Reversing the Curse (July 1, 2012)

July 2, 2012 at 10:48 am Leave a comment

The Rev. Maurice C. Frontz, III, STS

Pentecost 5 (Proper 8B/Lect. 13B)

Lamentations 3:22-33; Psalm 30; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43

St Stephen Lutheran Church, Pittsburgh PA

30 June/1 July 2012

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Now the Pirates are doing relatively well so far this year.

But for the past couple of decades,

Pittsburgh’s finest have been eclipsed in success,

and probably in popularity, by the Penguins and the Steelers.

But at least Pirate fans have not had to endure the championship drought

suffered by the loyal denizens of the North Side of Chicago.

It’s been since 1908 that Cubs fans have been able to say ‘We’re number One,’

and generations of Cubs fanatics have lived and died

without seeing their Cubbies at the top of the heap.

 

There have been no lack of hypotheses to explain the Cubs’ lack of success.

One particularly interesting theory is ‘The Curse of the Billy Goat.’[1]

According to legend, Billy Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago,

brought his pet goat to Wrigley Field for the second game of the 1945 Series,

and was asked to leave because the odor was bothering the other patrons.

Imagine that.

Outraged, Mr. Sianis proclaimed, ‘Them Cubs, they aren’t gonna win no more.’

Sure enough, the Cubs lost the series.

 

There have been many attempts to reverse the Curse of the Billy Goat.

Mr. Sianis’s nephew has been called upon several times to undo the imprecation

by leading a billy goat onto Wrigley Field.

There have been other attempts as well to change the fortunes of the Cubs.

With the Cubs five outs away from the 2003 World Series,

a lifelong fan named Steve Bartman caught a ball just out of play,

which might have been caught by a player for the second out of the eighth inning.

The Cubs went on to lose the game, and the series, to the Marlins.

Before the next Cubs season,

in a ritual act of cleansing,

that baseball was ceremonially blown up.[2]

Before the wild-card playoff series one year,

a Catholic priest was seen blessing the Cubs’ dugout with holy water and incense.

The Cubs promptly were swept in three games,

which I do not think has anything to do with Catholicism

although I do recall thinking at the time that it was an inappropriate use of a sacramental.

As of this past Thursday morning, the Chicago Cubs were twenty-three games under .500,

fifteen-and-a-half games back in the National League Central,

and had scored seventy-nine runs fewer than their opponents.

Billy goats everywhere are bleating.

 

Prosaically, it could very well be that the reason the Cubs keep losing

is that once you start losing, it’s very hard to stop.

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who recently won his first NASCAR race after four years of not winning,

said that he spent the last several laps wondering what was going to go wrong.

Losing becomes infectious.

Infection is something that spreads and cannot be contained.

No wonder people with highly infectious diseases

are quarantined, socially isolating them as well as physically isolating them.

 

Perhaps some of you were wondering ‘What does this have to do with the Gospel?’

We were talking about curses, and people trying to break them.

The book of Lamentations in the Old Testament

is not about sporting matters –

but is about the fall of the city of Jerusalem to the Babylonians

in the 6th century before Christ.

The stories of the woman with a discharge and Jairus the leader of the synagogue

are not concerned with entertainments –

but with the most fundamental blessings and curses.

The city was under a curse.

The woman was under a curse – the curse of an illness which made her ritually unclean.

This woman had ‘suffered much under many physicians, and spent all that she had,’

(it’s a line which makes me giggle every time I read it)

not one of them could heal her.

And once Jairus’s daughter died, she was under a curse – ritually unclean.

She could not be touched,

for fear that her uncleanness would spread to others.

No hope.

What was left to do but to lament, and mourn, and weep?

But for those at the end of the line,

those for whom the curse seems unbreakable,

what is there left to do but turn to God?

 

These verses from Lamentations,

from which the famous Gospel hymn ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness’ comes,

are full of peace and light.

But they are ripped from their context of grief and pain over the destruction of the holy city,

so we do not get the full effect of the contrast with what comes before and after.

The praise of God’s faithfulness is set within the description of the most shocking suffering.

And the acknowledgment of affliction is juxtaposed

with the faithful assertion that God does not willingly afflict or grieve anyone.

 

The woman who pursues Jesus of Nazareth through the crowd

has lived with her lonely affliction for twelve lonely years,

each year, each month, each day a lifetime of suffering.

And yet, her actions and her words proclaim the faithfulness of God,

for she does not abandon hope,

but puts her hope and trust in Jesus.

 

And when the daughter is dead,

beyond help from anyone,

even this miracle-working Rabbi,

Jesus tells Jairus not to fear but only to believe.

And as he did with the faithful woman,

Jesus reverses the curse.

He reverses the curse as a sign that he is the Holy One of God,

who can touch the diseased and the dead

because he cannot be infected by death, sin, or evil.

His touch cleanses, and the people are infected, as it were,

by God’s presence, by God’s peace, by God’s healing.

 

His touch cleanses,

but it is not only the woman who touched him,

but a great crowd is pressing in on him,

jostling him, grabbing hold of him,

and the disciples say to him,

‘How can you say, ‘Who touched me?’

Jesus distinguishes from every other touch

the touch of faith, the touch of trust,

the touch which recognizes and receives in Jesus

the presence of God and his power to heal and save.

And he searches for her who touches him in faith,

not to rebuke, but to reassure,

to seal what has been done with the promise of peace.

 

We come here to touch Jesus,

not because we are clean but because we are unclean,

because even our righteousness is as filthy rags.

We come out of our need for healing and deliverance.

How do we receive his touch when he is ascended into heaven,

when he will not present himself in one place in flesh

so that he may present himself to everyone in every place by the Holy Spirit?

 

We receive his touch in His Word present in the Church.

When we hear the Word of forgiveness in the Church

placed in the mouth of a fellow believer,

we may trust that the word of forgiveness spoken comes from God himself.

By the gift of Christ, we are made free to live in the relationship he shares with his Father.

By the gift of Christ, we are made free to live in restored relationship with each other.

This Word of forgiveness is spoken in worship,

but the Church is also in the home, in the workplace, in the school, in the community.

We who believe that forgiveness comes from God in Christ live in that forgiveness,

gladly forgiving those who have wronged us

and seeking forgiveness when we have wronged others.

We practice this life of forgiveness at every opportunity,

not counting the wrongs of others against them,

because we believe that God is faithful to us in wiping out our wrongs.

 

We trust in the word of healing that Jesus speaks over us,

a healing that differs from simply curing a disease,

but a healing that brings peace,

whether or not a disease is cured.

The sign of the healing of the woman and the raising of the young girl

shows Jesus’ power over the forces of corruption

which would sunder us from him and each other.

Putting our trust in Jesus’ power,

our relationship to disease and dis-ease of every kind

is transformed.

We no longer live in fear but in hope,

hope that God is ever-present to heal and save

and will raise the dead who die in him.

 

We trust that God hears our prayers,

for God himself has given us trustworthy words

that teach our hearts even as we say them.

When we pray, ‘forgive us our trespasses,’

‘lead us not into temptation,’

‘deliver us from evil,’

we may trust that God our Father will hear our prayers.

because his Son himself prayed in this way, and knew his Father would hear him.

Likewise, we may trust that God will make his name holy in us,

bring his kingdom to us,

and accomplish his will in us,

because it is his glory to do so.

 

The one who lamented over Jerusalem,

the one who lamented her separation from God and others,

the one who lamented his dead daughter,

were shown the power of God to save in Jesus Christ.

So we come to Christ today and each day with our laments,

that our lamentations may be turned into praise

of the One who breaks every curse

and for us wins the victory.

 

12You have turned my wailing | into dancing;*

            you have put off my sackcloth and clothed | me with joy.

 

13Therefore my heart sings to you | without ceasing;*

            O LORD my God, I will give you | thanks forever. 

Amen


[1]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curse_of_the_Billy_Goat

[2]http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve_Bartman_incident

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