Sunday, July 1, 2018

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Lamentations 3:22-33
Psalm 30
2 Corinthians 8:1-9, 13-15
Mark 5:21-43

Yahweh is good to those who wait for him, to the soul that seeks him.

I have been reading through the Bible in a year, using a reading program that looks at a different genre of the Bible every day of the week. Sunday is for the Epistles, Monday is the Law (the five books of Moses), Tuesday is the Histories, Wednesday is the Psalms, Thursday is the Poetry, Friday is the Prophets, and Saturday is the Gospels. It is a wonderful way to keep on track with daily Bible reading because you never get bogged down by the more tedious texts. You read a few chapters and then the next day you get to read something more exciting, returning to the tedium the next week. There is an astounding symmetry between the genres; you often find these unrelated texts lining up in a theme or thought.

Last night’s reading was out of 1 Kings. This book, along with Samuel, Chronicles and a few others, tells the history of God’s people. Quite frankly, it can get pretty tedious. Over and over again the writer tells us that this king or that did evil in God’s sight and the people of Israel turned from God. Every few generations a good king would come along to clean up the mess and bring the people to repentance, and then the pattern would start all over again. The writer tells us that Ahab did more to provoke God’s anger than all the kings before him. Ahab married Jezebel; he raised an altar to Baal and an Asherah pole. God destroyed those evil kings, although often not until they had ruled for decades. Through all this, however, God always remained true to His promise to David. Despite the failure of the kings, David’s house never fell. As a matter of fact, we know that David’s house was made eternal in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. No matter how much God’s people failed, God remained true.

The book of Lamentations was likely written shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. It consists of five poems that express grief of the destruction that was brought by the Babylonians who were merely human agents of God’s divine judgment. The book ends with a cry to God for His mercy to restore His people. The middle, of which today’s passage is a part, focuses on God. The lamenter confesses faith in the God of hope, love, salvation and restoration, despite the fact that it seems God has abandoned His people. He had not; He was among them, doing what needed to be done to turn them back to Him. They knew God was faithful and that His compassion is never ending.

We do not like to think of God as one who would destroy the lives of His people as punishment for their disobedience. After all, God is love, right? Many reject the God we hear about in the Old Testament because He seems out of character from the God of grace and forgiveness from the New Testament that we know and love. Yet, the God of the Old Testament and the New Testament is the One God. These songs of lament are part of our Christian heritage and worship. We sing laments around Christ’s passion because we are reminded of the very reason why Christ died: He took upon Himself the very wrath that we deserved. The God of the Old Testament took the final and permanent solution to our disobedience upon Himself by offering the final and permanent sacrifice of His own Son.

The Hebrew title of the book of Lamentations is the word ‘ekah which means “How...!” The laments begin with this word in a statement of fact rather than question: “How deserted lies the city...” “How the Lord has covered the Daughter...” “How the gold has lost its luster...” These statements betray boldness in the midst of the humiliation the people experienced. “See how much we have lost!” It is a cry to God to notice the state of His people, to remember them.

In the passage for this day we see that the cry was not one of arrogance but of trust in the love of God. The suffering was not unwarranted. Israel sinned and deserved discipline. “It is good that a man should hope and quietly wait for the salvation of Yahweh.” We know that the Lord does not intend His people for destruction, even when it seems He has abandoned us. The lament is filled with hope. Those that trust in the Lord will be saved from the dust, from the smiter, from the insults.

Two characters in today’s Gospel passage trusted in God. The first was an important man, a leader in the synagogue. Apparently he was like an administrator, a man in charge of the property and organizing worship. Though most of the Jewish leaders were hesitant about Jesus, a few heard Him speak and believed. Nicodemus, whose story we heard just a few weeks ago on Holy Trinity Sunday, preferred to keep his interest quiet, approaching Jesus in the dead of night. He did not want to risk losing what he’d worked so hard to attain. Jairus was different, perhaps because he was spurred on by a different purpose. Nicodemus was seeking answers to his questions; Jairus was seeking answers to his prayers. Nicodemus was not willing to risk his life for his encounter with Jesus because he was not motivated by a higher cause. Jairus was willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of someone else: his twelve-year old daughter.

Mark tells us the Jairus fell at the feet of Jesus and pleaded with Him to heal his daughter. He was a man of authority, yet he knelt before Jesus. There were great crowds around Jesus, pushing and shoving one another. Everyone wanted to be near Him. What was their motivation? Did they want answers to questions or answers to prayers? Did they just want to feed their curiosity or did they really believe? We will see, as we hear the telling of Jesus’ story by Mark through this season of Pentecost that some had faith but many did not. They were not willing to follow Jesus when it became hard. Jairus boldly sought God’s grace, crying out for mercy to the One he trusted could help.

The woman in the second story is not quite as confident but was equally as bold as Jairus. She is unnamed but she had faith. She had been bleeding for twelve years, which was not only physically disabling but also emotionally and spiritually. It was financially disastrous. She must have been a woman of some means, for she had seen many physicians, but none could provide healing. There was no chance for atonement because she bled continually. She could not present her offerings, and so was left separated from the community. She had nothing left; she had nowhere left to turn. She was an outcast and should not even have been in the crowd that day because her very presence made everyone around her unclean. No one could touch her and she could not go into the temple. She was just one of many in the crowd pressing in on this miracle worker. She knew it was not right for her to speak to Him, to ask Him to heal her. She believed that she would be healed if only she could touch the hem of Jesus’ robe. She didn’t need to disturb the teacher; there were others far more powerful that wanted His attention.

But she had hope. She had heard about Jesus and knew that He would make her well. So she snuck through the crowd and touched the tassel of His robe. She immediately felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.

Jesus knew power had left Him. "Who touched me?" He asked. He didn't ask because He was annoyed or upset by her need, but because He knew she needed more than the physical healing she had experienced. She needed to be made well. She needed to boldly proclaim her faith before the people present so that they see the truth that Jesus had been teaching. The kingdom of heaven belongs to those who boldly approach God in prayer and seek His mercy.

In fear and trembling, she fell down before Him and told the whole truth. He answered, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be cured of your disease.” She felt the healing, but Jesus did more. Her faith was not enough. Would the frightened woman have been fully healed if she slipped into the crowd without hearing Jesus’ word of grace? Her suffering was more than the bleeding. It was the life of isolation, spiritual oppression, fear and lack of hope. Jesus set her free. He was her salvation and gave her hope for the future. She was healed physically by His power, but she was made whole by His Word.

In the meantime, Jairus received the news that his daughter was dead. The men told Jarius to leave Jesus alone; they didn’t believe it would do any good for him to go to the house. Jesus told Jarius, “Don’t be afraid, only believe.” Jesus ignored the doubters and went into the home where the child lay. He rebuked the crowd for mourning, saying she was merely asleep, but they laughed at Him. He allowed only a few people in the room: her father and mother, Peter, James and John. There He took her hand and told her to get up. Immediately she stood up and began to walk around. They were astonished, but Jesus ordered them to keep silent about the child's resurrection and told them to feed her.

Although we can only speculate by the text, I wonder if there was some connection between the twelve year old girl and the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years. Could the woman have been the child’s mother? An important synagogue ruler would not be able to do his work if a woman who was continuously unclean was so near. This would make the encounter with Jesus not only about restored health but also restoration to her family. The mother of the child does not appear on the scene until after Jesus healed the bleeding woman. Again, we can only speculate because Mark does not make this clear, but the twelve years connects these two in life and in death.

What is death? In the most common definition, death is when a physical body stops living, when a living thing breathes no more. I’m sure most of us have experienced the loss of someone we knew and loved, whether it was a person or even a pet. Death is the ultimate separation because except for the memories, we have no connection to that person or animal after they’ve died.

But death can be understood in a wider sense, to include objects and ideas as well as physical beings. Psychiatrists tell us that people grieve any sort of loss, just as they might grieve for a dead loved one. The loss of a job means separation from the workplace, co-workers and financial security. When we are separated from a friend because of an argument or a change in the relationship, we go through a period of grief. It can feel like we’ve died when we have been faced with the reality that our opinions or ideas are wrong, especially if those ideas or opinions are deeply rooted and long lasting.

God created us to last forever, living together in His Kingdom, under His rule, with His grace as the bond that ties us all together. Unfortunately, we live in a world corrupted by sin, our own and the sins of others, from the days of Adam and Eve until now. That sin causes death of body, mind and spirit. It causes death in relationships. It causes death of spirit as we are separated from our Creator God.

God did not intend for His creation to die. He did not intend for sickness. He did not intend for violence. This world is filled with death, illness, destruction, broken relationships. All too often death finds us because we have not lived as God intended. It began in the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve listened to the voice of the serpent and believed him above the voice of God. We continue to suffer the consequences of that choice.

The woman was alive but she was dead in her world for twelve years; the child was alive for twelve years, but she died just as her life in the world was just about to begin. We usually read the story of the woman as a disruption of the story of Jairus, but by connecting the two by those twelve years, we see that Jesus answers their faith and trust with the restoration of more than just life. He restores community, family. They sought God’s grace in faith and trusted that He would be true to His promises, finding something much greater than they ever expected.

Imagine what it must have been like in Jarius’ household after Jesus left. The mourners were proven wrong. Did they know that Jesus had raised her or did they think He had been right that she was only asleep? Whatever their understanding of the event, Jesus had turned their mourning into dancing. They took off their sackcloth and rejoiced that the child was alive. How much more joy would they have had if the mother was also restored to the household?

Today’s psalm is almost shocking in its boldness. The psalmist cries to God, “What profit is there in my destruction, if I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise you? Shall it declare your truth?” Can you imagine going to an authority figure of any sort with such a supplication? It nearly sounds as if the person thinks that God’s grace is dependent on his cry. Yet, what we are hearing is a psalm of praise for answered prayer. God has lifted him. God has saved him. God has defeated the foes and kept them silent. When the psalmist cried for help, God heard and answered.

Our psalm today was probably written by David. It is a song of praise, a song that remembers a time when God’s people became arrogant and forgetful. It is a song that is still appropriate for us today. We are reminded of our own failure to live up to the expectations of our God, the God who has done great things for us. As we gather together to sing praise to God, we are humbled by His extraordinary love and mercy. He takes the reality of our failure and turns it upside down so that we can sing His praise and give thanks to Him forever.

David knew the feeling of joy. He knew what it was like to have God lift him out of his troubles and what it was like to see God overcome his enemies. He knew what it was like to have God save him from death. He also knew what it was like to be disciplined, to face God’s disappointment and anger. But God was merciful to David, for David’s heart hoped in the LORD, even when his flesh failed. David knew what it was like to exalt God for His mercy and grace. “For his anger is but for a moment. His favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may stay for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” David kept the eyes of his heart on his only hope: the Lord God Almighty. “Yahweh my God, I will give thanks to you forever!”

We can be bold with God, crying out to Him in our suffering, because though we may be experiencing the consequences of our failure to be faithful, God hears our cries and answers our prayers. We may lament our circumstances but God is bigger than our moans. He is ready to transform us, to make us whole, to bring us back to life. If we truly received what we deserved, we’d receive His wrath. Instead, we experience His love. Even while we are suffering we can rejoice and praise Him because we know that He is our salvation.

Many people begin their relationship with Christ using this simple but powerful prayer, “God, I know that I am a sinner. I know that I deserve the consequences of my sin. However, I am trusting in Jesus Christ as my Savior. I believe that His death and resurrection provided for my forgiveness. I trust in Jesus and Jesus alone as my personal Lord and Savior. Thank you Lord, for saving me and forgiving me! Amen!” It is a lament of sinfulness, recognition of what we deserve, a confession of faith in the one who can save us and how He does so. It is finally a cry for mercy and a word of praise for what He has done for each of us. Amen.

This is a matter of trust, knowing that God is with us and that He is faithful. He has promised redemption, reconciliation and forgiveness. He has promised that we will be His through faith by grace. We hear, we believe and we confess this trust in words and in hope as we wait for God to complete His work of salvation in our lives. Our laments are broken by words of hope, encouraged that those who suffer in faith merely have to wait patiently for the mercy of God, for salvation is never far from those who trust in Him. “For the Lord will not cast off for ever.” Jairus trusted, the woman trusted and God saved those who sought His mercy and grace.

Imagine what it must have been like in Corinth. They were blessed to have received the Gospel. The church in Corinth was founded by Paul who visited Corinth during his second missionary journey. He kept in touch with all the churches he founded with letters. The letters help us to understand our faith, the church and the doctrines that still hold us together. Unfortunately, Corinth was also visited by false apostles, those who meant to destroy the ministry of Paul. They taught false doctrine and caused the church to doubt Paul’s authority and his words. Paul wrote to encourage them, to restore them and to correct the falsehoods that had been confusing the people.

The relationship was nearly restored when Paul wrote his second letter to Corinth. His letter was written to encourage the Corinthians to be the Church that God meant them to be, to return to the way that they were going before the false apostles entered the picture. Apparently they had begun to take a collection for the poor in Jerusalem. Paul had seen the faith and generosity of the Corinthian church in action, and he encouraged them to continue. He had the authority to do more than encourage, but he didn’t want to use force. The text for today is a call to faithfulness. This is a call to prove that they believe. “If you do this, we will see that your faith is real.” Living faith is faith in action.

We don’t know why, but money they collected was gone. Perhaps, like so many of us today, they felt the effects of some financial crisis. Perhaps they needed to repair a roof or replace the carpeting. Perhaps the harvest was not good or some other situation in the city was causing want. Whatever happened, being faithful to their promise was going to be a struggle. Yet, even with some fear gnawing at them, Paul knew they could still offer something.

Of course, they probably set a goal. Don’t we do that for our fundraising? We even make pretty boards with pictures of something to ‘fill up’ as we collect the money. We use a thermometer which we color red until it hits the desired ‘temperature.’ We get creative and use different pictures, often related to the focus of our fundraising. Are we planning a garden? We add pictures of flowers to a green meadow. Are we planning a building? We add brick upon brick until the building is built.

There was no way they could finish the work. They couldn’t color the whole board red, or add the final flowers or place the final bricks. They were discouraged. They were probably feeling guilty, too, having abandoned Paul for the ‘super-apostles’ and for losing the gift they’d gathered. How could they send less than they intended? Wouldn’t it be better to give up? Paul told them, “No, it would not be better to give up.” He knew that even in their loss they had more than enough. They certainly had more than the believers in Jerusalem. Even though they did not have as much as they intended to give, any gift would be helpful to make things right for the believers in Jerusalem.

Paul’s letter reminds us to trust in God. Our lessons today remind us that God is in control and that His love never ceases. It might seem, at times, that the suffering in the world could have been avoided, if only God had done something. Why would a young girl get sick and die? Why would a woman bleed for twelve years? Why do we ever have a need to lament? Jairus and the woman were bold enough to seek healing through Jesus. The psalmist was bold enough to remind God that his death would be meaningless and even harmful. The lamenter trusted that God’s love will win. God can’t ignore the needs of His people. When He hears their cry, He answers.

He answered our cry with Jesus. What Christ did for you and I gives us all we need to respond to the world with the same grace. Jesus’ response to those in need was not calculated. He gave each as they needed, no matter what it did to Him. Even when it seemed like He was being zapped of power, He had enough power to do more. Jesus responded to the need of the synagogue leader and allowed His mission to be interrupted by the bleeding woman. He didn’t think about how the leader might interpret His conversation with the woman. He didn’t tell her to go away because He was too busy. He simply did what needed to be done, trusting that God would provide.

That’s what it is all about, isn’t it? Trust. The Corinthians may have had reason to be concerned about the finances of their church or even their personal finances. Paul didn’t even as them to give what they’d first promised. He simply asked them to be faithful. “Finish the work you began.” Jesus started the work, in both the synagogue leader and the woman’s lives. He spoke, they heard and believed. They cried out to God for help and He answered. He finished the work He began.

Now we continue that work. It is easy to believe in God, to have faith. It is much harder to trust that God will do what He has promised. It is even harder to live that faith that God will do what He has promised by responding to the needs of those around us. We might find excuses, even good ones. The Corinthians may have used their resources for something they deemed valuable. Perhaps they thought another use was more beneficial to the whole church. Perhaps they thought the false apostles deserved payment. Perhaps they really were facing hard times as a congregation and as individuals. But God didn’t do what He did so that we could have a dead faith. He saved us so that we might help others. He restored the relationship with us so that we could continue His work in this world.

Paul writes, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich.” God calls us to boldly live the faith we have been given, trusting that God can and will restore our world as it is meant to be. God listens to our cries and answers our prayers. He finishes His work in our lives. Life in Christ means more than just having faith. It means responding to the cries we hear in the world with trust, knowing that God will not abandon us. His love is eternal and He is faithful. We may not be rich, but we are rich in Christ, so let us use our resources to continue the work He began until it is finished and the whole world is glorifying Him.

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