Isaiah 40:21, 28-31; Mark 1: 29-39
Reaction to Reality
We have talked about the words from Isaiah and have been reacquainted with the stressful ministry of Jesus. When we consider both lectionary readings, one of the common denominators we find is the importance of hope. Isaiah encourages people to believe that a powerful energy awaits those who put their hope in the Lord God.“ In Mark Jesus is the only hope for the sick and the hopeless. The demands on Him are so great that He cannot catch a break. “Hope springs eternal goes the saying.” In Shakespeare’s Richard III we hear :”True hope is swift and flies with swallow’s wings.” The seventeenth century English poet and clergymen George Herbert wrote in his “outlandish proverbs” :”He that lives in hope danceth without music.” But there are other ways of seeing hope. The nineteenth century poet Christina Rossetti wrote “the hope I dreamed of was a dream, was but a dream; and now I wake.” In the wildly popular TV series Downtown Abbey the Dowager Countess of Grantham, Lady Violet, probably the best character in the while program, quips: “ hope is a tease constructed to keep us from facing reality.”
Hope, friends, is one of the three greats mention in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, along with faith and charity. We have talked about a father’s commitment to find an answer to his son’s medical condition by inventing new technology. We have talked about the huge problem of lack of jobs in a society dominated by internet technology, but we also see some glimmers of hope in the sharing economy.
Last weekend Carolyn and I visited the New Orleans, Louisiana area. I had only been there once on a Greyhound bus nearly forty years ago. I tried very hard to wrap by head around the life and history of that region and I learned so much I didn’t know. New Orleans was until recently always the biggest city in the south and it was also the place with the most free people of color. It is a mixture of French, Spanish, Native American, descendants of refugees from an independent Haiti and Cajuns who were of French descent and had lived in Canada’s Maritime provinces for a century until the British kicked them out. All these people mixed and in the food like gumbo and jambalaya it is hard to figure out who influenced who. At one point there were 250 sugar cane plantations along the Mississippi between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. They all had their digs in the French Quarter just like the Downtown Abbey crowd does in London. So after the harvest, they’d go there and party and match make in the winter. Even though the sugarcane plantations continue, it feels quiet and country there, but in the old days they lived along the United States’ main highway, the Mississippi river. The hated “Kaintucks” or Kentucky people (i.e.Anglo-Saxons) would float down it for a piece of the action in the crazy bustling city. For many year these plantations lived under the “Code Noir” or black code of French colonial rule, not just a race but a class system of pecking order. We heard stories of tragedy and deceit and jealousy, of yellow fever and other diseases of the family, but also of the cruelty of the plantation owners who sometimes would burn their plantation brand into the forehead of an escaped slave. Yet the slaves lived with a hope that their owners would let them go if they were older when they were of less worth and would be cheaper to release.
Friends, as you get the sweep of the history in the bayous and on the sweltering banks of the river you get the picture of unfathomable suffering, oppression, resilience, creativity and complexity. So out of this region not only does the richest food emerge, but also the music of America. On the Mississippi state line the traveler is reminded that it is the birthplace of America’s music. It is perhaps true, but it is so because of the suffering that one group of people imposed on others. For this is how the blues was born, out of the deep misery and suffering. Somehow in the midst of oppressiveness and oppression a people found a voice in their music, they found the hope that kept them laughing and hoping. It was a hope that was spiritual in nature. It was a way of releasing the sorrow and making way for peace, joy and hope. It is this spirit that musicians around the world still play with and search for. In some ways Americans still look for their soul in the south I believe, both its worst demons and better angels. It is not the soul of glib southern tv evangelists who like to convince people that God desires them to be rich. No, it is the soul of those without economic and political power who found a spiritual power of hope deep inside of them in a place they could only access through their pain. They would certainly grasp the words of Isaiah when he said that those who hope in the Lord God “will not grow weary” and would find a way to “soar like eagles.” Thanks be to God.