Follow Me: Biblical Practices for Faithful Living
Third Sunday in Advent, December 12, 2021
A reading from the second chapter of the gospel according to Mark is not your typical Advent text. It doesn’t involve prophecy. It’s not a part of the nativity story or anything leading up to it. In fact, whoever wrote the gospel of Mark skipped the birth of Christ altogether preferring to begin with Jesus’ earthly ministry. Two other gospels cover the birth of Christ and I suppose the writer of Mark just didn’t have time to tell that story. And so what we’ve heard today is one of the more well-known healing stories of Jesus. I say it’s well-known becauseI remember learning this story as a child. It’s pretty dramatic and memorable as it involves four dudes digging through someone’s roof on behalf of their friend. I can’t remember quite how I imagined it as a child though I suppose someone explained that this roof would have been made of straw and mud and we’re not talking about taking off shingles or roof tiles. Pretty startling for the homeowner, though, don’t you think?
In this story, the babe in the manger is now an adult going about the countryside teaching and preaching and healing. Word has spread far and wide of this incredible person and his power to heal. So much so that everyone knew when he’d arrived at home and they just showed up. They showed up and they showed up and they showed up causing quite the stir and breaking every fire code. There was no room in the inn…err, in the living room or the house or the yard, I suppose. And so, four friends, desperate to help someone they loved, took to the roof and began digging. I think it’s pretty safe to say they must have hoped for something. In this case hope looked a lot like shovels and rope or maybe just desperate hands making a way where there appeared to be none. Making the impossible possible is an advent message if I’ve ever heard one.
Sharing hope, that’s our reflection for today. How do we share hope? How do we borrow hope? Do we even know we need to? Learning to share is something we are taught to do from an early age. I’ve got two nephews and a niece who are 7, 5, and 3. Theirs is a busy household and I think learning to share is at the top of the list most days. We teach children to share their toys or their food or really anything at all that they’d rather hold onto and not let go of. We human beings seem to be pretty possessive from a young age. We keep a tight grip on the things we think belong to us alone. I suppose the assumption is that we might not get it back whatever ‘it’ is or that there might not be enough to go around so we’d better hold on tight to whatever is in our hands. I suspect, though, that hope doesn’t fall into the category of things we want to keep just for ourselves, does it? If we’ve got any measure of hope in our lives, isn’t it something we want to share? Hope is something we’d all like to have and if there’s more than enough to go around I think we’re happy to offer it to others. To hope is to feel that something desired may actually happen. It’s the feeling that events will turn out for the best. Hope, I think, looks different depending on the situation. What is hoped for certainly changes depending on the situation. Some hopes feel very large and others very small. Hope is what keeps us going, though, no matter what the circumstance.
In our story, the friends of the paralyzed man hope that Jesus can heal their friend. Their hope is so strong that they go to great lengths to make sure their friend has an opportunity to come face to face with Jesus. They don’t actually know what will happen but they hope for something good. They hope their friend’s life will change, will improve, will become something other than what it has been. In the face of impossible things, we don’t know what will happen but we hope for something different, something better, some kind of change. If we’re enduring sleepless nights, we hope for rest. If we’re in pain, we hope for the pain to ease. If we’re anxious, we hope for peace. If we’re grieving, we hope for joy to return. If we’re unable to walk, we hope to be able to move our legs. If we’ve hurt another person, we hope for their forgiveness. You get the idea and you can fill in the blanks for yourself. So, what do we do then when hope is absent? What do we do when we can’t muster the courage or the energy to hope? Do we ask for it like we’d ask for help? Do we borrow it from those who seem to have hope in abundance? And if we’ve got hope in abundance do we offer it to others? What does that look like? I wonder.
Over the last couple of weeks we’ve thought about what hope looks like and what hope sounds like. Light and birdsong. A hand on your shoulder, a hug, words of support and affirmation. The prayers of the community. Presence. Tangibles and intangibles. Hope, it turns out, appears in a variety of forms. For something that is hard to describe, hard to define, that’s not surprising. And sharing something that is hard to describe and hard to define may not be as difficult as we might think. We’re sharing hope right now in this space as we gather whether we’re in person or at home. Our songs, our prayers, our presence with and for one another is hopeful. I promise there’s at least one or more of you who aren’t feeling very hopeful today. And the gift of community, of this community, is that we are holding onto hope for every single person who can’t muster that hope for themselves. When I don’t have hope, you all have it for me. When I can’t pray, you all pray on my behalf. Your hope is contagious and your prayers are mine until the day comes when I can find the words myself. That prayer quilt out in the hallway is a sign of our hope on behalf of another. And for the person on the receiving end, maybe just maybe on tired days and treatment days and hopeless days the feeling of that quilt will be a sign of our hope on her behalf. Do you hear it? The roof coming down? The hope coming in?
I have a friend here in town who works with Casa Alterna which is an accompaniment ministry. What’s an accompaniment ministry you may ask? Well, I’ll tell you. Casa Alterna comes alongside those who have been released from immigrant detention. When you’re released from immigrant detention you are sent out with nothing but a bus ticket or a plane ticket and the clothes on your back, no instructions, no help, no way of knowing where to go from here, wherever here may be. Imagine that: disorienting, confusing, lonely. What a thing to be granted freedom with no help, no resources, and no way of knowing how to go about the next step. My friend and the folks from Casa Alterna accompany people who’ve been released from detention. They meet them at the bus station or the airport. They help them figure out where to go. They help them get their paperwork in order, find the right bus or the right gate. They offer them food and clothing and anything else you’d need if you were making a trip. They offer companionship and a friendly face. Most importantly, I think, they remind them that they’re not alone. Do you hear it? The roof coming down? The hope coming in?
The trick about giving and receiving hope, just like anything else, is that we have to be aware of the need. From what I have observed about myself and others, I suspect it’s hard to ask for hope just like it’s hard to ask for help. We’re people of faith, after all, aren’t we supposed to be filled with hope all the time? We’re strong and resourceful, resilient people aren’t we supposed to know what to do all the time? Isn’t it a sign of weakness to admit that we don’t have it all together or we don’t know what to do or we can’t see a way forward or we’re hurting so badly we can’t stand it anymore? The paralytic in the story had an obvious need. His need was on full display. Our needs are often well hidden and so often we’d prefer to keep it that way. It takes courage and resilience and strength to say out loud I don’t have it all together, I can’t find a way forward, I don’t know what to do, I’m hurting, and just for good measure I’m running a little short on hope. Do you have any to spare? We’d offer it in a heartbeat, wouldn’t we? Not solutions unless they’re asked for but presence, companionship, accompaniment, a listening ear, a hand to hold….hope.
Did you know that hope is something you can offer to another? Did you know that it’s something you can share? Here’s what it could look like to share hope: It’s going with someone to the doctor. It’s sitting with them in the pit. It’s listening to all the bottled up things that need to find their way out. It’s holding a hand. It’s prayer and music, a favorite scripture or poem. It’s an unexpected text that says “I’m thinking of you” or an actual card sent through the mail. It’s a prayer quilt or a packed bag or a meal. It’s the thing that helped you the last time your supply of hope was running dry. It’s any reminder that we’re not alone, a new day is coming. And ultimately, for all of us and for the whole world, it’s the promise of God-with-us. That’s something worth sharing, don’t you think?
“Our soul waits for the Lord; the Lord is our help and shield. Our heart is glad in him because we trust in God’s holy name. Let your steadfast love, O Lord, be upon us, even as we hope in you.”
Rev. Alex Rodgers
Decatur Presbyterian Church