Sunday, June 29, 2003

Third Sunday of Pentecost
Lamentations 3:22-33
Psalm 30
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Mark 5:21-43 

Jehovah is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him.  It is good that a man should hope and quietly wait for the salvation of Jehovah.

I love using the lectionary for several reasons. To me it is wonderful that so many Christians throughout the world are listening to the same passages or celebrating the same festival. Oh, there are those who think the lectionary is the lazy way out, or that the Holy Spirit has no room to work if the preacher is stuck with such a narrow choice from which to preach. In reality, I think we have to be far more dependent on the Holy Spirit when we have to seek God's Word for our congregations in this time and place using one or all of the four passages planned. I don't think there is a pastor who hasn't wished for more freedom for their preaching, particularly during a difficult time in the life of a congregation. Yet, I know many who realized during their sermon preparation that God had a special message for them in those very passages even though they would have preferred pick out 'more appropriate' scripture.

See, that's the joy. We humans have a tendency to pick and choose what we think is best, but God always knows what we need. I find it amazing that at some point in history when the lectionary passages were chosen, God knew exactly what we needed in this time and place and He is able to work through the preachers and teachers to give exactly that message through His Words. It is even more amazing to think that no two congregations will hear the same sermon. Finally, God is able to touch the individual with some personal message, even though the pastor is preaching to many and the scriptures are heard by millions. That's the work of the Holy Spirit.

What I don't like are the days when we have a choice. This week, should we focus on the passages established for the third Sunday in Pentecost, or do we remember the lives of Saints Peter and Paul? I tend toward the festivals for several reasons, but this week God seems to be speaking more clearly through the alternate scriptures.

As we read through the Old Testament lesson, it is difficult to believe that someone who was lamenting the destruction of Jerusalem wrote these words. This passage, however, stands in the middle of the book of Lamentations, a book that describes the divine retribution on Israel brought by God through the Babylonians. Despite this horrible experience, each line of this poem praises God. The LORD is good. Great is His faithfulness. His mercy never fails. Great is His unfailing love. It is a song of hope. It is a hymn of encouragement. It is something we all need to hear in the midst of our own troubles.

The writer encourages those who are suffering to wait, for God does not abandon those He loves. He disciplines. He allows the time and circumstances that helps us see our need for Him. But He is never far away. "For he doth not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men." (Lamentations 3:33) His love is so great; He is compassionate in the midst of our grief. He does not want us to suffer; it is not part of His plan. But we easily forget the LORD; we quickly turn away and walk down paths of destruction and death. Only when we see our need do we turn back and humble ourselves to the truth that He is our salvation and our peace.

The laments are broken by these words of hope, encouraging those who suffer to wait patiently for the mercy of God, for salvation is never far from those who hope in Him. "For the Lord will not cast off for ever." (Lamentations 3:31) We wait, alone in silence, covered in dust and accepting the discipline we deserve. Even though it seems we will perish in our shame and pain, God brings salvation and healing to those who seek His mercy and grace.

That's what happened to the woman in today's Gospel lesson. She had been bleeding for years, which was not only physically disabling but also emotionally and spiritually. During her bleeding, no one could touch her and she could not go into the temple. She was an outcast, deemed unclean by the Law. She wasn't even the one whom Jesus was going to heal. She was just 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 knew it would be enough if only she could touch the hem of His cloak. She thought she could hide, be healed and go on her way.

When she touched Jesus, He felt the power go out of Him. "Who touched my clothes?" Jesus asked. The disciples thought it was a pretty silly question. There were so many people pressing in on them, it would have been amazing if no one had touched His clothes. But He knew there was a healing, a person of faith close by who needed more than just a physical touch. She needed encouragement to live her faith without hiding. She was afraid but she stepped forward and fell down on her knees before Jesus. He said, "Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace, and be whole of thy plague." Her suffering was more than the bleeding. It was the life of isolation, of spiritual oppression, of fear and lack of hope. Jesus set her free. He was her salvation and gave her hope for the future.

In the meantime, Jarius received bad news. He was a synagogue ruler who called Jesus to his home to heal his sick daughter. The ruler's men came and said she was dead. Jesus' delay with the woman may have made all the difference in the world. One healing left another for death. 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, "Fear not, only believe."

You have to wonder if they ever believed Jesus could do anything for her. Jesus was already gaining a reputation with the religious leaders. They were already questioning His gifts and words. Some even believed He had an evil spirit, that He was of the devil rather than God. Jesus did not listen to their doubt and went into the home where the child lay. When He rebuked the crowd for mourning, saying she was merely asleep, 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.

Imagine what it must have been like in that 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.

David knew that feeling. David 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. So, David knew what it was like to exalt God for His mercy and grace. "For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning. David kept the eyes of his heart on his only hope - the Lord God Almighty. "O Jehovah my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever." (Psalm 30:12)

The passage from Paul's second letter to the Corinthians shows another type of discipline - the testing of the hearts of the believers. Paul writes, "But as ye abound in everything, in faith, and utterance, and knowledge, and in all earnestness, and in your love to us, see that ye abound in this grace also." The Jews had done a lot of talking about God and His promises to them, but they weren't living their faith. That's why God sent the Babylonians as a form a discipline, to help them turn back to Him. The Jews who were mourning the death of the little girl surely knew all the right things to say and do, but they had no faith in Jesus. The Corinthians were excelling in many things, but they were not living their faith.

Though Paul reminded the Corinthians how much Jesus gave up for their sake, he wasn't expecting them to sacrifice everything so that others might become rich. He simply wanted them to complete that which they began - to share their incredible blessings with those who were suffering with nothing. The gift given in faith, whatever it might be, is the gift that is acceptable to God.

All too often we withhold our blessings and hide our faith, because we are afraid of what tomorrow might bring. We find it nearly impossible to sing hymns of praise like the ones found in Lamentations or the Psalms when we do not know what the future holds for us. We are even afraid to go before the Lord for healing and peace, not wanting to be disappointed. "It's over, don't bother the Lord with this one." So, we say all the right words about religion but we do not live our faith. Jesus blessed Jarius, who went to Him for help. He blessed the woman who knew that even his cloak would be enough. He blessed David and those who lamented the destruction of Jerusalem. They may have failed in flesh, but they looked to Him in faith and He was never far away. Thanks be to God. 

A WORD FOR TODAY
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