A Triumph of Hope Over Experience
A Funeral Service Message based on John 4, the Woman at the Well
Samuel Johnson tells us that second marriages are a triumph of hope over experience. That would be a good title for our Bible story today and for the story of Carole Ann Bay Smith, daughter, sister, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and my aunt, yes, and nurse, clown, sculptor, balloon artist, and witch. I said Witch Mom.
Carol liked to laugh, hope that got a gaufaw or a least a snort from her. There was joy in her life, daughters finding their way in life and love. Daughters, grandchildren, and great grandchildren were bundles of joy. Several yearly trips to Lakeside where she celebrated her birthday surrounded by generations of family and the beauty of God’s creation. Helping the helpless in her work as a nurse, making gifts for family like the dough nativity that fits on my kitchen table in December. If there wasn’t joy around, Carole could bring it. Showing up in a Halloween mask, a silly hat, or a full on clown costume complete with balloon animals. Carole found the joy in life and shared it with others.
Those of you that have travelled with Carole in her life, know that she could have chosen not to laugh. Life was not easy for her. Single mother, divorces, nursing the ill of body and mind, fighting unhealing wounds of body and spirit, she could have withdrawn from experience instead of trying again in hope.
Even the last weeks of her life, folks asked if she will recover, and I reflected over her life, well, folks have counted Carole out before, but she came back ready to go, hope over experience again and again.
The woman in our story, did not have an easy life either. She came to the well in the heat of the day, maybe to avoid some unpleasant comments about her marital status from the crowd at the well at dawn? She had no servants to draw water for her, and she had no husband, a difficult situation in that time both socially and economically, like a single mother of two young babies decades ago.
Yet she talked to the stranger. Asked for what she needed, did not lie about her status, confessed her faith in the coming Messiah, as something she knew was coming, and was rewarded with being the first to hear what no one else in this Gospel heard until now. Christ was here with her, in the middle of her work day, knowing her marital challenges, speaking as if it was okay to talk with her, as if it was okay to be who she was. Hot, tired, curious, not quite married, overworked, and underloved.
Hope is not Optimism. Optimist believes that things will turn out for the better, that once more is revealed, everything will be good and great. Wrongs revealed to be right, relationships will be loving, relatives will be close, debt will be take care of, the car will only need adjustment not repair. That is the Optimist, things will turn out well. That there will be a happily every after. I don’t think Carole was an optimist, she didn’t live in a fairy tale. And she would let you know that. Can I get an Amen! She would tell you what was wrong in her world, she knew and she would explain in detail with charts, diagrams, timelines, excel spreadsheets…
But she was hopeful.
Hope is different that Optimism. It never lands on things of a time and place. Hope not tied to experience. It trusts God’s blessings for all humanity into eternity rather than the world’s temporal rewards for me and mine. It doesn’t ignore illness, tragedy, meanness or wish them away, but continues on through those experiences trusting that one day, the Messiah will come. In the midst of family upheaval, physical challenges, an emotional draining career, financial fears, and unhealing wounds, there will be hope, that there is salvation in this world, God is here with us. Us, unmarried, alone, abandoned, hard working, broken us. God is here with people like the woman at the well, like Carole, like you and me. Hope knows that why things might not be all right, but people are alright with God.
The disciples didn’t ask why Jesus was talking to that woman. They didn’t even know to ask why Jesus would reveal that he was the Christ to this broken, useless, unmarried, unwanted, lonely, no account person. But we can ask, why her Jesus? She had hope. I know the Messiah will come. The world is more than my experience, but for I experience hope in my world.
Karen and Kris, Mom, family and friends I cannot take away the pain that you feel at Carol’s passing. Even Jesus wept at the passing of his friend, Lazarus. For love and grief are bound together like the North and South poles of a magnet. When we lose someone we love we grieve. So to erase the grief you feel I would have to erase the love that you have for Carol. You wouldn’t want me to do that even if I could, for God is love and love doesn’t end. I can tell you that the struggle is over, Carol is no longer without breath or in pain, but at home with the Lord, whose love is with us in all ways and always, a love that never lets go of us.
Don’t let the grief of her passing erase the love you shared. Instead honor Carol and Christ who is with us, by declaring hope the winner over experience always living not in the pain of the day but in the hope of eternity.
Here is Carol’s obituary, written by her sister, my mother, Mary Lu Bay Ramsey.