FIRST READING Lamentations 3:22-33
22The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” 25The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. 26It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. 27It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. 28Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him; 29let him put his mouth in the dust — there may yet be hope; 30let him give his cheek to the one who strikes, and let him be filled with insults. 31For the Lord will not cast off forever, 32but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; 33for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men.
PSALM Psalm 30
1I will exalt you, O Lord, because you have lifted me up and have not let my enemies triumph over me. 2O Lord my God, I cried out to you, and you restored me to health. 3You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead; you restored my life as I was going down to the grave. 4Sing to the Lord, you servants of his; give thanks for the remembrance of his holiness. 5For his wrath endures but the twinkling of an eye, his favor for a lifetime. 6Weeping may spend the night, but joy comes in the morning. 7While I felt secure, I said, “I shall never be disturbed. You, Lord, with your favor, made me as strong as the mountains.” 8Then you hid your face, and I was filled with fear. 9I cried to you, O Lord; I pleaded with the Lord, saying, 10“What profit is there in my blood, if I go down to the pit? will the dust praise you or declare your faithfulness? 11Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me; O Lord, be my helper.” 12You have turned my wailing into dancing; you have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy. 13Therefore my heart sings to you without ceasing; O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever.
SECOND READING 2 Corinthians 8:1-9, 13-15
1We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, 2for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. 3For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, 4begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints — 5and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. 6Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. 7But as you excel in everything — in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you — see that you excel in this act of grace also. 8I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. 9For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. 13For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness 14your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. 15As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”
GOSPEL Mark 5:21-43
21When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. 22Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing him, he fell at his feet 23and implored him earnestly, saying, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live.” 24And he went with him. And a great crowd followed him and thronged about him. 25And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, 26and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. 27She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. 28For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” 29And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” 31And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing around you, and yet you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32And he looked around to see who had done it. 33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling and fell down before him and told him the whole truth. 34And he said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” 35While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?” 36But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. 38They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39And when he had entered, he said to them, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was. 41Taking her by the hand he said to her, “Talitha cumi,” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” 42And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement. 43And he strictly charged them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
GOD IS LOVE, JUST AND RIGHTEOUS
We’ve all heard it, and we might as a child have even said this to another person: “It’s all your fault. You got me in trouble.” As a group we don’t like to be in trouble, get into trouble or suffer the consequences for something we’ve done. The bottom line is, we like to blame others anytime we’re going through a difficult time; this includes blaming God. Another thing we have difficulty with, is the idea that God punishes people. Instead, we’d rather quote the Apostle John and believe that God is love (1 John 4:16.) And this is true.
God is love. However, what we don’t want to accept is that God corrects those He loves. Parents and grandparents, did you suddenly quit loving your children just because you felt the need to correct them? Why would God be any different? This is why our Old Testament reading from Lamentations is such a difficult passage to read for the majority of Christians.
Our reaction to this passage comes into sharp focus especially when reading verses 32 and 33: “Although [God] causes grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.” Now before we begin to pull this passage apart, I believe it would be good to get a couple of things out of the way. Number 1: God is far to busy to simply sit around and think of ways to aggravate someone. Think about it. With all the crime, the hatred, the strife, the persecution of His people and the overall sinfulness of humankind, do you really think God has or takes the time to say, “I’m bored, let’s see how I can aggravate Steve today. God is far to busy healing, softening hearts, protecting the innocent and preventing catastrophic occurrences to have time to aimlessly pester someone without cause. Number 2: When God corrects it’s for our own good, and when He does, it’s because we’ve sinned and refuse to turn from the sinful ways.
Now before I get too deep into this, I need to acknowledge that people, innocent people, do suffer because of someone else’s sin. There are innocent people who are persecuted, driven from their homes, murdered, raped, tortured and overall mistreated every day because of someone else’s sin. Why God allows this to happen I don’t know, but He does. We must accept the fact that God is sovereign. God is also wise beyond our understanding and one day we will have the answer to the why. But for now, we must accept that God is God and He is sovereign, and He is in control. We also must accept and believe that God is absolutely righteous and just.
Sin and evil must and will be punished; not because God hates or despises anyone He created, but how could God truly be just if sin and evil were overlooked? And with that understanding in mind, we need to recognize that in our first lesson, God wasn’t punishing innocent people because He was bored, God was trying to correct hundreds of years of sin. This is why He sent prophet after prophet, Judge after Judge and anointed kings. And Jeremiah was one of the prophets God sent to the Southern Tribes. He was sent to call the people back to righteousness.
Jeremiah, the prophet who wrote Lamentations, was a prophet sent to the tribes of Judah and Benjamin in order to call them back to a right relationship with God; back to observing the promises they made in the Covenant. Like the prophets before him, Jeremiah was trying to get the people to understand that you cannot assume that God is on your side, and will ignore your mockery of Him and His commands, just because He made a promise to your ancestors. This doesn’t mean that God was about to turn His back on the Hebrew people, on the contrary! God was trying to call them back to being His people. The people of the covenant. The people who agreed to serve Him alone and to be His priests to the nations.
God has, to this point, been very patient for well over 800 years. The nation of Israel entered the promised land around 1406 BC and from almost the beginning of the occupation, the Hebrew people were constantly breaking the covenant. Initially, God worked through Moses, Joshua and others to govern the people. Later when the people would cry out to God for help, God sent Judges. When that failed, God sent prophets, then more prophets. Finally, the people cried out for a king like other nations (1 Samuel 8:20.). And despite God’s warnings, the people insisted, and God gave them kings. None of God’s attempts to correct the people lasted. Generally speaking, within the same generation the people would fall back into their sinful ways.
Sure, the people would go through the motions of worshiping and honoring God, but this was simply to soothe their own conscience. Paul reminds us in Galatians that we shouldn’t deceive ourselves, God is not mocked (6:7.) Just because we come to church, listen to the sermon, say the words of the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer, that doesn’t mean that our hearts are in it. Jesus warned of this when He said, “these people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Matt. 15:8.) We know that you can fool others, but you can’t fool God (1 Sam 16:7.) The children of Israel for 800+ years had convinced themselves that they could do as they please and God would rescue them anyway. Well God felt that it was time to take more drastic measures.
The Hebrew people refused to listen to God, they refused to listen to Moses and Joshua; the children of Israel refused to listen to their prophets and kings and now God warned them one final time that if they continued to make a mockery of Him, He would send them into exile. And how did they respond? The leaders of the people harassed the prophets including Jeremiah. They put him in stocks, threw him in prison, threatened him with death and finally threw Jeremiah down into a cistern. The leaders of the people did this all because he was saying things they didn’t want to hear. All because he was trying to be faithful to God and warn them. The people refused to listen, and Nebuchadnezzar came, conquered the land and took the people off into slavery. You tell me: what more could we have expected God to do? Did God do this because He had nothing better to do but to harass and aggravate innocent people? Of course not!
The question for us is, what can we learn from this passage? What message can we glean that will help us in our current situation? How are we as a nation any different than the nation of Israel. Our forefathers came to this country so they could worship freely and this country flourished. However, as time went on, we’ve prospered and many now believe we don’t need God. They even go so far as to say there is no God. The Psalmist had a word to describe these kind of people, a “fool” (Ps. 14:1.) Over and over again, the US has seen trouble and we have cried out to God to save us and He has. Sound familiar? All but the youngest among us can remember the country’s reaction to 9-11. But as soon as the trouble passes we not only go back to our sinful ways, we get worse!
In my generation alone, we’ve seen prayer removed from our schools and government assembly meetings. The 10 Commandments have been stripped from a number of government buildings. Abortion has been legalized, marijuana in some states is big business, prescription drug abuse is of such concern we’re now calling it the opioid crisis. Sexual immorality has become acceptable and same sex marriage has been embraced. Actions and decisions that would have never been mentioned or discussed in polite society, just a couple of decades ago, are now being forwarded as normal. The truth is, satan is hard at work fighting against God. Jesus tells us that satan is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44) and the devil will say or do anything he can to deceive humankind. It causes you to wonder what can be next.
If you want to know what to expect next, all you have to do is study history and you can see just how far humankind will go if unchecked. This is why it’s so important for us as faithful followers to speak out. This is why God has placed us here and called us to go out into the world to make disciples. Now I seriously doubt that anyone here believes for one minute, that I’m telling you anything you don’t already know. We all watch the news and we all see what’s happening in our schools and communities. The real question is, what are we doing about it?
Are we answering the call to “Go” as did all the prophets of old? Or are we like the leaders of the Hebrew people, ignoring at best and persecuting at worse God’s messengers? By the way, sitting idly by doing nothing is the same as taking part in the downfall because we refused to speak out. Remember God is absolutely just, and He will punish.
Remember the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matt. 25:31-46.) What was it that those on the left asked? When did we see you hungry, or thirsty, a stranger or in need of clothes or in prison and did nothing? What was God’s answer? When you failed to help those in need and this includes speaking out against the sins of this world. And what was God’s answer? “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (v. 41b.) Yes, God is love, that’s why He goes to such extremes, including punishing or grieving us, to call us back into a right relationship with Him. That’s why He made a New Covenant in Jesus. A Covenant that doesn’t depend on us. God paid the price so that when we truly repent and turn from our sinful ways we can be reconciled to the Father and be with Him for all eternity. And this is the third reason this passage is so important for us today. God does grieve those that He loves to correct and guide them: verse 32 also tells us that “He will have compassion according to the abundance of His steadfast love.”
God doesn’t sit around and aggravate people for no good reason. God sends trials because He loves us and wants to call us back into a right relationship with Him. He allows difficult times in order to strengthen our faith and remind us that He is always faithful. The good news is, God has no desire for anyone to be cast out. This is why He’s being so patient. He is a just and righteous judge and those who make a mockery of God will be punished. And yes, because of the sin of others, the innocent do sometimes suffer. But God is love and His desire is that everyone is given as much opportunity to turn from their sin and turn or return to God.
While this passage does have some difficult truths that we must accept, the beginning verse of this reading signals that this is really a passage of hope. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to an end.” The Lord is good to those wait for Him, to the soul that seeks Him” (vs. 22, 25.)