Carriers of hope

We’re talking about “Hope” again. Last week, I urged you to choose hope as an attitude of life. Today I’m urging you to be a carrier of hope to others.

As we continue to fight the spread of a deadly virus, it seems odd for me to be urging you to be a “carrier” of anything. But our vocation as Christians is to be a carrier of the gospel, and to be a carrier of the gospel is to be a carrier of hope. We’ll return to that thought in a moment.

Some restrictions are being eased, but we are entering the seventh week of our anti-virus shutdown. Some people keep talking about it being a “new normal.” Others speak of a “new abnormal.”

Their point is that nothing about this crisis is normal, and neither is our response to it. It will take months, if not years, to neutralize the threat of this virus. In the meantime we will continue to improvise solutions to new problems as they arise. Chances are, we will need to solve some of the same problems repeatedly, as we are forced into new lockdowns and re-openings to match the ebb and flow of the virus.

Nothing about this is normal. There is no new normal. Everything is abnormal, and will be for a long time. That is not cheerful news, I know – especially when so many of us are yearning to “return to normal.”

But what “normal” would that be? As happy as we all will be to see this crisis over, we should remember that what was “normal” for many people was a life of misery and want.

For example, we have learned that you are especially vulnerable to this virus if you are 65 and older, live in a nursing home or long-term care facility, have an underlying medical condition – or are poor or black.

You’re especially vulnerable if you’re poor or black because of where you live and lack of medical care. That’s the “old normal.” How is it remotely moral for us as a society to accept that as our “new normal”?

Remember what else was “normal” only a few weeks ago? Ugly partisan rancor in politics; dysfunctional government at almost all levels; policies designed to fleece the poor and enrich the wealthy, while denying the ballot to those who might vote against such atrocities… None of these things is a sign of a healthy society. Do we really want to return to that “normal”?

I’ve heard it said that this coronavirus is the not a disease but a symptom. The disease is the thoroughly sinful way we humans treat one another and the earth we inhabit together. To survive, we have to treat the underling disease as well as any symptoms that may arise from it. To survive, we have to treat not only the coronavirus but also the disease called human nature.

We in the churches can offer a cure for the disease. So what’s our next step? Yes, we greatly desire to worship together in person. That always means expressing our love and care for each other through physical contact, and the days when we can safely do that cannot come soon enough.

But is it enough to return to where we were before? Rather than simply reopen the doors and do exactly what we did before exactly as we have always done it before, can’t we do something better? Can’t we do a rethink, reset, reboot, or relaunch so that our worship and our outreach and every other aspect of our communal lives are actually better than they were before?

Crisis always forces change. In a crisis, we have an opportunity to change for the better, or we can allow the experience to change us for the worse.

Biblically speaking, there are two kinds of time. First is chronos time, the kind of time you measure with a watch or a calendar. Second is kairos time, which is God’s time, when the time is right for significant change.

When Jesus said, “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is here,” he didn’t mean chronos time. He meant kairos time. Jesus came at the right time, which is God’s time.

Here’s the question we face: Is this chronos time for us? Or is it kairos time?

Our answer depends in large part on our sense of hope. If we feel the old clock just ticking away as it always has, chances are we aren’t feeling much real hope for the future. But if we feel the possibility of something good happening in God’s kairos time, we can live with renewed hope.

Knowing Christ offers us hope, the Apostle Paul says. Writing to the church at Ephesus, Paul reminds the folks in that church that they had no hope before they knew Christ. He says: “You were aliens rather than citizens of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of God’s promise. In this world you had no hope and no God” (Ephesians 2:12 CEB).

Coming to know Jesus gave them hope. “Now you are no longer strangers and aliens,” Paul says. Now “you belong to God’s household” (Ephesians 2:19 CEB).

Living under lockdown for more than six weeks, we’ve all begun to feel somewhat like strangers and aliens, haven’t we? We’ve begun to feel like exiles from the places we love. We also need to turn to God for hope.

Long ago, God gave this message to the prophet Jeremiah to convey to God’s people who were living in exile from their homeland. “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” (Jeremiah 29:11 NRSV).

It’s not that God has a blueprint for each of our lives that we have to live out to the letter. God does not micromanage our lives. God gives us freedom. That’s both exciting and scary. It’s exciting because so much is up to us. It’s scary because so much is up to us.

In exile, it’s natural to lose hope. We’ve lived in exile longer than the standard quarantine. That word – quarantine – is Italian for 40 days. It refers to a 40-day period of waiting that was imposed on arriving ships that were suspected of carrying disease.

In the Bible, 40 is represents a symbolic period of testing for such figures as Moses and Elijah and Jonah and Jesus himself. It’s a period of testing for us as well. As we wait for the quarantine to be lifted, where do we draw the strength to go on?

I have a favorite passage from the Prophet Isaiah that I share at every funeral or memorial service I do. Let me share it with you now, because we all need to hear its message of hope to lift us from the pit of grief and despair. Isaiah writes:

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted. But those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles. They shall run and not be weary. They shall walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:28-31 NRSV).

Remember what we said last week? In Hebrew, the words for “wait” and “hope” are similar. So we can hear Isaiah saying that “those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength.” And also saying, “those who hope in the Lord shall renew their strength.”

That’s a promise we all need to take to heart so we can get through this thing together and come out stronger on the other side. It’s good that each of us individually is encouraged by this promise. It’s better when we encourage one another with this promise.

I cannot say who it is, but I am sure that someone you know and love is hurting today.

Someone you know and love needs to hear a message of hope today.

Someone you know and love needs to hear a word of encouragement from you.

Someone you know and love needs you to call or text or email and write or stop by their house today, if only to honk and wave and shout, “Love you! We’ll get together soon!”

I’m inviting you to be a carrier of hope to someone, a deliverer of God’s message of love.

The Psalmist says: “Hope in the Lord! Be strong! Let your heart take courage! Hope in the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14 CEB). Can you convey that message to someone today, or tomorrow or sometime this week?

And can you also think – somewhere in the back of your head, where you do your best thinking – what can we do as a church to be a more effective carrier of hope to the world when this crisis is over? We’ll share more thoughts on that later.

Amen.

This message was delivered via Facebook and YouTube for Edgerton United Methodist Church in Edgerton, Kansas, on May 3, 2020, the fourth Sunday of the Easter season.

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