Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, June 27, 2021 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice. (Psalm, 130:1)

Out of the depths, David laments the deaths of Saul and his son Jonathan.

Out of the depths, a father begs for help for his sick daughter.

Out of the depths, a woman who has been bleeding for 12 years dares to approach this Jesus about whom she has heard so much.

This ancient psalm of lament provides language for despair, when life has thrown trouble in our path and we have nowhere else to go, we plead, “God, listen to my prayer!”

Much has happened over the course of years in our David story since he dispatched Goliath the Philistine. David served Saul as a soldier and as a musician to soothe Saul’s headaches or seizures or whatever illness it was. David marries the king’s daughter, but that king is jealous of David and tries to kill him, more than once. David runs away from Saul, joining up with the Philistines, of all people, and annoys and harasses those in his way. He was not an admirable person, all in all.

And yet, David was beloved of God. His life had been spared because he was the chosen one, the one God raised up for Samuel to anoint as the future king.

But even anointed and chosen ones suffer loss and hardship. Jonathan and David loved each other.

…greatly beloved were you to me;
your love to me was wonderful,
passing the love of women. (2 Samuel 1:26)

David laments this one he loved with words that have, especially in modern times, been debated. What was this relationship? “Passing the love of women?” We cannot know, nor can we ever know, the answer to that question. If you want to read more about the speculation, Google David and Jonathan, and you will discover more than you might have imagined!

What is undeniable is that David grieved. “Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely,” he cried (v. 23). It would not be the last great grief for our flawed hero, David.

Even in our gospel story, we know that there is grief ahead for our principal characters here in Mark’s 5th chapter, and I don’t just mean for Jesus and his followers. The hemorrhaging woman may receive her health, but she, like all of us, will eventually die. The young girl restored to life will, as well. There will be mourning ahead because that is how life, and death, work.

But for now, I want for you to imagine Jesus, stepping out of a boat, surrounded by throngs of people, when the crowd parts because someone important is on his way: Jairus, a leader in the local synagogue. He falls at Jesus’s feet.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. My daughter is sick. She is dying. Come quickly. This is an act of desperation for Jairus. He has nowhere else to turn.

He may be respected and well-off and powerful, but in the face of sickness and death, he is driven to his knees.

What must he have thought when this powerless woman who had spent all she had trying to be cured from her sickness caught Jesus’s attention by touching his hem? And in those precious moments, all is lost for him. Word comes that the girl is dead. Did he erupt in fury? “How dare you waste your time on this nobody when my little girl needed you?” Maybe he only thought it, or maybe he was too overcome with grief at that moment to lash out.

I don’t think it would have mattered to Jesus. He sensed that someone near him, next to him, also needed him. And so he turned and looked around at the crowd, and the woman, just like Jairus, threw herself at his feet.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.

Like Jairus, she had nowhere else to turn.

And Jesus, fully present with the one right in front of him, blesses her, and then turns to continue on to Jairus’s house, unfazed by the news that the little girl is dead.

Mark the Evangelist frequently uses the technique of placing a story within a story. It’s called a Markan Sandwich, and it is interesting to puzzle over what it is we are supposed to be paying attention to in these episodes. There is a lot that we could say about Jairus and his daughter or about the hemorrhaging woman, but I think the most glaring thing is that Jesus does not care who you are or what you have. If you come to him with a need, he is going attend to you. You can be the president of these United States or a mom at the US-Mexico border. If you cry out, he will listen.

The other thing to note is that the status of these two – the woman and Jairus – is compressed because of their need. They are equals in their despair. They both throw themselves at Jesus’s feet. One of the understandings that comes from liberation theology and the belief that God has a preferential option for the poor is simply that the poor have nowhere else to turn. They throw themselves on God’s mercy, because what else are they to do? This woman suffered for years and first went to all the doctors and spent all of her money until she was desperate and had nothing left, and then she turned to Jesus.

Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord.

And what about us, you and me? Most of us, we have plenty of options, secure in our homes and our jobs and with money to get the care that we need. But the past 16 months have perhaps taught us something else. All of that is for nothing in the face of a global pandemic. Yes, those with resources received better health care and could isolate from others, but the disease did not discriminate. It took otherwise healthy 80-something-year-olds and vulnerable young people. It continues to plague much of this planet, but already we are back to business almost as usual. We are no longer crying out of the depths. We now have others to whom we can turn for protection. We don’t need to throw ourselves at Jesus’s feet.

Except that we do. Whether we are King David or a poor, suffering woman, or a synagogue leader, we’re going to find ourselves pleading for God’s mercy sooner or later. I prefer just to make it part of my daily practice – repentance, lament for my sins and the sins of the world, crying out to God. “My soul waits for God, more than watchmen for the morning…for with the Lord there is mercy” (130:5-6).

We may not get that healing that we need or recovery of health for our loved one. But what we do get is the promise that God is with us, even in the depths where we cry out.

I wait for you, O God, my soul waits for you;

In your word is my hope. (130:4, St. Helena Psalter)

So go ahead. Throw yourself at Jesus’s feet. He is waiting for you.

ASEPSermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, June 27, 2021 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas