Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
June 26-27, 2021
“Losing Hope; Retrieving Faith”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
How quickly do you give up? How fast do you lose hope? An hour? A day? Week? Month? Maybe you abandon everything in just a few minutes – you’re ready to move on.
The gospel reading that we had for today from Mark 5 is quite an amazing word. The miracle that I am going to mention is almost just an interruption to the greater miracle of bringing back to life the little daughter of a man named Jairus. Jesus was asked to come, right now, to make this girl better. And on His hurried trip this is what happens, “A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I touch his clothes, I will be healed.” (Mark 5:24-28)
Twelve years!! Doctor to doctor. When this affliction began she had money to get an opinion and a possible cure, but those funds had dried up. Twelve years. My footnotes say that she was probably shunned by people because her bleeding made her ceremonially unclean and if they came into contact with her they too would become unclean and forbidden to go to the Temple of God. Twelve years. But she didn’t retreat to her room. She didn’t stop hoping. She pushed her way through the crowd and grabbed the clothes of Jesus. “If only I touch his clothes, I will be healed.”
Our reading is from the book of Lamentations. I bet it is a book that you haven’t spent a bunch of time in. It is unique. 4 of the 5 chapters have exactly 22 verses to them. The chapter that we read from, chapter 3, has 66 verses – 3 times 22. 22 verses – 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet. The verses begin with the letters of the alphabet. This book wasn’t written in a couple of minutes. It was thought out, precise.
And it is a lament. A dirge. It is the only book in the Bible that is wholly devoted to the sadness of suffering. Here are a few winners:
- This is why I weep and my eyes overflow with tears. No one is near to comfort me, no one to restore my spirit. My children are destitute because the enemy has prevailed. (1:16)
- The Lord is like an enemy; he has swallowed up Israel. He has swallowed up her palaces and destroyed her strongholds. He has multiplied mourning and lamentation for the Daughter of Judah. (2:5)
- I am the man who has seen affliction by the rod of his wrath. He has driven me away and made me walk in darkness rather than light; indeed, he has turned his hand against me again and again, all day long. He has made my skin and my flesh grow old and has broken my bones. He has besieged me and surrounded me with bitterness and hardship. He has made me dwell in darkness like those long dead. (3:1-6)
Welcome to God’s holy book of Lamentations!! But I bet you have been there. I know I’ve been there. That is what it looks like when people lose hope. Nothing works. You live in the damp darkness of a moldy basement and you can’t get out to see any brilliant brightness or feel any refreshing breeze. All alone. And God doesn’t seem to be real or alive or caring.
People who commit suicide have one thing in common – they have lost hope. It left. They don’t know what it feels like. They have a pain that just won’t leave. They see no other way out.
So why would God, who could put whatever books in the Bible that He wanted to get in, put this miserable word in there? We have enough hopeless books, outside of the Bible, so why does He put this one in His book?
To everyone who has lost hope – for good reason, by the way, He puts this word in the exact middle, I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. (Lamentations 3:19-26)
Today’s sermon has two parts – as you might have guessed. Losing Hope. Retrieving Faith. When you have experienced that first part – hopelessness, the second part – faith is even more wonderful. Orthodox Jews read the entire book of Lamentations every year on the 9th day of Ab (the name of one of their months). On that day the Temple of Solomon was destroyed in 587 BC. And the Romans chose that day in 70 AD to bring down Herod’s Temple. The Jew will read the book and lament. But then they hear the words that speak of God’s hope, “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning. Great is Thy faithfulness.”
We have to have hope. God is the bringer of hope. Three words are prominent in this section. Love. Mercy (Compassion) Faithfulness.
God’s love brings us hope. Does God love you? Does He have a deep and strong feeling for you? Yes. Romans 8, one of the greatest chapters in the Bible says clearly, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39) There is a lot of stuff that wants to take away your hope. The devil is a liar and an accuser who wants you to live a hopeless and empty existence. Your weaknesses and sins want to rob you of living a full life. The past and the future might want you to be empty and without hope. But God’s love in Jesus is greater. Much greater!!
I love seeing God’s people and bringing them God’s gifts. This week I saw one of our folks who hasn’t been able to be in worship for a long time. They said, “My, have I missed receiving the Lord’s Supper.” They said, “I’m quite a sinner. I don’t deserve this meal.” And I agreed. They didn’t. I don’t. You don’t. But He invites us here. Do you have any idea how wonderful it is to say, “This is the body of Christ for you?” “This is the blood of Christ for you?” God’s pure, deep and all-healing love is what we receive.
Jeremiah can say, “Your mercies, Your compassions, are new every morning.” New every morning tells us that God’s mercies are timely. We are battling temptation, indecisive, and in trouble, and His mercies speak the right word at the right time. Have you every looked at what happened to you at the time and said, “That’s just what I needed”? Well, that is what is spoken here. God’s timely word and His mercies are for that moment.
And then the reading speaks about faithfulness. “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father…” We treasure faithfulness in a person, in a spouse, in a friend, in a person we work with. We treasure it in God. What He promises He will do. Faith in a living, loving, compassionate God is a brilliant light. It sings and dances.
I mentioned that the Orthodox Jew will read the book of Lamentations when they remember the destroying of the temple of God. The Christian Church also chose to read the 154 verses of Lamentations in a worship service, as well. The date they chose was Holy Saturday, the day after Good Friday, the day before Easter. Now the lament was over individual sin and about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. It was a Tenebrae service. Candles were extinguished during the reading of the book until all were out and the sanctuary was dark. The service was late on Saturday evening. So it was hopelessly dark. But then the Christ candle was lit. The anticipation for the next morning, for Easter, was begun.
How long does it take to lose hope? A moment? An hour? A week? For 12 years that lady hadn’t given up hope. She grabbed the clothes of Jesus and then it says, “Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she had been freed from her suffering.” (Mark 5:29) Hope was realized that day.
When hope was lost, faith was retrieved and brought to light. As we say, “Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” If you have lost hope, God has not lost you. He resurrects you with faith. Amen