THE SOURCE OF OUR HOPELESSNESS
In the last few months here at Northfield we seem to keep coming back to hope. And that makes sense because there is so much happening in our world that makes hope seem impossible. Across the world there seems to be a crisis of leadership, with corruption, self-interest, and incompetence the order of the day. In society there seems to be a crisis of connection, with religious, ethnic and ideological differences growing wider and more violent. But where the crisis of hope is felt most keenly is in our own homes and families. In our struggle to find and keep work. In the battle to make ends meet. In the individualism that makes it so hard to build strong families and relationships.
But, when it comes down to it, the basic problem with our hopelessness is that we feel alone. When the world feels so threatening and divided, and when even our homes are unsafe, we feel horribly isolated and it seems like we have no resources, no power to change anything. Our hopelessness doesn’t stem from what’s happening in the world. It stems from feeling isolated, from feeling powerless, from feeling unseen, and from feeling completely vulnerable. Brazilian pastor, Claudio Oliver, offers a thought experiment. If you lost everything and were in s strange city with nothing. How long would it take to find food, shelter and work? For most of us not very long. So, he says, poverty is not lack of resources, but lack of friends. I believe the same is true of hope – it’s a lack of relationships that can open up possibilities.
I remember seeing a story on Facebook about an 82 year-old man whose wife died. After she was gone he fell into depression and lost all reason to live. He spent days just staring out the window at the squirrels, and pretty much just waiting to die. His isolation robbed him of all hope.
GOD’S GIFT OF HOPE
The widow in today’s reading must have felt exactly like that old gent. We have no idea when she lost her husband, but when we meet her, she is in the process of burying her son. But, for a widow in Jesus’ day that meant more than just the inexpressible grief of losing a child. It also meant that she lost everything. A woman without a man in her life had no property, no money, no means of support, no identity. she essentially became a non-person, which meant that she had no hope. Although she was walking in a crowd, she was alone and lost.
But notice what Jesus does. We have no idea why he was in Nain, but he arrived just as the funeral procession was coming out of the village gates. As far as we know he had no connection with this woman or anyone else there, but he stepped in. He took the initiative, not waiting for anyone to ask him to do anything. And he began by touching the bier. That would have made him instantly unclean. It was an act of joining this woman in her isolation and rejection. It was an act of connection, of standing with her and saying you are not alone. And right there she went from hopeless to hopeful. And then he spoke to her son and he came back to life, talking his head off – which proves just how alive he was.
And as we witness this story we see God’s glory revealed again – in God’s willingness to step in even when we don’t ask. In God’s desire to stand with us and fill us with hope even in hopeless situations. And in the gift of resurrection that Jesus brings to this woman.
We may not have lost a child. We may not be facing destitution or the loss of everything we have. But, I know as I stand here that so many of us are feeling hopeless. So many of us wonder how long we can stay in this country. Some of us worry that we can’t go anywhere else. Some of us are feeling that about our relationships or our jobs. Some of us have discovered that our bodies are dying, and some of us have gone through trauma that has changed us forever and we don’t know how we can navigate the new world we’re in.
But, today Jesus comes to us as he did to this widow. He stands with us and he shows us that we are not – we are never – alone. And by his presence and grace he offers us hope. All we have to do is receive it, accept it.
That old 82 year-old man who lost his wife? There’s more to his story. One day he was in a grocery store and as he walked past a mother with her four year-old daughter in a trolly, the little girl reached out to him. “Hi old person,” she said. “It’s my birthday.” And then she demanded a hug. He responded, “Absolutely!” Then the little girl asked her mom to take a picture of the two of them. And the relationship turned into a friendship like no other. He has grandkids and she has grandparents, but there is a bond that has changed his life. He now has a purpose. He has a connection. He has hope. He calls her an angel from God. And she goes to sleep holding his picture.
RECEIVING THE GIFT
As followers of Jesus we are never alone. That’s why we gather in community like this. We always have sisters and brothers to stand with us. We always have friends. And we always have the presence of Christ with us. And where Jesus is there is always hope. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:10-11, “If Christ is in you, the Spirit is your life because of God’s righteousness, but the body is dead because of sin. If the Spirit of the one who raised Jesus from the dead lives in you, the one who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your human bodies also, through his Spirit that lives in you.”
But, if there is always hope, then that means something. It means that we have to live out of that hope – and it means that we are called to follow Jesus and be carriers of hope. Two quick suggestions:
Firstly, If God’s hope is always available to us, we need to be intentional to receive it. Yes, God’s hope comes as a surprise, as it did for this widow. But we know something she didn’t. We know that Jesus’ presence is always with us, and we know that resurrection is always ready to break out. And that means we can live in expectation, intentionally looking for and waiting for God’s hope to break through. We cannot allow ourselves to be robbed of hope by cynicism, pessimism, negativity, or fear. We are called to choose to hope – to be, as Jeremiah says, prisoners of hope. To let hope be our framework, our motivation, our reason for being. So each day, make that choice for hope, because if Jesus is with us, resurrection is always just around the corner.
And then secondly, Learn to hope proactively, like Jesus. Jesus saw not just the crisis, the loss, the death. He also saw the opportunity. His default was to expect God to step in, he expected resurrection. And so, when he saw the chance, he stepped in and worked to allow it to happen. He didn’t just wait for hope to come to him – he worked to bring hope to others. We might be the channel that God wants to use to surprise someone else with hope – like that little four year old girl saying “Hi old person. It’s my birthday and I want a hug.”
Our hopelessness doesn’t stem from what’s wrong in the world. Our hopelessness stems from our isolation. But, God has given us each other, and God has given us God’s own self. So we are not alone. And there is never a reason not to remain a prisoner of hope.