Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Chiasm. One story nestled in another.
Both stories are about death and despair, and one of my favorite phrases, hope and against hope.
The first is a story about death, the worst death of all, the death of a child. Jairus pleads repeatedly with Jesus to come and heal his daughter, he, the leader of the synagogue begs Jesus.
The woman has seen every doctor, she has spent every penny. And rather than getting better she’s gotten worse. She’s at the point where people do crazy things just to feel better, chasing rumors and the promises of quacks.
In times of despair, people do crazy things. They do things that they know, deep down, will not work. They consult psychics, they adorn themselves with crystals. They hope against hope. Their world is shaken, and there is nowhere for them to put their trust, so they scramble hoping against all sense and evidence that something, anything will help. Hence the woman thought to herself, “If I just touch the hem of his garment”—why should that do anything? And yet it wasn’t the garment. It was the man. Which is why Jesus said, “Your faith has made you well.”
The trick to chiasms is to figure out what unites the stories. And today I think Mark has brought together two stories of desperate hope.
That’s the position of the person in Lamentations.
[A brief history of Lamentations}.
“But I call this 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.”
Now what could lead someone to this thought? Later on in this passage, Jeremiah says, “When all the prisoners of the land are crushed under foot, when human rights are perverted in the presence of the Most High, when one’s case is subverted—does the Lord not see it?”
This is a world where everything ends, eventually, in failure. I was thinking about Bruce Springsteen’s song “Atlantic City” this past week. It’s got this great part: “Well, I got a job and tried to put my money away, but I got debts no honest man can pay…Everything dies, baby, that’s a fact. But maybe what dies someday comes back. So put your makeup on fix your hair up pretty and meet me tonight in Atlantic City.” The beauty of the song is the desperation and the hope the character feels—the tragedy is that he is poor, has debts, gambles to try to pay them, and ends up working for the mob. “I got debts no honest man can pay” might as well be used in our confession liturgy. We have the debt of death we receive for living in this world—no honest man can get away from that.
Desperate hope that turns to faith. This seems like a skewed worldview, in which healing comes from clothes and death is sleep; but the faith is like corrective lenses. It twists and turns our
vision so that we can see. Faith twists and turns our heart so that we can trust. We must be careful in what we place our faith, because whatever we trust conforms us and aligns us. Whatever we trust changes us—it tunes us to itself. So if we trust the law, we are tuned to the law. If we trust another person, we are tuned to that person. So if we trust Jesus, Jesus will change us.
We must also be careful in our hopes, because our hopes lead us into trust. Like a desperate patient, we will place our trust in anything that promises us relief from our pain. What gives us hope? And yet there is a hope beyond hope, or a hope against hope: that the steadfast love of the Lord never ends.
Hope against hope—Lamentations, there may yet be hope.
Accompaniment training—faith in a higher authority. Everything the Nazis did was legal, according to Martin Luther King, Jr. But the idea is that our hope is higher, and our commitment is deeper than even the law. Our eyes have been turned to God; our hearts have been tuned to Christ.
The Rev. John Z. Flack