April 10, 2012

The Life of Jesus: Finding Hope Mark 16:1-8

This is a painting entitled Hope by George Frederick Watts. The woman is sitting on a globe, blindfolded, clutching a wooden lyre with only one string left. She is pressing her ear close to the string as though trying hear the only note it can play.

Despite calling it Hope...the painting seems rather depressing. The muted greens and browns mixed with the soft brush strokes do not resound with hope. The darkness of the painting has actually prompted criticism from many who want to know, “How is this hope?”

Rev. Frederick G. Sampson has said “[I] wanted to quarrel with the artist for having the gall to name that painting Hope when all [I] could see in the picture was hell—a quiet desperation. But then [I] began to understand why the artist titled the painting “Hope.” In spite of being in a world torn by war...destroyed by hate and decimated by distrust, in spite of being on a world where famine and greed are uneasy bed partners...where apartheid and apathy feed the fires of racism and hatred...in spite of being on a ticking time bomb, with her clothes in rags, her body scarred and bruised and bleeding, her harp all but destroyed and with only one string left, she had the audacity to make music and praise God.”

You see George Watts painted this piece as a response to the death of his daughter Blanche. When asked about the painting he said, “It suggests...the music which can come from the remaining chord.” This is hope in the midst of despair. It represents the ability of people, at their lowest point to find a single string of hope that keeps them going, when all around is failing and falling apart.

We often need that string of hope. Hope, that in the midst of all that is going on and going wrong around us that somehow things have a meaning, a purpose, that there are better days on the horizon.

We need hope, but where do we find that hope when the world is going to Hell around us, and there is little reason to believe that things are going to get better? Because that is really when we need hope the most.

When everything is going wrong...that is when we most need hope.

We need hope when we are unemployed or under-employed, and there is a stack of bills sitting on the counter and a barrage of collection calls?

We need hope when all the guilt and shame of our past mistakes keep washing over and dragging us below the surface like a surfer being drowned beneath the ocean waves?

We need hope when our most earnest prayers seem unanswered and the one who promised, “till death do us part” walks out the door never to return?

We need hope. And though we may not realize it, if we are able to tap into it...the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead can be the biggest source of hope for us.

Our passage today is Mark 16:1-8 says,
1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?”

 4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

 6 “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’”

 8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

It is easy for us to look back, knowing the end of the story, but if we could transport ourselves back to the time of the disciples, and experience what they had experienced over the past week...we too would sense the deepness of their despair. Jesus, the one they believed to be the Messiah entered Jerusalem to a rousing crowd cheering and shouting. He spent the week confronting the religious leaders and teaching about the Kingdom of God. The disciples fully expected Him to start the Revolution that would overthrow the Roman government and re-establish Israel.

Then it all went horribly wrong...Jesus was arrested, mocked, beaten, and crucified.

This wasn’t just their teacher. This was the man with whom they had spent 3 years of their lives...studying, preparing, laughing, and caring. They were broken and defeated. Peter, the disciple who said, “I will follow you even if it means death!” was so overwhelmed he denied Jesus 3 times. The rest of the disciples scattered fearing for their lives. At one moment they are sure about the future and where it is headed...and the next everything has been taken away.

In the face of all this hopelessness, Mark begins this passage with a deceptively simple statement, “When the Sabbath was over...” It is tempting to see this as just a statement of fact or as a way to mark time, the Sabbath was over and now it was the first day of the week.

But what Mark glosses over with a casual, “The Sabbath was over...” was the worst day ever for the disciples. That Sabbath is the Jewish day of rest and reflections. For the Disciples this was the day when all the loneliness, sadness, abandonment, and discouragement really set in...there was no Kingdom...there was no revolution...Jesus was not the Messiah they hoped for. The disciples had left everything to follow Him, and now there was nothing.

While some might see this as glib or dismissive on Mark’s part to just glance over the hurts and pains of that day; Mark is writing about 20 years after these events. He is writing from a place of hope. He knows that Jesus is resurrection so the pains and despair of that Sabbath, in the light of the resurrection, were gone. They had been replaced with hope.

Mark is pointing us to a very important reality...The resurrection brought them hope, and that Hope Heals our Hurts. When Mark looked back he didn’t feel the darkness and despair of that day...because he knew Jesus had risen! Hope has the ability to overcome the hurts and pains of the past and bring healing.

After all they had seen and experienced...only a resurrection could transform their cowardice in courage and their despair into hope. The resurrection confirmed all Jesus had said and done. They may have misunderstood Him, but now, in light of the resurrection, Mark could describe the disciple’s worst day ever with a casual, “The Sabbath was over...” The darkness was over...the despair was over.

Have you ever heard the term “Spoiler Alert”? It is a term some people on Facebook should become more familiar with. It means they are about to give away the ending of a movie, a television show...something. And they need to warn those who are reading.

You have the latest American Idol DVR’d, you haven’t seen it yet, and your friend posts on their status...”So sad to see so-and-so voted off!” They have spoiled the ending...they needed to give a spoiler alert.

But sometimes knowing the ending helps. I love Ohio State football, but I’m usually busy when the games are on T.V. so I record them...but it is impossible to not peak. I have found that if I know my team is going to win the football game, I don’t get as tense and upset when I’m watching the dvr’d game and they fumble the ball. I already know they win.

Jesus’ resurrection give us hope because it is a promise that in the end...He wins. Pain, suffering, death, sin, evil...they don’t win. God has spoken out against injustice.

When we take the power of Jesus’ resurrection into our lives...it is like knowing our team wins. It brings a hope that puts our pain into perspective, and heals our hurts. He has declared that ultimately nothing will overcome those who follow Him. We know that in the long run...God will work everything out.

When most people talk of hope...they speak as if it is nothing more than a wish. Our last hope for a cure is... Our last hope to avoid bankruptcy... I hope I get the scholarship...this is something that might or might not happen...

But in the biblical realm...Hope is not a wish...Hope is the full expectation that something good will come of this...The Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, says that because Jesus has been resurrected, we know we too will be resurrected. And because we will be resurrected with Him...we know that nothing good we do will be in vain.

The resurrection is God’s statement that despite everything we see around us screaming to the contrary. Despite the pain, the turmoil, the heartache...that even in the death of His only begotten son...something good will come of this. It is belief in a God who is able to take the bleakest of situations and transform it into something good...even the ability to raise the dead.

When you and I are faced with those times where we have reached the end of our rope and feel like we can’t hold on...the resurrection says that this will not end in vain.

When we have given every ounce of our being to serve and love others and they throw it back in our face...the resurrection says, this good you do will not be in vain.

When we are faced with a hopeless situation...we can rest in Romans 8:28, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

I quoted this last week, but one author writes, “The Christian gospel [Jesus’ death and resurrection] asserts that...God moves to fix messes he didn’t create, pay debts he didn’t incur, forgive the guilty for wrongs they couldn’t undo and bear burdens humanity piled onto itself.”

Things cannot end there for us; though they often do. You see, God doesn’t bless us so that we can be blessed...He doesn’t give us hope and heal our hurts just so we can feel better. God blesses us so we can be a blessing.

As hope heals our hurts, we are moved to heal others.

We see this play out all the time. There is the person with the drug and alcohol addiction that is pushed to the edge, but rather than be another statistic they get clean and now work with others to help them recover from their addictions. The past addiction is not good. The damage they did to themselves and others is not good. The pain they experienced is not good...but now it is not wasted. Hope has healed them, and they are able to use that past pain to help others.

For you and I, hope has the ability to heal; to shift our focus from our pain and discouragement and channel it toward something good. In biblical terms we call this redemption. Redemption is this amazing belief that while pain and suffering take place...it doesn’t have to be wasted and futile. We don’t have to come to the end of those tough times and say, “Well that stunk! Now I have to move on!” No, something good can come from the something bad that happens to us.

Redemption doesn’t excuse the pain. It doesn’t condone what was done to us. It doesn’t make everything alright. But it does mean the pain of the experience is not wasted.

If we were to take an anonymous survey we would discover some pretty dark things have happened to us...If statistics hold true...some of us have struggled through the terminal illness of a loved one...some of us have faced an illness like cancer...some of us have struggled to make ends meet to the point of ruining our lives...some of us have faced physical, verbal, even sexual abuse.

And what God wants to do is redeem those hurts and pains. He does not pat us on the back and say, “There, there it wasn’t really that bad.” He does not condone the horrific things that have been done in the past...even done while someone claimed His name.

No, Jesus death is God’s judgment on the evils of this world, and His resurrection is the offer of redemption. It is His offer to take those hurts and pains, heal them, and then use us to heal the world around us.

It is so easy to let our pain build a wall around our hearts. Pink Floyd wrote an entire album about it. We think it protects. We will never let that happen to us again. We harden ourselves. But this will only keep us from the healing we need and so desire. We have to allow hope to work it’s way in...we have to allow Jesus’ resurrection bring true healing to our deepest hurts.

For us to really find hope...we have to die to the old ways of handling things. If we are ever going to find hope in the midst of our pain, we have to let Him step in and heal us, and then use us our past to heal the hurts in others and give them hope.

When the angel told the women to go find Peter, they sent them with a message, “Jesus is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”

I like that statement. Jesus is going ahead of you. If I had to relive these issues on my own just so I could help others...I couldn’t do it. Who has the strength, the ability to face some of the hurts and heartaches we have face and the talk about them again with others? Who can, in their own strength, do this? But Jesus promises to go ahead of you...and this promise is a great source of hope.

When we allow God to use our hurts and pain to heal others, Jesus enters that conversation long before we have it. He goes ahead of us...paving the way so He can help others through us.

Speaking to a group of psychotherapists on how to help people recover, Vaughn Worthen and Richard Isakson state, “Hope frees us from the negative bonds of past behaviors, thoughts, and feelings, as well as the influence of present fears. Hope includes a positive perspective towards the future and is fueled by affirming the lessons of the past, as well as appreciating the possibilities of the present.”

We don’t have wishful thinking. We have a guarantee that everything will work out the way God intends. Even when everything seems to be going wrong...if we trust that Jesus is the resurrected Messiah...then we know that He can heal our past hurts, he can use our pain to heal others, and when the going gets tough...we know that He goes before us. Because of His resurrection,  we can have hope even in the bleakest of situations.

I don’t know what you are facing this morning, but I know that hope is in short supply. The government can’t provide the real hope we long for. Education, our jobs, they can’t do it. Even our families are unable to really give us the hope we need.

This morning are you willing to say I need hope? In the face of my hurt and pain...I need healing...Or maybe it’s time you take your hurt and pain and redeem...don’t let it go to waste...use it to heal others around you...because when you do...Jesus promises to go ahead of you and pave the way.

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