Rev. George Miller
2 Kings 6:24-7:2
“Though Hope Is Frail”
July 14, 2013
There are key moments in my life in which God broke into my reality and revealed something new. The most memorable was in 1987 when I felt the call to ministry, and promptly ran away from it.
Another time was in 2000. With my life broken into many pieces, I finally stopped running and was taking steps to enter seminary. For the time being, I worked at a residential facility for youth living with developmental disabilities.
One night we got to watch the movie “Prince of Egypt” which is a cartoon version of the Moses narrative. Although the facility was usually chaotic and full of unexpected intrusions, we were able to view the film uninterrupted.
The movie got to the part where the last of the plagues take place and the slaves are set free. Since the movie is a musical, they begin to sing a song.
The lyrics go “Many nights we prayed with no proof anyone could hear; in our hearts a hopeful song we barely understood. We are not afraid although we know there’s much to fear…we were moving mountains way before we knew we could.”
The chorus chimes in “There can be miracles when you believe; though hope is frail it’s hard to kill.”
The song continues, they get to the Red Sea, the water parts, and…something happened within me. I felt a whoosh!!! in my soul, a stirring deep within my chest, like the Holy Spirit had descended down like a dove and flew right into my heart.
That moment was so powerful it has forever shaped my theology, preaching, images and understanding of the Exodus story.
That song won an Oscar. Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey performed it as a duet.
Over the years, it has reappeared in my life, with its key phrase speaking volumes: “Though hope is frail, it’s hard to kill.”
-During seminary when living under the constant stress of studies, tests and papers.
-Last year when Whitney Houston died of a drug overdose, reminding us that even those who sing about hope can fall victim to moments of hopelessness.
-This week while preparing for today’s message.
Last week we introduced a new theme: moving from surviving to flourishing. But as we just heard in this morning’s scripture, there are times when surviving seems to be the only thing we can do.
Could you imagine a bleaker scripture then todays? It’s baffling to think of a famine so great that people would pay high prices just to eat things like the head of a donkey.
It’s horrifying to imagine what the two mothers decide to do.
Where are the green pastures and a shepherd who will feed and supply our need?
As the story goes, the people of the Northern Kingdom of Israel are under siege. The enemy has surrounded them; there is no getting in or out without being attacked.
This means you can’t go down to the river to fish or out to the field to forage; it means no food and water can get in.
Supplies run low, prices get high; the citizens begin to starve. Not starve as in “Oh, I missed breakfast today” but starve as in “willing to do whatever it takes to survive.”
As Americans in the land of plenty in which even our poor have access to food stamps and soup kitchens with second helpings, it can be hard for us to fully understand what we mean by starving.
The longest I’ve ever gone without food was 3 days and that was for an intentional fast. Even at my poorest moment, not once did I ever go a day without food, even if all I had was some lettuce leaves and a bite of bread.
How long do you think these two women went without food? 3 hours? 3 days? A week?
How long do sensible, faithful people have to go before they turn to something as desperate as eating their own young?
When people are hungry and starving, hope is very frail indeed.
From what I read, no one can say positively that this story is based on historical fact. We know events like these have taken place. We know wars have been waged, famines have set in, and people have been forced into unpleasant decisions.
But did this story happen exactly as told? I don’t know. But I do know that this story has what’s called truth.
Truth as in what is the scripture trying to tell us; what are the instances that we can apply to our own lives?
I’d wager that we have all gone through these things symbolically.
If we break this story down bit by bit, we find a multitude of truths we can ask ourselves.
Truths such as “What has been holding you under siege?”
Truths such as “What in your life have you been starving for and where are you barely surviving?”
Truths such as “Who have you been angry at and wanted to point the blame: the rulers of your life; the religious leaders; God?”
Or how about these questions: “What door is being kept closed against you?” and “Who is speaking ill against you and unfairly passing the blame?”
Anyone ever ask any of those questions? Anyone live with those truths on a daily basis?
Anyone ever feel like sometimes all they have had to get them through the day is hope?
“Though hope is frail, it is hard to kill.”
Then there are times when it seems as if hope isn’t enough, as if perhaps God has been asleep or not paying attention.
We come to church on Sunday and we get to say all these wonderful things about God and Jesus and the Holy Spirit in our Call to Worship and Unison Prayer of Praise.
And they are nice things. The remind us of just how awesome God can be…but if we are to be honest today, I mean truly honest, doesn’t it sometimes seem like we have to say these things to remind God that we are here and to remind God how to be God?
-“God, you are our Source of Hope-so act like it!”
-“God, you are the Creator of Tomorrows- so get creating!”
-“God, you are our Shepherd- so feed us, guide us and protect us!”
-“God, the windows to heaven feel closed-so open them!”
-“God, lately it seems like all you’ve been saying is ‘no!’ – it’s time you say ‘yes!’!”
How about this one: “God, if you are Still Speaking then why do you seem so silent- say something!”
Anyone ever feel the need to say such things and hold God accountable?
Today’s scripture does not shy away from such thoughts and though it leaves us with many questions (which we went over in Tuesday’s Bible Study), there does come that spark of hope.
If you were to read on, we would discover that God does indeed act and that hope and help comes in the most unexpected of ways.
In the remainder of chapter 7 we are introduced to four men living with leprosy; outcasts of society sitting outside the city’s gate.
They say to one another “If we go inside the city we will die of hunger. If we stay here we will die. But there is the slight chance that if we go to the enemy camp they will welcome us and we will live. And if they do happen to kill us, well we would have died anyway!”
Talk about hope being frail.
Through a series of rather comical events, the lepers visit the enemy camp, the enemy is defeated, the lepers make out like bandits, the windows of heaven are opened and the people of Samaria are saved from the famine…just as Elisha has said.
Though it cannot undo what has happened between the women and their children, hope does come in the most unexpected of ways.
Unnamed and unknown, the four lowly lepers become the vehicle of hope through which God’s mercy and miracles take place; allowing the people to go from barely surviving to finally flourishing.
Much like how hope comes to the family of Jacob through Joseph, the son he long thought was dead.
Same way in which hope for a village in a similar situation came through the actions of an older widow and her maid in the apocryphal book of Judith.
Same way that hope for the world came through a peasant boy names Jesus, a newborn baby so frail he had to be placed in swaddling clothes…
…Hope is frail. That’s part of what makes it hope.
Sometimes when all else is taken away and stripped from us, hope is all we have left; like an ember; like a seed.
But as long as an ember of hope still exists, a fire can be created to illuminate the night and warm our hearts.
As long as a seed of hope still exists, a flourishing field of flowers and produce can be grown, harvested and shared…
…By and by, I believe that God wants us to flourish. Times get hard, difficult decisions have to be made and sometimes I think God does need a nudge or two to awake.
But I also believe that God is able to perform wonder-working miracles and that though hope is frail, it is indeed very, very hard to kill.
They could not kill it when the freed slaves came across the Red Sea; it could not be completely killed when the Samaritans were under siege; and it certainly was not killed when they nailed our Savior to the Cross.
Let us thank God and let us continue welcoming the in-breaking of the Holy Spirit into our hearts and our lives.
Amen and amen.