The stories about Jesus in the Bible conjure images of hope.
Time and time again we see Jesus welcoming the outcasts (and who decided they were outcasts in the first place?), healing the sick, restoring those who were spiritually or emotionally afflicted, forgiving sin and freeing people from shame.
Wherever Jesus went, people felt the presence of hope. In the Gospel of Mark, the Bible recounts the story of Jesus and his disciples traveling to Gennesaret by boat.
Mark says, "As soon as they got out of the boat, people recognized Jesus. They ran throughout that whole region and carried the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went — into villages, towns or countryside — they placed the sick in the marketplaces. They begged him to let them touch even the edge of his cloak, and all who touched him were healed."
In his book "The Liturgy of Liberation," Theodore Jennings says of Jesus, "He comes to liberate. He liberates the blind from darkness, the lame from immobility, the sick from disease, the possessed from madness. He shatters the bonds of custom and of class; he breaks open the iron strictures of legalism. He summons the dead to life. He transforms water into wine and death into life. He announces deliverance to the captives and sets at liberty those who are oppressed."
Hope means that God is for us. In the Bible in 2 Corinthians we read, "...God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation ... We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."
Hope means that our past need not limit our future. Sometimes our sense of sin, shame, or regret keeps us moored to the past. But Theodore Jennings is right on target when he says, "...the forgiveness of sins ... is the word and action in which God's rule draws near to us, shattering the bonds we are held by."
Hope means that God's love has sufficient power to unleash our deepest potentials. One of my favorite stories in the Bible is the story of a man who, before he met Jesus, lived a solitary life of emotional and spiritual anguish. He lived in exile among the tombs. He was naked, and would cry out and cut himself with stones.
One day, Jesus came stepped into this man's anguished world and freed him from his affliction. The man was transformed from being naked and afflicted to being clothed and in his right mind.
Jesus still offers the fragrance of hope to people today. It's captured in the biblical word "salvation." The "Dictionary of Biblical Imagery" powerfully states what salvation is about: "Salvation describes what God has done, is doing, and will do on behalf of men and women who suffer from the misery, mortality, and meaninglessness of the human condition."
We discover this salvation, this hope, in moments of transparent honesty as we begin to admit our brokenness, our sin, our hurt, and our pain to Jesus. As we open our lives to Jesus, we open ourselves to God's healing presence. Jesus can forgive us and free us from past regret. His love can heal the wounds and afflictions we have suffered.
As our forgiver and leader of our lives, his grace can restore us to our deepest potentials.
In the Bible, Jesus brought hope wherever he went. He still brings hope to you and me today.
May we find ourselves able to open our hearts to the hope, healing, and redemption that comes from God who, in Jesus, is utterly and demonstrably for us.
The Rev. Jim Williams is pastor of the Gloucester Assembly of God on Washington Street.