Psalm 30 (1)
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Greetings everyone and welcome to Pentecost 5. I will not be preaching on these texts this Sunday. I will be at a family gathering with my wife and children up at the Mohonk Mountain House over the weekend. The Rev. Dr. Carol Brighton will be preaching on Sunday, July 1st. Nevertheless, I cannot help peeking at the texts for Sunday and thinking about how I might speak of them. Here are my thoughts. I welcome yours.
Lamentations 3:22-33 http://www.workingpreacher.org/bible_passage.aspx?reading_id=1285&cmpgn=5244
A word or two about the book of Lamentations is in order. It is not a book that we hear from very often in the ordinary course of our Sunday readings. Because it does not contain any stories, it does not often find its way into our Sunday School curriculum. It is a short book that you can easily overlook when casually paging though the Bible. So it is entirely possible that you have never heard of Lamentations.
As the name suggests, the book is a collection of laments, that is, prayers in which the Jewish people pour out their sorrow and pain to God. There are many such prayers found in the Psalms as well. The laments in Lamentations express the grief of the Jewish people over the Babylonian invasion of Judah in 587 B.C.E. which resulted in the sack of Jerusalem, the destruction of the Temple and the deportation of a substantial number of Jews to Babylon. It is hard for me to get my head around the scope of that catastrophe and what it meant to Israel. I suspect that the Somali refugees struggling to survive in refugee camps throughout the Horn of Africa could probably relate better to the following:
My eyes will flow without ceasing,
50 until the Lord from heaven
looks down and sees.
51 My eyes cause me grief
at the fate of all the young women in my city.
5Those who were my enemies without cause
have hunted me like a bird;
53 they flung me alive into a pit
and hurled stones on me;
54 water closed over my head;
I said, ‘I am lost.’
Lamenting or giving expression to grief is not part of my northern European constitution. I come from a community in which grief was met with stoic aplomb. My childhood memories of funerals I attended with my folks include hearing remarks such as “She is so brave!” or “He is holding up so well” spoken with admiration and respect. Of course, we were understanding when a widower got a little choked up at the wake and we were forgiving when a widow got a little teary at the last closing of the casket. But bursting into tears, whaling and lamenting would definitely have been considered to be in poor taste. Worse, it would have been interpreted as a lack of faith in the promise of the resurrection. Look, I don’t suggest for a minute that this is a healthy way to approach grief. But healthy or not, it is the way in which I was acculturated.
The particular lesson for this Sunday is a profession of confidence in God’s goodness and compassion against the backdrop of a tragedy few of us in this country can begin to imagine. Yet perhaps there have been personal tragedies so deep, so painful and so life altering that it seems there is no way back. The loss of a loved one comes to mind. When someone who has been a pivotal influence in your day to day life is suddenly gone, you know there is no going back. You know things will never be the same. You don’t know when the raw pain will end or when life will get back to normal or even what normal will look like should you ever get there. It is at times like these that I turn to the biblical prayers of lament. When I cannot pray, I just read the psalms-the same ones that the dispossessed Jews prayed, generations of believers have prayed and Jesus himself prayed. I read these psalms and rely on the communion of saints to do the praying for me. I get the feeling that the author of this text is doing much the same thing. He or she is reciting a tried and true confession of God’s faithfulness even though he or she not entirely convinced by it. But the question is not whether you believe or not. The question is whether you want to believe. And if you want to believe God’s promises, then the best thing you can do is “go through the motions,” act as though you actually do believe. Pull yourself out of bed and drag yourself to church even though you don’t feel like singing, praying, making conversation with anyone or, worst of all, listening to another sermon. When church is the last place you want to be, that is probably when you need it most.
Psalm 30 http://www.workingpreacher.org/bible_passage.aspx?reading_id=1284&cmpgn=5244
This psalm is a striking contrast to the lament in Lamentations. Here we have a person who has come up from the depths, out of the quagmire of despair and back into the light. It is not altogether clear whether the psalmist was experiencing threats from his enemies, sickness or perhaps both. In any case, whatever the problem, it is now behind the psalmist who recognizes in this resolution the saving hand of God. Verses 4-5 are remarkably similar to Lamentations 3:31-33. Both psalms emphasize that, in the long run, God can be trusted; that however dark your situation may be, God’s salvation ultimately will see you through. But the circumstances are wildly different. The author of the Lament prays these words in hope while surrounded by impenetrable darkness. The psalmist prays in the confidence of having seen these affirmations of faith prove true in his own life experience. I have been in both places and everywhere inbetween. That is why the psalms form such a large part of my devotional life. They speak from so many different levels of human experience that there is bound to be one that fits me.
II Corinthians 8:7-15 http://www.workingpreacher.org/bible_passage.aspx?reading_id=1286&cmpgn=5244
I often ask myself “what were they thinking?” when trying to figure out how the folks who put together our readings decided to begin and end where they do. What is this “gracious work” Paul is referring too in vs. 7? It is clear that Paul is taking up a collection from the Corinthian church. Most likely, this refers to the offering for the churches in Judea experiencing economic difficulties. (Gal. 2:1-10; I Cor. 16:1-4; Rom. 15:25-27). This passage reflects the catholicity of the early church-a community that transcends cultural, regional and national borders. It is this catholicity that made the church such a fearful enemy of the Roman Empire and to all nation states that find any group of people who have a loyalty higher than the nation to be inconvenient at best and dangerous at worst. A disciple of Jesus cannot be on board with an “America First” policy. A disciple must always “seek first the Kingdom of God” and the well being of its citizens, whatever nation state they may be living in.
In the same manner, congregations, such as the church in Corinth, cannot adopt a parochial view of ministry. The whole church is one body and all parts either flourish or fail together. Thus, the Corinthian church, which is evidently a wealthier congregation, must, for its own well being and that of the whole church, use its surplus to meet the needs of the churches experiencing privation.
To get the full gist of what St. Paul is saying, you really need to read Chapters 8 and 9 in their entirety.
Mark 5:21-43 http://www.workingpreacher.org/bible_passage.aspx?reading_id=1287&cmpgn=5244
This is an aggravating story. Jairus’ daughter is at the point of death. This is a 911 call and Jesus is treating it like an open house. There is no need for him to terry on the way. The woman with a discharge of blood had already been healed and was on her merry way. Why waste precious time stopping to call her out, publically embarrass her and so further endanger the life of Jarius’ daughter? I suppose that raising a dead child is more impressive than healing a sick one. But since Jesus ultimately kept the whole affair a secret, that motivation does not seem likely.
I am only guessing here, but perhaps there is some significance to the fact that Jesus addresses this woman as his “daughter.” Jarius was, after all, the president of the synagogue. His responsibility, if any, for enforcing laws of ritual purity is not altogether clear to me. But I think he would probably take a dim view of a woman, who is perpetually unclean by virtue of her constant menstrual bleeding, being out and about in crowded public places. He surely would not approve of her grabbing the clothing of a strange man. That might have been why this woman was operating so furtively. In any event, it may well be that by addressing the woman as “daughter” Jesus was sending a message to Jarius. “Look man. I am about to give you back your daughter. Only you know what a precious gift that is. In return, I expect you to understand that my daughter is precious too. You had jolly well better treat her with the mercy and compassion I am showing you.”
Again, that is my own take on this. I have never seen another commentary that agrees with me. But I think we can say with confidence that Jesus is demonstrating here that he is not impressed by high titles and credentials; that the daughter of the president of the synagogue is no more or less important than the daughter of the streets.