Saturday, June 27, 2009

Watching for the Morning - Pentecost 4B

His daughter was dying. He was sure of it now. The little, ragged breaths she took had slowed down and he could barely hear them. Her body, once lithe and strong, now sank into the blanket on the mat he had laid on the floor beside their own. Her mother would not leave her side – she sat there all day, all night, moistening her child’s dry lips with water, praying silently, singing all the childhood songs she could remember.

She had only been this way for a week. The fever came on suddenly, and would not leave her. But she hadn’t eaten, and yesterday she couldn’t even swallow the little bit of water her mother tried to give her. She was dying, he was sure of it.

He had been in the synagogue every morning and every evening to pray, joining the minyan of old men there for the death-anniversaries of their wives or their fathers. He had asked everyone he met to pray for her. He had called the doctor in not just once, but every day, but at this point even the doctor with all his ideas and remedies didn’t know what to do.

It was from one of his neighbors that he heard that this man Jesus had come to town. Jairus had been hearing about Jesus for a while now – he seemed to be attracting a bigger and bigger following. Some people said he had performed miracles – had cured a man who had a withered hand, made a paralyzed man walk again, had made many sick people well again. But then again, he had done some of this healing on the Sabbath, in direct contradiction to the Law. And the last Jairus had heard, this Jesus was over on the other side of the lake, hanging out with Gentiles, even talking to pig farmers. Pig farmers! Talk about your unclean Gentiles!

After praying in the synagogue that morning, he went back home to see how she was doing. His wife met him at the door. He had never seen her look like this – her face drawn, her whole body curling in upon itself. But it was the fear in her eyes that hit him the hardest. He had never seen her so afraid. “She’s not speaking any more, Jairus, and she won’t respond to me at all!” his wife said, “Please, do something! She is going to die!”

It was that fear that drove him back out. He headed for the doctor’s house – but on the way he saw the crowd, with Jesus in the middle of them. Some of his friends from the synagogue were there, on the outskirts of the group, trying to seem uninterested and aloof. They saw the desperation in his eyes.

When he saw Jesus, that desperation took over. No one else could save her. This man had healed so many, he knew it now. Jesus could save her, too. Ignoring his friends’ stares and whispers, he pushed to the front of the crowd and fell at Jesus’ feet, “Please, sir, please, you can make her well, I know you can. Please heal my daughter, my only daughter. Come and lay your hands on her, so she may be made well, and live. Come, please, lay your hands on her so she made be made well and live.”

Have you been where Jairus is? Have you been to that place of desperation – that place where you find yourself just begging for something to change in your life…that place where you will do anything to make it happen?

Our Psalm for today, Psalm 130, speaks from that place. This Psalm is titled “A Song of Ascents” and is one of a group of songs with this name. It is thought that these songs were sung by faithful Jews on their annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for a festival celebration. On their journey, they would sing or chant these songs to express their feelings as a group, but also as individuals. It is interesting that these psalms are not all psalms of joy, but speak of the many different emotions the pilgrims may have been experiencing on their journey.

Psalm 130 begins at the point where Jairus is when he speaks to Jesus. “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.” The depths, the deep places of our souls, where we can do nothing but cry out to God.

Our Old Testament lesson, from the 2nd letter of Samuel, also speaks from this place. This summer we have been reading about David – about his anointing by Samuel – the youngest son of Jesse, brought in from the fields. And last week, about his defeat of Goliath – the little guy with the slingshot and no armor defeating the mighty warrior.

But now David is in a different place. David is in the depths of his soul. Saul, the previous king of Israel, had spent months chasing David and trying to kill him while asserting his own authority. And Saul’s son, Jonathan, had stood up for David against his father. David had run from Saul, and had even had the chance to kill Saul, but he had not taken it. David and Saul had continued as adversaries, with Jonathan trying to support David, until a final battle with the Philistines, when Jonathan is killed and Saul, badly wounded, kills himself so the Philistines will not have the satisfaction of killing him.

In our passage for today, David uses an ancient hymn called the Song of the Bow to express his grief and sorrow – not just for his close friend Jonathan, but also for his adversary Saul. His words echo through the ages in a cry of pain and loss, especially the last verse, where we read of his deep love for his friend.

Unlike the gospel reading, neither the 1st Samuel reading or the reading from the Psalms offer healing. In both of these readings, we hear instead the pain and agony of fresh grief – we hear the cries of those who are overwhelmed by all life has thrown at them.

Can you hear your own voice in those cries? What do you do when you are in that place, that place of depth and sorrow, that place of grief and fear, the place where you are so overwhelmed? How do you move from that place? Is it even possible to do that?

I believe all of us encounter those places in our lives. I know I have shared here some of those places in my own life. There are places, it seems, when God has left us, when we are all alone, and we have no idea where to turn.

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord…where is the morning, the dawn we seek? Why are we stuck in the darkness?

When I was a little girl, I was a pretty nervous kid. One night my cousins from Belgium were at my grandmother’s house for a visit– Su, who was my age, and David, who was the same age as my sister. We were having so much fun playing together that we decided it would be a great idea to sleep over that night. So, around 8 o’clock, my parents left for home, about 20 minutes away, and my grandmother got us all settled in bed. It didn’t seem to take anyone else very long to get to sleep, but I tossed and turned and began to worry and fret. I didn’t have the stuffed elephant I usually slept with. Would I ever be able to fall asleep? What if I didn’t sleep all night? My grandmother was a pretty strict woman, and I thought if I woke her up, she was going to be really mad at me. But finally my worries got the best of me, and I tiptoed into the living room. My grandmother heard me, and came out of her bedroom. I tearfully told her I just couldn’t sleep. Instead of scolding me, she offered to call my dad, and while we waited for him to come, she told me how she herself had been scared to sleep away from home, and how when she went to Girl Scout camp she couldn’t sleep all night, either. I was not scolded by her, or by my dad who got out of his own bed to collect me. And once back home, I fell asleep immediately. The dawn came again.

In my desperation, I cry to you O Lord. O Lord, hear my cries!

The Gospel story shares a response to desperation – in desperation, Jairus leaves behind his worries about what his friends may think, his concern about what someone with his standing in the community would do. He ignores proper protocol and instead reaches out to Jesus with everything he has.

The woman with the hemorrhage reaches out to Jesus as well. As a woman living with a bodily discharge for 12 years, this act of pushing through a crowd, of even touching Jesus’ cloak, was an act of courage born of desperation. According to Jewish law, a person with a bodily discharge was unclean and could not be touched, could not be in a group of believers. We can imagine that for 12 years, this woman had been alone. She had been isolated, ostracized – and probably weak and worn out. Finally, she cannot take it any more. She overcomes her fear of retribution, her fear of being recognized and called out, and makes her way to Jesus. Unlike Jairus, she doesn’t beg for Jesus’ attention, but quietly reaches out to touch him – and receives his power, and his blessing.

What does it take for you to reach out to Jesus? Where do you have to be before you recognize that God is right there waiting for you?

One of my blogging friends led me to this year’s commencement address to the graduates of Wellesley College. The journalist Kimberly Dosier spoke of her own times of life in the depths, and the choices she made. Her words, as recorded by the New York Times on Sunday June 14, are these:
You chose a Wellesley grad who spent the first decade of her career broke, begging for freelance work, who constantly heard that she was under qualified or, later, overqualified (that means old) or basically just plain wrong for whatever it was she wanted to do. She eventually ended up with a really great job, doing exactly what she wanted to do, exactly where she wanted to do it: in the Middle East. And she got hit by a car bomb; they nearly took her legs off. She had to come back from the dead, roughly five times, and learn how to walk again. So it tells me a lot about you and your current state of mind that you all thought you needed to hear from me, with whatever lessons I had to offer from those experiences, as you leave college for the rest of your life. In short, you all want to know how to be bomb-proof, right? So, you're right: I learned a lot. Most of all, that every time I ran into a wall, I had two choices on how to face it: hope or fear.

Hope, or fear. Do we really always have such a choice? Sometimes, in our depths, it doesn’t really seem like hope is a choice we have. When we have exhausted all possibilities, when someone we loved more than life itself has died, how can we choose hope? Where is the hope?

I have asked myself the answer to that question during dark days of grief and anger. And sometimes, I haven’t had an answer to that question. When we are lying in the darkness and feeling alone and afraid, the answer may not be there. When I tossed and turned in that bed at my grandmother’s house that night, I could not see an answer, for fear had consumed my ability to see. God was nowhere to be found, until I got up and chose the hope that my grandmother would not scold or punish me, but listen to me.

Where is the Hope? Where is the morning, the dawn we seek? How can we wait for the dawn when we are sitting in the darkness? In our Scripture, the word for hope and the word for wait, or watch, are the same. So when we choose hope, we join those who watch, who wait for the morning.

Choosing hope over fear is not easy. It is a decision we have to make over and over again. It does not solve all of our problems – it does not mean that suddenly our child will be raised from the dead, or our illness will disappear. It does not change the diagnosis the doctor makes.

What it does change, though, is how we live. If we can take one small step in hope, we will become aware of God’s presence beside us. Because I truly do believe that God has not left us, even when we are crying from the depths of our souls.

So, this is where the hope lies. The hope lies in the fact that even in the darkness, God is with us. God is with us is through the night. Somewhere deep in our souls we recognize that the morning will come. Somewhere, we know God will not abandon us. We can mourn, we can cry out to God, knowing that God will come to us. Knowing that in fact God is right there with us even if all we see is darkness and despair. And so we know, the morning will come. In what time, in what way, we do not know. And this is where the hope lies. Thanks be to God.


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