“Who Wins The Faithfulness Sweepstakes”

Sermon – 06-27-21 – Proper 8 – Cycle B
Scriptures: Lamentations 3:22-33; Psalm 30; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43
Sermon Title: “Who Wins the Faithfulness Sweepstakes?”

What are sweepstakes? I don’t know what possessed me to choose this title last Sunday evening when I wanted a title for Janice to type into the bulletin. I can’t remember any experience I have with sweepstakes. I typed “sweepstakes” into my usual search engine on-line wanting to know the meaning of the word sweepstakes. Well! I did not find the meaning of sweepstakes. I did find loads of sweepstakes with which I could empty my bank account. Addiction waiting to happen!

So I glanced at my desk to find how buried my old printed dictionary was. For some reason it was right on the top of a pile. I found the word sweepstakes. That dictionary was so old that the only meaning for sweepstakes was horse racing. Yet on-line there are endless sweepstake opportunities. The one that caught my eye was a Clorox sweepstakes. I could enter that contest to honor someone who cares for other people. I thought of the person in my life who would deserve that sweepstakes. Some winners would get $250.00. Fewer winners would get $25,000.00. What a temptation!

One of the virtues I learned from my parents and did not discard in my adulthood is not to gamble with money. I do gamble with time as some of you have learned. It is a destructive habit when I am wasting someone else’s time as I gamble that I have enough time not to be late to meet someone or to meet a deadline to submit something. Could there be a sweepstakes where the winner receives a windfall of extra time? Count me in!

Since our theme today is “faithfulness,” how does the virtue of faithfulness mesh with the idea of sweepstakes and who wins? I would like to present the idea of how faithfulness and sweepstakes oppose each other, rather than mesh or “fit with” each other.

Faithfulness does not have deadlines; sweepstakes have a deadline.
Faithfulness can accumulate and build on itself, money that is spent on sweepstakes is gone to the winners, most often not ourselves.

But can faithfulness be a gamble? Have you ever prayed and prayed about a situation and it seemed as God had closed the door and turned his back? You had invested hope and slowly your hope dwindles while desperation increases. Sometimes we ask frivolous requests. Sometimes we pray and pray for something we think we need and when God gets tired of our whining, God grants our request and we find it was not really a good thing.

What is faithfulness anyway? Is it the man on the roof in a flood who believes God himself is going to appear and tuck the man under God’s arms and fly away to safe ground? So the man rejects all offers of help by people in his faithfulness to the idea that waiting for God is the right thing to do.

Faithfulness. Following rules laid down by God to the best of our ability is faithfulness. God’s basic rules for us are not punishment, they are structures for a life that works well. Resisting earthly get-rich-quick activities is faithfulness. Get-rich-quick temptations are like the fruit of the tree of good and evil that Adam and Eve could not resist. Sweepstakes.

When we invest in prayer and follow the rules as best we are able, and it seems that God is resisting us, are we looking hard enough at our lives? In our reading from Lamentations, Jeremiah, the author of Lamentations, is caught in the ugly exile of the Israelites – God’s people – as they are carried off to Babylon. God made Jeremiah the major prophet in this time. He was charged with getting the Israelites to turn from their sinning to face God and live for God and worship God. It was a sad, sad time. Jeremiah became severely depressed. The book of Lamentations is Jeremiah’s lamenting.

Yet see what he writes: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning,” “Great is your faithfulness,” he says to God. Then Jeremiah continues, “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”

David in the Psalm writes centuries before Jeremiah, yet he has the same way of thinking. “God’s wrath is short; God’s favor lasts a lifetime. Weeping spends the night, but joy comes in the morning.”

David expresses his thanks to God for restoring David’s health. Later, we read the long harsh time of God through Jeremiah bringing healing to the people of God and God arranges for his people to find their way home to Jerusalem even though it is to a destroyed Jerusalem. But here again God assigns leaders to reconstruct buildings and to reconstruct righteous living and a restored relationship between God and his people. New in the morning!

Remember how it feels to be estranged from someone – family member or fellow worker or even God – and then somehow healing happens in the relationship. That is the joy in the morning! David writes, “You [God] have turned my wailing into dancing; you have put off my sackc;loth and clothed me with joy.”

Then we get to Mark in the 1st Century after Christ’s birth on earth. We have the description of two healings superimposed on each other: the little girl and the adult woman. Both the father of the little girl and the woman came to Jesus in faith. They believed Jesus could heal. Jesus did heal, unintentionally with the woman and intentionally with the little girl.

Looking now at Paul who was not one of the twelve disciples, you may recall his dramatic entry into the realm of Christianity on his way to Damascus to persecute Christians. Paul is a deep thinker. Is there healing in this passage from the second letter to the people who lived in Corinth? Yes, there is healing: healing of imbalance between the rich and the poor. It could be a balance of money. It could be a balance of power between people with a voice and people who have no voice. It could be a balance of sadness and joy. Most importantly, it is a balance between the richness of life in Christ and the desperation of life without Christ. The striking reality is that we do not lose our richness of life in Christ when we share it. Instead, our richness of life in Christ becomes more abundant when we share it. In this way everyone wins. Amen

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