Hope, a Sermon by the Rev. Robert W. Wohlfort, Th.D., February 4, 2018

This sermon was delivered by the Rev. Robert W. Wohlfort, Th.D., Transitional Pastor, at Our Savior Lutheran Church & Campus Ministry on Sunday, January February 4th, the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany.  The readings and Psalm were: Isaiah 40:21-31, Psalm 147, 1 Corinthians 9:16-23, Mark 1:29-39.

As I mentioned at the beginning of the service my sermon offering for today gives focus to HOPE.  We are in desperate need to be reminded and assured of the hope that is the core of our faith journey and that hope is an outgrowth of what we have noticed in the gospel readings from Mark…following our Lord, Jesus.

A modest detour first…which may seem disconnected from hope…and this detour is not a disconnect.

Jesus and his not yet complete retinue of disciples come to Simon’s home for lunch.  Bad luck…Mom is sick with fever…maybe the flu…and there will be no lunch.  No problem…Jesus takes her by the hand, lifts her up and off to the kitchen she dutifully shuffles.  Jesus heals so that he and his band of followers will be fed…as if they are incapable of making a sandwich or even set out a bit hungry.

Bad theology!  Terrible interpretation!  Self-serving anti-misogyny cherry picking.   We need to know that this is Mark reporting.  We need to be aware that the Greek verb rendered “…[he] lifted her up.” is the same verb Mark will use in other healings of “lifting and raising” and most dramatic of all, the verb used in the Garden on Easter morning…of Jesus being raised from the dead!  All healing is resurrection!

It is in Mark that all of the healings, the raisings, the recoveries are always in the context of returning the healed ones to their families and their communities.  All of the healings in Mark point to and reference our Lord’s resurrection from death. Jesus’ healing work in Mark is not primarily about an individual recovery.  Simon’s wife’s mother is healed so that her family and her community might return to wholeness.

Remember the man in the Capernaum synagogue who disrupted worship two weeks ago?  Jesus called out the demon and the man rejoins his community.  Go home and read Mark in this light…healing, community, life!

And Mom prepares lunch…she serves them.  The verb here is a form of the Greek word “diakonia”…the root of deacon and diaconate…one who serves.  Same verb is used earlier in chapter 1 when the angels come to Jesus to “minister” to him after the 40-day trial in the wilderness.  And so it will unfold in Mark.  Persons are healed and ministered to so that they become well, are able to rejoin and thereby complete the community and be ready, available and step up to serve.

This is how it is…how it works for those of us who are followers of Jesus, the Christ.  In Matthew our Lord states, “I come not to be served but to serve.”   Isn’t this an interesting Messiah!?  Isn’t he a radical Savior!?

We now enter in to the overt segway regarding hope.  Simon’s mother-in-law is healed.  “That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.  And the whole city gathered around the door.  And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons…”

As I was working with this paragraph, it occurred to me that this day of healing in the synagogue and the home might well have been Friday or Saturday…which is to say Sabbath time.  Sabbath time when work was not to be done…not even healing of diseases; calling out demons; aiding the crippled to walk; making it possible for the lepers to return to their families and communities.

The laws of the Scribes forbid this.  The guidelines of compassion, need, love and relationship, this “new teaching,” this radical orientation to life and hope for a future is announcing the Kingdom of God…this new teaching is breaking in to be the norm.  Person’s needs bubble to the top.  Compassion and justice move to the front of the line.

Remembering that Mark wrote his account of the life and ministry of Jesus in the context of Nero’s persecution of the newly formed followers of Jesus and at the time of the Jewish rebellion against imperial Rome.  Remembering that these hunted, tortured and dying recipients would hear of Jesus through Mark…they would know that Jesus was very much with them in their torment.  The torment would continue and the torment would not be the last word.

Maybe…just maybe, the hearers of this new teaching, the hearers of the many healings would recall phrases from our first reading today…the images from Isaiah 40.  They would know as we know that the 40th chapter of Isaiah is a new beginning.  Chapter 40 and what follows is all about newness…about the exiled Jews going into their future of release and return to Jerusalem.  Their years in Babylonian capture are over!  Life is returning!  Healing has come!  Like Simon’s mother-in-law they are experiencing resurrection!  Now they have another opportunity to be a serving community.

Isaiah 40:29ff-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 on 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 be faint.

The captive Jewish nation did not know they would return.  Their leaders such as Isaiah and Jeremiah reminded them of their sins that caused the diaspora and, for years, kept the hope alive that God would not abandon them…kept the truth alive that even in Babylon they were still, like us, the beloved community of God.

The hope of that beloved community is the same hope of the beloved community listening to Mark’s story of Jesus and the “new teaching” and the many healings of our Lord.

The hopes of the exiled community; and the hopes of the tormented Christians and Jews of Mark’s  time…is the same hope called for from us; at this time of February 2018; in this place called The Upper Valley.

The context of those communities were Babylon, Rome and Palestine.

Our contexts are:

-Larry Nasser, a trusted physician who abused hundreds;

-a brutal civil war in Syria that brutally targets civilians;

-the “ethnic cleansing” of the Rohinga Muslims by the military and the Buddhists of Myanmar;

-our United States that is so bitterly divided;

-refugees and DACA persons fearful of being broken apart from families and the only homeland they know.  Fellow citizens fearful and frightened of those who look not like them;

-the list is long; the needs great; the exercise of love in short supply.

Our pastor, Susan Thomas, often declared, “Despair is not an option!”  She is correct.  Were we to only focus on the list just offered, despair is the easy and understandable response.  We are not such people.  We are the baptized; we have been lifted up, healed and resurrected; we are baptized, resurrected for the purpose of return to the beloved community in order to serve.

We do this and are empowered for service because we live in and with and breathe HOPE…the hope that is in our Lord.

We also live in other contexts that spring from hope:

-the freeing of Nelson Mandela and the dismantling of apartheid;

-the hard prophetic work of The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King that moved the righteous civil rights movement forward;

-God is not finished with God’s work here at OSLC and in hope we have lived a year in reflection, discussion, prayer and work. We trust that the Spirit has led us to invite and consider Kyle Seibert to be our pastor.

One of my pastors, Charles Mueller, described hope this way: “Hope is a future expectation based on a present reality.”  The reality of our hope is in a Lord that always served and served from a posture of love.  Did he always succeed?  No… the ending of his life and the continued presence of evil activities testify to the fact that all did not turn out well.

However, no matter the situation, the threats, the rebukes…our Lord always said and did what was right and good and, most importantly, his execution was not the last word!  He was “lifted up”…death no longer was the last word.

So, our hope is in this Jesus.

Vaclav Havel was a Czech poet and playwright and anti-communist activist in his home country in the 1980s.  On account of his writings and activism he was often jailed.  He and his comrades were unbowed and ultimately he became the president of a free Czech republic.  In prison he wrote this about hope:

The kind of hope I often think about I understand above all as a state of mind, not a state of the world.  Either we have hope within us or we do not; it is a dimension of the soul; it is not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation.  Hope is not prognostication.  It is an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and it is anchored somewhere beyond the horizons.  Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in  enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but, rather, and ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.

Jesus, our hope, is both “beyond the horizon” and in our hearts.  People of our loving Lord, “By God’s mighty actions in Jesus, the Christ, we are free persons with an open future.  Let us live that future with joy and immense hope.”

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