Hope. It was the title of my sermon this week based on the passage from Ezekiel 37:1-14. It’s the story of the dry bones in the valley, and God telling the prophet that he would bring them alive again. It is a story of hope, and we are working our way through Lent with another hopeful scripture: “if anyone is in Christ, there is new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) But mid-week when I actually started writing, I would have changed the title to: Hope is Hard.
From the ancient times of the prophet Ezekiel who was trying to roust the exiled people of Israel from their deep sadness — to the 1920’s when my father and my grandmother arrived from Romania at Ellis Island — and to all the issues facing people today — I was especially aware this week of how difficult life can be.
I had the opportunity this week to be in NYC for a few days. David and I spent one afternoon making the trek to the Statue of LIberty and visited Ellis Island They say that when the eastern Europeans who’d been at sea for weeks would first see the Statue — the cheering could be heard for miles. Hope within sight at last! Just minutes away from disembarkation at Ellis Island. And yet, once reaching the shore, you could be sent back to the country you’d fled for a variety of reasons. If you were one of the lucky ones who got to stay, life would not be easy for at least a generation. My father’s parents died within months of each other from tuberculosis before his 16th birthday. My father was on his own with two younger sisters. He lived through the Great Depression as an orphan. WWII came and he was drafted into the Army.
And yet when asked what he was most proud of, he said it was his American citizenship and his three children, who unlike him graduated from college even though he could not afford to send us — in America, if you work hard in school, you will find a way.
Hope is hard. But a life without hope is no life at all. Without hope we are like those bones in the valley. Dry. Lifeless. And only with God can we come alive again. I’m fortunate that I have my dad as an example of not giving up. Growing up in an immigrant’s household, I have probably carried that spirit into my adult life. Hopeful and realistic. Good qualities in my line of work — leading an old church through transformation. For all the hopeful signs of growth, we could decide that the work is just too hard. Doing the work of church transformation is hard. It’s like a creaky old ship — maybe like the one my dad came over on — that very slowly cuts a wide berth as it finds its new course.