Rooted in Hope
Based on Jeremiah 32:1-9, Psalm 91, 1Timothy 6:6-19, Luke 16:19-31
I met with my spiritual director this week, as I do every month, and his opening prayer contained the phrase, “And comfort Dan as he goes through the ups and downs of life…” I smiled and said a heartfelt, “amen!” to that statement as you all know the kind of time that we are in right now. One cannot turn on the news or boot up a device to access the internet without encountering some kind of rancor, strife, devastation, or issue of social injustice leading to human suffering. It is easy in such a time, even for us who regularly attend worship and are active in a faith community, to despair – that is, to give up hope that things will get better.
While pondering what God wanted me to say to you this week, I was reminded of some black and white photographs that I had seen over the years of persons in dire straits. One such picture showed an old burned-out mountain shack. All that remained was the chimney…the charred debris of what had been that family’s sole possession was the backdrop for the photograph. In front of this destroyed home stood an old man dressed only in his underclothes with a small child dressed in a pair of patched overalls. It was evident that the child was crying. The elder was not crying but had on his face a look of determination – almost with a measure of defiance. His eyes were softened by the grief of the child and his body language seemed to be speaking into the situation words of hope that all was not lost. In fact, the photographer had penned underneath the picture these simple but transformative words that I suspect the man spoke into the situation…“Hush child, God ain’t dead!”
That is the message of hope that the Bible brings to our lives. No matter what comes our way during this life, we who believe in a living and almighty God have the assurances that we are never left alone to face life’s tragedies. That is the hope that is echoed down to us today from the pages of this sacred book. From Jeremiah’s defiantly hopeful act, to the psalmist’s song of God’s protection, the admonishment to follow Jesus in our Epistle lesson and Jesus’ parable of how the righteous are rewarded in the life to come. There is much here today to root us in hope…let us go now to God with a prayer of thanksgiving that God is alive and ever faithful…
Times are indeed hard for the prophet Jeremiah. The Babylonian army is besieging the city of Jerusalem after having laid waste to all of Judah. The prophet finds himself “confined in the court of the guard” – basically on house arrest, for stating the truths about King Zedekiah and the coming Exile. Yet even though he is doubly confined, he hears the word of the LORD telling him that he should buy a piece of land in Anatoth (his homeland) from his cousin Hanamel. Now, all of us who have bought property before try to look for a deal – and certainly land prices were probably rock-bottom at that particular time. Honestly though, given the situation and the fact that Jeremiah knows what is about to happen to all the folks in Jerusalem, it is really a stretch to consider buying land right then. However, Jeremiah is rooted in the hope of God whose word instructs that the future will see fields and vineyards again in the land of Judah.
The letter writer of 1Timothy is encouraging all who hear this letter to “agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ” and teach them to others. Those that do not agree with the teachings of Jesus are considered to be, “…conceited, understanding nothing”…having a “morbid craving for controversy and disputes about words”. It goes on to say that from these types of people “come envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, and wrangling among those who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining godliness is a means of gain….” Kind of describes much of the writings from our popular and political culture right now, doesn’t it?! Scripture tells us that trusting their love to that of money, they become rooted in evil – whereas if they continued to trust in the teachings of Jesus, they would be rooted in divine hope.
Jesus tells a stark story about judgment following our lives. His parable revolves around the ultimate fortunes of an anonymous rich man and poor man by the name of Lazarus. Lazarus spent his days at the gate of the rich man, so run-down that he couldn’t even shoo away the dogs that bedeviled him. He longed for scraps from the rich man’s table, but there was nothing. When he died, angels carried him to Abraham while the rich man ended up in Hades. The rich man looked up and saw Lazarus with Father Abraham and tried his best to order Lazarus and Abraham to serve him. Abraham would have none of this and reminded the rich man of what Moses and the prophets taught about how we are to live in right relationship with others – especially those who are marginalized in our communities. The message is clear, if we follow the teachings of the Bible, we will be blessed by hope in the promises of God while on earth and in our eternal life to come.
Throughout the Bible’s witness, there are those who are firmly rooted in their faith and trust in God – in their hope for God’s steadfast love and faithfulness; and those who choose to follow the empty promises of the world. Now to be fair, there are certainly momentary joys to be had by chasing after worldly things and attaining some measure of public esteem. Yet, when one has done that for a while, one notices that, just like any addiction, one has to attain more or produce more in a never-ending cycle to achieve a measure of happiness. One hopes that prosperity and fame will never cease, because if they do, there is nothing to hold on to when they are gone. It is like a bush with a shallow root system in a drought. It cannot tap into the moisture that is well below the surface. Because of this it dries up and dies.
When we are deeply rooted in the “sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ”, on the other hand, we are tapped into that living water that sustains us, even if it never rains again. No matter what life throws at us, we become like that elder in that vivid picture of the fire-ravaged homestead. That elder, who had been made wise by time and trust in his God who had seen him through previous tough times. His hope, rooted in the gospel message of Jesus got distilled down into a bumper sticker of faith; “God ain’t dead”! Thus that picture, instead of being a reminder of the tragedy and despair of life, has come to be a reminder of hope rooted in a God of the living. A God who never fails to be with us in good times and bad – redeeming and forgiving us and calling us all beloved children.
Often, I find myself in need of reminders that there is a hope so strong that the evil of the world cannot overcome it. In the midst of all of life’s troubles and failures, I need mental pictures to remind me that all is not lost as long as God is alive and has a plan for me and for all of creation. I need prayers for comfort from trusted friends when I am hurting and buffeted by the winds of fate. I need an unknown believer to look out at me from a photograph or from the pages of the Bible, and remind me that I serve a God who is alive and well and right there beside me when my world turns to ash and I have to start again. I need to be deeply rooted in the belief that “God ain’t dead” so that I can reach down, pick up the pieces of my earthly life and continue my journey away from despair. A despair that seeks to steal my future, rather than a hope rooted in the good news which creates my preferred future in and with God.
Disciples of the Risen Christ, we need never despair! God is alive and well and speaking into our lives today. The word of the LORD and the Spirit of the LORD still come to us; revives and energizes us in ways that the world never can. When life gets tough, remember to be rooted in the battle-tested hope of that old mountain man…no matter what, the evils of the world will never win, because “God ain’t dead”! Thanks be to God, amen!