Sunday, July 2, 2006

Fourth Sunday in Pentecost
Lamentations 3:22-33 or Wisdom 1:13-15, 2:23-24
Psalm 30
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Mark 5:21-43

For though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his lovingkindnesses.

Today's psalm is almost shocking in its boldness. The psalmist cries to God, "What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise thee? shall it declare thy 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 is dependent on him. 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.

"For God made not death; neither hath he pleasure in the destruction of the living." (Wisdom 1:13, KJV)Though we typically do not use the passages from the Book of Wisdom, this verse stands out when read in tandem with the passages for today. God did not intend for His creation to die. He did not intend for sickness. He did not intend for violence. He did not intend for there to be borders between people. "For he created all things, that they might have their being: and the generations of the world were healthful; and there is no poison of destruction in them, nor the kingdom of death upon the earth… For God created man to be immortal, and made him to be an image of his own eternity." (Wisdom 1:14, 2:23, KJV)

Finally, Solomon writes, "Nevertheless through envy of the devil came death into the world: and they that do hold of his side do find it." We find death. We find illness. We find destruction. All too often it 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 one choice, but we also suffer the consequences of our own choices. We hold on to the devil and in doing so, we find death.

The Israelites had turned from God. They suffered the destruction of Jerusalem and exile to another land. They believed the lies of those who followed false gods and suffered the consequences. God hid His face, for a moment, and they were left to die. However, they did not die because God does not abandon those He loves. There is hope in the midst of our suffering. There is promise even while it seems like the world around us is falling apart. God is faithful.

It might seem odd to read this passage from Lamentations, after all the book is on the most part a lament of the circumstances under which the Israelites found themselves. The Hebrew title of the book is the word 'ekah which means "How…!" The laments begin with this word, not in terms of a question but as a statement of fact. "How deserted lies the city…" "How the Lord has covered the Daughter…" "How the gold has lost its luster…" These statements betray a boldness in the midst of the humiliation the people sustained. "See how much we have lost!" It is a cry to God to notice the state of His people, to remember them.

Yet, 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 Jehovah." For we know that the Lord does not intend His people for destruction. So, the lament is filled with hope. Those that trust in the Lord will be saved from the dust, from the smiter, from the insults.

That which does not kill us makes us stronger?

That sounds almost too cliché for us today. We'd rather believe that we are strong enough or that we can grow perfectly well without having to deal with the suffering. We don't need discipline because we are pretty good. We're doing the best that we can, and besides we just can't grasp a concept of God that isn't all about love. God is love. God loves. How can we juxtapose the idea that God disciplines against a picture of a loving God?

Yet, the psalmist and the lamenter both do so. They do so because they recognize their own failure, and the failure of God's people, to be all that He has created them to be. Besides, we can not equate the discipline received as consequences to our sin with the wrath of God. The exile was God's merciful way of saving His people from His wrath. If they had gotten what they truly deserved, they would no longer exist. But God's love is eternal. His wrath lasts a moment, but His love eternally. We may suffer for a moment, but He is never far away. "For though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his lovingkindnesses. For he doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men."

What we see in these passages is that 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 because 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 full 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. There is hope.

Two people in today's Gospel passage had hope. The first was an important man, a leader in the synagogue. Apparently he was like an administrator – 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 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 it was 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 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. Mark tells us that he pleaded earnestly. The NRSV says, "begged repeatedly." Did Jesus ignore his pleas at first, doubtful of the man's sincerity? I don't think we can see that in the text because Jesus follows the man to his home. There were great crowds around Jesus, pushing and shoving one another. Everyone wanted to be near Jesus. 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?

There was one in the crowd who had a purpose. Like Nicodemus, though, she wanted to remain anonymous. She believed that if only she could touch the hem of Jesus' robe, she would be healed. She didn't need to disturb the teacher; there were others far more powerful than her that needed His attention. Her approach was bold yet stealth, for she did not belong in that crowd. She was a woman that had been bleeding for twelve years. She must have been a woman of some means, for she had seen many physicians. None could provide healing. Since she continually issued blood, there was no chance for atonement as is possible for a normal woman each month. She could not present her offerings, and so was left separated from the community. Now she had nothing left – her money was gone and she was an outcast. It seemed that she had nowhere left to turn. She should not even have been in the crowd that day because her very presence made everyone around her unclean.

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. Immediately she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.

Jesus knew power had left Him. He asked, "Who touched me?" I have always heard this question with a tone of annoyance, as if He were somewhat angered by the boldness of the woman. Yet that does not really fit into the circumstances of this story. It would probably be more accurate to read this question as a question, as if Jesus were seeking to know the person who had touched Him, not just know who had touched Him. "Who touched me?" He asked, for He knew she needed more than just the physical healing. 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 healed of your disease." Isn't it interesting that she felt she was healed, but she was not fully healed until Jesus said the words? Her faith was not enough. It was necessary for Jesus to complete the healing. What would have happened if the woman had walked away and not received that verbal touch of Jesus? She may have felt she was healed, but she would have soon found that the healing was incomplete.

While all this was happening, Jairus the synagogue ruler waited. I'd like to say that he waited patiently, but we don't know. If he's anything like the rest of us, he was anxious during this distraction. After all, his daughter was very ill – so ill that we discover that she was already dead. Was the man disheartened? What if Jesus had not stopped? What if Jesus had hurried along instead of taking care of another? Perhaps his daughter would still be alive.

Jesus knew his concerns. "Don't be worried. Have faith." When He arrived at the house, He told the mourners that she was not dead but asleep. They laughed at Him. He sent them away and went into the room where the child lay. Peter, James, John, Jairus and Jairus' wife were with Him. He reached out to the child and commanded her to get up. Immediately she got up and walked around.

The child was twelve; she was born at about the same time as the woman began to bleed. Though she was alive the woman was – in the sense of community – dead for twelve years. Yet she had hope. For a long time she sought the aid of that community, and though they tried they were unable to bring her healing. She was left with nothing but hope. And faith.

The child was alive for twelve years, but just as she was reaching the age when she would have life in the community, she died. It was typical for children to die early – sixty percent of those born in that time died by the time they were a teenager. She was a child, she was a female. For all intents and purposes, she was unimportant. But she was loved. Her father loved her. He was willing to sacrifice everything for her sake. So, in faith he went to Jesus. In faith he waited as Jesus met the needs of another nobody. In faith he took Jesus to his daughter even though she was dead. In faith he had hope – hope that God would do something.

I wonder how the crowd responded to the healing of the woman. Did they rejoice with her? Or did they grumble when the messengers brought the news that the child had died? Did they wonder why He had allowed her to die while He wasted His time on the old woman? Perhaps.

While it was faith that brought Jesus to the problem, it was trust in Him that completed the work. The woman would not have been healed if she had not trusted that Christ would be merciful to her when she revealed herself to Him. The child would not have been raised if Jairus did not trust Jesus' words. They had faith and trust.

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 harder to follow through on the promises, to let Him complete the work He has begun. We are not very patient. We pray in faith, but we don't follow through, trusting that God will complete the work. We even feel as though we have been healed, but we steal back into the crowd without allowing Christ to finish the work. There is more to healing than just overcoming physical dis-ease. We need to be reconciled to the community, made whole by being welcomed back into the fellowship. That is why Jesus told the girl's family to feed her. Though she was alive and well, she needed to be restored to the community to be whole.

How often do we begin a work in faith that we fail to complete? We pray but when it does not seem as though God is answering, we settle for less than wholeness. When begin a good work in the name of Christ, but when things seem to be drawing Him elsewhere, we set it aside for another time.

That's what happened to the Corinthians. They were all fired up in faith when Paul first asked them to send a gift to the church in Jerusalem. They began the work, trusting in God that it would make a difference. But something held them back and the work never was completed. Did they begin to worry about the risks? What if things began to go bad in Corinth? How would they survive? There were enough problems in the congregation by that point that it might have been a very real concern. Were they losing members because of the discord between brothers? Were they being divided by their ideology to the point that they were falling apart? Was the church on the verge of death, so much so that they needed to focus more clearly on their own needs, both financial and spiritual?

They may have thought so. Certainly that is a problem among churches today. As soon as there is a question with finances, churches will reduce their stewardship. I have, sadly, heard too many leaders say, "We have to pay our bills, first." While it is important to follow good business practice in our churches, there is something different about the way we work. We walk in faith and trust that God will complete the work. Instead of looking inwardly and worrying about our own needs, what happens if we pay more attention to the work God is calling us to do?

Jairus was concerned about his daughter, yet we do not hear him telling Jesus to hurry up and ignore the woman. He waited while He met her needs. Then he trusted Jesus' words and took Him to his home. How often do we act like the bleeding woman, stealthfully approaching Jesus in the hopes He won't notice us, receive His power and then hurry off into the crowd? We don't want to be noticed. We want just enough to get us through. However, if we allowed Jesus to complete His work in our lives, in our congregations, we might just see the true healing take place. We might just see how His words bring wholeness and reconciliation. We might just see that there is more to living in Christ than just surviving.

We would certainly live more fully. We would see that "that which does not kill us makes us stronger" is not the credo by which we are called to live. We will be able to live rejoicing even in the midst of our suffering. We will be humble before God, singing His praises even while we are experiencing His discipline. We will trust His time and His way, knowing that He is faithful. We will complete what we have begun. We will live according to the example which Jesus has set for us.

Paul writes, "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might become rich." God calls us to be bold. God welcomes our perseverance. God listens to our cries and answers our prayers. He finishes His work. Life in Christ means more than just having faith. We can trust that God will not abandon us. His love is eternal. "For though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his lovingkindnesses." Though we might have reason to lament, let us do so with thanksgiving and praise, for God's love is greater than His wrath. Thanks be to God.

A WORD FOR TODAY
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