12 years is a long time to deal with an affliction, especially one that makes you unclean, cutting you off from contact with other people, physically and religiously. This poor woman has suffered for too long, and we can presume that she’s cried out to God for help, and God, to her, has been silent.
Jairus, a leader of the synagogue, is facing what is arguably the scariest thing any parent could ever imagine. His 12 year old daughter is dying, and there’s nothing he, or anyone else, can do about it. Except, he’s heard about this Jesus guy, and so he rushes out to find him, hoping against hope that God might move through this Jesus of Nazareth, and deliver his beloved daughter from her affliction. I’m sure that, as his daughter got more and more sick, and the doctors weren’t able to help, Jairus called out to God for God’s saving help, and God, to Jairus, was silent.
I wonder if, having experienced this silence of God in their time of need, either Jairus or this woman remembered Lamentations chapter 3, and if they did, I wonder if they found it comforting, or if it just made them angry.
Our reading starts off ok, reflecting on the steadfast love of the Lord and how God’s mercies never come to an end. I know I’ve clung to the promise that God’s mercies are new every day in my own life, and as I have accompanied people through the most difficult and dark times of life and death in my pastoral ministry.
But when you’re in need, when things are really going sideways, do we really want to hear that it’s good to wait quietly for God’s salvation? Is it really comforting to sit alone in God imposed silence when you’re laid so low that your mouth is in the dust? I don’t know…
As Bishop Eaton mentioned in the public statement I shared with you at the beginning of today’s service, “This has been a long season of disquiet in our country.” My only hope is that, as these simmering racial tensions continue to simmer, and even as they boil over from time to time, that we, God’s people, will find the strength to advance justice, to speak up, to join the difficult conversation, to own our place in society for good and for ill.
Look, I’m a white, middle-class man who lives in suburbia. I have a Master’s Degree. My wife also has a Master’s Degree, and our daughter is a college graduate who makes her living by sharing her life and ideas in online videos on YouTube, and who, quite possibly, is moving toward a life of privilege far beyond my own. And while I do not consider myself a racist, in terms of my day to day thoughts and actions, attitudes and speech, I do have to own the fact that, as a middle-class, highly educated white man, I enjoy a level of privilege, because of the racist underpinnings or our society and its deepest structures. It’s just a fact. And it’s a fact that has caused affliction, and hardship, and exclusion, and deadly consequences for far too many for far more than the 12 years of affliction the woman in the Gospel faced, or the short time of struggle Jairus and his family faced. This has been a long season of disquiet, dating back nearly 300 years!
It’s one thing for us to read that it is good to give one’s cheek to the smiter, and to be filled with insults, when the vast majority of us hold positions of privilege in our society. But those words must ring with a very different tone in the ears of those who have been smitten, historically, and who still face the realities of living in our great nation as one who does not enjoy white privilege, but instead faces the all too common reality of being followed around in a store while you’re just trying to shop, being turned away from employment, being pulled over for driving into a neighborhood where “you don’t belong”, living in a ghettoized reality that most of us will never have to face and, quite frankly, probably can’t begin to understand…
Verse 33 of Lamentations 3 assures us that: God does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone. But this does not mean that people haven’t done so in God’s name, or that we don’t perpetuate the deep social structures that cause affliction and grief in the lives of those who happen to have darker skin than ours, or to have been born in a part of the world, or born to parents who were born in a part of the world, where your skin tone or facial features happen to make you a member of a minority population. And the sad fact is that though, in general, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, says the right things in most of our official statements, there are too many, even among our numbers, who refuse to even consider the possibility that we are in any way complicit with this vile sin of racism, or who refuse to engage in the conversation, or to consider how they, personally, or how we corporately, contribute to the structures that perpetuate racism in our midst.
The Lord does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone, and yet we, who are named by the name of this God in Christ, do! We do! And we do it in God’s name. The shooter was a member of an ELCA congregation. He went to church camp. He grew up in Sunday school. The Lord does not willingly afflict or grieve, but we do! And we need to own that. We need to own up to our own complicity in things that we say and do, in things that we do not say and do when we witness racism and know that we ought to speak up and speak out and do not, and in ways known and unknown, even to ourselves. And we need to continually ask God to turn us from all sin, including the sin of racism, and to lead us in the ways of reconciliation. We need to ask God to teach us to live in such a way that Paul’s words, in 2 Corinthians 1:7, might become a reality in our lives – that we might all come to truly share in one another’s afflictions as if they were our own, and in one another’s consolation, as well…
In a few moments, after we pray a special litany, one that was shared this past Wednesday at a Unity March and Candlelight Vigil in Red Bank, at which I was present, I’m going to baptize little Landon into the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, and we’ll welcome him into the community of God’s people. And this is no small thing that we do! When we are baptized into Christ, we are baptized into his death so that we can have the assurance of new life in him in the resurrection. And it’s this death and resurrection of Jesus that is our only hope of salvation, and the only hope our society has of ever moving past the evils of racism into a day in which all of God’s people, regardless of race, ethnicity, culture or any other such category, will stand together as one and truly value one another equally and fully as God’s own beloved children, all of us created in God’s own image and likeness…
When Jesus heals Jairus’ daughter, he takes her by the hand and speaks the words: Talitha Cum, which means, literally: Little girl, be resurrected!
As God’s people, may we long for, and pray for God to hasten the day when, God will speak those words to us all: Be resurrected into the fullness of the new life that each of you received as a promise and seal on the day of our baptism!
Also, today, Landon’s sister will commune for the first time. As God’s people, may we long for, and pray for God to hasten the day when God will speak those words to us all: Be resurrected into the fullness of the new life, and come to the fullness of the heavenly feast of which you receive a foretaste each time we gather at the Lord’s Table – in the bit of bread pressed into your palm and the sip of wine on your lips, given for you, for the forgiveness of sin!
Now, I invite you to kneel (or to remain sitting, if you cannot kneel), and let us pray together the litany found in our worship booklet…
LITANY AND SONG
Eternal God, you are our only hope, our sure help in time of trouble. In all times and places you alone are our strength. Because we trust in you, we dare to believe as we sing: (Goodness is stronger than evil…)
Although, often lost in grief and overwhelmed by fear and anger, we hear your call to firmer faith and deeper trust. In the midst of doubt and fear you call us to be a people of prayer. Help us, O Lord, to place our confidence in you as we pray for all who have lost loved ones, those traumatized by memories and images they cannot forget, and those who are paralyzed by fear. Hear us, O Lord, and teach us to pray, for you alone are our refuge and strength.
O God, true source of wholeness and peace, in a world bearing fresh wounds of suffering and grief, you call us to be a people of healing. Help us to reach out to neighbors in need. Give us the grace to share the comfort of your love. Surround those who have been shaken by tragedy with a sense of your present love. Hear us, O Lord, and help us to heal, for you alone are our refuge and strength.
God of love, in a world torn by violence and threatened by revenge and hatred, you call us to be a people of love. Give us the strength to love even when love is most difficult. Save us from the desire for vengeance, and from the temptation to rejoice in wrongdoing. Fill us with your love, that we might seek the good of all people. Hear us, O Lord, and show us how to love, for you alone are our refuge and strength.
You, O Lord, are our refuge and strength, our help in time of trouble. Help us to hold in our hearts and show in our lives the truth we now sing: (Repeat song)
(my apologies… I misplaced the Unity March flier with the reference to the source of the litany. It was revised by the organizers of the march from a liturgical resource with which I was not familiar and which was only referenced as an abbreviation with no date or publisher information. I replaced a spoken refrain based on Archbishop Tutu’s Goodness is stronger than evil text with the song in Evangelical Lutheran Worship, hymn #721)