I was watching the news the other day and like many people I find it increasingly more difficult to find reports that give me hope in the future of this world. There are reports of all consuming fires, bullying, more people dying from the flu, people dying from war, and copious amounts of political infighting. If you want soap opera style drama just turn on the evening or morning news and you’ll get it. Our world seems to be full of it. But unlike the soap operas, these reports aren’t fictional. Real people’s lives are being affected. And the only thing that comes to my mind is a question “How dark can our world really get?”
Yet the day I have in mind, there was not just one story but many stories of compassion, hope, and evidence of the existence of God even in the darker times of our world. During this time of government shut down, people are expected to make ends meet without pay and many simply are not able to. I watched and read how banks are extending interest free loans, and postponing mortgage payments, chefs of local restaurants are coming together to provide food for thousands of people without. In the midst, of what for some families, is debilitating temporary poverty, our citizens came together to offer hope, a moment of relief, and compassion.
That is the light of God shining forth in our world. That is God speaking to us, reminding us that he is present in the good works of good people who look at the wrongs of the world and refuse to accept them as fact and act contrary to the darkness in the lives of so many people. These individuals have become the hope in the lives of families in need. They have shared the hope that God instills into the hearts of all believers.
This is the type of hope that Christ brought to the lives of those in need in his time. The people of Galilee suffered greatly. By some estimates, the lowest classes in Galilee, which consisted of beggars, robbers, bandits, prostitutes and other despised people, made up 28% of the population which is a staggering number. Another70% of the population, the working class was always just one bad harvest away from ranking amongst the lowest. Social mobility happened but it was only one way: losing standing and falling in social ranking. They were an honor based society. So once social standing was lost it was nearly impossible to climb back up. Social ranking and careers were inherited and so it was unheard of for someone to try to better their situation or the situation for the next generation.
Poverty was so rampant because the average person paid tribute to the Romans, taxes to the state, taxes to the temple, and rent to their landlords. These bills were due even if that meant a family would starve to death to pay it. And if they couldn’t, their land was repossessed and they joined the ranks of day laborers. In today’s standards, that would be like having 28% of our population unemployed, and another 70% of the population hovering just at the poverty line. This was the economic reality of Galilee when Jesus was growing up and when Jesus began his ministry.
This was the darkness that ran rampant in Israel at that time. Jesus himself may even have been part of that dispossessed population. He preached to a people in deep need, a people who did not know or even believe that life was possible from year to year. He preached to a people who suffered greatly from hunger, the elements, judgment, illness, and spiritually and emotionally as they were forever shamed for their loss of status. The people Jesus reached out to were dejected. Yet what Christ offered them was hope. Not a hope based in the political winning of their country over the Romans. Quite honestly, that would not have changed much for the average citizen. But it was a hope based in the compassion, love, and care of their God even in their greatest trials and tribulations. Christ showed the people that God had not abandoned them to their suffering; God was not punishing them for some wrong someone in the family committed at some point in the last 7 generations; God was not the cause of the pain. Ancient society was the cause of their pain and faith in God would be their remedy, their light to help them through the dark times. It is no wonder that the people flocked to Jesus. His message spoke to their needs and not the needs of the elite 2% they were all forced to serve.
This is the vocation of the called people of Christ. This is how we are called to live into our faith. Using Christ as our example, we are called to reach out to those who have been beaten down by society and offer them hope. Walter Brueggemann, a 21st century Old Testament Theologian, wrote, “What a stunning vocation for the church, to stand free and hope-filled in a world gone fearful – and to think, imagine, dream, vision a future that God will yet enact”. Christ lived his life as an example to all the world of how we are to care for others, how we are called to live into God’s work and how God expects us to interact with humanity. This is why word of Jesus’ preaching and work spread so quickly in Galilee.
So too in our world, Christ’s word needs to spread just as quickly to a struggling people. Luke writes, “And Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit into Galilee, and a report concerning him went out through all the surrounding country. And he taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all”. Christ offers to teach us. He offers to raise us up just as he did so long ago for the people of Galilee. Just as he became their light, their beacon of hope amidst the darkness, Christ offers to be our beacon of hope in our world. We have the light of his hope alive in our hearts and we carry it with us throughout this life. We are called to share that light with others spreading the hope of God to all who are in need changing the world one life at a time. It is our way to say that we do not accept the abuses of humanity and we can and will do better.
So go forth with the hope of Christ alive in your actions. Share that hope through the care you give to those in need. Give freely of yourselves and combat the destructive nature of the darkness in this world. This morning instead of our normal end of sermon prayer, I invite you to join me in a unison prayer from our Psalm reading from this morning. Knowing that this is our reminder and our way of asking God to guide our hearts and our actions in this life so they live up to the call that Christ placed upon our hearts.
Let us be joined together in voice and heart for our unison prayer:
O Heavenly God, the Light to the world, may the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. One God forever, Amen.
 Sakari Hakkinen, Poverty in the First-Century Galilee, 22 September 2016.
 Walter Brueggemann, 21st century Bible Historian and Theologian.
 Luke 4: 14-15, RSV.
 Psalm 19: 14.
(Based on Psalm 19 and Luke 4: 14-21)