Monday, July 6, 2009

Disregard the Message (Sermon 28 June)

LAMENTATIONS 3:22-33; PSALM 30; 2 CORINTHIANS 8:7-15; MARK 5:21-43


There are two very interesting lines in today’s gospel text. The first come from the disciples when they say to Jesus, “You can see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” The second comes when Mark is describing Jesus’ reaction to the news that Jairus’ daughter is dead. A better translation than what we have for this verse is “Ignoring what they said (or disregarding the message), Jesus says to Jairus, a leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.”

Let’s think about the settings of those two lines for a minute. Jesus has come back to the land of the Jews after being with non-Jews. There are crowds that are waiting for him. Most likely, there are people who have camped on the lakeshore, awaiting his return. As soon as he gets out of the boat, there are people around him- full of requests, desires and hopes for what he can do for them. The crowd parts a little to allow a leader of the synagogue to come through. They would have recognized the quality of his clothing and his official status. Jairus cares enough that he doesn’t send a messenger for Jesus- he comes himself to ask for aid for his daughter.

In the same crowd is a woman who is elbowing her way through the people- one crowded layer at a time, probably with her face covered so no one will recognize her,. She doesn’t want people to see her and know who she is because, according to Jewish law, she is unclean and anyone who touches her is as well. She sees Jesus as her last hope and she is determined to get to him and just to touch him.

Both Jairus and the woman are commended for their faith and urged to hold onto it. They have claimed their gift from the Spirit, this gift of faith, and the Spirit is using it within them. It would have been easier for Jairus to stay with his daughter and send someone else. It would have been easier for this woman to decide her life was over and would never improve. However, from within them, their faith cried out, moved their feet and pushed them through the people to Jesus’ side.

Then we find the disciples, who can’t believe Jesus would know that someone had touched him and want to know who that is. Let’s keep in mind that by this stage in Mark, which is only chapter 5, the disciples have seen Jesus cast out demons, heal Peter’s mother-in-law, heal a paralytic, heal a leper, calm the storm on the seas and respond to the pleas of Gentiles, non-Jewish people. That’s just the stories for which we have details. I would say it’s safe to assume there was much, much more.

Nevertheless, when Jesus lifts a hand to silence the crowd and ask who touched him, the disciples deride him. “Lord, people are constantly touching you. Why bother asking?” However, Jesus knows who has approached him with faith. Jesus knows that someone has come to him, not with the desire for magic, but with the desire for genuine healing that only he can offer. He has felt that healing leave his body and he seeks a relationship with the recipient.

Many times in our world, people who do not believe look at those of us who do try to live lives of faith with similar derision to the disciples. To these people, our prayers, our expectations and our seeking of answers makes no sense. Clearly, if God wanted people to believe, God would make them. They would say, “People are constantly asking God for things and telling him about the world’s situation. Why would God listen to you?”

However, we see in this story, and throughout the Bible, that God is pursuing us with goodness and mercy, that God is fighting for us, that God is sheltering us, and that God desires a relationship with us. God as the Trinity is constantly initiating and re-initiating relationship with us, so that we are constantly presented with chances to respond, to strengthen our faith, to participate in the coming of the kingdom.

Jesus felt that kind of response in the woman, who risked everything, one more time, to reach out and touch him. God in Christ felt the presence of that faith and responded so that the relationship could be deepened. The disciples are still unable to see that and, often, the world is watching us to see if we will give up or if we will push through, again, to ask for the impossible and to believe we can receive it.

Which bring us to the second line, “Disregarding the message that was reported, Jesus says to Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe.”” Servants have come to report that the leader’s daughter is dead. There is nothing more that Jesus can do. There is a fear in Jairus’ eyes that this message is true. There is nothing more that Jesus can do. However, we are never called to decide when Jesus’ abilities have run out, when he can’t help any more.

His constant breaking of barriers, touching unclean people, offering new interpretations of scripture, welcoming outcasts and disrupting the comfortable, reveals to us that we are not the determiners of when and how God will work. Jesus shows us that these things do not, cannot and will not affect our relationship with God.

In the face of cancer, disability, war, poverty, exclusion, hopelessness, and so many other factors that are present in this world, we are called, like Jesus, to disregard the message that has been reported. The message that God is dead. That God does not care. That there is nothing that can be done. That no further healing is possible. That the end is near.

Disregard the message that has been reported. We don’t believe in a magic God whose healing is a presto-chango elixir. We believe in a healing God, whose mercy and grace are restorative, who delivers in ways we do not expect. We have come to know this does not always mean we get what we want or even what we think we need, but we do receive what God knows we need in a measure that we can handle.

We are called, through our faith, into that relationship with God, wherein we can say, “This is not what I wanted. Where are you? Help me to see you. Forgive me. Please be with this person. Give us your promised peace.” And we can ask for these things with the same level of expectation that caused Jairus to leave his daughter’s side and the woman to leave her home and try one more time for healing.

When people ask how we manage in difficulty, we can respond with faith, “I know who has touched me.” Through faith, we are able to disregard the message that life ends at death, that there are no more miracles, that physical well-being is the only desirable outcome and that God is not active in the world.

Many people who do not believe want faith to prove something. They want to have God’s presence proven to them. God’s action obviously revealed to them. However, faith is that hope in things unseen. Who touched me? She is only sleeping. This mustard seed can grow to a great plant. God’s gift of faith to us doesn’t prove anything. But it does everything.

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