“Therefore I have hope.”

This was my final sermon I preached at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Versailles, KY after 18 months serving as their “Priest-in-Partnership.” You can hear (and see) it preached, rather than simply the text, on their YouTube channel.

Proper 8 (13) (June 30, 2024) – Alternate First reading and Psalm: Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15, 2:23-24; Lamentations 3:22-33 (used instead of Psalm 30); Second reading: Corinthians 8:7-15; Gospel: Mark 5:21-43

This has been a momentous week in the life of The Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. The 81st General Convention of our church concluded up the road in Louisville and we elected the Rt. Rev. Sean Rowe as the 28th presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church. Closer to home and less momentous, this Sunday marks my last as your Priest-in-Partnership, drawing to a close this 18-month time of transition, a time I am deeply thankful for, a time that has been full of grace and encouragement, deep prayer and hard work, and of hope and possibility. We are in a time of change, but when are we not? Is there not always some great moment of transition on the horizon, some political or social crisis roiling around us? “For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven.” (That is Ecclesiastes 3:1, not The Byrds.)

Bishop Rowe ended his address to the House of Deputies, following his confirmation, with a long quote from Thomas Merton’s Confessions of a Guilty Bystander.

Written, or at least published in 1966, Merton’s words feel particularly relevant today and that is why Bishop Rowe selected them, that, and the fact that they were meeting in Louisville, the site of Merton’s famous mystical vision. And yet…and yet, Merton himself, when he wrote that passage, was reflecting upon the 12th century anxiety and enthusiasm about the rise of the mendicants, the movement that would ultimately produce Thomas Aquinas. A movement that we probably wouldn’t consider as apocalyptic today and yet, at the time, some such as Joachim of Fiore viewed it as the sign of the End Times. Historical perspective cannot be found within the midst of making history. “You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going.” Indeed, we know something far more relevant which is that change is always happening. Because God is always active and moving.

God is always at work and now is always the time of God’s salvation. That is why last week we read and two millennia ago Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians, “As we work together with Christ, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For [Isaiah] says, ‘At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you.’ See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” (2 Cor. 6:1-2) Today is the Day. As the Preacher in Hebrews reminded us, “…encourage and comfort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today.’” (Heb 3:13) Today is the moment, now is the time, when God is at work in your life, in the world, and even in the church.

Still, in the midst of these moments of change and transition, we can find ourselves stuck, reflecting only upon what is passing away. This morning, we have two readings from texts rarely found in our lectionary. One is from the century before the birth of Christ, the Wisdom of Solomon, a reflection on mortality. “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.”

The second reading, in place of the Psalm, is from the very center of the Book of Lamentations. A collection of five poems that reflect upon the tragic and horrific siege and destruction of Jerusalem in the 6th century BCE, these verses we read today are often the only ones known by Christians. “This I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” “Great is thy faithfulness.” It is one of my favorite hymns, precisely because it was one of my grandfather’s favorite hymns and we sang it our wedding…and also at our son’s funeral.

These are words of great comfort and encouragement, and they are true. As we stand in the midst of great change, turmoil and tumult, the love of God is steadfast and unfailing, God’s mercies endure. We also need to remember that these words of hope and perseverance come only after the poet has poured out their heart in grief and anguish for over sixty stanzas.

“Look, O LORD, at my affliction,
for the enemy has triumphed!
Enemies have stretched out their hands
over all her precious things;
she has even seen the nations
invade her sanctuary,
those whom you forbade
to enter your congregation.
…Look, O LORD, and see
how worthless I have become.” (Lam. 1:9c-10, 11c)

These words of comfort and faith come after and are followed by two more chapters of lamentation. Yet, “His mercies never come to an end, they are new every morning!” Yes! Amen! And…every morning we have the day yet to face. The point is not that we don’t grieve the past nor that the future does not hold uncertainty, but that we have hope to live today, this day, every day, as long as it is called today, precisely because “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end.”

In Bishop Rowe’s remarks, both to the House of Deputies and at the closing Eucharist service, he repeatedly called us to face the changes of the present and the future in, with, and by “the strong and effective witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ.” The Gospel of Jesus Christ is God entering into the word in order to reconcile us to one another and to God. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the forgiveness of sins and the resurrection of the body. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is, in one word, HOPE.

This morning, we heard the account of Jesus being implored to save the life of a child. Jairus comes to Jesus and begs him, “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.” The crowds pressed around Jesus, they too were eager to be healed, to be saved from their pain and suffering. Jesus was delayed and word came that the little girl had died. Jesus turned to the father, “Do not fear, only believe.” The hardship, the grief and anguish, that Jairus felt in that moment, I can promise you, felt like an eternity to him. Hanging there between “Your daughter is dead” and “Do not fear, only believe.” How often do we find ourselves stuck in such a moment. But they walked on, they continued to move in hope, in love, following the only one who could raise the dead and give eternal life.

We follow the risen Christ, the one who makes this moment — now — the day of salvation. For the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, “recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by [this] present moment [in your life and in the life of this church], and…embrace them with courage, faith, and hope.”

“Do not fear, only believe.”

Amen. ✠

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.