It has happened so often that I really shouldn’t be surprised anymore. But it always catches me off-guard.
This week, I was working on a sermon, to share with another local church that I preached to yesterday morning, about the book of Ruth. And in it, I talked about the way that story reminds us how God is at work, even when all hope seems lost. I spoke at length about Naomi, who in the first five verses of the book is widowed, loses her sons, and returns home to Bethlehem utterly bereft. Naomi talks about how hopeless she is, how there is no future left for her; she calls herself “Mara,” and says that she left Bethlehem full but came back empty. The hand of the Lord, she says, has turned against me.
And yet, by the end of the book, Naomi is a happy grandmother, caring for baby Obed, son of Ruth and Boaz. Her family line is carried on, and includes King David and eventually Jesus.
Naomi thought all was lost, but God was still at work, bringing about redemption and hope, for her and for her people.
I said all this to the congregation at Park Ridge Presbyterian yesterday morning, told them not to lose hope, and then I woke up this morning feeling a little like Naomi again.
Feeling tired and discouraged. Worn out, from all these months of being afraid, taking precautions, not being able to see friends and family in the way that I’d like – and yet recognizing that my suffering is small, compared to those who have actually fallen ill, or lost dear ones to this virus. I felt, and still feel, exhausted by the bitter divisions in this country, and by the legacy of racism and the suffering it causes.
I wondered what God might be up to, or IF God was doing anything in the midst of this.
And I sat in those feelings of hopelessness for a while, before it occurred to me that I’d just, 24 hours ago, preached on this.
Preached a message that I, evidently, needed to hear as much as I needed to share it.
Like I said, I should stop being surprised that this happens so often – that a message I feel called to preach is one I really need to hear for myself. But my capacity for self-forgetfulness is great, and so here I am again, being humbled by God’s reminder that these words are for me too.
So in case you need to hear them, too, let me repeat them to myself and invite you to listen in.
God is still working. Perhaps most especially when it’s hard to see, or to understand, be assured: God has not given up. Not on me, or you, or our situation. Not on the public health crisis, or the evils of racism; not on our societal division or discord. God is still working. Even though we may not be able to see a way forward, God can see one, and making a way for us.
There is work we can do, there is help we can offer to others or receive ourselves, but above all, trust in this: God is at work.
Using us, using strangers, using – in the case of Ruth and Naomi – surprising people, those who could not be more different from us – to bring about healing and hope.
Above all, hear this: the story isn’t over yet. And just because all seems dark, does not mean that is how it ends.
Be open, dear ones, to being surprised.
(And maybe reread the book of Ruth, while you’re at it.)