A fisherman was at sea with his heathen buddies when a huge storm came out of nowhere and was close to destroying their small ship. His friends begged him to do anything, even pray, but he said to his buddies, “It’s been a long time since I’ve done that or even gone to church.” Finally they were desperate for anything, so he said O.K. and prayed, “O Lord, I haven’t asked anything for you for fifteen years, and if you help us now and bring us to safety, I promise I won’t bother you for another fifteen years!”
Merriam-Webster defines desperation as “1) loss of hope and surrender to despair and 2) a state of hopelessness leading to rashness.” The Latin origin word defines itself: de spes / no hope.
As we are all aware, desperation can lead to all sorts of poor choices and wrong behavior. Everything from oversharing in attempts to gain some sort of attention, to acts of violence: the cornered animal can no longer run, so it will turn and fight or attack. As Winston Churchill said, “Beware of driving men to desperation. Even a cornered rat is dangerous.” When we become desperate, our rational selves duck under the covers, leaving us vulnerable to our own emotions. However, just as the word defined itself—de spes / no hope— it also defines the solution.
You have all probably heard the Greek myth of Pandora and her box. According to the mythology, Pandora was created by Zeus as punishment for Prometheus stealing fire from the gods and bringing it down. Pandora was the first mortal created and was gifted with beauty, elegance, life. She was very desirable, but she was also given her box that she was told by Zeus to never open. Curiosity got the cat and it got Pandora as well. She opened it to take a peak and all the evils of the world flew out before she could slam it closed again. Here, there are a couple of different endings, but it seems that there was only one thing that did not escape: hope. All the evils ever created (anger, lust, greed, gluttony, etc) were released into the world to inflict harm on all mortals who would be weighed down in their grief, because there was no hope: it was still trapped in Pandora’s box.
Holy Scripture tells us of similar events: “Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.” And a little further on, “Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (Revelation 12:7-9, 12) All the evils set loose in the Devil’s great wrath, but where is the hope?
I know I’ve shared it with you before, but it is the poem, The Coming, by R.S. Thomas that just never seems to leave me alone:
And God held in his hand a small globe.
Look, he said.
The son looked.
Far off, as through water, he saw a scorched land of fierce color.
The light burned there, crusted buildings cast their shadows
a bright serpent, a river uncoiled itself, radiant with slime.
On a bare hill a bare tree saddened the sky.
Many people held out their thin arms to it,
as though waiting for a vanished April to return to its crossed boughs.
The son watched them.
Let me go there, he said.
The Devil, that serpent radiant in slime pours out his great wrath, stripping us of hope, but the Son said, “Let me go there,” and in doing so, hope is freed from Pandora’s box, it is released into the world through Jesus. St. Paul teaches us: “Remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:12-13) We have been given the hope of God, but do you know what’s funny? Remember those heathen fishermen caught in the storm? Story tells us that in their desperation they tried everything to save themselves and it was only then that they decided to place their hope in God and pray. Isn’t that odd… and we do the same thing.
Have you ever been in some desperate situation and done all you know and can think to do and only then say, “Well, as a last resort, might as well try God.” God gave himself that we might have hope, but we so often only look to him when things become desperate. As crazy as this might seem, why not go to him first? Seeking his will and his guidance before the situation becomes desperate and even if the circumstances continue to deteriorate, you will still not enter into that sense of desperation, because you know that he is with you, bringing you peace even in the midst of the chaos. How do we get there? How do we enter into that peace and that place of hope?
Jesus “sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’”
How do we enter into that peace and hope of God? We take our two copper coins, all that we have, and place them into God’s hands. We do this, not when everything is falling down around us, but at the very beginning, even when life is grand and we’re walking on sunshine. We give him our two copper coins, so that come rain or shine, we are confident and even courageous in knowing that our God, “who neither slumbers nor sleeps,” is watching over us.
“Today we read in our Psalm:
Put not your trust in rulers, nor in any child of earth,
for there is no help in them.
When they breathe their last, they return to earth,
and in that day their thoughts perish.
Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help!
whose hope is in the Lord their God.”
Put your two copper coins in the treasury that is God and discover the peace and hope that your soul is… desperate for.
Let us pray: O God, our Creator, you are our hope and light. We are your people, a people of hope. Bless us, O Lord, and send your Spirit upon us. It is through our love and caring, that you give us hope, and we bring light to each other. Help us, O Lord, to keep our hope centered on you and may we bring light to each other. May your love inspire us, and your light sustain us. May a future full of hope bring us closer to you. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen.