Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B June 27, 2021
I’m glad you’ve come to church today.
Well, I’m always glad when you come to church.
I had enough of preaching to empty pews,
which is what I did most of last year.
I missed celebrating the Eucharist the past year too.
Coming together to share communion
and inviting others to the table of our Lord
is at the core who we are called to be as Christians.
Yes, I’m glad we’re here.
But I wonder,
if when you heard the scripture we read today,
you were still glad to be here—
I teased some St. Luke’s folks this past week
that I wish we had one of those lighted signs out front of the church,
the ones where you could change the message each week,
each day if you like.
I told them we could have great sayings
like I’ve seen on other church signs.
“social distancing does not pertain to God, draw near to Him”
“tweet others as you would like to be tweeted”
I think they knew I was teasing,
but mostly they looked blankly at me,
as if to say, well, we’d need a clever person
to come up with something witty, and who would that be?
Ha! I got the point.
I suppose it is a good thing we don’t have a message sign,
as this week, I think it would have to say,
“Come hear this week’s message: desperation and longing.”
It’s not really the message I’d choose, of course,
but today’s lectionary passages we just read
show some of scripture’s most despairing folks—
I think we can’t fairly ignore them.
Last week we explored the story of David and Goliath—
today, we find ourselves much later in David’s life.
In the chapters in between,
it is important to know that David and Saul’s son Jonathan
have become bosom buddies—our scripture says,
“the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David.”
At one point in the story,
while Jonathan is trying to save David from being murdered by Saul,
we read of a pact they made
that “Jonathan made David swear by his love for him;
for he loved him as he loved his own life.”
Now in today’s story, Jonathan has died in battle,
and here is David, beside himself.
He is unashamedly, openly mourning Jonathan’s death
and that of Saul, and writing a song to commemorate their lives:
Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely!
In life and in death they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles,
they were stronger than lions.
I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me;
your love to me was wonderful,
passing the love of women.
How the mighty have fallen in the midst of battle.
David wails openly, distraught with grief.
Reading Psalm 130 on the heels of David’s lament is perfect timing.
This psalm is called De Profundis in Latin,
which means, “from the depths;”
the psalm speaks to a feeling of profound anguish.
“Out of the pit I’ve called to you O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice.
Hear the sound of my pleading!”
Historians think this song of ascent
was likely sung by pilgrims making their way to Jerusalem.
The people were crying out, laying their sins before God,
confessing, and longing to be forgiven, waiting for redemption.
My soul waits for the Lord…
more than watchman for the morning,
more than watchman for the morning.
In the gospel, Mark also offers us a story about two desperate people.
Jairus is a leader the synagogue.
Stating this fact, leader the synagogue,
tells us that he is probably the least likely person
to fall at the feet of a controversial itinerant preacher.
Jairus’ own colleagues are Jesus’ fiercest critics and conspirators.
But his 12 year old daughter is gravely ill—
as a parent he would do anything to save his little girl.
Jairus falls on his knees before Jesus,
and frantically begs him, repeatedly,
to come with him to make her well.
It is on the way there, Jesus is interrupted,
and we meet another despondent person,
a woman who had suffered from hemorrhages for 12 years.
She also is an unlikely candidate to approach Jesus;
Her status is on the other end of the spectrum from Jairus;
she has an unmentionable illness,
that is apparently incurable, according to all the physicians she’s sought out.
She doesn’t address Jesus;
she just presses into the crowd
and takes it upon herself to touch Jesus’ cloak.
We are surprised, just like those in crowd, to hear Jesus ask, Who touched me?
For these two persons,
the quote we well know makes sense:
desperate times call for desperate measures.
While each of these passages center around despair,
what strikes me as so remarkable about each of these stories
is not the desperation and longing we find in them.
No, what is astonishing in these stories is the ever present,
underlying, inspirational hope found in each person—
the hope found deeply embedded in each person’s soul.
If there were no hope, then what would be the point of asking, of pleading?
For David, his friendship with Jonathan was so profound,
so deep, that he can barely describe it in words—
Jonathan loved him as his own soul.
Oh, to be loved like that, a love that transcends all time.
David cherishes this love,
and the hope it gives him, he feels compelled to share.
The memory of David and Jonathan’s human friendship
becomes for the people of Israel
the epitome of what friendship should be,
and harkens back to their ancestor Abraham
who was called to be friend of God.
“Close friendships are one of life’s miracles,” Anne Lamott once wrote,
“that a few people get to know you deeply,
all your messy or shadowy stuff along with the beauty and sweetness,
and they still love you. Not only still love you,
but love you more and more deeply.
I would do anything for my closest friends,
and they would do almost anything for me,
and that is about as spiritual a truth as you can get.”
Hope sings out too in our psalm, “De Profundis.”
I must admit that each time I read this psalm
I think of the late eccentric author and playwright Oscar Wilde.
Until my son Hudson introduced me to a letter Wilde wrote,
published with the title “De Profundis,”
I knew Oscar Wilde only through that brilliant and funny play,
“The Importance of being Earnest,”
and his dark work of fiction, The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Then there came a time of misery in Wilde’s life.
So desperate after being imprisoned for “gross indecency,”
Wilde wrote a long epistle from his jail cell.
The letter is partly confessional,
a sorrowful self-reckoning which leads Wilde to see his life more clearly,
and partly revelatory.
While in prison, Oscar Wilde literally had “a come to Jesus.”
He says at so poignantly at one point in the letter,
“Where there is sorrow, there is holy ground.”
Don’t get me wrong, sorrow is not the only place we find holy ground,
but too many believe tragedy and sorrow are God’s doing.
This is not what the psalmist teaches, nor what Wilde found.
They knew times of joy, just as we do, and thank God for that.
What surprised them, though was to find hope, to find holiness in sorrow too.
In the same vein of desperation as King David of Israel,
Oscar Wilde encountered something surprising,
a hope that only God could have given.
Wilde wrote, “It is tragic how few people ever ‘possess their souls’
before they die. When one comes in contact with the soul
it makes one simple as a child, as Christ said one should be.”
Out of the depths, Oscar Wilde found hope,
the kind of hope
Psalm 130 sings out,
“…my soul waits for the Lord, more than watchman for the morning.”
I prayed this psalm this week as we saw
the collapse of the apartment building in Miami.
This is a horrible tragedy,
as if we didn’t already know the arbitrary and transitory nature of this life,
made worse by knowing it was avoidable,
made worse by human greed and neglect
I wait for the Lord, my soul waits for him, in his word is my hope,
with you Lord, there is mercy,, with you, there is plenteous redemption.
Where there is sorrow, there is holy ground.
a space to meet our Lord, because that is where he is,
in the space between desperation and hope,
calling us to throw ourselves into the hands of God
and to know we will not be rejected.
This is the point of Mark’s story.
This is why he intertwines the needs of two very different people.
This is why Mark includes the story just prior to this one,
a story we never get to read in the Sunday lectionary,
where Jesus travels to Gerasene,
a district where you’d be sure to encounter Gentiles,
and Jesus heals there too.
He heals an unclean man possessed of demons,
a man as desperate as any he ever encountered,
and afterwards, Mark reports that Jesus told him to go share the news.
(Why this man? He was not even a follower of Yahweh!)
Share with the world the mercy and love of God—for everyone.
All week, in contemplating these stories,
I kept hearing this question in my head:
What does love look like in public?
As this is the calling of our Lord to us
What does love look like in public?
Love looks like deep and abiding friendship,
something worth more than gold, as David well knew
something worth cultivating and sharing in our lives.
Love looks like lifting others up,
like Jesus did, including those the world sees as outcasts,
including those who persecute you,
lifting others up,
including those in prison, the sick, the lonely
including those who interrupt you when you are on your way somewhere else. Especially those folks!
Love looks like coming together at the table,
offering to God our thanks for this gift of life;
offering to God our gratefulness for inventing love,
and then showing us how to share it, in public,
at the holy places of joy and at the holy places of sorrow.
What does love look like in public?
To share the love that God has given you,
invite them to the table to share with you.
Thanks be to God.