Reading Ramblings – June 27, 2021

Date: Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, June 27th, 2021

Texts: Lamentations 3:22-33; Psalm 30; 2 Corinthians 8:1-9, 13-15; Mark 5:21-43

Context: The lessons for today don’t appear to work together very well.  The reading from Lamentations is a brief ray of sunlight in an otherwise very dark and sorrowful book.  The psalmist rightly directs praise to God for his past deliverances from life-threatening troubles.  St. Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians – which isn’t supposed to blend with the other readings – is a very direct appeal from St. Paul for the Corinthians to be generous, using as example their Macedonian neighbors who gave joyfully even out of their lack.  And the Gospel lesson shows us Jesus healing a sick woman and raising a young girl from the dead.  Overall the readings contrast the ever-present grace of God with our own sometimes stingy attitudes.  You and I may mutter and count the pennies out we donate to the less fortunate or in our tithes, but God gives richly and extravagantly.  Not once or occasionally but over and over again, supplying us with the very means by which we live every day, until we just assume it to be our right.  God’s gracious giving is very definitely a reason to give him thanks and praise, as well as a call to remind us that it is not the works of our hands, whether technological marvels, medical miracles or political promises that will save us, but only the grace of God the Father in Jesus Christ. 

Lamentations 3:22-33 – Lamentations is a short book – only five chapters.  Go ahead and read it through to better appreciate the beauty of these verses, unparalleled in the book except maybe for the final pleading verses of chapter 5.  Judah and Jerusalem have indeed lost everything, been stripped of everything and reduced to rubble.  While the author is not specified there is a long tradition that Jeremiah is the author, lamenting the destruction by Babylon in 587 BC.  The situation seems truly hopeless but there is one source of hope – God and his steadfast love.  Where man might give up on one another or himself, God never does.  God is relentless in his love, therefore his people have just cause to hope his love will restore their fortunes and undo the catastrophe their sin has brought upon themselves.  Suffering then becomes a means of hoping in God, of actively seeking and expecting his blessing and mercy rather than assuming them as our birthright.  The character of God as loving Father is unexpectedly championed in this short, bitter book which otherwise mostly reflects on the destruction sin inevitably brings.

Psalm 30 – A psalm of David, perhaps written earlier and utilized for the Temple dedication.  The psalm celebrates David’s deliverance by God’s power, and there are no shortage of events in David’s life that fit such a description.  The power of God’s work is described as nothing less than a complete turn of fortune, a metaphorical rescue from death itself.  God is also described as the source of all power.  David perhaps grew self-assured in his greatness (v.6) but a mere glance aside from God reduced him to dire conditions (v.7).  David well understands both the painful wrath of God against the sin in his life, but also the great love and mercy of God even in the midst of our sinfulness.  David’s discussion of death (sheol) should be read cautiously, not as a description of life after death in general but a description of the living death that follows life for those who refuse God’s offer of grace and forgiveness.  Contrary to the dreariness of eternal separation from God, David’s life has been restored to give God thanks and praise, just as St.  John is shown the saints doing in his Revelation.  When our Lord raises us from the dead we will indeed give God thanks and praise, but in faith we are privileged to begin singing those songs here and now!

2 Corinthians 8:1-9, 13-15 – In his first letter to the Corinthians (16:1) Paul instructed them to set aside weekly an amount of money  that could be collected and sent to Jerusalem to assist the church there in great poverty and suffering.  He now calls the Corinthians again to this task, indicating to them that just to the north of them in Macedonia the Christian churches – though themselves quite poor! – were eager to give even out of their poverty.  His intention is not to redistribute wealth to the advantage of the Church in Jerusalem, but to ensure that as many as possible had enough.  The Church should expect that when one part suffers, the other parts will assist in bearing up their brothers and sisters.  This is one manifestation of the love we are called to show for one another (John 15:12).  To claim we love our brothers and sisters in Christ but not to take seriously how we might personally assist them in our time of need is shallow love at best.  Paul concludes with a reference to Exodus 16:18 and how God’s love for his people in providing for their needs with manna, assured that nobody hoarded and that even the poorest of them had all they needed.

Mark 5:21-43 – The scope of Jesus’ ministry is shown in Chapters 4 and 5.  He moves from Jewish lands on the western edge of the Sea of Galilee to the non-Jewish lands on the eastern side and now back again.  He calms the wind and waves in the last chapter, drives the demons out of a foreigner at the start of Chapter 5, is entreated to heal the daughter of a worthy or deserving Jew in good standing, and on the way heals the persistent condition of a woman forced out of Jewish culture and society as ritually unclean.  The power of God flows out to everyone who will receive it.  God’s giving and loving and restorative nature is beautifully illustrated here.  The afflictions of the world, whether they be of the body or the natural world around us are the result of sin.  They are the work of evil in the world.  God brings healing and restoration.  Where the kingdom of God is the power of evil in nature and in our hearts has no standing or power.  It must flee towards uncleanness (like a herd of pigs), or it must obey Jesus like the wind and waves in the last chapter, or it is banished like the woman’s condition, and even death itself is not beyond God’s authority, releasing those it claims at his command just as the dead will be freed from death when our Lord returns. 

There is no condition or situation beyond the hope or power of God.  Conversely, there is no other power in the world either personal or communal that can approach God’s power.  How often do we stake our hopes on temporal, human solutions to our problems rather than seeing God as the ultimate source of deliverance?  How often do we presume that health and wealth in this world is to what comes afterwards? 

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