A sermon for Sunday, June 27, 2021 at the Church of the Epiphany. The readings include extracts from the Wisdom of Solomon (see below) and Mark’s story of the healing of the woman with a haemorrhage and the raising of Jairus’ daughter
On the face of it, Solomon’s wisdom seems to be in contradiction to our creeds, which affirm that nothing came into being without God. God is the creator of all things, seen and unseen; the devil, however we understand that concept, cannot create, but only corrupt. Death is a corruption of life.
God does not delight in the death of the living, writes Solomon, and we agree; death is part of our human condition, but in God we understand it to be incomplete. Death cannot eradicate love, memory, hope. And because we have hope in the Resurrection, death is temporary in its severing, or suspending, of relationships. Death is incomplete because it is the corruption of life, Solomon (and we) might say; not a creation in itself.
Jesus does not love death, nor bloodshed. Although he goes willingly to his own death on the Cross, his doing so throws into sharp relief the inane and arbitrary and thoroughly wrongful nature of that execution. He has done nothing to provoke or punish his tormentors. Jesus would rather stem the flow of blood, raise up the child, restore the family and the woman to her friends than see death and bloodshed hold them hostage. This is our faith: that God does not delight in the death of the living, but rescues us from oblivion, restores us to the life of love, the eternal life which God would prefer for God’s beloved creatures. That we, made in God’s image, are not destroyed by death, since God has the first and final Word over us.
But there is more going on in this piece of Solomon’s wisdom than our brief extract explains. Immediately before the verses we read, Solomon wrote,
“Do not invite death by the error of your life, or bring destruction by the works of your hands” (Wisdom 1:12) And in between, in part, he wrote, “The ungodly by their words and deeds summoned death; considering him a friend, they pined away and made a covenant with him, because they are fit to belong to his company” (Wisdom 1:16)
Do not invite death … or bring destruction by the works of your hands. Do not make covenants with death.
But we do, don’t we?
We have made covenants with death and contracted with the suppliers of works of destruction.
We have passed laws to allow Christian hospitals to deny treatment to many sorts and conditions of people, including the woman with an issue of blood in her time of need; we have allowed all sorts of providers to plough the parents of little girls into debt, or into impossible decisions about how much life one afford, and we have called it freedom.
We have contracted with the suppliers of the means to make poison gas and heart-stopping solutions, and we have called it judgement.
We have invested our security in mutually assured destruction, and where the assurance is not mutual, we have enacted Stand Your Ground laws, which some call Shoot At Will laws; and we have called them justice.
We have armed our police and sent them out in force on our behalf.
We have allowed guns to invade our homes, our children’s bodies, our suicidal imaginations, our streets, our schools, and we have called it [a] right.
God save us from the deadly, grasping greed which is the envy of the devil.
We have not, either, shared the burden evenly, but we have chosen whom we will sacrifice.
By our words and deeds, the works of our hands, we have summoned death, considering him a friend. We have made covenants with him, because we are fit to belong to his company.
And still, God has other plans. “For God does not delight in the death of the living … for God created us for incorruption, and made us the image of [God’s] own eternity” (Wisdom 1:13b, 2:23)
We are not made in anyone’s image but God’s. We are not made for the corruption of death but for the covenant of life. Jesus does not love death or bloodshed – but Jesus loves us. Knowing this, how can we not consider turning from death to life; to pour out healing without counting the cost; to withhold death and restore relationship wherever it is possible; to deny the devil’s envy and replace it with love?
Jesus does not love death or bloodshed – but Jesus loves us. Knowing this, how can we not consider turning from death to life so that we, too, can hear him say, “Your faith has made you well; go in peace” (Mark 5:34)?
Do not make any peace with the corruption of death, the death that corrupts the soul, for you are made in the image of eternity. Choose instead, at every opportunity, the way of life, even if it leads through the Cross.
For, Solomon wisely writes just after the verses we read,
“But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace. For though in the sight of others they were punished, their hope is full of immortality” (Wisdom 3:1-4)
Our hope is in the living God, and we do not hope in vain.
Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15; 2:23-24
God did not make death,
And he does not delight in the death of the living.
For he created all things so that they might exist;
the generative forces of the world are wholesome,
and there is no destructive poison in them,
and the dominion of Hades is not on earth.
For righteousness is immortal.
God created us for incorruption,
and made us in the image of his own eternity,
but through the devil’s envy death entered the world,
and those who belong to his company experience it.