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Fifth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 8)

Springfield CathedralMark 5:21–43, Wisdom 1:13-15; 2:23-24

 

I hope we’re all in an appropriate frame of heart and mind to celebrate the Eucharist this morning.

I hope the vaccines continue to be successful in suppressing the virus that causes COVID-19.

I hope that the Holy Spirit will lead clearly in the process of electing the next Bishop of Springfield.

In three different sentences, I have just used the word “hope.” Usually, I suspect, we use that word casually, without giving it much thought. But it has kind of a specific meaning. It means that we’re looking for—expecting, even—a favorable outcome, a resolution to certain present conditions that are at least uncertain, if not outright undesirable. Hope is not a fantasy. I might wish I would win the Power Ball lottery. I could do so many good things with the money. But I don’t hope I win it, because the odds are astronomically against my doing so, if for no other reason than that I actually don’t buy lottery tickets. No, hope is an expectation grounded in reality. There is at least a probability that it will come to pass. There can even be a strong probability—a virtual certainty, in fact—yet, an uncertainty about the timing of the fulfillment. I hope I will walk along a beach sometime in the future, letting the waves lap my feet and lower legs. That’s one of my favorite things to do. But I don’t have a clear idea of when that might happen. So I look forward to it in hope. With hope, there is always yearning, always a straining forward into a desired future that has not yet arrived.

Now for a dose of reality—reality of the sort that is not the basis for our hope, but the reason we want to have something for which to hope. We are surrounded by evil and sin. People do unbelievably bad things to other people. All the time. And if it’s not people doing the yucky stuff, then Mother Nature is quite capable of causing a ruckus all by herself: hurricanes, floods, fires … coronaviruses. When I was in college, I had to take bonehead science—you know, science for people who are otherwise smart enough to be in college, but just can’t do math. And in bonehead physics, I learned about the Second Law of Thermodynamics, otherwise known as entropy, which is essentially the notion that, left alone, order will inevitably disintegrate into chaos. Energy will dissipate. Organized systems will unravel. So, between the evils of war and street violence, between diseases and natural disasters, or just plain entropy, it’s always tempting to … well … give up hope. It’s hard to sustain hope in the environment we live in, and many, in fact, don’t. They surrender to bitterness and cynicism. Some go so far as suicide.

How, then, do we find hope? I want to suggest to you that we find hope by looking around for evidence—evidence of something to hope for, evidence of something to hope in. Now, when I mention evidence, I’m not talking about an episode of CSI, or the  sort of thing that would, say, hold up in court. Rather, I’m talking about looking at, and interpreting, the various … signs that are in front of us an around us. Looking at signs and then asking questions: What is God doing? What is God “up to?” What is God trying to accomplish, not just on our personal behalf—that’s always the first thing we think about, of course—but in furtherance of his grand project of redeeming the universe?

We see some such signs in today’s reading from Mark’s gospel. It’s the story of two healing miracles—actually, one is a full-on resuscitation of a corpse—with one jammed in between the two halves of another. First, there’s the desperate plea from Jairus, a synagogue official, about his young daughter, who lay at death’s door. As Jesus begins to respond to that request by following Jairus toward his home, the action is interrupted by a chronically ill woman pressing through the crowd and managing to momentarily touch Jesus as he walks by. Mark tells us that Jesus felt “power go out from him.” He didn’t do anything or say anything, but, merely because the woman touched him, she was immediately healed of her affliction, and Jesus commends her for her faith. Just then, word comes from Jairus’ home that his daughter has died, and Jesus shouldn’t bother coming by. But he does bother, and after passing through those who had gathered to begin the ritual mourning process, he goes up to the little girl’s room, takes her by the hand, and raises her back to life.

At one level, of course, both parts of the narrative speak for themselves, and are powerful signs of hope just as they are. But when we look at them together, as Mark obviously wants us to do, we can see even more. Jairus, already consumed by crushing anticipatory grief, is in a position to witness the almost accidental healing of the woman who was chronically ill. Seeing this had to be encouraging to him, right? Jesus is on his way to minister to his daughter, and, en route, demonstrates without even trying that he has what it takes to fulfill Jairus’ hope. Jairus’ hope in Jesus is demonstrably well-placed.

Both the healing of the woman with a nearly lifelong hemorrhage, and the restoration of Jairus’ daughter’s life, are of tremendous importance to those two people, and those who love them. But they are also important to us, because they are signs of God’s saving intent, signs of God’s preferential option for, God predisposition toward salvation, redemption, restoration. They prefigure the work that Jesus would go on to accomplish in his death and resurrection. And if you ever get down into the weeds with Mark’s gospel, you’ll understand that the cross is always where he wants to point us. On their own, Jesus’ miracles only mean something to those who directly benefit from them. But, interpreted through the lens of the cross and resurrection, they are powerful signs of hope, signs that God is not idly standing back while the universe winds down and succumbs to entropy. God is on the move. God is doing something.

As the author of the Wisdom of Solomon—presumably but not assuredly King Solomon himself, tells us: “God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living. … God created us for incorruption, and made us in the image of his own eternity.” Let that sink in. God did not make death. God created us for incorruption. Do you feel some hope welling up as you ponder this? Or, in the words of Psalm 30: “You brought me up, O Lord, from the dead; you restored my life as I was going down to grave.”

We have these signs in today’s readings, along with countless others in other passages of scripture, of God’s power over death—God’s power over death and over everything else of which death is, as it were, the “sacrament,” the seal and sign: sin, fear, entropy itself. And precisely here is the source of our hope. The landscape before us in this fallen world isn’t materially changed by the signs we have seen, but these signs give us hope, and hope enables us to see the evil and brokenness around us with different eyes. We view the present with the future—Gods future—in mind. Jesus bids us take up our cross daily. The virtue of hope is what enables us to do just that.

Praised be Jesus Christ. Amen.

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