Have you ever had the experience of a word or phrase or name that keeps following you around? Likely it is a word or a concept or a person that you had never really considered before, but all of a sudden, it keeps popping up everywhere. Last November, in my world, that word was “hope.” It was everywhere – it seemed like hope was the theme of every class I went to. We hit Advent 1 and there was hope again. We met in our Formation small groups, and there printed on the side of the candleholder that we use was hope. I even wrote a 7-page paper all about hope. Someone pointed out to me that there were many, far worse words I could have following me around! I think that part of this phenomenon is that once you notice something, your brain is sensitized to noticing it again and again and again and again.
So when I read through the scripture readings for today, I have to confess that I was not at all surprised to find myself picking out themes of hope.
Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. God does not faint or grow weary; God’s understanding is unsearchable. God gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.
If you think back to Biblical Foundations class, you will remember that these words, from chapter 40 of Isaiah, actually come from Second Isaiah, and were probably written after the fall of Jerusalem to people who were living in exile in Babylon. The people in exile must have been living with much grief and loss – they had lost their temple where they worshiped God, they had lost their homes, and they were now living in a strange land – they likely felt as if God had abandoned them.
In the overall structure of this passage from Isaiah, this is the problem that is presented, but it is actually presented half-way through what we read today. The answer is presented first, then the problem, and then the answer is repeated. There, buried in verse 27 is the problem that the writer is addressing – “Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, ‘My way is hidden from the Lord, and my right is disregarded by my God’?” Essentially, why are you complaining that God has forgotten us.
And the answer to this problem is there at the beginning, and there again at the end. “Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because God is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing.” God knew each one of those people in exile – not one would or could be forgotten. And it carries on – “those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they hall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.” Not only does God remember each and every person, but God will give them the strength that they will need to make their long trek home when the time of the exile is over. Hope is pouring out of these words, like a bucket that has been filled so that it is overflowing.
Our reading today from Mark’s gospel is also one that is overflowing with hope. Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever. We aren’t told how long she had been sick for, but when you are sick, those sorts of things usually don’t matter. I don’t know about you, but when I have a fever, I am miserable. I don’t want to move. I don’t want to open my eyes. I don’t want to see anyone. It doesn’t matter how long I am sick for – however long it is, it feels like forever. So Simon’s mother-in-law is in bed with a fever, and likely feeling miserable and sorry for herself. She, like the Israelites in exile, may have felt like God had abandoned her. And in to the house comes her son-in-law, bringing a group of friends with him. Can things get any worse? But Jesus comes over to her bedside, and he takes her hand, and he lifts her up. And all of a sudden, the fever is gone! All of a sudden, she’s gone from a place of sickness to a place of healing; from a place where things seem hopeless to a hope for better things. “Have you not known? Have you not heard? God gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.” Hope lives.
I’m not going to presume to know where you might be facing hopelessness in your own life. Maybe it is through sickness or loss, like Simon’s mother-in-law. Maybe it is in being cut off from everything that is familiar like the Israelites in exile. Maybe it is in papers and deadlines and marking that you have looming ahead of you this term. I don’t know. Maybe you feel forgotten by God. I don’t know. But what I do know is that when you are sensitized to look for it, hope is everywhere, all around us, hard to escape at times.
“Have you not known? Have you not heard? God stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in. Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? God brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because God is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing. God does not faint or grow weary; God gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. 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.”
And so I leave you with this challenge – go looking for hope. Once you go looking for it, you will see that it is all around us. Remember the word of hope from God that Isaiah spoke to the people in exile. Remember the touch of hope that Jesus brought to Simon’s mother-in-law. But most of all, go looking for the word or touch or vision of hope in your life especially at times when hope feels far away.
Have you not known? Have you not heard? Hope is all around us. Thanks be to God.