn to hold on to hope even when the facts the world offers us tell us not to? In a world filled with extreme poverty, disease, corruption and violence; in a nation facing huge economic uncertainty and certain change can we have hope, true hope, not in ourselves but in the God who tells us that our victory has already been won?