Sermon for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost (Lectionary 13)
Sunday, June 27, 2021
Trinity Lutheran Church, Worcester, Massachusetts

Watch Here (TLC Worship Service 06/27/2021)

In the name of Jesus. Amen.

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, and then you win.”

That quote is often attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, but some say that is wrong. They say the quote originally comes from a speech in 1914 by Union leader Nicholas Klein speaking to the Amalgamated Clothing Workers of America.  

Either way, we get the point of the quote – it outlines a way in which new ideas, and influential people and movements, are introduced to the world. First – ignored … and then when initially listened to – laughed at … and as the idea gains traction and popularity – resisted … But then when the vast moveable middle of society embraces it – accepted.  

I thought about that saying in response to today’s Gospel reading.  Jesus was certainly not being ignored – today’s Gospel reading paints pictures of a great crowd gathered to hear Jesus and of a large crowd that followed Jesus and pressed in upon him. It featured two people in that large crowd on the exact opposite ends of the social spectrum – a religious insider and religious outsider – both of whom come to Jesus looking for help and healing.  

No, Jesus was not being ignored.  But, yes, Jesus was laughed at. The laughter at Jesus comes at the end of the story – at the end of the story Jesus arrived at the house where the 12-year-old daughter of Jairus had died. There he found people doing what they do today an untimely and unfortunate death: weeping and wailing.  

Different from the Gospel of John, when Jesus felt the grief of Mary and Martha at the death of their brother Lazarus and cried his own tears … here in Mark, Jesus questioned the mourner’s grief and challenged it.   “Why do you make a commotion and weep?” Jesus asked the mourners. “The child is not dead but sleeping.”

Imagine being at a wake at a funeral home, and someone came in saying:  “Why are you all here, this person isn’t dead, but sleeping.” Honestly, I don’t think my first response would be laughter. I think I would be annoyed and angry that someone was making a painful situation worse.

But in the Mark, the people laughed at Jesus.  They laughed at the ridiculousness of the claim – at how out of touch Jesus was. The mourners knew from their senses and from their experience what death looked like and that death was final – not even this popular preacher could do anything about it.

I think their laughter is significant.  I think their laughter points the way, however, to the Kingdom of God breaking into the world. The kingdom of God is not confined and limited by the imaginations of our minds, the kingdom is not boxed in and limited by our experiences and perceptions. If God is bigger than us, and God in God’s expansiveness works in ways beyond our comprehension, then there will be times God’s work challenges us, and perhaps confuses and bewilders us, and at times causes us to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all.

Could it be that laughter at the absurd, at the audacious, at the preposterous, helps us identify the awesome work of God? Could it be that in such a place, we see God’s power of life working in our places of sin and death? Could laughter be a way we discern what God is up to in the world as God leads us today from death to life?

There is no laughter in the text of Lamentations, from our First Reading this  morning. Lamentations was written in response to unimaginable pain and suffering. Theologian Christopher Frechette, friend of Trinity who some of you know, has written on the Book of Lamentations.

In his writing on Lamentations, Christopher writes that most scholarship over the last decades affirms that Lamentations was written in response to unimaginable pain and suffering that occurred during the Babylonian assaults on Jerusalem. That unimaginable pain and suffering included:

Violent death, sexual violence, starvation prompting cannibalism, forced migration, and the loss of fundamental institutions that supported communal solidarity and identitymost scholarship since the mid-twentieth century affirm that the book was written in response to those events.”

Jerusalem shattered, the nation destroyed, and the people carried off into exile.  Instead of one dead 12-year-old girl from the Gospel reading, we have an entire nation defeated and countless number of dead. But then, just like Jesus showing up at the scene of the dead girl speaking words of life, the prophet showed up with ridiculous and laughable words:

  • The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end … (3:22)
  • The Lord is good to those who wait for him (3:25)
  • He will have compassion. He does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone (3:31-33)

Can you hear the laughter of the critics?

  • The mercies of the Lord never end? … then why are we defeated and imprisoned and in exile?
  • The Lord is good to those who wait for him? (The Lord is good, all the time the Lord. All the time, the Lord is good?) …  If God is so good, then why is our county defeated, our holy city destroyed, and our way of life shattered?
  • He does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone … Wait a second, if that’s true, then why didn’t the Lord didn’t stop this calamity? Neutrality in the face of evil is complicity, isn’t it?

In context these promises of God’s steadfast love, goodness, and compassion seem absurd, perhaps misplaced, and perhaps even insensitive and cruel. But this is the message of the scriptures this morning: in places of death, the Word of God relentlessly, persistently, even laughably, speaks life. Whether for a seemingly incurable 12-year hemorrhage, or the defeat and destruction of a nation, or the death of a 12-year-old girl: God responds by speaking the promise of life and healing.  

Now I’m not saying any new opportunity, anything ridiculous and laughable is of God. I remember a friend’s laughter, years ago, on the phone as he called me believing he had just won The World Lottery – he laughed at his apparent good fortune at winning some astronomical amount of money. All my friend had to do to claim his millions was email some unknown person his checking account routing number and account number and the money would be transferred.

There was no world lottery. It was a scam. Laughter in the face of the absurd and ridiculous and unimaginable does NOT always points to God’s work. Together as a community, we discern God’s work, together we discern in the laughter what is of God and what is of sin.

But my point is: God’s consistent, steady, and faithful proclamation of life, even in the face of death, can indeed seem absurd and laughable. God’s promise of new life can seem ridiculous in those times it rubs up against our experience of sin and death. In those times, as followers of Jesus, we are called to move past the laughter and into faith – with faith we are called to enter into the mystery of God’s promises of life and healing.

The Good News today, is that God, in the risen Jesus Christ, continues to speak words of life. This word of life may leave us laughing:

  • Instead of Elm Park Day Camp, we’re going to do Wednesday Night Alive? A brand new thing, with no children enrolled?
  • Instead of sitting back, we’re going to actively name and root out racism in the Worcester Public Schools, in the Worcester Police Department, and in Trinity Lutheran Church?
  • Instead of letting others handle things, we’re going to actively solve climate change, restore civil discourse in this country, and trust one another again in the country and in our congregation?

Pie-in-the-sky ideas? Or, God’s call to life? … Pipe dreams?  Or, the living Word of God inviting us to healing and wholeness?

The question is, not whether or not we will laugh in response to God’s word of life  – in our sin we will laugh. The question is, will we turn away in disbelief trusting in our own senses and experiences, or will we, like the woman in today’s gospel, with faith and audacity, move towards God’s Word of life?

Imagine the laughter the woman with the 12-year hemorrhage would have experienced if she told someone what she planned to do: that she planned to approach Jesus and seek healing. Her contact with Jesus would have been ridiculous because her condition would have made her ritually unclean and she would have been ostracized from the community. She would have put herself at great social risk, as both an unaccompanied woman and a woman with her health status, approaching Jesus as she did.

Yet, the ostracized woman dared to believe life and healing was possible for her. And, in taking a chance on the mercy and grace of Christ, she was not disappointed. Not only was her physical illness cured, but also the social disconnection was cured – she was proclaimed a daughter of God.

The Good News today, is that we are invited to experience God’s Word of life.

We are invited forward to the table, to believe in the laughable promise that in a small wafer with no nutritional value – we receive the full presence and promises of the living Jesus Christ.  As we receive the water in our hands, we are invited in faith to touch, and be touched, by the living Christ who takes us by the hand and leads us to life.

Whether we are the powerful insider calling on Jesus for a family member, or you are cut off from community for whatever reason and suffering alone, or if your dreams and hopes have been shattered and lay in ruins – the living Christ takes you by the hand today to lead you to life.

May the Holy Spirit grant you faith to believe this good news today. May the Holy Spirit grant you the faith to experience God’s promises of life in whatever situation in life you find yourself in today. In faith in Christ, may you know life, healing, and hope.

Thanks be to God. AMEN.