Wormwood (A Seriously Theological Sermon)
July 2, 2018 Pastor: Rev. Peter Mills
Verse: Lamentations 3:19–24
Pentecost 6 (Series B)
Grace Lutheran Church
Rev. Peter Mills, Pastor
Remember my affliction… the wormwood and the gall! My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases… “The LORD is my portion.” (Lam. 3 19-21a, 24).
Jeremiah’s book is titled “Lamentations”, the vocable of suffering. “Lamentations” expresses OT Israel’s repentant heart and mind shaped in the Babylonian captivity as God returned her into bondage.
Israel is thus the picture of a church possessed of two minds; one lamenting having been ripped from the Land’s hearth and home on account of grievous infidelity to the grace of God; and the other remembering a former glory in Solomon’s temple now destroyed, yet knowing that God’s love is steadfast and abundant, hoping for restoration that only God can provide.
Our Gospel engages two sisters; Jesus refers to the elder hemorrhagic woman as his “daughter” and the dying younger one as his “child” (Mk. 5:34, 39, 41). In Christ, the two are siblings, each is connected with the other in their peculiar womanhood.
Life is in the blood (Gen. 9:4; Lev. 17:10-14; Deut. 12:23). The twelve-year-old “girl” is of an age to enter her menarche, a change in her life that on some level signifies loss and gain, an exchange that should advance the promise of life; and yet the girl is on death’s door.
On the other hand the older woman’s femininity, from the time of the younger’s birth, has gone seriously awry. A continual flow of blood has made her womb, the intended inner sanctum of human life, dead. By this condition the woman has been ritually unclean and excommunicate from the life of the OT church. At the extremity of her blood loss the woman’s vitality, fortune, and life were wasting away.
Jesus has come to these sisters united in extemis and common lament. The older woman seeks out and touches Jesus in faith; and the faith of the child’s parents brings Jesus to touch their dying daughter.
This communion of faith and touch with Jesus provides a picture of the NT Woman, the church in these end times. The church’s baptismal flow of in-Spirited water and blood from the crucified wounds of Christ brings about an exchange: our loss of death and lamentation for the joyous gain of new life for the all the living (Gen. 3:20).
The life of Jairus’ daughter hangs by a thread. Time is of the essence if she is to be saved. When Jesus takes time-out to search for and cross-examine the hemorrhagic woman who secretly touched him, at best he appears to possess a flawed sense of triage, diverting attention away from the “mission at hand”, the life of Jairus’ little girl. She will surely suffer by Jesus’ expenditure of time toward the older woman whose concern was less immediate.
That is the way in this world; often one person’s gain, in this case of finite time, is another’s loss. On account of the time Jesus spent with the older woman the little girl died. The professional mourners hovering over and anticipating the girl’s death seem to have been vindicated. When death arrived, they derisively broadcast a message that Jairus should no longer “trouble the Teacher” about his daughter.
Jesus stands in the midst of lamentation and joy; joy by the woman restored to wholeness yet overshadowed by the crowd’s empathetic lament with their synagogue leader’s family loss. Jesus is God’s remembrance and response toward the lamentations of men, to take on “the wormwood and the gall”. By an exchange for life Jesus ushers in the end times hope; God’s reign in the world in whom there is no lack, only abundance of his provision in faith, even of time, until on the Last Day he decrees otherwise.
Lamentation is penultimate of faith; it is part and parcel of repentance. By faith’s lamentation we repent of manifold sins and by God’s response in the gift of a baptismal faith, we enter the witness box as did the hemorrhagic woman who confessed “in fear and trembling…the whole truth” (Mk. 5:33) of the sin of secret faith and trusted in the hope of God’s steadfast love never ceasing toward us.
In Christ, God’s love is never a zero sum economy, some benefiting at the expense of others. Jesus and God’s abundance for repentant faith, forgiveness, and healing in the new creation is now, always, and everywhere available to all in the inner sanctum of his presence.
Jesus turned to Jairus urging him from lament to faith and hope. Jesus has just come from calming the sea’s destructive threats toward his fledgling church and releasing the man bounded by a legion of devils. He is the Stronger Man than Satan; and now he will assault the place where the grave holds court and jurisdiction over the death of the younger sister, vaunted by a cacophony from professional mourners. Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life and so dismisses these “Lamentables” from his presence.
Jesus takes the hand of the “girl” commanding her to rise; and so by Jairus’ faith Jesus joins this obedient “little girl” into his coming death and resurrection. Jairus’ faith in bringing Jesus to her, is now by touch and word, the girl’s faith.
In the new creation out of death and lamentation the risen girl has, with her restored older sister, entered the fullness of womanhood and so Jairus’ house has been made holy by new life. Jesus directs she be fed, as he does for us today with the holy things of the church, word and sacrament.
Today also St. Paul teaches the Corinthian congregation these practical gospel lessons in God’s economy and bounty among sisters in these last days. Early on, under the guidance of the Apostles, the Jerusalem church held their material goods in common for the consolation and provision of the brethren (Acts 4:32 ff.).
In today’s Epistle, Europe and Judea were experiencing famine. Paul relates an example of two sisters, the Macedonian congregations and those of Jerusalem. The Macedonians, as others, were experiencing severe affliction; nevertheless for joy they liberally raised overflowing monetary gifts for the support of their more beleaguered older sister in Jerusalem.
By this grace and test of affliction Macedonia gave themselves wholly over to the Lord that God in Christ might be magnified, who “though he was rich, yet for [our] sake became poor, so that by his poverty [we] might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).
In this way spiritual siblings prove their churchly character, never acting at the expense of the other and reflecting the Lord’s unceasing love. Our boast with Jeremiah is, “The Lord is my portion”. Amen.