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Hope Shows Up

St. John’s Lutheran Church
3 March 2024 + Lent 3b
John 2:13-22
Rev. Benjamin Hogue
Director of Giving for Christian Community & Leadership
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


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Between my undergraduate education and seminary I served in Peace Corps Ukraine. I lived in Kolky, a small village in the most north, western state oblast near the borders of Belarus and Poland.

My time spent in Ukraine was incredible – so much so that instead of the 2-year commitment often associated with Peace Corps, much to my mother’s chagrin I extended my service a third year.

I loved my life there – my work, my village, and especially, I loved the people.

I noticed something though – and it took me a while to figure it out. While there is certainly love and fierce loyalty one another – there always seems to be a bit of pessimism in a Ukrainian worldview.

And I could get into the politics – certainly the geopolitics – of all of this and their relationship to their neighbors and the rest of the world but I think some of this worldview is summarized well in the opening line of their national anthem:

Ще не вмерли України — Ukraine is not dead yet. An intriguing opening line for me to learn in one of my first weeks there in language class.

But then I got to understand some of the tragedy in the lives of the people and the generations before them and many of the experiences of the country. Then sadly, this lack of hope kind of makes sense.

Ukraine’s own name points to this. [U–Kraini] – Literally translated “Through country” sometimes known as “Borderland”. “Through Country” – that place that you have to go through to get to the actual place you’re wanting to arrive. 

“THE Ukraine” is how it was translated by the Soviets into German, French, and English –intentionally – to belittle them linguistically. Simply that’s a place in which you go through – the territory of unimportance.

Linguistics lesson aside – I get it. I came to understand their hopeless disposition and frankly sobering worldview from the ways in which they have been denied their independence, sovereignty, their own identity… This is not to say that Ukrainian culture isn’t rich, their language beautiful, their food incredible – just hopeful wouldn’t necessarily be a way I would describe it.

Ukraine is not dead yet. That sat with me for a long time…

Until, Natalia Vasylivina, colleague, and friend and fellow English teacher (essentially my Ukrainian Aunt) said to me, “Mr. Benjamin, I like to translate it “UKRAINE LIVES ON

What a shift. Now THIS was strength and optimism and hope. This is a courage and faith placed deep within.

This is the Ukrainian attitude that many have come to see over the past almost year. The news stories and images are sobering. The reports and first-hand accounts are tragic. And yet, Ukraine lives on.

I have seen and heard a fundamental shift where Ukrainians are not necessarily dwelling on the past with dismay, but rather looking to the future realistically and with hope.

Simply put: Hope has shown up.

And I think, surprisingly so, the same can be said for the Gospel this week…

This this may be a familiar, albeit curious, Gospel reading. And before you get your whips out and tell me that there is nothing hopeful about this passage, let’s look a little closer.

Sure, Jesus is a bit over the top with his approach and loves a flair for the dramatic, but this is a pivotal moment in Jesus’ ministry. We hear this story in all 4 Gospels, but John is the only one that places this story in Jesus’ early ministry, right after he turns the water into wine. The other 3 Gospel writers place this as one of Jesus’ last acts before his crucifixion.

We see his righteous indignation as he overturns the tables of the money changers and disrupts the commercialization of sacred space. Here he is in John’s Gospel, setting the scene for his ministry, as actively confronting the systemic injustices that have taken root within the temple.

Essentially, poor folks were being taken advantage of – their money seen as impure, so they couldn’t buy the best animals for sacrifice. But Jesus – the guy who touched lepers, was touched by a hemorrhaging woman, casting out demons in graveyards and then sending them into a heard of pigs, eating with the outcasts – that guy shows up and shares hope!

By confronting all that’s happening, Jesus is overturning a system of exploitation and oppression. His actions are not merely disruptive, rather they’re rooted in a deep love for humanity and desire to draw everyone back to the heart of God.

Jesus’ rebellion against injustice and his call to genuine connection and transformation was hope showing up for many people in the temple that day – and then again after his resurrection when his words rang true.

I think Jesus was offering a hopeful invitation with his actions that day – to put an end to systems that exploit and harm. Yet that hopeful invitation is not about ignoring of the realities of the world – the hunger, death, brokenness…

Rather following the call of Jesus, accepting that hopeful invitation, is about trusting in the promise of resurrection, trusting in the promise that hope will show up.

From today’s Gospel, I hope you’re moved to turn a few tables over and crack a few whips, metaphorically in the places where injustice thrives, where oppression dwells. Through acts of service, advocacy, prayer, and generous gifts, we strive to address the world’s brokenness as individuals, as well as in community together.

And you might say – well it was easier to say “Hope Show Up” back when Jesus busting through temple doors and turning water into wine… but I am here to remind you, St. John’s, of the INCREDIBLE hope that you all help to provide.

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You all respond to Jesus’ challenge and invitation in a variety of ways, one of which I know firsthand. Your support of Lutheran Disaster Response and ELCA World Hunger is allowing for Hope to Show Up in places very near and very far away.

You all continue to prioritize the work of the Church in the world by generously praying, participating, and providing for the ministries of the ELCA.

Lutheran Disaster Response and World Hunger have long standing relationships all over the world and those relationships allow for us to act quickly and effectively when crisis arise.

When Russia moved and invaded Ukraine, the ELCA stepped up in an incredible way, giving gifts ever to support to global neighbors in need.

That generosity has allowed for aid – blankets, linens, food, shelter, cash assistance, hygiene kits, mental and emotional support services.

The same can be said for our support in the Holy Land. Our partnerships with Augusta Victoria Hospital and the Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land allows for us to respond effectively with humanitarian aid, psychosocial support, and direct financial assistance.

And it’s not just when crisis hits. Your ongoing support of ELCA World Hunger allows for us to respond to immediate needs to feed those who are hungry as well as address the root causes of hunger with sustainable, impactful solutions.

Sometimes that looks like a scoop of rice in a bowl at a soup kitchen, other times it looks like a scientist working on drought resistant crops. Locally, it might mean a delivery of groceries to someone who is homebound and farther away, it means school uniforms for young women.

I think very often we can resonate deeply with Jesus’ righteous anger – yet at the same time, trust in his promises of resurrection. Let this Gospel challenge all of us to continue his mission, spreading hope and sustenance to a world so desperately in need.

In his own, unique way, Jesus assured those present in the temple that Hope shows up. Sometimes it shows up for you – and sometimes it shows up because of you.

I am so grateful that you all are following Jesus’ call and holding fast to the promises given to you by the Son of God.

Because when you do that, friends, simply put, HOPE SHOWS UP.

So let’s borrow a page out of Natalia Vasylivna’s book and

AND not declare “With Jesus, hope is not dead yet” – Rather let us stand firm and proclaim, “With Jesus, hope lives on!”

Amen.

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