Year B, 2nd Sunday in Lent
I have heard the expression” hoping against hope” all my life but never realized that this familiar phrase occurred in Romans 4:18 as part of Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. And referred to the story of Abraham’s covenant with God in Genesis 17. When I investigated the original Greek it turns out the phrase is translated, “who against hope believed in hope.” What a powerful statement to describe the faith of Abraham and Sarah, the faith Mary and Joseph, the faith of Jesus in the God of his ancestors!
As we continue to move into the journey of Lent this year I am hoping this kind of hope will become part of my personal spiritual practices. Can I have such faith that against hope I have faith in hope? As I continued to read the Romans passage in light of the Genesis story of covenant blessing and Psalm 22’s poetry in praise of God’s abundance, I wondered if like Abraham I can encounter distrust and yet not waiver in my faith in God. “No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God…”(Romans 4:20) And how will I give glory (such an old-fashioned seeming word) to God as my faith grows in strength?
Knowing that “glory” is about praise and shining with light in its biblical references I was reminded of the Transfiguration story from scarcely a week ago. Lo and behold! This is the alternate gospeltext for this week just in case you by-passed it right before Lent. As I preached on the Transfiguration I went back to the pericope just before it to understand where the gospel writer was headed with the mountaintop story. And there in Mark 8, the gospel text for this week, is a confusing, even frightening, phrase that was central to my childhood religious training …”take up your cross and follow me.”
I still wrestle with this Jesus’ teaching. My current understanding of taking up my personal cross is “the willingness and effort to give up whatever in my life, in my mind, heart, body and soul, stands in the way of complete commitment to the ways of God I know in Jesus the Christ. Relinquishing, surrendering if you will, whatever is stopping me – pride, stubbornness, fear, finances, relationships, habits – whatever is preventing me from joyfully giving my life, every moment of it, in all I do, to the transforming love of God. And then ALLOWING myself to actually BE changed by God’s love. To embrace the change that comes with following the way with Jesus.”(from “Transfigured”, 2/15/15, ©Jane Anne Ferguson)
As I endeavor to grow stronger in faith this Lent, learning that when hope seems contrary to the facts I can hope in God, refusing to let my distrust make my faith in the ways of God in Jesus waiver, it is my hope that I will also grow bolder in giving glory to God. In celebrating the abundance of God even when the way seems scarce. Trusting that “the poor can eat and be satisfied” in every level of literal and metaphoric meaning of that image we who comprise the church can hope against hope in the God of Abraham and Sarah, Mary and Joseph, and Jesus.
“The Peddler of Swaffham” is a story that teaches me of “hoping against hope”. In it a peddler literally follows the improbable instructions of a dream and is led to abundance that he generously shares. It is a tale that can be found is several European folk tale traditions. Some think it may have roots in Hebrew storytelling. I first heard the story told by several different storytellers. Then I read it in Elisa Davy Pearmain’s book, Doorways to the Soul: 52 Wisdom Tales from Around the World. She writes excellent notes on each of the stories in her book telling you where she found the tale and a bit of its history. You can read the story and about the story at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pedlar_of_Swaffham .
What are the personal stories of “hoping against hope” that you can tell or that originate from people and/or the history of your congregation? Are there true-life stories from contemporary media, such as the book and movie, “Unbroken” that come to your mind?
In pondering these stories how would you re-tell the story from Genesis 17 about Abraham? Put yourself in Abraham’s or Sarah’s “sandals” and imagine receiving the covenant of blessing from God….so many questions, conflicted thoughts feelings…do you dare tell anyone lest they think you are crazy. Pondering the passage from Genesis 17 could lead you to tell or re-imaging the story of the unexpected visitors in Genesis 18.
©Jane Anne Ferguson, 2015. Text and photos may be used or reprinted with permission only.