As a society we love to count and rank things. We are constantly counting how many people are at this event, that event. We rank people in political races, athletes, books, and so on. I turn on ESPN daily, to check the rankings and comparisons. Television shows, bookstores, and Internet pages are covered with “Top Ten” list. Although we don’t publicize it we too have top ten lists of places we like to eat, songs we like to listen to, even top ten people we like to be around. It is part of our human nature to compare, or keep track.
We even do that in church. We all have our top ten moments in the life of our faith community. Some are positive memories some are not so pleasant.
And I think if we read the Bible carefully, we find that there are certain stories or characters in the Bible that just stand head and shoulders above the rest in terms of importance or impact. One such story that should stick out to us is the stories of the Exile. It is nearly impossible to overstate the importance of the Babylonian exile for the people of God. The fall of Jerusalem fundamentally challenged the predominate view of the Promised Land and Israel’s place in it. The destruction of the temple led the prophets and priests to think in new ways about how God is present with the people and what authentic worship of God, when things are going very badly looks like. The people lost everything. Their homes, jobs, money, church, and were driven out of only life they new. They were totally defeated and destroyed. King David’s royal line prompted the people of God to lament their circumstances and vehemently protest their current situation. They looked inward, outward, and upward for explanation and answers to painful questions about the nature of suffering, hope, and divine presences. I wonder if for any of us this sounds familiar.
As devastating and traumatic the situation is there is still a word of hope. Jeremiah begins to tell the people to take a deep breath, settle down, and begins to tell them what the future will look like. For one thing, hopeful expectation looks to the future by understanding the past and the present. The odd thing about hope is that is never ignores the past or the present; rather, hope pays close attention to life in honest and open ways. Hope doesn't need to be kindled on bright days, but on stormy days and during dark nights. If fact, hope is a truthful commentary on the here and now, a prophetic thought that looks to a new dawn, but it is no sugarcoat fuzzy feel good notion.
We see this clearly in the story of Jeremiah. God says, “I have actively watched over you, my child, but not always in the ways you might have hoped or thought.” He reminds us that things are not always the way we want them, the way we like them, but he is still watching over us. The promised good times that are just around the corner do not erase difficult past. Hopeful expectations means admitting that our present condition needs redeeming and that we alone are powerless in making that happen. Even in the midst of great evil, plucking up and breaking down, being overthrown and destroyed, even in the midst of all that, God is still present and at work.
It is awesome to be reminded that no matter what is currently happening in my life, God is still there and still active. But God is not done yet. Destruction, defeat, pain and evil are not the last words. Notice the powerful verbal images to describe the future: sow, build, plant, and forgive. These are all words of great anticipation pointing towards the future, a new beginning, a new chapter in your life. Hopeful expectation understands that the future begins by digging a hole for planting a seed by saying, “I forgive you.” Yet hope, and all the expectation and anticipation it carries, never gets ahead of itself. Strong trees don’t grow up in a year; trouble relationships don’t heal fully overnight, new habits are not formed in a day. No.. a small and vulnerable beginning is a common theme in all these verbs, and that is just how God works. That’s just how about all of our top ten biblical stories work also. If we see nothing else here, we see that hopeful expectation never lets go of the possibility that salvation and redemption can come to us in the most unexpected ways: on an ark, in a basket floating in the weeds, in exile, in a stable, on a cross, out of a tomb, or in a small committed faith community who dare cling to hope.
Hang on to hope, take care of yourself and one another.....