Based on Jeremiah 29:1, 4-7, Psalm 66, 2Timothy 2:8-15, Luke 17:11-19
I am sure that many of you have read the wonderful book by Corrie ten Boom entitled, “The Hiding Place”; or maybe have seen the movie. It details the struggle of this one-time watchmaker and her family in Holland during World War II. Corrie ten Boom was raised in a Christian household of the Dutch Reformed Church. When the Nazi’s invaded her country and began to round up Jews, the ten Boom family began to give them refuge in their home. Over the next few years, a secret room was created in the home so that refugees of all types could be given sanctuary. When the ten Boom family was finally outed for their resistance to the Nazi’s, the whole family was sent to concentration camps. Many in Corrie’s family died in those camps, including her father and dear sister Betsie, the latter just 15 days before Corrie was released.
Corrie smuggled in a Bible and remarkably it was never found through the many times she and her possessions were searched. Betsie and Corrie held prayer groups and they were a marvel to the other prisoners who remarked that those Christians are crazy because they have hope! In fact, just before Betsie died she told Corrie that, “there is no pit so deep, that God’s love is not deeper still.” Even to the last, the ten Booms were able to hold onto a hope that brought light into one of the darkest times in human history. A hope that was unchained to human rationality, effort and existed in spite of overwhelming evil. A hope that trusted that God was alive and at work in and through them.
This is the kind of unchained hope that the scriptures highlight for us today. From the praise and hope of the Psalmist for all that God has done and is doing, to the hope of the lepers that Jesus might heal them, to the hope in Christ of the writer of 2Timothy which reaches beyond imprisonment, to the radical hope contained in the letter to the exiles from the prophet Jeremiah. Let us go to God in prayer and thanksgiving that God’s love and hope for us are not chained to things of this world…
The prophet Jeremiah sent a letter to those exiled in Babylon from Jerusalem. A letter of hope and exhortation that in spite of the consequence that God had brought to bear on them all; that the same God who caused the exile would redeem them all. The letter encourages them to make themselves a home away from home for those 70 years. To live fully and well as strangers in a foreign land, to take wives and have children and to pray to the LORD on behalf of the city of Babylon so that all may fare well.
Jesus and the Disciples find themselves on the border lands between Samaria and Galilee – a place where the disenfranchised would tend to live. There they enter a village and are met by 10 lepers who call out to Jesus for mercy. Jesus shows them mercy and tells them to “Go and show yourselves to the priests” so that they could be declared clean and thus return to community. All 10 hurry off to the priests, but upon finding they have been cured and restored, only one – a Samaritan, comes back to fall at Jesus’ feet and thank him. Only one had his hope unchained to things of the world so that he could understand from where his healing came and could thus find himself, “praising God in a loud voice”.
The writer of 2Timothy is making the point that the followers of Jesus need to have the discipline of soldiers or athletes so that they might realize the reward of salvation through the Christ. The writer says that though he has been imprisoned for the sake of spreading the gospel, that no human-made chain can ever shackle or imprison God’s almighty love. That love will continue to be spread by those willing to suffer the rebuke of the world for the greater good of the glory of God.
Forces arrayed against God have always tried to limit the extent to which the gospel message was shared. They have tried imprisonment, torture and death, exile, scapegoating and all manner of other human efforts to try to chain and contain God’s word of hope and healing. It has never worked – it will never work. The reason that human-devised plans to thwart God never work is because there is nothing stronger than God’s love for us. The psalmist writes, “…For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried. You brought us into the net; you laid burdens on our backs; you let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water; yet you have brought us out to a spacious place….” God never rejects the prayers of the faithful nor ever removes God’s steadfast love.
This is why Jeremiah pens his letter of God’s words from the ruins of Jerusalem to the leadership in exile in Babylon. He is reminding these leaders that this exile is finite – God has said that it will last 70 years and no more. God through the prophet exhorts the people to make the best of a bad situation – to live fully and well so that they will multiply and be ready to return and repopulate all of Judah and Jerusalem. Beginning in verse 10, God let the people know they are not forgotten. “…For thus says the LORD: Only when Babylon’s seventy years are completed will I visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope….”
Corrie ten Boom had a favorite saying, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” That is, be certain that even in the worst possible situation you can imagine, God is with you. God knows the plans that God has for all of us contain welfare and not harm in the long view of God – they contain a future with hope that is unchained to any current situation or perceived reality. Hopeless situations are only seen in that light if one does not believe in an Almighty God. Corrie ten Boom, after the war ended, took over a former concentration camp and made it into a refugee camp for displaced Germans. She made sure that the barracks were painted green to empower healing and forgiveness among those who lived there.
In order for hope to be fully operational, it must not be shackled by our human condition, limited imagination or rationality. Divine hope, unchained by worldly restrictions, is available to us through the narrative of scripture and through our heartfelt prayers. This unchained hope never fails, because it is not dependent on what is currently happening in our lives or in our world. It is fully dependent on God and God’s plan. It might mean that we live in exile for 70 years, or in bondage for 400 years like the Hebrews before Moses came. Our hope has to be in the realization that even though we have gone about 2000 years since the Resurrection, that God is still at work on God’s plan for the world. Our hope needs to be that of the psalmist who sings, “…Come and hear, all you who are in awe of God, and I will tell you what God has done for me. I cried aloud to Elohim, and extolled God with my tongue. If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; and given heed to the words of my prayer….”
That last part is important…if we continue to harbor a love of unjust and sinful behavior in our hearts (aka iniquity) then we are not truly and completely repentant and thus our Lord will not heed our praises or our prayers. Only when we seek to truly love God with all that we have and all that we are AND our neighbors as self can we have hearts that can hope fully in God and God’s righteousness. Corrie ten Boom forgave two of the workers at the Ravensbruck camp – one of whom had been cruel to her sister and probably hastened her death. Corrie had lived into an unchained hope which brought her through the valley of the shadow of death and back out into the light of God’s redeeming love as detailed in her smuggled Bible. The Exile ended…World War II ended…the power of sin and death ended with the Resurrection. Thanks be to God for giving us something to hope for that never fails! Amen and amen!