Here’s the text of the sermon I preached yesterday. For an audio recording, click here.
Pentecost 5B: June 28, 2015
Mark 5, Lamentations 3
Faith and Fear at the Boundaries
Oh, man, I love this gospel story. There are so many good details and connections, so many meanings to take away, so will you bear with me on a walk through it before I tell you which direction I want to go with it today? It’s just too good not to tell it again.
You might want to follow along in your bulletin with me.
When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea.Then one of the leaders of the synagogue (this is an important guy, one of religious elite, so we expect Jesus will pay attention to him) named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” (A leader of the synagogue and a man of faith in Jesus’ power? This healing is definitely going to happen.)
So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years (Wait, what’s happening here? Jesus is on the way to this very important person’s healing? Why are we talking about this unclean nobody? We don’t have time for her, the little girl is going to die!)
She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” (Hmm, here’s a faith that’s even greater than Jairus’. She doesn’t even need to actually touch Jesus, just his coat, and she knows it’ll be enough.)
Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately (that’s a lot of immediately’s in this story!) aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” (What do you think his tone of voice is here? Is he annoyed at the distraction, that someone took without asking, or does he sense that there is something more than physical healing that can happen in this moment and he’s slowing down to attend to it?)
And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?’ ” 32 He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. (There’s a whole sermon in that line, so I”m going to read it again.)
He said to her, “Daughter (not woman, not crazy lady, not stranger, DAUGHTER), your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
While he was still speaking (another interruption!), some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” (Oh shoot. We’d almost forgotten about this daughter, while Jesus was attending to the other woman, also called daughter”)
But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear (this is the second mention of fear in this story), only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? (Here’s Jesus asking another ridiculous question. Who touched me? and now Why are you weeping?) The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him (wouldn’t you?). Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). (Wait, she’s 12? This is no little girl, this is a teenager on the cusp of becoming a women, likely of marrying age and probably able to bear children of her own. And it’s not a coincidence that she’s the same number of years old as the number of years the other woman has been bleeding.)
These two stories are intertwined in so many ways, and I wish we were doing bible study here instead of a sermon so we could take the time to tease them all apart. But since I’ve got to pick just one, here’s what I chose.
The co-existence of fear and faith in both stories. The hemorrhaging woman, even after her healing, comes to Jesus with fear and trembling. This moment where she crosses over from an illness that would surely have lead to her death into a life healed entirely and made well is just too much for her. She can’t comprehend it, she doesn’t fully believe in it yet, and she has no idea what Jesus will have to say to her. Yet, her faith is there too, even in her fear, and it is faith that triumphs in the end.
There is fear in story of Jairus’ daughter too. You can feel it from the first moment we meet Jairus, as he begs repeatedly for Jesus to come quickly, for his daughter is “at the point of death.” We feel the tension of fear again when Jairus’ story gets interuppted, and the final plunge comes when we hear that the daughter has already died.
Yet what does Jesus say? “Do not fear, only believe.” And then he goes on to show that we indeed had nothing to fear. Not even death.
Jesus meets these two women, these two daughters of God, at the margin of life and death, at the place where fear is most overwhelming, where threats to their health and well-being seem insurmountable. And he leads them across those boundaries, making a new way for them, a way full of life and healing and salvation.
I love how Prof. Matt Skinner put it, “This is where God is active, at the boundary moments between life and death…And the idea of a Jesus who pushes against the boundaries isn’t just to say “oh, what a radical he was”, but he puts himself at the place where life becomes unexplainable to us, where we think we have no business being, because these are either holy moments or beyond our power, and he doesn’t just decree “hey, I’m changing the boundaries because I have the authority to do so”. Rather, he pushes, literally touches the boundaries and re-forms them.”
I want you to take a moment to think about your own places of fear, those moments where you are overwhelmed by the obstacles in front of you, where your health or life or well-being feel threatened.
Maybe our confession this morning brought up some fear inside you. I know last week as Pastor Becky preached openly about racism and boundless love, I was sitting on the bench over there tensely, wondering how her words would be received. I know these last few months as I have grieved murder after murder of innocent black people, I have been afraid for our country, for our church, and for my own children.
How can racism still be so prevalent in a country that underwent a powerful civil rights movement 50 years ago? How can one who was raised in our own ELCA end up with such violent hate in his heart? How are we ever going to get to a place of peace and love and living together as God’s united people?
And yet, in the midst of this turmoil, as we have stood at this fearful boundary of life and death, of hate and love, Jesus has come among us to continue his work of re-forming those boundaries, of healing and forgiveness, and making a new way where we doubted and feared there was no way.
We’ve seen it in the services across this country, including here in our own congregation, where the people of God have stood together regardless of color and class, to mourn and repent and cry out for justice. We have seen it in the victims’ families as they spoke unbelievable words of mercy and grace to Dylan Roof in jail. We heard it in President Obama’s eulogy for Pastor Clementa Pickney, which was one of the finest sermons I’ve heard in a long time. We have seen it in the congregation of Mother Emanuel AME church who gathered for worship in the very place those 9 were gunned down to proclaim that hate and violence and death do not have the last word.
That, my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, is Jesus at work once again, meeting us in our fear and dying and illness, and leading us into health and life and salvation.
That, my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, is the proclamation of this good news, the gospel, through word and deed to a world so broken our only hope is in God.
That, my beloved brothers and sisters in Christ, is the steadfast love of the Lord which never ceases, which is new every single morning.
We, the people of God, have faith in the midst of our fear, because we know that Jesus stands with us at life’s most overwhelming boundaries, making new ways for us as we trust in him. Thanks be to God!