Saturday, June 27, 2009
SERMON FOR SUNDAY
21When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23and 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.”
24So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32He looked all around to see who had done it. 33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
35While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” 36But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40And 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. 41He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
It was some year: The Social Security Act was signed into law. My Fair Lady won 8 Academy Awards. Combat troops are sent to Vietnam. Martin Luther King Junior leads civil rights marches from Selma. FIU is founded. Bob Dylan goes electric at the Newport Jazz Festival. LBJ signs the Voting Rights Act into Law. The Beatles perform the first stadium rock concert in the history of Rock and Roll. India and Pakistan go to war. Freedom flights from Cuba begin. “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is shown on television for the first time.
Coincidentally, on the 5th of June of that year, in a hospital in Nassau County, New York, I was born. Of course, my birth didn’t make the front page or even the list of important events of 1965 or unimportant events of 1965 or even trivial events of 1965. I’m sure that it mattered to my mother and father and my older sister who now had to share the spotlight, but compared to Bob Dylan plugging in his guitar for the first time, to the world that year it was barely a footnote, if that.
At first glance, our Gospel today is also one of coincidence.
In the same year that Jairus, the leader of a local synagogue and thus an important man, became a father, welcoming a brand new daughter into the world, an anonymous woman began to bleed. One family celebrates, while in another, a woman finds herself an outcast.
In those days blood was to be avoided at all costs, lest one touch it and become ritually unclean and unable to worship or give sacrifice. So this particular woman, made unclean by her own bleeding, would be avoided by everyone. To be unclean has nothing to do with being dirty. It described the situation of being separated from God and others. Having leprosy could do it. And touching blood. And touching a corpse and a host of other things. And being “unclean” could also be passed on by touch – If I was unclean, say, I had a skin disease (hypothetically here) and you shook my hand you would be declared “unclean” just like me – and not be able to be among people or come before God.
Ever felt left out of an activity – not invited to a party – imagine 12 years’ worth of hearing that the invitation is in the mail. Or folks figuring that you wouldn’t be interested – that whatever they were doing wouldn’t be you scene. Didn’t want to make you feel – you know – awkward.
So why not keep it a secret, this bleeding? Well, perhaps you know what it is like to live in a small town. Everybody knows everybody’s business. Someone would have noticed her illness or seen the flow of blood or flow of doctors heading into her house. No way to keep such a condition a secret. Like a leper, people would keep their distance and point her out to others. No hugs, no kisses, no caresses, no embraces…for 12 years. Bleeding and seemingly incurable, she likely just tried to disappear to avoid the stigma, the finger-pointing, the gossip, the stares, the people who would cross to the other side of the street to stay away from her.
A mere coincidence that in the same year that Jairus’ wife gave birth to a daughter, an anonymous woman began to bleed and hide from the world.
As Jairus and his wife watched their daughter grow and become a young woman, this other woman, nameless and bleeding, watched her own savings evaporate as doctor after doctor attempt to heal her and only leave her worse off than before and eventually broke. When her money runs out there is no one to help her. I am sure some of you know the sting of countless doctors and evaporating finances. Maybe you know what it is like to be broke. Desperate. Frustrated beyond all belief. That was this woman.
Now we must enter into the present of today’s Gospel. As Jairus pleads repeatedly with Jesus to heal his 12 year daughter, someone else’s daughter needs healing too. But no one is there for her. And so she hides among the crowd, while Jairus pleads again and again – we can imagine the cries: “Jesus, help my daughter. Heal my daughter. Jesus please, she is but a child of 12. Help her. Heal her. She is dying. Please.” And Jesus agrees to go with him in order to lay his hands upon his very sick little girl. To place his healing touch upon her and make her well.
So, what do you think went through the older woman’s mind at that moment?
And she hides among the crowd, stretching her ear to hear what is being said.
Maybe she thinks this: “He’s going to heal that little girl. He’s going to go right up to her and place his healing hands upon her and make her well. Her daddy is important and rich and influential and I am just a poor nobody who no one would dare touch. I am unclean. He is going to take one look at me and one step towards me and raise those precious hands of his, those healing hands, then someone is going to shout out the horrible truth: “That woman is unclean!” That’s what they’ll shout. Someone will. And then Jesus will turn and keep walking.”
Can we even imagine the fear coursing through her? Of being seen. Of being rejected. Left there in the middle of the road while the rest of the people stream by at a safe distance, like a wave parting around her. What went through her mind, do you think? 12 years of hiding; of hearing “unclean!” Of never ever being well. Of believing perhaps, that God has forgotten her since she is not allowed to approach God at synagogue or temple. In this crowd, on this day, no one would cry out for her. No one would plead on her behalf. No one would throw themselves down at Jesus’ feet for her sake. To make matters worse, as a woman alone, culture dictated that she could not approach a man in public.
How great the fear must have been – to see one’s only hope and to risk making that hope unclean in order to be healed.
But fear would not rule this day. Faith moved her to action. Slowly, carefully – you can see it right? – She sneaks up behind him. “If I just touch his cloak,” she tells herself, “I will be healed.” It would be just like touching him, but he won’t know. It’s just his cloak, after all. Just his cloak flapping in the breeze, trailing behind him as he and Jairus and the crowd head off to Jairus’ house.
And then it happened – she reaches out – touches his cloak – and healing comes – instantly. She knows it – feels it. It is done. 12 years of pain and suffering and being an outcast – all now in the past – with a future of promise unfolding.
Her faith has overcome her fear and Jesus wants her and everyone around them at that moment and everyone who will hear this story for centuries and millennia to come to understand this.
Look at what Jesus says and doesn’t say. He says that her faith healed her. He doesn’t say that she had enough faith to be healed. Faith isn’t quantified that way. If that was the case, then I am sure that the daughter of friends of mine would get to celebrate her 21st birthday rather than dying of cancer this past year. It wasn’t about having enough faith to be healed: what a terrible thought that would be! It is about her faith: trusting that Jesus is who he says he is – the very Son of God. That is why her faith can overcome her fear – because her faith leads her to cling to Jesus, to place her complete trust in him now matter what the circumstances.
That is why it is no coincidence that this story and the story of the healing of Jairus’ daughter are paired together. Look what his faith must overcome for the sake of his daughter. He must seek out Jesus despite Jesus’ mixed reputation – he has already healed on the Sabbath – a no-no for those who profess the true Jewish faith. His faith must overcome the news of his daughter’s death. That should be it –right? Death, as they say, is forever. He was too late – if he had only set out to find Jesus faster – the guilt must have been enormous! Then Jesus suggest she is only sleeping and all of the people – the mourners, the guests, the relatives, they laugh at his only hope. Laugh in Jesus face. How would you faith handle that – having everyone, everyone, laugh at the very notion that Jesus sees what we fail to see. “Just believe,” Jesus says. Have faith. Trust me. Let you heart cling to me beyond all reason, as your one and only hope.
And Jairus does just that.
Fear and faith battle within us, don’t they?
Fear tries to drive a wedge between us and our only true hope, our Savior and Lord.
Luther says that that to which our heart clings in our god.
Will it be our fear? Or our Savior whom our faith longs for and loves?
When we recognize fear present in our life, will we, live the suffering woman in today’s Gospel, reach out in faith for Jesus? Will we, like Jairus, trust in our Lord and Savior despite impossible circumstance? Despite everyone we know laughing and disbelieving?
Will we allow fear to rule in our hearts or will we, in faith, cling to Jesus and find the healing that we truly need? Amen.