Friday, August 2, 2013

Hope in the Dog Days of Summer - 11th Sunday After Pentecost

"What keeps us from falling down, our faces to the ground, ashamed, ashamed?"
  --Mary Oliver, On reading the newspaper

Isaiah wrote to his people at a time when the foundations were shaking. Scholars say that Isaiah 1-39 was pre-exilic. Before the exile hit. The storm clouds were gathering fast and dark. Like waiting for a hurricane which is on the horizon. God’s chosen were afraid of what the future might hold. Rightly so. Before long the Northern Kingdom would be annexed into the Assyrian empire and Judah would find themselves as a tributary to the cursed Assyrians. They must have wondered if this is chosen—what does not chosen look like. But in Isaiah 1-39 all that was yet to come.

What did the Prophet say in that scary time? Our lectionary text says in that very first verse of Isaiah 11: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” He continued this same theme in verse 10: “In that day the root of Jesse shall stand as an ensign to the peoples; him shall the nations seek, and his dwellings shall be glorious.”  Quite an analogy. The tree had been cut down—sawed into pieces and carted away. In the spot where the tree stood there was nothing left. Or so it seemed. And Isaiah pointed his people to the stump. He knelt down on the ground and said: “See.” Tiny. Fragile. But green and alive. A tender shoot. And in that little almost- missed sprig Isaiah gave his people hope.

I remember Frederick Buechner saying that if Paul were writing today he would say: What remains is faith, hope and love--but the greatest of these is hope. I think he is right. All around us people need hope. The country certainly needs hope. And beyond our borders hope has almost disappeared. Homeless, starving, living in terrible conditions. Thirty years of war. Every day my mailbox is filled with envelopes pleading for money for a variety of causes. They simply point out that the fact that the needs out there are great.

So in a seemingly hopeless time—the Prophet offered hope.  Could this be a good and needed word for somebody sitting there literally holding on by their fingernails. We all know them and sometimes we just do not know what to say. But we all need to remember that tiny shoot—fragile yet green.

I love the way Barbara Kingsolver puts it in her book, Animal Dreams. “Here’s what I’ve decided: the very least you can do is your life is figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope. Not admire it from a distance but live right in it, under its roof. What I want is so simple I almost can’t say it: elementary kindness. Enough to eat, enough to go around. The possibility that kids might one day grow up to be neither the destroyers nor the destroyed. That’s about it. Right now I’m living in that hope, running down its hallways and touching the walls on both sides. I can’t tell you how good it feels.” Reckon Ms. Kingsolver had been reading Isaiah?

1 comment:

  1. between mary oliver and barbara kingsolver.. you just can't go wrong