Lately I have been more aware than ever of the pervasiveness of distress and grief in the world, in our society and in the places that I serve. Situations differ but the emotional content of the stories evokes a similar level of recognition and compassion for all. I am reminded of that – and of God’s covenantal promise to us in two ways this morning.
1. In the gospel (JN16:20-23) Jesus says, “Amen, amen, I say to you, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices (“the world” here I take to mean those elements not concerned with the spiritual life at all); you will grieve, but your grief will become joy. When a woman is in labor, she is in anguish because her hour has arrived; but when she has given birth to a child, she no longer remembers the pain because of her joy that a child has been born into the world. So now you are in anguish. But I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
2. One of the headlines on the internet this morning is the latest gift of $120 million by Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, to the Bay Area California school system as part of their participation in Giving Pledge, the effort begun by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett for the rich to donate most of their wealth. The story spoke of this promise on the part of this couple (30 and 29 years old) as one way of “giving back” in a whole complex of efforts on their part that includes volunteering in poor schools and (Chan) serving as a pediatrician to underserved populations. It is for them a way of life.
The promise of Jesus in the gospel can certainly remind us – with an excellent example of pain changing to joy – that transformation is possible in our personal lives as well as more broadly in the world around us. The endeavors of many people with the wealth and/or creativity to begin to answer needs in ways that also have the potential to transform society are being documented often now, and frequently such efforts come from the younger segments of society who see a different future than their elders can imagine. What is engendered by each of these examples – for me, at least – is the capacity for hope that exists in me at the same time as my consciousness of the distress within and around me. As I breathe in these messages, sitting with the disciples in that upper room waiting for the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost, I am confident that hope will not disappoint and that the promises of God will be fulfilled.