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Hope in the Face of Hopelessness

The days are surely coming, says YHWH, when I will bestow on Israel and Judah all the blessings I promised them. In those days and at that time I will raise up a righteous branch from the line of David, who will bring justice and integrity to the land. In those days Judah will be safe and Jerusalem will be secure. They will call the land, ‘YHWH is our Justice.’ ~ Jeremiah 33:14-16

Jeremiah was (not a bullfrog) a hard-nosed, harsh, doom-and-gloom prophet. You seriously did not want to see him coming your way as he was apt to be preaching forcefully about God’s judgment against people who did not adhere to the laws of God. This passage, however, probably would have made people stop and say, “Wait, who are you and what have you done with Jeremiah?” because it was so out of character. These verses are part of what is sometimes called the Book of Consolation, and is a more comforting and hopeful voice than we’re used to from Jeremiah.

(For the full video version, click here.)

Here’s what was going on historically. After several generations of being tossed back and forth by various rulers, the kingdom of Judah (which encompasses the area of Jerusalem and the southern part of what we now think of as Israel) was in upheaval again. There was a new Babylonian threat which will was already at their door and would destroy Jerusalem, take many of her people (the Jewish people) into exile, and effectively end the kingdom of Judah.

Jeremiah was addressing a people whose lives were controlled by rulers and empires and who were basically helpless and hopeless in the face of the enormous Babylonian empire. Even though he was under house arrest in the palace and was prophesying the downfall of the Kingdom of Judah, Jeremiah does something completely crazy and hopeful. He buys a piece of land. Seriously, who buys a piece of land when they are about to be conquered and shipped off into exile?  But in the midst of this seemingly hopeless situation, Jeremiah trusts that, while it may take a while, nothing is impossible with God.

Then Jeremiah goes on to promise healing and recovery, peace and security for the two Jewish kingdoms of Judah and Israel. Jerusalem, he proclaied, would be rebuilt, the temple would know worship again, there would be houses and pastures for the shepherds.

So, we come to the passage above where Jeremiah promises that a “righteous branch” would rise up out of the line of David. We read this passage at this time of year because people have believed that the “righteous branch” was Jesus. But as this was originally written, the “righteous branch” was not intended to be a single person, but a community of people who lived according to God’s standards of fairness, honesty, justice, and compassion. This community would bring hope.

This call reaches through the ages... we, too, are called to be the community of hope, who reaches out in honesty, love, justice and compassion. And we’re called to do this even, and perhaps especially, in the face of hopelessness.  And the amount of hopelessness in the world is daunting. Just look around:

  • millions of people around the world are victims of human trafficking
  • the heroin crisis gets worse and worse (in 2017 in the US over 70,000 people died from a drug overdose, up 10% over the year before.)
  • 38% of people will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lives
  • there are 68 million forcibly displaced people in the world and over 25 million refugees
  • Natural disasters – hurricanes, fires, tornadoes, earthquakes, tsunamis - destroy homes and lives
  • We have until the year 2030 to make some drastic changes to stop climate change or the world faces severe consequences

And this doesn’t even begin to address our personal feelings of hopelessness due to job loss, death, illness, accident, aging, relationship issues... I’m sure our list could go on and on.

And yet hope flies in the face of all this hopelessness. It is as ridiculous as believing that a baby, born on what we now call Christmas, could change the world.

Where does this crazy hope come from? Clearly hope is not based on anything rational. Vaclav Havel, president of Czechoslovakia and a political prisoner for many years, once said,

Hope... is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart; it transcends the world that is immediately experienced, and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons… I think the deepest and most important form of hope, the only one that can keep us above water and urges us to good works, and the only true source of the breathtaking dimension of the human spirit and its efforts, is something we get, as it were, from “elsewhere.” … I feel that its roots are in the transcendental…”

Hope transcends our experiences. This does not mean that we ignore reality in favor of some imagined fantsay world, but it does mean that somewhere deep inside of us, where we're connected to the Ground of our Being, there is a well-spring of positive, optimistic hope. We see the darkness around us, but we proclaim that the darkness will NOT have the last word, that there ARE people working for good, that there WILL be a better day, that solutions ARE possible.

Perhaps the amount of hope we have some days feels like a tiny little flame in a night without a moon or stars. But when hope is lived and shared, it changes everything. It is one candle burning in the darkness that lights other candles until there is enough light to see in the room.

And when our light is out, it can be relit by those who still shine with hope. I think of the “It Gets Better” movement bringing hope to LGBT youth, or the "Me, too" movement, bringing hope to all women who’ve been sexually harassed and abused, or Relay for Life and the survivor’s lap bringing hope to those still fighting cancer, or any 12-step program where people lean on each other for hope.

Hope is crazy, it is radical, and it drives us to do unexpected and seemingly irrational things, but it begs to be shared…

In the after math of the tsunami in December 2004, people of faith from all over the world made large donations to tsunami relief efforts.  But one group answered the call of compassion in a truly extraordinary way.

As reported in the January 5, 2005 edition of the Globe and Mail, the leader of a small Buddhist temple in Mission, British Columbia, announced that they would sell their temple and donate all of the funds to the Canadian Red Cross tsunami-relief fund.  And if the one-acre of land and modest building – valued at $500,000 did not sell quickly, they would donate the land and the building to the Red Cross, to be auctioned off.

The initial announcement came as a shock to the temple’s membership.  Their Buddhist master reached his decision during prayer, then simply stood up and announced that that was what they would do.  The membership had worked hard to raise $300,000 to build their facility.  What’s more, they had intended to sell it and use the money to build a larger temple in a more favorable location.  Yet a spokesman for the group said, “But we are all happy about it now.  Our master has spent many years teaching compassion and this has been the best lesson ever…”

Not only was it a lesson in compassion for the community, but it was an offering of hope to those who had lost everything, and a statement of hope that their own community would survive and thrive.

Another story that came to my attention lately was that of Paige Hunter, an18-year-old girl from England. Paige had struggled with depression and hopelessness and come close to taking her own life several times. Once she got the help she needed, she wanted to reach out to help others. The Wearmouth bridge was a well-known spot for jumpers wanting to commit suicide, and Paige herself had contemplated jumping off that bridge. She decided to write hand-written notes, laminate them, and post them on the bridge. She has posted over 240 notes with messages such as "Don't give up." "Things will get better." "The world is a better place with you in it."

Paige has been contacted by at least eight people who thanked her and said that if it wasn't for her notes, they wouldn't be alive today. She shared the light of her hope and kindled hope in others.

Jeremiah bought land, Buddhists sell their temple, a young girl writes encouraging notes, and a baby is born. Even in the face of hopelessness, even in the face of catastrophe, hope exists. It lifts us up, it carries us through, it helps us believe in better days and a better world. If you are feeling hopeful, share that, reach out in kindness, in generosity, in crazy actions of trust and hope. If you have lost your hope, look around, I trust that the Spirit will send a light to show you the way.

Love & Light!