1 Kings 17:8–16 [17–24]; Psalm 146; Galatians 1:11-24; Luke 7:11-17
It was good to see Alan & Anne Compaan in worship last week. Not everyone here knows Alan & Anne. Alan is the grandson of a former Lakeridge pastor. Today he’s chief of police for the City of Edmonds.
It’s tough to be a police officer these days. It’s never been easy to be in law enforcement but lately it’s seemed especially difficult. In times of crisis, we hope, our faith & most of all, our faith community, will be there to sustain us. Even though they live in Edmonds, Alan & Anne are occasionally able to join us for worship. I know I’m blessed when they do. I trust that they are sustained & encouraged by you, too.
In some ways this most recent tragedy was the toughest. You remember the story of the Pierce County deputy who killed his in-laws, then killed himself. It’s a strange situation, hard to comprehend. Sheriff’s deputy Allen Myron had problems with his health, problems in his marriage & problems related to the stress of his chosen profession. But in his line of work don’t you think he must’ve seen many situations over the years that were far worse than his own? We probably all know of situations in which people faced difficult challenges & yet they not only survived, but thrived, & moved on with their lives.
But as we reflect on the stories of our faith we shouldn’t be surprised. The circumstances of our lives are not what determine how we cope. What often makes or breaks the challenges we face in life is whether or not we have hope.
In two readings this morning we hear stories of mothers whose sons have died. It’s bad enough to lose a child. Even worse if it’s the only one.
But in each of these stories it’s not just a mother who’s lost a son. It’s a widow. In the Middle East 2000 years ago if you were a woman who had no husband & no son you had no future. The son of the woman from Zarephath was at death’s door. As she puts it, since her son was almost dead she would soon be as good as dead.
Without hope, a person really can feel as good as dead. They can become destructive, even self-destructive. In the course of a lifetime we meet people who feel overwhelmed, even paralyzed, by the challenges of their lives. That Pierce County deputy would be one of those. On the other hand, again, we meet people who have faced tremendous obstacles & unspeakable suffering. And yet, somehow they have prevailed, even to the extent that the hardship made them more patient, compassionate, & in time, even joyful. Their trials have not broken them; they have become better people, living for the sake of others. They are people of hope.
On the other hand, most people have hope. Most of us can at least get out of bed & do what needs to be done each day. Simply having hope, however, is not the final word. The question is: Where do we place our hope?
The answer is: We place our hope in many things. But we know from experience that, sooner or later, even the best & most reliable of these things will disappoint us.
Take technology, for example. How would we even get through a day without technology? But so far technology has not found a way to plug a hole in the bottom of the ocean. And even when the oil stops spewing in the Gulf of Mexico, will technology ever be able to clean up the water & beaches?
We place our hope in technology. But we have learned that all it takes is one volcano to paralyze air transportation around the world.
We could list other things we put our hope in & get the same result. All of us to some degree place our hope in the economy, the stock market, material wealth, good health, a political party, free enterprise, personal power or freedom. But all of these things are very fragile. Circumstances could change in a heartbeat–& then where would be our hope?
When it comes to Christian hope, we come to worship on Sunday morning & know what answer to expect. What do Christians hope in? We hope in Christ.
That’s the right answer. But what do we expect in return? Does hoping in God mean everything will turn out all right, as it did in today’s readings? (Elijah arrives on the scene, Jesus shows up, & poof!—the dead are no longer dead.)
No, we know from experience that hoping in God doesn’t guarantee that everything will go our way!
These scripture stories don’t promise that, either. On the one hand, by the end of these stories, the sons of two widows are alive. On the other hand, eventually those same sons would die, & their mothers, too, would eventually die.
What about us? For now, things may be okay—or not. But what about the future? Will our lives be better? Will the world be a better place? Who can say? Eventually, we all die.
Christian hope does not depend on how good or how bad the circumstances of our lives are. Christian hope depends on the presence & power of God in our lives, regardless of circumstances. That’s what the two widows got. Elijah & Jesus appeared to two people who had no hope–& in their world, no reason to hope.
This is the work of Christians in the world: First of all, to build a community whose members by their love for one another ensure that each person has hope. We in turn, instead of living fearfully, struggling to control the circumstances of our lives, are freed to turn our attention outward. The job we’ve been given is to offer hope to those who have no hope; to offer encouragement to those who are discouraged, through the power & presence of Christ revealed through the Body of Christ.
It’s important work. In fact, we can truthfully say that it’s a matter of life & death. What if Allen Myron, the Pierce County deputy, in the midst of his discouraging life, had heard a word from God through the kindness of some Christian or the support of a Christian community? How might his life have turned out differently if someone, somehow, could have assured him of hope in the midst of his despair? Who knows how many people in our own backyard are on the brink of losing all hope? Who knows what power there might be in the simple kindness we might offer our neighbors?
May each of us be clear about what we hope in. May our hope in Christ release us from fear & anxiety for ourselves. May the energy of Christ’s Body on earth instead be directed into a world badly in need of hope!