Tuesday, April 20, 2010

April 20, 2010 - Hope IS a Miracle

This past Sunday, I preached on the story from the Acts of the Apostles about the raising of Tabitha. It’s one of a small number of biblical passages that recount not merely a healing, but the raising of a person from the dead. Although the Apostle Peter performs the miracle, it’s clear he sees it as the work of the risen Christ.

Preparing my sermon, I was struck by a rather unusual detail. Before performing his miracle, Peter cleared the room. Why was that?

I figure it was because Peter was none too sure of his ability to do anything helpful. This isn’t a sick woman, he thought to himself. It’s a dead woman. Dead is dead (unless, of course, you’re talking about Jesus’ resurrection, but that’s a story for another day).

You’d think, had Peter been more confident, he’d have practiced a little showmanship. You know, given the miracle some pizzazz. Wow the crowd.

But, no. Peter will have none of that.

When in doubt, pray. Having no other option, that’s what Peter decides to do. Falling to his knees, he offers fervent prayers to God: to get him out of this situation, to do something to help this grieving community – and, yes, even this poor, deceased woman, wherever in heaven or earth her soul may be.

After praying, Peter turns to Tabitha and simply says, “Tabitha, get up.” She does! The crowd outside is astounded when they see their beloved Tabitha, alive again. It just may be, though, that the most befuddled person in the village that day is Peter himself.

Many of us have been there before, in situations that seemed hopeless. It’s a story repeated time and again, in hospital corridors and family waiting rooms, as a doctor says to an anxious family, ”I’m sorry, there’s nothing more we can do.”

We’ve all heard of deathbed miracles, of course, but we also know these are few and far between. I told the folks in church on Sunday that the one miracle I have seen, time and time again, is how hope – that most persistent of Christian character traits – has a way of arising out of even the darkest of situations.

Sometimes that hope is as simple as being able to persevere, to get up and face another day without falling apart emotionally. Sometimes it’s the ability to let go and die with dignity. Sometimes it’s reconciliation with a loved one that we never imagined could have happened.

On his knees, alone in that small room except for the corpse stretched out on the bed, Peter may have feared his hope-reservoir had run dry. But then, when he least expects it, God breaks in once again, revealing new possibilities.

Such hope differs from what usually passes for hope in our culture – at least, as the word is used in everyday speech. Eugene Peterson points out that what a lot of people call hope is in reality something different. It’s wishing, not hoping – and wishing and hoping are not the same thing:

“Wishing is something all of us do. It projects what we want or think we need into the future. Just because we wish for something good or holy we think it qualifies as hope. It does not. Wishing extends our egos into the future; hope grows out of our faith. Hope is oriented toward what God is doing; wishing is oriented toward what we are doing.”

Peterson goes on to say that we can picture wishing as though it were a line coming out from us with an arrow on the end, pointing into the future, pointing toward that thing we most want to possess.

Hope is just the opposite. It’s a line that comes from God out of the future, with its arrow pointing towards us:

“Hope means being surprised, because we don’t know what is best for us or how our lives are going to be completed. To cultivate hope is to suppress wishing – to refuse to fantasize about what we want, but live in anticipation of what God is going to do next.” [The Contemplative Pastor: Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction (Eerdmans, 1993)]

To me, that’s a beautiful and liberating insight. Yes, we all want certain things in this life. Yet, our wishes and God’s intentions for us may not always coincide. At times, God may have an entirely different plan – which means that, for us, the way of freedom and peace lies not in somehow pulling God around to our way of thinking, but rather letting go and trusting God to be in control.


LeighSW said...

Wonderful post! That was just what I needed to hear. Thank you.

Colleen said...

good quote.