A Sermon for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 8 – Year B – 28 June 2015
John Edward Miller, Rector
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 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.” 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. 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, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 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. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, 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? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. 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). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat. – Mark 5:21-43
Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
When we read today’s lesson from the Gospel of Mark, it may seem as though someone – perhaps an editor – has clumsily cut and pasted an unrelated healing story into the midst of the story of Jairus’ daughter. But appearances can be deceiving, because the combination of the two magnifies the message that Mark intends to deliver. And that message is:
Faith in Jesus overcomes fear and leads to healing; unfettered fear promotes discouragement and loss.
As the first part of the text opens, Jesus disembarks the boat and is immediately rushed by a crowd of the curious and the desperate souls that pursue him. As the clamor increases he hears the plaintive cry of Jairus, a leader of the local synagogue. He pleads with Jesus to come to the aid of his daughter, who is at the brink of death, saying, “Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” Jesus responds by proceeding with Jairus toward his home and his precious child.
That’s when the second story cuts in. The scene is similar: a great crush of petitioners closes in on Jesus and his disciples. Many hands reach out for his attention like spokes attaching to the hub of a wheel. Then he notices the touch of one outstretched hand that touches the hem of his garment. It catches his attention because he feels his own power diminish at the moment he was touched. Jesus calls out, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples thought that was a funny question – not funny ha-ha, but funny weird, because they all knew that everybody was grabbing at him. They looked at each other in disbelief, and said, “What do you mean by asking this mob, ‘Who touched me?’ They’re all touching you!” But Jesus was unfazed by their doubts. He scanned the crowd, looking for the one who had grazed his garment. Soon a trembling woman fell down at his feet and admitted, despite her fear of rebuke, that she was the one who had touched him. She found enough courage to speak in what she had just experienced. At the moment her hand touched his robe her long-term loss of blood simply and miraculously stopped. So the woman approached the healer happily but gingerly, and was amazed by grace. Jesus did not scold her for an unwelcome touch; he blessed her instead. He praised the woman’s trust in the truth that saved her. Speaking to her affectionately, he called her, “Daughter,” and said, “your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
Her touch was an act of belief; it sprang from a deep trust in what she saw at work in him. So she overcame her fear and reached out to touch him; and she was healed. The grace of God, which was so present and active in Jesus, erased a rigid boundary separating her from society because the law deemed her unclean. His godly presence was so powerful that even contact with his clothing offered a healing touch to an untouchable. Stepping forward in faith led to her being restored to health, and to the community.
And yet no sooner had that episode happily ended when the scene’s focus shifts back to its original focus – Jairus’ concerns about his gravely ill child. Suddenly a father’s worst fears are confirmed. People from his neighborhood rush up to Jairus with the bad news; they tell him that his daughter is dead. But they did not leave it at that. They give him unwarranted and unsolicited advice that he should just leave Jesus alone, because it is obvious that the teacher can’t do anything for the girl now that she had died. (Jairus’ friends rival Job’s tormentors in the insensitivity department.) The dismal consensus is that death always prevails; it has the uncontestable, final word over life.
Jesus, however, did not share this opinion. He responded to this discouraging word by turning to the grief-stricken father, and saying, “Do not fear, only believe.” Jairus was in shock, but at those words, he followed Jesus like a sleepwalker. His trust enabled him to accompany Jesus and his inner circle – Peter, James and John, as they walked to the house where the child lay. There they encountered a group of mourners, who were weeping, moaning loudly, and tearing their garments in the social custom of good grief. Jesus told them to cease all of this commotion, and proclaimed that the girl was not dead, but only sleeping. And at that the crowd howled with gales of laughter. They regarded Jesus as a ridiculous buffoon. He, however, would soon show them who was alive, and who was dead wrong.
Jesus entered the girl’s bedchamber. He beheld her with deep compassion. Then 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 around the room. To support her recovery he called for someone to give her something to eat. Then he forbade everyone to keep what they had seen to themselves, presumably because he knew that people would confuse what he had done with magic, rather than understanding the power of God, which can turn the shadow of death into the morning. He knew that at that point, they did not take him seriously. That would take an even bigger miracle – faith born at any empty tomb.
Meanwhile, Mark tags both incidents with the number 12. He tells us that the woman had suffered blood loss for twelve years, while he also mentions that the little girl was twelve years old. These details were deliberate. Numbers had great significance in biblical times. Twelve was a holy number. It signified wholeness or completeness. Thus there were twelve sons of Jacob, twelve tribes of Israel, and twelve disciples chosen by Jesus. In today’s stories the number of completion applied to two souls that by faith in Jesus, received the healing grace of God. Their joint message is that “Jesus is on the loose in the world with divine power to restore life – abundant life for everyone. At the end, those who doubted and those who laughed are left in speechless amazement.”
In these vignettes from Mark, three people recognized that truth. Three people took him seriously: the frightened father Jairus, the woman who touched him, and the girl who responded to Jesus by getting up from her mortal slumber. All three received the gift of abundant life. The rest, including his disciples who doubted and the mourners who ridiculed him, did not. So, the question is: do we?
This past week we have seen and heard people who do. They are followers of Jesus Christ, and their community of faith is the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. On the evening of June 17, a lone shooter who had spent an hour in Bible study with those he would slay rose and killed nine people. A week later family members of the souls massacred by the alleged assassin, Dylan Roof, faced him on video at his bond hearing and, one by one, expressed grief, anger, and profound sadness at the loss of their loved ones. But ultimately they summoned their faith, and on that foundation, they forgave Roof, and asked God to show him mercy.
“I forgive you,” Nadine Collier, the daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance, said at the hearing, her voice breaking with emotion. “You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.” A relative of Myra Thompson, who was also slain, said this astonishing thing: “I would just like him to know that, to say the same thing that was just said: I forgive him and my family forgives him. But we would like him to take this opportunity to repent. Repent. Confess. Give your life to the one who matters most: Christ. So that He can change him and change your ways, so no matter what happens to you, you’ll be okay.”
These were not words of denial, or of pious sentiment; they were authentic expressions of faith. Craig Kocher, Chaplain at the University of Richmond, believes that “. . . such convictions are rooted in a way of life that takes Jesus at his word and believes in the ultimate triumph of love and forgiveness over any earthly power marked by violence and revenge.”
Faith like that is not facile; it is costly, and difficult to live out. It is nevertheless a trust so deep in the power of grace that fear, and suspicion, and hate, are overcome. Love takes their place, and redirects life to the source of wholeness, and completeness. Loving your neighbor can be hard at times, but loving your enemy, and praying for those who persecute you, is excruciating. It is little wonder, then, that love has been called “the impossible possibility.” And yet, the closer we get to the real presence of Christ – in the community of faith, in service to others, in prayer and praise, in Word and sacrament, and in moments of gracious clarity, when we see him in the faith and actions of others – we begin to take him seriously, and he helps us move past fear to believing, and living the life he offers us.
Martin Luther said that, “Whatever your heart clings to, and relies upon, that is really your God.” The woman who touched Jesus, along with Jairus and his daughter, knew the living God. Their question to us is, “What does your heart cling to and rely upon for meaning, for guidance, and for wholeness in this life?”
In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let it be our joy to fear not, and only believe that grace abounds, and that his love will never abandon us. Amen.
O most loving Father, who willest us to give thanks for all things, to dread nothing but the loss of thee, and to cast all our care on thee who carest for us: Preserve us from faithless fears and worldly anxieties, and grant that no clouds of this mortal life may hide from us the light of that love which is immortal, and which thou has manifested unto us in thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.
 The Rev. Dr. Lewis Galloway, “Taking Jesus Seriously,” a biblical study published online at this link: www.huffingtonpost.com/rev-dr-lewis-galloway/mark-5-21-43-taking-jesus-seriously_b_1628498.html.
 Mark Berman, “‘I forgive you.’ Relatives of Charleston church shooting victims address Dylann Roof,” http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/post-nation/wp/2015/06/19/i-forgive-you-relatives-of-charleston-church-victims-address-dylann-roof/
 The Reverend Dr. Craig Kocher, “A Modest Proposal to Break the Cycle of Violence,” Faith and Values, Section B, pp. 1 & 3, The Richmond Times-Dispatch, Saturday, June 26, 2015.
 A quote from the 20th century theological ethicist, Reinhold Niebuhr.
 In Martin Luther’s Large Catechism, First Part: The Ten Commandments, he comments on the meaning of the First Commandment, “Thou shalt have no other Gods before me,” concluding with this declaration: “Now, I say, whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your God.”