We don’t always have a choice among the lessons appointed for a particular Sunday. This week was different. Mary contacted me and asked if I would prefer a reading from Lamentations or from the Psalms. As you would do, I read both of them. The psalm was easy. I just opened my prayer book and read Psalm 30. Then I opened one of my Bibles and turned to Lamentations 3: 21-33. The Bible I chose at random was one given to me and all of my colleagues in the Chaplains Orientation by the Massachusetts Bible Society. I took that Bible with me as I boarded the first of several ships I served on as a chaplain in the Navy. I planned to read the Bible from Genesis through the Revelation to John—from cover to cover. I read and underscored verses that I found particular meaningful. When I turned this week to Lamentations I found that I had indeed underscored these verses: “
His mercies never come to an end;
They are new every morning.
Great is your faithfulness.
Keep these words in your mind. We shall return to them as I conclude this message.
A friend of mine told me that his young son asked him to read the Bible to him. He was surprised at the request but he agreed. He told me that he began with Genesis 1:1. That’s not a bad place to begin since the first eleven chapters of Genesis are basically a narrative that lays out the creation and the stories following that any youngster might find intriguing—especially the bit about the Garden of Eden, the apple tree, the snake who spoke to Eve, the sin of eating from the forbidden tree, and the Fall of humankind by the act of disobedience to God’s command. I summarize. Turn to the first eleven chapters of Genesis in your Bible if you need more information.
I didn’t get further reports about their progress through Deuteronomy—sometimes called Ditto-ronomy because it repeats so much that has gone before. Or the genealogy in the Gospel of Mathew that traces the descendants of Abraham to Jesus if he ever got that far.
My recommendation was that they leave Genesis (after the Fall) and jump to Mark’s Gospel. There are a couple of reasons for that advice. First. Mark wrote the shortest gospel and that would give the two of them (my friend and his son) a sense of accomplishment as we found when we had the marathon reading of Mark not too long ago. Second, the pace of Mark’s gospel holds our attention. Mark sprints and we are caught up in his race through the early chapters of his narrative. He uses the adverb, immediately again and again. Mark writes, for examples, after Jesus’ baptism immediately he saw the heavens Opened and the Spirit descending upon him. Then, “the Spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness” where he was tempted by Satan. Jesus came into Galilee preaching “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand, Repent and believe in the good news.”
When Jesus saw James and John he called them to become fishers of men—to fish for people. And immediately they left their nets to follow Jesus. And they went into Capernaum and immediately on the Sabbath Jesus went into the synagogue and taught the people. Immediately he left the synagogue and with James and John he entered the house of Simon (later Peter) and Andrew. I remember when our sons discovered their first “big word” as we call it: NO! Mark’s big word was immediately. This adverb Mark used about forty times in the sixteen chapters of his Gospel.
We might reasonably ask Mark, “What’s the hurry?”
Since Jesus strides into the gospel as a charismatic young man whom the early disciples followed as they were called into a unique relationship of faith in him as God’s son—a belief that would become clear to them as Jesus’ ministry of teaching and healing was lived out among them. Jesus taught with authority without citing as were expected the various spiritual writers known to his hearers to support of his teaching. If Jesus was 30 when he came to the Jordan to be baptized by John and his ministry lasted approximately three years, that would mean that Jesus died on the cross at the age of 33. Mark was followed by Matthew and Luke who knew Mark’s gospel and followed his work closely in writing their gospels. John on the other hand followed his own sources and wrote from a theological perspective. It was John who explained “There are many other things that Jesus did. If every one of these were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” The four evangelists each writing from his unique perspectives had to be selective. Mark chose to create the sense of urgency we come to expect as we read his gospel.
In the gospel reading for today, Mark tells us that Jesus had left the country of the Gerasenes where Jesus had cast out the demons that plagued an unnamed man who roamed among the tombs. The man freed from demon possession begged Jesus that he might be with him, but Jesus gave him another mission: “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.” Then Jesus sailed across the Sea of Galilee and upon reaching the other side he was meet by a large crowd many of whom sought Jesus to heal them. In the crowd was a leader of the synagogue whose name was Jairus whose young daughter was gravely ill. Jairus begged Jesus repeatedly to come to his house to heal his daughter. He had faith that Jesus could heal her. He agreed and he, Jairus and a crowd of bystanders set off to Jairus’ house.
Within the crowd was a woman who had a decease that had plagued her for many years. She had sought treatment from doctors but they were unable to help her. She thought to herself, “If I could only touch his clothing, I would be healed.” That’s what she did, and her bleeding stopped. She knew at once that she had been healed. Jesus sensing that power had gone out from him turned and asked, “Who touched me?” Fearfully and embarrassed she identified herself. Jesus calmed her with the words, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace and be healed of your disease.” It was her faith, not the touch of Jesus clothing that made her well.
The journey was again interrupted by some who came from the leader’s house to tell him that his daughter had died. But Jairus had repeatedly begged Jesus to come to his house to heal his daughter. He had faith that Jesus would heal her. Rather than being distressed he realized that Jesus was striding along continuing his journey to the leader’s home where our Lord miraculously awakened her. Jesus instructed her parents to give her something to eat, the evidence that she was healed because of Jairus’ faith.
How could Mark know about the healing of the man possessed, the healing of the woman who sought to touch Jesus’ clothing, and the restoration of Jairus’ daughter to her parents? It is not fanciful to assume that each of these persons heeded Jesus’ response to the demoniac who asked to accompany our Lord: “Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you and what mercy he has shown you.” Each of them discovered the “steadfast love of the Lord that never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning. Great is God’s faithfulness.” These verses from Lamentations are the basis for a hymn that didn’t make it into our hymnal, but is included in the Presbyterian Hymnal among others:
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God, our Father.
There is no shadow of turning with Thee.
Thou changest not, thy compassions they fail not.
As thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.
Summer and winter, seed time and harvest,
Sun moon and stars in their courses above
Join with all nature in manifold witness ‘
To thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.
Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth.
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow
Blessings all mine with ten thousand beside.
Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed thy hand hath provided.
Great is thy faithfulness Lord unto me.
When I taught in the seminary, I asked my students who prepared sermons to ask of the sermon a simple question: So what? I explained that it is the preacher’s responsibility to ask that question for herself or himself: So what? As we proclaim the old, old story of Jesus and his love we must go and tell what the Lord has done for us. It is not always easy, but is brings joy and happiness as lives are changed. Amen.