Mark 5:21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat* to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake. 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 round 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.’
35 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?’ 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.
Good News vs. Bad News. Over the last few weeks, many communities around the country were celebrating high school and college graduations. If you walked across a platform and received a diploma somewhere recently, congratulations!
For many years, for a lot of churches and for me personally, the next event on the calendar has been a mission trip! Of course, this can mean immersing yourself in the life of someone who doesn’t have much to celebrate.
In 1985, I was the new associate pastor for youth at a large church in Ohio. We moved in July from Massachusetts, and a few days later, I was in a van full of teenagers headed for the Back Bay Mission (UCC) in Biloxi, Mississippi. It was my first church mission trip.
Like many places, Biloxi is a combination of very rich and very poor, often living next to each other. I went there three more times with mission groups, usually painting the house of an elderly person, as I recall. Very meaningful. A visit to New Orleans was the fun day out. Interesting things to see and maybe the best food in the world.
Then came the hurricane – Katrina. In 2006, I went back to New Orleans, taking a group to help gut houses in preparation for rebuilding (all of the drywall containing mold had to be removed). Almost 250,000 homes were destroyed or made unlivable in the New Orleans area because flooding. I’ve seen worse destruction (Hurricane Andrew in Miami, 1993; see last week’s sermon, “Riding Out the Storm”), but the amount of destruction and the number of people displaced in New Orleans was staggering. In wheelbarrows, we took families’ personal possessions to the curb, including personal photos, where the Army Corps of Engineers would haul them away to landfills. That was truly depressing. All of us were thinking, these were normal people living normal lives when Katrina washed their normal lives away. This could have been us (Maybe it almost was last year, 2011, during Hurricane Irene!).
The local churches were doing heroic work helping people survive. It’s often said that church is something like a hospital. This is because, like Jesus, people come to us when tragedy strikes, when they need to be healed, when there is a personal struggle, when they need help. Minus the presence of massive disaster, even when times are generally “good,” gathered in the same room on a Sunday morning, there are people having fun and people in despair.
There will always be this contrast. It is true that there are people in our community and in our churches who are struggling. They are living through the worst kinds of tragedy. And some people are having a good time; and it appears that God has blessed them. Many of us are taking turns with these experiences. I believe we have great wisdom when we can bridge that gap, and one can help the other when needed. Through it all, we are here because we believe that Jesus Christ is the great equalizer, the one who can calm our internal storms.
As we sit here, we can each think of someone who is experiencing a tragedy. It is precisely at these moments of the worst possible news that the good news of Jesus Christ comes to impact our lives. In the gospel story for today, Jesus brings the good news of health and life to confront and overcome the bad news of sickness and death.
There is something very important to pick up on in that story. The good news of God’s kingdom and Gods overcoming of sickness and death is all about a relationship with God. Jesus makes himself available to Jairus the synagogue leader and is near the woman with the hemorrhage. With both of them, when they first come into the story, healing is possible, but hasn’t happened yet. What happens between that first moment of meeting Jesus, and the good thing takes place in their lives? It wasn’t automatic. God is trying to teach you something in this story.
The healing of Christ doesn’t happen because you follow the rules and regulations and then get in line to receive your blessing. God wants a relationship with us more than God wants our religiousness. They received because they believed. They believed enough to speak:
Jairus said, “Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” (5:23)
The woman believed and said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” (5:28)
They believed. They came to Jesus with faith. They didn’t say, “Jesus, I hope you can help.” Or, “Hey, why don’t I give this a try?
With whom do you most identify in this story? There is the woman with an illness that owns her and owns her future. Jesus wants to know who touched him, because if it was that woman, it was against the Jewish religious laws that she touched him. There are probably some religious types nearby who know she is unclean. So, according to the religious/cultural laws, they are both in trouble. Bad form, unacceptable that she touched him. Religion can be mean. Maybe you’ve had that kind of experience with religion, and it would help you to know that the Jesus walking by is ready to heal you. Just touch him.
There is a distraught father, a religious leader who would probably be one of Jesus’ enemies if he weren’t desperate. Having your child in trouble
makes you desperate. There is a little girl whose young life is being cut short unfairly. There are the confused disciples, and the crowd who doesn’t know what to think of all this. Where are you?
Have you ever had a moment when all you could do was put your head in your hands and say, “I don’t know what to do?” That’s when Jesus shows up, and it’s an intrusion. What is he doing here? What does he want? The little girl is dead. From the other side of the door, over all the crying and wailing, you could hear Jesus say, “Get up!”
In this story, no one really does anything, except to cry out in desperation. No one, far as I can tell, believes, or feels, or thinks. The story of our faith is not about us and what we do; its about Jesus and what he does. Jesus can’t heal if you believe in yourself more than him.
And now, I think he may be calling to you. “Get up! Get up!”
Back in the 1990s, I took a group to what had been communist East Germany just a few years before. We went to Wittenburg. There is a huge, dark, foreboding church building there, in which Martin Luther is buried, and it has a great tower which stands over the skyline of the city. It looks like a castle, and it is called the Castle Church. It was on the tower of this church that the Communist government posted the words from Luther’s most famous hymn. “A Mighty Fortress is Our God, a bulwark never failing.”
During those years before the wall fell, believers in Wittenberg, whispered among themselves “The communists should have quoted from the first line of the second verse of the hymn, ‘If we on our own strength confide, our striving would be losing.”’
I know people who have problems with the Christian faith. They can’t understand Christian belief. They have difficulty with some of Jesus’ teachings. They are confused by the Bible. They feel they’ve have failed at their attempts at prayer. And I wonder if I as a preacher have helped them or not. Too many of the things I say from the pulpit implicitly suggest that in order to be a Christian you have got to try hard to believe this, or that. You’ve got to straighten up and get your life together. You have got to feel this or that in your heart. Or maybe you’re ready to let Jesus do what Jesus does. You’re ready to let go. In the name of Jesus, get up, you are free to live. All he wants you to do – all he has ever wanted you to do – is believe, and make him your Lord.
Lord, on this bright, summer day, with all the world fresh and green, and everything full of promise and summer warmth, we appear to be so full of life. Yet you know, seeing into our souls, deeper than we ourselves see, that all is not well with us. Some of us here feel hopeless. We fear the future.
Give us all a vision of what the world could be like is we step out to serve you, in your name. Others of us face some seemingly impossible situation. Help us all to know deeply how much we need you. So come to us, call to us, raise us up, bring us life. Amen.