God’s steadfast love and mercy never end, no matter the circumstances: wait for that, and find hope for you and the world.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Lect. 13 B
Texts: Lamentations 3:21-33; Psalm 30; Mark 5:21-43
Beloved in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
“It is good that one should wait quietly for the deliverance of GOD-WHO-IS. There may yet be hope.”
That’s Jeremiah’s wisdom in the heart of Lamentations: wait, and hope for God’s deliverance.
But if you’re a woman who’s had a non-stop menstrual flow for twelve years, bleeding heavily every day of every week of every year, and no doctor can help, and you have no more money, would you hear “wait and hope” and be comforted? And if you’re parents whose twelve-year-old daughter, the light of your life, is dying of an illness and no one can help, would you hear “wait and hope” and be at peace?
Wait and hope are powerful words of comfort, but they can’t be imposed on others.
Jeremiah’s beautiful words are honest because they come from the depths of grief and suffering.
He’s not patronizing wounded people from a place of privilege, dismissing their pain with nice-sounding words. Jeremiah sings heart-wrenching grief over the destruction of the city of Jerusalem, the destruction of the kingdom of Judah, the destruction of the very people of God, at the hands of Babylon. Jeremiah mourns and weeps both the destruction and the sin of the people that led to it.
But right at the middle of this crushing outpouring of grief, a beam of sunlight bursts through the darkness. “But this I call to mind,” Jeremiah says as he pauses his weeping, “and therefore I have hope: the steadfast love of GOD-WHO-IS never ceases; God’s mercies never come to an end.”
In the midst of a devastated city, with death and destruction all around, Jeremiah has remembered that no matter how terrible things may seem, God’s steadfast love and mercy never fail. And he will wait for that. And hope.
Jeremiah’s situation might be more helpful than today’s Gospel.
Because the ending of that story can be misleading. Yes, the woman was made whole. Yes, the daughter was raised from her deathbed to eat her lunch.
But what of the leper in another village who’d also suffered for years, whom no doctors could help, whose story no one has written or told because he died and was thrown into a pit? What of the family in another village whose child was dying, whose story no one has written or told because she died, was buried in grief, and within a few decades was forgotten to all but those remaining of her family?
Thousands all over Galilee and Judea suffered oppression, poverty, illness, death, in the three years of Jesus’ ministry. Thousands didn’t experience this woman’s peace, this family’s joy. That makes today’s Gospel hard to hear.
Far, far more people suffer like those in villages Jesus didn’t visit.
If you’re suffering from a long illness, and doctors can’t seem to help, or if someone you love is near death and you can do nothing, what are you supposed to do with this Gospel? Wait and hope that somehow God will miraculously fix it all?
If you’re suffering from injustice and oppression, living in a society where your reality is substantially worse than others simply because of the way your body looks and functions, in the countless ways that’s true in our own city and country, what are you supposed to do with this Gospel? Wait and hope that somehow God will miraculously end systemic racism and sexism, poverty and homelessness, a broken justice system?
Is there any point to waiting and hoping for God’s deliverance if God rarely seems to be in the miracles business?
But Jeremiah doesn’t receive relief, or restoration, or an end to suffering.
No miracles happen to him here. It would be the better part of a century before the Jewish people returned to Jerusalem, and even then they returned to the same devastated ruins. All those who died were still gone.
And yet Jeremiah – in the midst of grief and suffering –remembered God’s steadfast love and mercy never end. He found a way to wait and hope for God, to trust God’s love to bring healing somehow.
This is the waiting for God the Scriptures encourage.
If you’re waiting for a perfect life where nothing goes wrong for you, or waiting for God to stop all your pain and suffering, you’ll be waiting a long time, the Bible says. If you’re waiting for God to miraculously fix problems in our city and our world that we’ve created and participate in, you’ll be waiting a long time, the Bible says. If you’re waiting for everything to make sense of your life, for all things to be clear, you’ll be waiting a long time, the Bible says. God doesn’t promise any of that.
But Scripture says God promises what Jeremiah remembered: God’s steadfast love and mercy are with you in whatever your situation, and will never leave you. Not even in death. Not even if things seem they will never change. God came to us in person in Jesus not to miraculously fix everything but to draw all creation – and that includes you, and me, and our city and our nation and our world – into God’s transforming life and love.
In God’s life and love, your suffering cannot break you, but can be transformed. In God’s life and love, God actually does begin to work to change what’s wrong in this world, inspiring God’s people, just as in Jeremiah’s day, start picking up the pieces, building foundations of a new life, reaching out to those crushed under the rubble, creating God’s desired justice where they can.
It is good to hope and wait for God’s deliverance. To trust in God’s steadfast love.
Let the Scriptures, with the Holy Spirit, change what you’re waiting and hoping for, and you’ll find the psalmist’s joy that comes in the morning. A joy that covers you like clothing and turns your wailing into dancing.
A joy that can be found in the heart of a broken city, a city that can be re-built. A joy that gives you peace in the midst of suffering, a suffering that can’t destroy you. A joy that even the death we all face can’t separate you from God’s love in Christ Jesus.
God’s steadfast love and mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning. That’s your promise. Can you wait for that? You might find it great hope there.
In the name of Jesus. Amen