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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Hope Amidst Hopelessness

Advent III
December 16, 2007
Matthew 11:2-11
Bethany Lutheran Church

After hearing the gospel text for this week, I think John the Baptist is having a midlife crisis, worse yet, it may be a crisis of faith. But can you blame him? John was the messenger chosen by God to prepare the way for the Messiah. John baptized Jesus, just as he said. John preached about the Messiah as the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises. Jesus even labels John as the greatest of all prophets. John has done the best job that he could possibly do, but instead of being picked to be one of Jesus’ disciples, instead of receiving a pay-raise so that he might eat something a little more substantial than mere locusts and wild honey, he finds himself imprisoned for doing precisely what God had instructed him to do. The way of the Lord has been prepared and John is behind bars.

And have not most of us found ourselves, at one time or another, in a similar situation? Feeling like you are at the very end of your rope, things could not possible get any worse, but even then they sometimes do. A loved one takes another turn for the worse and the doctors are suggesting hospice care. Your boss tells you that there is no longer work for you. Business has been slow, yet Christmas is just around the corner and the last thing you want is to disappoint your children on that special morning. A new career path that you feel God has been leading you down, suddenly does not seem to make any sense and you feel completely lost and vulnerable. If you have not experienced these deeply vulnerable points of life, then you are lucky, because most people that I speak to on a given day each have a story to tell.

These stories are smeared with hopelessness. Thoughts and questions of, could things possibly get any worse? And in that sense of hopelessness, there almost often lies doubt. Doubt even in the God who has created us and claimed us as his own. For if we are God’s people, then why do bad things happen to us?

What do you want in your Messiah? John the baptism, the one whom Jesus said was the greatest of all the prophets, is the same John who was once heard screaming to the Pharisees and Sadducees, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath that is to come?” Just like so many of us, John the Baptist believed he knew who Messiah was. He thought for sure that the Messiah was coming to judge the righteous from the unrighteous people. John believed that the Messiah would judge the faithful from the corrupt.

What do you want in your Messiah? Who is being judged? The prisons are overcrowded. Shall we condemn murderers and thieves? The world is filled with hungry people and people who are oppressed and without a home, people who have had to flee their home country. Shall we merely ignore them? Is their situation not their own fault? What about those who are sexually promiscuous, those who are homosexuals or those who have contracted HIV or AIDS? So many hurtful words of judgment have been uttered throughout this earth. So many people believing that this is what the Messiah would come to judge.

John the Baptist imprisoned and at the end of his rope, resting in the cold dark cell, in a place of utter hopelessness, kept waiting for word that the Messiah had come to judge the righteous from the unrighteous. Perhaps he was even waiting for the prisons doors to be flung open, to look into the light and see that the Messiah had come to rescue him. As the days passed, the hope grew dim and so he sent word by his disciples to inquire as to whether this man named Jesus was in fact the one.

Where is God amidst all this doubt and hopelessness? Where is God when we are at the end of our ropes? Where is God, but right in the middle of it all. The Messiah is not found judging one person over the other, but rather is among the very outcasts themselves. The Messiah is there healing the sick, giving sight to the blind and ears to the deaf. The Messiah is walking with lepers, curing them, while no one else dares to go near them. The Messiah is there with the homeless person who shivers in a cardboard box. The Messiah is there, lying in total weakness and alienation with the one who has HIV or AIDS. The Messiah is there with the refugees and the hungry. The Messiah is there on the cross with murderers and thieves, welcoming them into the kingdom of God.

The Messiah has a habit of turning up in places of hopelessness. If you visit the nursing homes, you will find there that bread is being broken and wine poured. If you stop in the hospitals, there too, the bread is broken and the wine is poured. If you visit the prisons, even there you will find that the bread is broken and the wine is poured. But we have forgotten a few places. We must search out those other places where brokenness exists, those places where people feel hopeless and at the end of their rope. Let us carry the bread into all of those places and continue breaking it and sharing it with those who need a source of hope.

Let us each go forth until the bread has been broken in every last bar and local tavern. Let us bring it with us to addiction classes and bereavement support meetings. Let us go and break bread it the slum neighborhoods, even at the drug houses. For these are the very places of brokenness in our world. These are the places where hopelessness is often overwhelming and doubt tends to prevail. The Messiah comes into our world, not to judge, but to bring healing and wholeness to a people that is broken and hurting and full of doubt. The Messiah comes into this world and breaks bread with us, wherever we may be.

I cannot promise you a life that is free of pain and suffering or even a life that is free of hopelessness and doubt. What I can tell you is that it is the very gathered assembly that sustains one another through these desperate times. One of the reasons we gather here each week is to be built back up and re-prepared to continue in God’s service. There may be a Sunday or even a month of Sundays when you do not feel like coming. Perhaps you are trapped in your own judgment over something that happened.

These are the times when it is more urgent than ever to come break bread. It may feel like going through the motions. Our voice may not be able to add any noise to the singing. If the doubt is extremely overwhelming, on those Sundays we may not even be able to say “amen” or “I believe.” But it is on those Sundays, more than ever, that the collective voice of those around us sustains us and uplifts us, amidst all doubt and hopelessness. It is on those Sundays, more than ever, that the body and blood of Christ is indeed for you.

John the Baptist had his doubts, he also missed the gathered assembly while he was secluded in prison. Jesus sent his messengers to John to free him from his doubt, to break bread with him in the midst of hopelessness. Today, as on all Sundays, we break bread here together seeking to free others from doubt and hopelessness. And after we are finished breaking bread here, to what place of brokenness should we visit next? Many are waiting patiently to hear that the Messiah has come.

Vicar Luke Smetters

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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