Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
“Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
He will come and save you.”
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,
and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
and the thirsty ground springs of water.
The Word of the Lord.
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
Put not your trust in rulers,
in mortals in whom there is no help.
When they breathe their last, they return to earth,
and in that day their thoughts perish.
Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help,
whose hope is in the Lord their God;
who made heaven and earth, the seas, and all that is in them;
who keeps promises forever;
who gives justice to those who are oppressed, and food to those who hunger.
The Lord sets the captive free.
The Lord opens the eyes of the blind; the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord cares for the stranger;
the Lord sustains the orphan and widow, but frustrates the way of the wicked.
The Lord shall reign forever,
your God, O Zion, throughout all generations. Hallelujah!
James 2:1-10 [11-13] 14-17
My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you?
You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. [For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.]
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
The Holy Gospel according to Saint Mark 7:24-37
[Jesus] set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
The Gospel of our Lord.
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
I was waiting patiently to check out in a seriously long line at my favorite big box store last week when I overheard a conversation between two friends.
Apparently these two friends hadn’t seen each other in quite some time. So I was privileged to witness their Covid-19 reunion.
After the manly – “hey mans!” And the elbow bumps – because we don’t shake hands anymore. They exclaimed over the length of each others’ hair and discussed the positives and the negatives of growing a pandemic beard. Both agreed that beards were awesome in January – but took real fortitude in August in Kentucky.
They swapped vaccination status information. Both were thrilled to be vaccinated and apparently so are their wives. And both men worried about their elementary school aged children who couldn’t yet get vaccinated.
They were both still working from home and liking the commute a lot. But they admitted to talking to the barista at Starbucks a little too long sometimes – just because he wasn’t their wife or kids or the dog/cat!
They laughed about how the highlight of their social calendar was a trip for a large coffee and a stale scone. “Oh how the mighty have fallen” – they joked!
And then the conversation quickly took a serious turn. One of the men said – “Man – this is just so hard. I worry about my kids all of the time. They’re just so stinking little. Some days it feels like all they have ever known is this miserable mess. This pandemic . . . This world . . . I just don’t know anymore . . . Man – I just don’t know . . .”
To which his friend replied – “I know – Man. Its starting feel kinda biblical out here!”
“Amen – brother” – was all I could think. “Amen . . .”
Honestly – frankly – bluntly – it has been tough going lately – hasn’t it? Some days it has been really – really hard!
I know – I am always going on and on about God Sightings and seeking the good in things. And I really do go around looking for rainbows after thunderstorms. And I will spend shocking amounts of time delighting in puffy clouds and random bits of river glass. And don’t even get me going about the way sunlight makes the stained glass windows cast prisms around the sanctuary on a sunny day . . .
But . . . it hasn’t been very easy to do any of those things lately has it? (Or – at least – I am finding it harder to do these things lately.)
Life hasn’t been easy – breezy recently – has it?
The news isn’t just bad these days – it feels bleak – heartbreaking and overwhelming. War – earthquakes – wildfires – hurricanes – famine – drought – rising violence and murders across the nation and right here in our beloved city.
And this wretched pandemic just goes on and on and on. Over 600 days and counting!
We long for the good old days before “the great sickness” came. Before the masks. Back when tests were for spelling words and folks weren’t arguing about vaccinations. We long for those days when life seemed less complicated – less exhausting – less sad – less stressful – less disappointing and far less messy.
We are exhausted and stressed and frustrated and hurting and well – we are all sorts of things.
This is so hard. We have had enough. Enough illness. Enough of the grief and the sorrow and the fear. Enough of the anger. Enough of the pain and the suffering. Enough of these horrible divisions that drive us apart.
Our very souls cry out – enough is enough already!
It is at times like these when we need to hear Good News. When we need to be encouraged and lifted up. We need HOPE! We need to be reminded we are not on this journey alone. And this is exactly what we hear from the Prophet Isaiah this week.
Isaiah marches boldly into our church and into our broken – heartbroken world and declares to us – “Be strong – do not fear! Here is your God! He will come and he will save you!”
Hear those words from the Prophet Isaiah one more time. Let them sink in and wash over you . . . “Here is your God!” God is here.
Isaiah says – you – heartbroken – world-weary – weighed down – folks – you are not alone. Your God is here with you in your world – in this very place where you live and work and play and wonder and worry. You are not alone. God is here.
Yes – Isaiah says – I know it feels dark right now. But you are not in this by yourselves. Your God is with you.
And your God will deliver you. He will lead you out of these dark times into better times. Into the glorious – abundant – healthy future he has planned for you.
I know these days feel long and hard. I know these days feel exhausting and overwhelming. But you are not alone. Your God is with you. In fact – God promises to be with you each and every moment of your life. God is with you in the easy and in the hard. In the good and in the bad. In the happy and the sad. God is there. He will sustain you and lead you forward into the future he has planned for you.
You are never alone. Truly this is Good News. AMEN.