Holders of Hope: Messengers of Love

There is an old story of a leper colony, a place where people are quarantined set apart from society because it was believed that the visible skin disfigurement and disability – was highly contagious & at the time, incurable.

This particular colony housed only men.
Men who were sent there to die, for nothing could be done
It was pretty dehumanizing.
It was a lonely space surrounded by tall stone wall,
full of abandoned people

This colony, like so many others in those days, was sponsored by
a local monastery, who sent sisters/nuns
to care for basic needs of the ill men.

Most of the men had given up, detached from any feeling of hope,
love or salvation.
Yet there was one man who seemed able to
keep a gleam in his eye

He could be caught every now and then
to form a smile.

The nuns would notice, if they offered him something,
he could still find the WILL to say, “Thank you”.

The Sister in charge of the leper colony
yearned to know the reason for why THIS man had hope.

What kept him clinging to life when so
many others had seemed to give up?

She watched him for a few days and she sawit.

Every day, high above the forbidding stone wall,
appeared a face.
A little tip of a woman’s face,
no bigger than a hand, but all smiles.

The man would be there, every day, waiting to receive his smile,
the provision of hope, the thread to life
which gave him strength and tenacity to
keep living each day.

He would smile back and then the head would disappear.
But, he would know she would appear again the next day.

One day the Sister took them by surprise.

When he realized she saw the exchange,
he simply said to her, “She is my wife.”

And after a pause, he went on,
“Before I came here, we were desperate.
She hid me, looked after me and did
everything she could do to keep me well

A native doctor had given her some paste to treat my disease.
Every day she would smear my arms, legs, my neck, back

And face….all except
one tiny corner of my face…
She always left,
just enough space for the touch of her kiss.

But it couldn’t last. They picked me up and brought me here.
She followed.
Now, when she comes to see me every day,
I know that it is because of her
that I can still go on living.”[ii]

Strength, the strength to live; physical, emotional, and spiritual
strength has been studied, discussed and written about by
physicians, psychologist, anthropologist, sociologist,
theologians, philosophers, and so on.

That kind of persistence, determination, and perseverance,
is otherwise known as tenacity.

Paul, the writer of 2 Timothy, had a similar determination,
perseverance and strength.
You know people like that.

The writer of the letter to Hebrews picks up the same theme.
Such strength and tenacity cannot be acquired from being a
spectator, by reading “about” it or by osmosis.

We know that Paul was transformed, literally had his life turned up side down when he saw that it was GOD who was the source of life, love and hope
He was forever changed in to a messenger
with the sole purpose to share how God’s love in Christ
It is was gave him hope and tenacity
It enabled him to endure torture and suffering.
His became a deliberate strength
Strength that has to be “laid hold of”,
labored after and pursued

The same courage and strength found in hands which
“smear paste” on her beloved.
Those are hands of deliberate, tenacious strength.

It moved Paul to write a letter to his dear friend
Timothy.
He says in v 5:  I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.

It was a deliberate exchange.
For, they were messengers of love.

Do families have a special role to play in the transmission of the
apo-stolic tradition?

When you read Paul’s letter to his dear friend Timothy
The answer is clear – YES – families, mother/fathers
bothers/sister, aunts/uncles and grandparents
are messengers of love.
You know from personal experience what it means
when someone REALLY cares!

Parents, grandparents, aunts/uncles, brothers/sisters who have, and
continue to pass that love from generation-to-generation and

That kind of radical love leads to
long term hope
which creates tenacity!

For Timothy, he was witness, a receiver of two women who took
risks and prepared the way
for their son/grandson to share that same message.

Paul knew, as we do today, that the future of the church depends
upon the transmission of the story,
the radical counter cultural mercy of JesusChrist.

It is a story of love, grace and compassion –
grounded in deliberate tenacious strength.

Nothing is more central to sharing God’s love than being a messenger.

In mentioning Timothy’s mother and grandmother Paul is making a
single point: If at all possible
Do not lose touch with your Mama & your grand mama’s love.
They get it!

Stand grounded in a family and multigenerational tradition.
It is your inheritance

Turn to Hebrews Chapter 12 again.
Glance back at what is in Chapter 11.
It is the story of the Great Cloud of Witness,
the Great Saints of our Faith
messengers of God’s love.

The cast of characters:

Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab

Gideon, Barak, Samson, David, Samuel, and so forth

Men, women, mothers, sisters, fathers, grandmothers and
grandfathers, all passing down the faith, sharing wisdom,
telling the story of God’s amazing power and
sustaining grace.

Beginning in verse 32 the writer of Hebrews describes the strength
and tenacity of these heroes and sheros ofthe faith.

Many are living in a quarantined-like environment,
waiting for the promise of God,
for the promised Messiah to appear
like a smiling face over the ever-forbidding high wall

Therefore, the writer says.

When you hear therefore be prepared for the writer to set up a framework for what has just been shared.

He says, Do you see what this means—all these pioneers,
all these Saints, who blazed the way, all these veterans
cheering us on?

It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit!
No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins.

I have a friend running the NY marathon today. She has pushed through
months of training to be at the starting line today.

Some of you are runners, if not you have hung out with your friends
or children at a cross country or track meet.

When they get ready to run a race they strip down.
They begin to take off all the weight – the extra clothes
until you can feel kind of awkward next to someone in
those little shorts w/a slit up to their waste.

Some appear to have on nothing but underwear.
All the unnecessary heaviness comes off.
Even the shoes must be crafted to provide support/structure
for the run but must be as light as possible.

Strip down, says the writer of Hebrews.
Start running—and never quit!
No extra spiritual fat, no freeloading sins allowed!

And here is the best part of the framework,
I believe a keystone in our Christian life.

Keep your eyes on Jesus,

Study how he did it.
Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—
that exhilarating finish in and with God—
he could put up with anything along the way:

Cross, shame, whatever.

It sure puts my suffering in perspective.

It does not – and let me be clear –
It does not diminish our suffering nor does it belittle it.

What it does, is to create a framework for us to navigate, take off the extra weight,

see ourselves from outside the situation and focus on the one who
both began and finished the race we are in.

And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God.
When you find yourselves flagging in your faith,
go over that story again, item by item,
that long litany of hostility he plowed through.
That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

God made flesh in Jesus Christ, THE messenger of love who
empowered Louis and Eunice, who were then shared that
same message with Timothy who grew into a
partner with Paul

Love builds hope. Love is a necessary ingredient in hope.

Hope, especially radical hope creates tenacity.

Say something about the cast of characters in Heb 11
being the heroes and sheros of our faith.
Great well-known models of love,
hope resilience, and tenacity.
Messengers of love.
Saints, witnesses of love, hope resilience and tenacity.

But, Messengers, we know, can show up in other less historic, simple,
yet meaningful and life giving ways

Elizabeth told me that she grew up in a pretty normal home.
At least from the outside looking in she said.

What no one knew is that before she was 13
it was clear to her that due to life and
circumstances beyond her Mom’s control,
that her mom gradually began to give her love and
attention to alcohol
more that to Elizabeth and her two sisters,

She began to struggle.
Most of the time she felt like she was on her own.
The one person she believed knew her struggle was her
grandmother who lived 8 sates away.

They shared cards, notes and letters often.
Each envelope, stamp and unique stationary
brought a gift in the mail ever so often.

When Elizabeth was in the fifth grade,
struggling with school (specifically spelling and math),
with peer pressure and finding its way into
the mix of a chaotic, alcoholic home she received a letter

Dear Elizabeth,

       I had just mailed an envelope to you when your letter came. You sounded so unhappy that I just had to sit down and answer you today. Sometimes it is good to sit down and write when you feel sad – so you write me anytime you want to talk to someone.

       I know how you feel, sweetie, just plain tired of school, I used to be the same way and so did your Mom. Everyone in this world has problems from time to time. I understand.

       The thing to do is, stick your head up and just keep going each day. There is nothing in this world you can’t do if you want it badly enough. Worrying will not solve it. I promise it will not.

       You will have days when everything seems to go wrong but then you will have happy days. That it the way it is for all of us, even for me and Grandaddy.       Remember who you are – you are a wonderful girl. Be yourself and don’t try to be like anyone else. We all love you just the way you are. You are uniquely and wonderfully made.

       Write me soon again, dear.       

I love you so, so much.

       Nana

 

A note, a message of love, what seems simple,
planted seeds which created hope for a little girl.

The hands of a grandmother, picking up pen and paper
to write encouraging, yet honest words of love, support,
strength and compassion.

Those letters continued steadily for two more years
until Elizabeth’s Nana died and joined the list of Saints.

Elizabeth said that, “Knowing those letters would
be in the mailbox was like seeing a face of hope”
Like a face above a forbidding wall.

Seeds of hope which, according to Elizabeth grew strong and deep.
It built resilience and her tenacity to break the
cycle of addiction in her family, get a college degree,
finish graduate school, have her own family and
ecome a messenger of love and hope for others.

Junot Diaz, a Pulitzer winner author, in an interview in the New Yorker
says, “In order for us to have “radical hope” we must first feel.

Hope, is not blind optimism, but the deep,
deep salvation of humanity

Hope, is not blind optimism, but the deep,
deep salvation of humanity

Paul, allowed himself to feel – he was so vulnerable
he received the message in an encounter on a road.
The love of Christ pushed him beyond the limits of
suffering and gave him the tenacity to
share that saving love with others.

It is like the love a woman for a her husband

A man who was labeled by society as so unfit – he was banished.
But – She never stopped showing up,
she never stopped feeling love.
And her love gave him hope to life.

This is our gift, dear friends – right here.
A deep rooted love,

A love that creates radical hope.

It is a salve, a healing balm,
for the brokenness of our lives and our world.

It is counter cultural –
goes against all the rules of a free market consumer society,

It is ours, a gift from our creator.

It is yours to remember and yours to share.

Go, go. Go! be Messengers of God’s love.

——————

[i] Hansen’s Disease

[ii] Stories for Sharing by Charles Arcodia, “The Face at the Wall”

Grace Church – Matt Williams, Run the Race

On Being Kristi Tippiet interview with Junot Diaz

Interpretation – First and Second Timothy and Titus by Thomas C. Ocden, p. 26-

Letter from Jane Roop Schnable to Debbie Gardner, 1973

 

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