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A Tanzanian message of hope for the end of the year

As we enter December, how do you assess the year? Did you succeed with the goals you set? Did your plans come to fruition? If they did not, are you feeling hopeless?

This was the issue the preacher was speaking into yesterday at church. It was a sermon about not giving up hope, and how Jesus is the answer to that. Here’s my translated summary.

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The text was Luke 7, where Jesus raises from the dead the son of the widow of Nain. These kind of funeral processions in the story are familiar to Tanzanians, and with their shorter cultural distance, the preacher naturally saw this story as being about the raising of the widow.

This boy was his mama’s last hope. Her husband had already died and been buried; now she and a crowd were on their way to bury her son too. They were headed outside the city gates and downhill, all symbolic of the loss of hope. But before they can reach the bottom to bury him, in fact, at the city gates, Jesus meets them, and the encounter with Jesus makes all the difference.

Jesus says to her, “Do not cry.” The message of these words is that this is not the end. This is not the pole moment. There is still hope.

The mama has no hope, but she has just been met by the One in whom there is hope and life and everything that human beings need. He touches the funeral bier, and by doing so, He touches her life.

This is who Jesus is. He is the One who left Heaven to come and involve himself with us – with every thing and every sadness. Others may take delight in someone’s suffering, but Jesus has only compassion.

So if you are ready to give up after a year where much has befallen you, stop and hear the words of Jesus “do not cry.” This is not the end; be met by Jesus, because when He meets with us, we are able to move forward. With this hope, we are able to take the steps we need to, to speak to the people who can help us, to see the doctors who have expertise, to try again in business.

He asked people to come forward if they had been feeling hopeless and needed to be encountered by Jesus and those people were prayed for. There were also two exorcisms, but the relevance of those to the sermon was not apparent to me.

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Here are some observations from this sermon.

First, notice again the Tanzanian concern with despair and giving up. So much of Tanzanian theology is addressing this tendency to accept your lot in life rather than persevering.

Second, notice how large the incarnation looms in this sermon – both Jesus’ identification with humankind, and his power on our behalf. Where western theology has been very concerned with the question of how we in our sin can come before a holy God, Tanzanian theology is very interested in the question of how we know or have access to God. The idea that God would come down to be with us is therefore very powerful.

Third, the preacher was greatly concerned to point out that the reason to follow Jesus is not because He gives you what you want. He argued that the crowd who was with Jesus, though they might have been healed or freed or fed by Jesus, actually followed Him because He forgave their sins. They who deserved to be separated from society because of their transgressions, are restored because of Jesus, and so they follow Him. The atonement is in the mix, often as the received mechanism of entry into the kingdom of God, but other themes loom much larger in terms of the questions people have and their experience of life. I’ll write more on this in the second post about windows into Tanzanian theology.

Categories: Tanzania Written by Tamie

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Tamie Davis

Tamie Davis is an Aussie living in Tanzania, writing at meetjesusatuni.com.

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