Desperate Times, Deep Faith, Profound Hope

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Isaiah 49:8-16a

No doubt you have heard it said and maybe you’ve said it yourself:

“Desperate times call for desperate measures”

But after reading quite a bit of Isaiah, I would like to offer this alternative in light of Isaiah: Desperate Times call for Deep Faith and Profound Hope.

Isaiah was speaking to people living in desperate times. Not unlike those protesting in Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, and other places in the Middle East. 

These were indeed desperate times for them:They were living in exile… as slaves in Babylon… In these times when you heard them singing, they were singing the blues… or the laments like this one from a spiritual…   “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen”  Or more precisely, songs like the one heard in Psalm 137:

   “By the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion… How shall we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” 

Something within them was crying out in desperation – but also crying out for hope. Everything was against them. They had lost everything that was near and dear to them… their country… their temple… some even lost their faith.

They might as well hang up their harps (many said) , their worship of Yahweh, and bow down to the Babylonian gods… 

The Lord sends Isaiah to speak to Israel at her lowest. When she was broken and lost. 

What is interesting to me is that before we even get to today’s text, we hear Isaiah persistently try to get through to them with a message of hope: 

Let me offer you a sampling: 

Comfort, O comfort my people,  says your God.
2Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,  and cry to her
that she has served her term,  that her penalty is paid,
that she has received from the Lord’s hand  double for all her sins.

But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob,   he who formed you, O Israel:Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.
2When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
   and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you.

18Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old.
19I am about to do a new thing;  now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?

21Remember these things, O Jacob, and Israel, for you are my servant;
I formed you, you are my servant; O Israel, you will not be forgotten by me.
22I have swept away your transgressions like a cloud,  and your sins like mist;
            return to me, for I have redeemed you.

20Go out from Babylon, flee from Chaldea, declare this with a shout of joy, proclaim it,
send it forth to the end of the earth; say, ‘The Lord has redeemed his servant Jacob!’

And then there is our message today from Isaiah: 

“Thus says the Lord: In a time of favor I have answered you, on a day of salvation I have helped you…Sing for joy, O heavens and exult, O earth… for the Lord has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones.”

It is clear that Isaiah is a person of deep faith and profound hope… wanting to share that hope to those who had lost all hope. Because where are we without hope in this life? 

In Dante’s great classic of the middle ages, The Inferno, he gives us a picture of hell as he sees it. Over the door of the main gate leading into hell, he hangs a sign:

Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.” 

I know of no more frightening description of hell, here on earth or beyond, than a life without hope. 

Isaiah wants his people to know that all is not lost in spite of the dire circumstances…God has come to offer hope… to say, redemption, salvation is here. 

Later, in another dire time, we would see God offer this hope once again in the coming of Jesus… who proclaimed that God offers hope for the hopeless… salvation for the lost… there is release for the captives… recovery of sight for the blind… for the kingdom of God has come near… In Jesus we would see a fulfillment of the hopes of Isaiah and Israel…  We sang about it at Christmas: “The Hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”

Of course, this is so hard to believe sometimes. Some people think it is too good to be true. Especially when you are living in the midst of desperation and despair. 

Israel couldn’t believe it… did you hear the “But”? … as if to say after hearing sermon after sermon on hope from Isaiah, there is another voice that finds this too good to be true… it cries out in despair:“But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.”

I understand that, don’t you? Have you ever been in that place or known someone who has been in that place where you feel forsaken and forgotten by God? I have.  I understand those moments when it is hard to find hope. Don’t you? You yearn for hope, but it is so hard… 

I heard of a lady who called a friend on the telephone and asked,

“How are you?” 

Her friend said, “Oh, I am terrible. My head hurts. My back aches, the kids are driving me bananas, and I don’t know what to fix for supper. The house is a mess and I’m about to go to pieces.” 

The caller said, “You go to bed right now. I’m coming over. I’m going to take care of your children, wash your dishes, clean your house, rub your back. I’m going to do your work for you. I want you to rest.” 

“Wonderful,” the lady said. “I can’t believe it.” 

The caller said, “Tell me, how is Sam?”

“Sam who?” 

“Your husband,…Sam.”

The lady said, “My husband’s name is George.” 

And the caller said, “Oh, I must have the wrong number.”

To which the lady weakly asked, “Are you coming over anyhow?”

When God comes with a promise of “In a time of favor I have answered you, on a day of salvation I have helped you… sing to the Lord, for the Lord has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones…”.. a part of us may want to ask, 

 “Lord, are you sure you have the right number? Is it really for me?” 

Many in Israel thought this message of hope was too good to be true. They said, “The Lord has forsaken me, my Lord has forgotten me.” “ God doesn’t care. God seems to be as distant as ever.” 

To which God has a very interesting response which we could all learn from as we respond to people in despair: I noticed, did you?, that God does not belittle them or chastise  them for their lack of faith… or say, ‘if you would only have more faith…” 

Rather God speaks tenderly to them to remind them of something they had forgotten in their despair:

“Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you (tattooed you?) on the palms of my hands…”

“How could I ever forget you… You are mine… you are my child! How silly to think that I could ever forget you!” 

I need to remember that from time to time… that God has not forgotten me, especially when hope feels lost. 

I need to remember that just as it is a mother’ s nature to love,  it is also God’s nature  to love us.  Out of God’s heart, God offers the hope and promise of comfort of a better day ahead… and release from that  fear which holds us captive to despair… and a promise of victory over sin and death. 

Your worst moment is not your last moment. God promises that no matter what. 

God will never forsake us… even when we walk through a valley of a shadow of death… God will be with us… to lead us to green pastures and still waters. 

How could God ever forsake us? 

Lord knows we need that message of hope from time to time.  Lord knows he needs people  to proclaim that hope to those who are living in desperate times… who feel forsaken by God. 

That’s what Isaiah was trying to offer his people… hope, for those who were lost and forgotten… a God who wanted to turn their mourning into dancing… their sorry into joy!

“Thus says the Lord: In a time of favor I have answered you, on a day of salvation I have helped you…Sing for joy, O heavens and exult, O earth… for the Lord has comforted his people, and will have compassion on his suffering ones.”

King George the VI tried to help his people find hope at a very difficult time.

By now you know his story thanks to the movie, “the King’s Speech.”  Set in 1939. Likely to bring home the Oscar tonight. You know the story:

– He did not want to be king but was forced into that role when his brother abdicated the throne.

– He knew something of personal struggle and what it mean to be without hope for his problem.

-His closest family and friends  knew him as a person who lacked confidence, stammered and froze at the thought of words being uttered from his lips.

Someone who knew him said, he would have rather faced being on the front line of the war than having to give a speech… 

Most of the movie is given to his working hard to overcome his stuttering, his hopeless despair and the demons that plagued him from his personal life. With the help of his tutor and good friend Lionel Logue…  he was finally able to overcome his obstacles and make a pivotal speech to his people. It was a critical speech because these were desperate times for England and Europe as Hitler was on the rise. You heard that speech in the movie. 

What you didn’t hear is another speech he gave  at Christmas. As he closed that Christmas speech, he quoted a favorite poem of his wife. He said:

 “I feel that we might find a message in the closing words which I would like to say to you.

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year
Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.”

And he replied,
Go into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!”

So I went forth and finding the Hand of God
Trod gladly into the night.

Into whatever darkest night you may face today or in the future… know there is the hand of God reaching out for you… know that our loving God would not leave you alone in the darkness… God loves you too much for that… 

God would reach out to lead you to a better day… where your mourning and sorrow turn into shouts of joy and dancing. Put your hand into the hand of that God… and indeed, that shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way… Amen. [1]

 




[1]
Thanks to the insights and story about hope from Tom Are Sr. book Heaven Knows Kate

p 48-50

 


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