5th Sunday after Pentecost, year B, 2015 (preached 6/28/15)
first reading: Lamentations 3:22-33
second reading: 2 Corinthians 8:7-15
gospel reading: Mark 5:21-43
There are weeks I look at the readings for Sunday and say, “Thank you God, the readings are perfect!” This is one of those Sundays. So much good.
- In the first reading we find in the midst of defeat, the people proclaim hope in God’s love.
- In Psalm 30 we have the song of one who has been utterly brought down, who yet proclaims “you have turned my wailing into dancing.”
- In the New Testament reading St. Paul writes about generosity – showing love for one another by bringing ourselves down a peg or two, so that we can lift other up to be with us.
- And in our gospel reading we have stories of two desperate people, daring to hope in the midst of their seemingly hopeless situations.
They’re all great. I could easily preach a sermon on any of these. How to choose?
Well, instead of looking deeper into ONE of the passages, I’m going with a theme. And the theme I see running through all four of our scriptures today is that of INCLUSION.
The people in Lamentations were a militarily defeated people. Their country had fallen. They felt the oppression of a foreign force. Yet they DARED to speak of God’s steadfast love. Even though they were on the “outs” politically, and in some ways felt on the outs with God too – they dared to proclaim that ultimately they were “in” – that their hope was in the Lord of compassion and mercy.
They might look like they’re out, but they’re NOT. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.”(v22)
Even when things aren’t going our way in life – especially when we might feel oppressed or actually are oppressed, God is with us. Even if the rest of the world treats us like we’re “out” – with God we’re always “in.”
Our psalm this morning is just beautiful. One of my favorites actually. Our psalmist was dying and in emotional distress. Their health, be it physical or spiritual or emotional, was broken, and the Lord restored them. “Weeping spends the night, but joy comes in the morning.” “You have turned my wailing into dancing; you have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.”
When WE are in THAT night, the night of weeping – when we’re wailing in sackcloth – God can feel so far away. We see the rest of the world moving around us while we languish, and feel “out.” Our bodies betray us, our minds tell us lies about being unworthy or forgotten.
But even in the midst of that we hear “NO. You are ‘in.’ Joy is coming. You WILL dance. In fact, joy will be your garment. You’ll wear it.”
St. Paul’s message of inclusion is less about how we feel. He is concerned about how we treat our neighbor. He challenges the followers of the Lord Jesus to be generous and genuine. He gives us Jesus as an example – Jesus became poor so that we could be rich.
As followers we are to DO something for those on the fringes, on the outs, of society. Give according to your ability. And Paul isn’t just talking about our spiritual gifts here. He is plain talking about money. He challenges us to reflect on our ABUNDANCE and our neighbor’s NEED – to make sure there is a “fair balance” – to give accordingly so that everyone can have “enough.” Paul challenges us who are “in” to come together to make sure there is a place for those who are “out.”
And the theme of inclusion is no different for Jesus in our gospel reading. Our two stories from the gospel bring us extremes of people on the outside looking in, and Jesus breaking down the dividing wall. Two people, a respected religious leader whose daughter was dying – the ultimate “out” – and a woman who was as outside the community as you could get without actually being dead, FELL BEFORE JESUS. Literally fell at his feet.
Jesus goes with Jairus, but on the way they’re interrupted by the poor woman who is truly “out.” Her problem with blood made her unclean – UNTOUCHABLE.
But this woman on the outs has HOPE – hope that merely touching Jesus’ clothes will heal her, since she CANNOT touch his skin. She sneaks up behind him and touches him daring for a cure. But she cannot hide. Jesus KNOWS. But he doesn’t condemn her, he commends her faith and bids her go in peace – “you’re in.”
Jairus’ daughter in the meantime has lost her chance for cure – she has died. Nothing more to be done but begin the grieving. But Jesus says no. It’s NOT too late. He sends the grievers away and commands the girl to rise. “You are not ‘out’ of this life, you’re ‘in.'”
In our political, emotional, financial and medical circumstances we can often feel “out.” Out of step, out of line, outside the box, left out, shut out, cast out. Between our personal and societal problems, decisions that have come from the Supreme Court, violence and hatred in our own country and around the world, this indeed may be the way we feel. Debates, anger, mistrust swirl. Some celebrate while others weep.
According to the world it may indeed appear that some are “in” while others “out” even in the church – but NO. NEVER with God. NEVER.
EACH ONE OF US is precious, unique and LOVED by God, demonstrated through the sacrificial act of Jesus on the cross.
Our “out”ward circumstances are NOT a sign of our place with God. For as we learn in our readings today – ALL are included: the oppressed, the poor, the sick – there is NO ONE “outside” the reach or embrace of God’s steadfast love.
So know this brothers and sisters – no matter what it looks like, no matter what it FEELS like, YOU ARE INCLUDED, surrounded by God’s mercy and love.
Thanks be to God!
***This is the first time I have preached since the events in Charleston. While not specifically named in the sermon, our national church (the ELCA) had given us a special prayers to use this day, as well as a letter from our presiding bishop, The Rev. Elizabeth Eaton, which was read publically. Rest assured Charleston and the issue of race was not neglected in our worship.