Hooked on hope
In Mark 5, there is the story of Jairus, the local synagogue leader approaching Jesus about her sick daughter. Approaching Jesus, Jairus said, “My little daughter is about to die! Please come and touch her, so she will get well and live.” “Alright; let’s go!” said Jesus. And on they went.
However, lots of people began to crowd Jesus, slowing him down on his way. It is easy to imagine Jairus’ growing impatience – “Come on! Let’s keep moving!”
As they were going, however, a sick woman appears out of nowhere, touches Jesus’ robes, and gets healed. Immediately the column stopped, and arguments developed. But worse, the whole thing added even more delays.
Finally, as Jesus got going again, they heard the bad news from home. “It’s no use, Jairus. Your daughter has died! Why bother the teacher anymore?”
It is interesting to note that it appears that Jairus didn’t heed his friends’ advise. I wonder what Jairus though about the whole thing. Watching a woman being healed while his beloved daughter died! It may have been a heart-breaking experience.
Yet, Jesus having overheard the news, said to Jairus, “Don’t listen to them; just trust me.”
Once they arrived at Jairus’ home, many were weeping and wailing. Nevertheless, Jesus went in and asked, “Why all this commotion and weeping? And the crowd laughed at him – C’mon, she’s dead!”
Still, when Jesus went inside the room, Jairus didn’t stop Him. And so, as we know, Jesus lifted the little girl back to life.
From hope to despair to overflowing joy. From the possibility of healing to death to a resurrection. What kept Jairus going through it all? He was hooked on hope.
Today’s Gospel is the story of Lazarus. Lazarus was sick, and her sisters, Martha and Mary sent word to Jesus – “Master, your dear friend Lazarus is very sick.”
“Alright; let’s go!” said Jesus. But much to the disciples’ surprise and Mary and Martha’s distress, rather than hurrying across the Jordan, Jesus decided to stay a couple of extra days.
When Jesus finally arrived in Bethany, He found Lazarus already four days dead. And Martha was very upset, “How could you do this to us,” she said. “Had you arrived sooner, my brother would not have been dead!”
When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, He became very upset. And so, Jesus went up to the tomb.
When Jesus arrived, he said, “Roll the stone aside.” But Martha recoiled to the idea, “Lord: It’s no use; Lazarus has been dead for four days. And the stench – It will be terrible!” she said.
But Jesus answered back to her, “Didn’t I tell you that if you would just trust me, you’d see God’s glory?”
Now, turning to the now open tomb Jesus cried, “Lazarus, come out!” And so, Lazarus came out.
Please note that the story tells us that there was only one miracle – Lazarus resurrection. It doesn’t say that the stench dissipated into thin air. More about this latter.
From hope to despair to overflowing joy. From just the glimmer of the possibility of healing to a resurrection.
In spite of all of their complaining, nevertheless, the sisters never gave up on Jesus. They were upset, yes. They were heartbroken, yes. But they never gave up. They were hooked on hope.
It seems to me that the whole point of the gospel stories is to encourage us to hope against hope.
I know; it is hard. Like the caterpillar who lives stuck to the leaves, it is difficult to imagine life as a butterfly. It is difficult to imagine the transformation from a little green crawling thing that only can chomp what it is before him to a fancy-colored butterfly who flies in freedom from flower to flower.
Looking to a kernel of corn it is difficult to imagine how such a seed can be transformed into a tall green plant, flowering into bountiful ears.
In our Old Testament lesson, we read that Ezekiel was asked to look to a valley filled with dry bones. There, the Lord asked him, “Can this bones get back to life?” And, in the vision, Ezekiel, like many of us would have done, edged his bet. “Good Lord, how would I know? You know the answer better than I do.”
The late Archbishop and Nobel Prize Desmond Tutu paraphrasing the Prophet Zachariah described himself as “A Prisoner of Hope.”
Hope is way more than optimism.
As Professor Omid Safi writes, “Hope is powerful. Hope is different. It is more, much more, than mere optimism.
“Optimism runs deep in the American consciousness. Many have commented on the inherent optimism of the American people. But optimism is…cheap.
“Optimism is ultimately about optics, about how we see the world. It’s about seeing the glass half-full. Hope is different. Hope is a cosmic quality. Hope is rooted in faith.”
Today’s lessons underscore that Jesus came to teach us that trusting in Him is way beyond seeing the glass half full. It is about believing that rivers of living water will flow – even when the glass is not even there.
It is to believe that “nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow— can separate us from God’s love.”
When my kids were growing up – and like children all over the world – when they were asked to do something that they didn’t like, they would complain, “Why?” And if you have been ever close to children, you know that the “Whys” would never end. So, one day, our little grandson Matthew was pestering Elizabeth with his never-ending “Whys.” So, Elizabeth said, “Because I said so!”
Which is what David said in Psalm 130 when he went through a time of great distress. Hope is not grounded in understanding why things happen, but in listening to what God said, and what still has to say.
As the story of Lazarus tells us, even the most stinking circumstances can be vanquished, even death itself. In other words, it doesn’t matter how stinking are the circumstances that one can be involved, Jesus is not afraid to come in.
When in your life not only you see dry bones, but when even your soul is as desolate and lifeless as a dry bone, still count on God, counsels David in Psalm 130. Trust in God’s word and promise, “Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord, your God is with you wherever you go.”
When the time come for us to go through the valley of despair, to be hooked on hope is to trust in a God that loves us dearly and can transform the direst of the circumstances. A God who holds us tight in his loving embrace.
A God that will make rivers flow in the desert, bones to get new life, the dead to rise, the sick to be healed. And, yes; a God that will fill this church again with the chirping of little children and the songs of praise of many, many more. Amen.