Message for the fifth Sunday in the season of Pentecost
Based on Mark 5: 21-43 as adapted by Ralph Milton, The Family Story Bible
Opening Prayer: Gracious and amazing God, unclasp our firmly closed hands, hearts, and minds to your active presence within, between, and among us in our time of shared reflection this day. Amen.
Once again, our readings this morning come to us from the gospel of Mark.
I really like Mark’s gospel, thought to be the first and the most fast paced and sparse accounts of Jesus’ ministries of teaching and healing.
I like how Mark’s gospel starts with the story of Jesus requesting baptism by his cousin John in the muddy waters of the Jordan River and then how it ends like a question mark with the mystery of the story of the empty tomb.
I love how Jesus uses stories about parables and miracles to open up a whole new understanding about the coming near of God’s peaceable kingdom, God’s vision of shalom, God’s kingdom living where the last shall be first, all shall be welcomed, and God’s justice and peace will become real.
In our stories Sarah read for us this morning from Ralph Milton’s storybook we have two almost perfect examples of God’s vision of shalom becoming real.
In the first of these two interwoven miracle stories, we might imagine ourselves located somewhere in the growing crowds who seem to gather wherever Jesus goes.
Picture yourself, familiar with the rules of conduct and weary from living under the domination and oppression of the Roman Empire, some 40 years your leader died on the cross.
Now locate yourselves among a group of Christian friends and neighbours with shared Jewish roots and clarity about the codes of conduct about who was in and who was out, who had power and who did not?
Where might you be? In the crowd with Jairus?
At Jairus’ home?
Standing near the woman who touches the hem of Jesus’ cloak?
Imagine the atmosphere in the crowd.
How does it feel?
Where is there tension or foreboding?
Imagine the ringing out of skeptical laughter in both stories as they unfold.
How does that feel?
Debrief? What did you notice?
Revisiting the story:
We return again to the story of Jairus, a distraught father who comes begging a healing miracle for his sick daughter.
Now Jairus’ status as a well-regarded man in the synagogue would be noted.
On the other hand, in the second story, we meet a person unable to find a cure for what has made her life a misery for twelve long years-twelve years!
As many years as Jairus’ little daughter has been alive!
This woman, though silent and not well regarded, she, too, has come seeking Jesus and her own healing. How does she do that?
She reaches out and touches the hem of Jesus’ robe.
Immediately both she and Jesus sense that something amazing has happened. But because of the large crowd at first Jesus is not sure who has done this and so he asks: “Who touched me?” Laughter follows.
‘There are so many people here, how could we know who touches you, Master’ say his followers
But Jesus recognizes the woman immediately.
Acknowledging the risk she took to get her needs met, he commends her.
“Your faith has made you well!” he tells her and then commissions her to go forth in peace. And we assume that she does just that.
Turning once again to Jairus and his daughter, another person pushes his way through the crowd with news that the little girl has died.
In response we learn that Jesus bolsters the flagging Jairus this way:
“Have courage”, he says: “Don’t be afraid. Believe in God’s love.”
And according to Ralph Milton, Jesus tells him, “keep walking”.
In my mind’s eye, I imagine them walking along together with Jesus helping Jairus stay upright despite his buckling knees.
Finally they arrive at Jairus’ front door where a crowd of neighbours and friends have gathered eager to share what they know.
You are too late they say. “The girl has died”.
“Not so”, says Jesus. “She is but sleeping.”
Once again derisive laughter is heard but Jesus ignores it.
Entering the house with the parents, we learn that Jesus takes the little girl by her hand telling her to wake up. And, in fact, she does exactly that.
Next, connecting to her just as one might expect Jesus to do, he determines she is hungry.
Here in the midst of a miraculous story of life coming out of death, the conclusion? Let’s break bread together!
Two miracles from Mark’s gospel this day bring us up close and personal with desperate people but similar needs.
Did any of this really happen as described in Mark’s gospel?
Did Jesus actually bring someone back to life by the simple touch of a hand or by an exchange of energy between Jesus and the desperate woman?
Who knows? And further to that, does it really matter?
For who among us would reject a miracle that would make it possible for a dying child to be merely sleeping?
Who among us after a lengthy near death experience would not wake up in need of nourishment?
Who among us would reject a miracle for that desperate woman?
Who among us would reject such miracles in a world beset by hunger, poverty, violence, war, and environmental degradation?
Who among us would reject a miracle that might lead to a change of relationship born out of being courageous enough to simply ask for what we need?
Who among us would not celebrate a miracle where feeling safe, respected, welcomed, or loved were the benchmarks of real Christian community?
For me, the point of these stories is not so much whether or not they actually happened.
For me what matters is how they paint us a picture of God’s vision of Shalom, God’s kingdom come where all needs are met despite status or age or gender or impurity.
All needs are met as God through Jesus provides us with models for actively encouraging, empowering, and helping people risk to dare being hopeful for a different outcome than their present circumstances.
The same God actively at work in these stories from our ancient faith ancestors is the same God actively at work in our lives and in our communities here and now.
Daring to show up and risk asking for what we need, daring to be courageous in our faith; and daring to believe in God’s love are messages equally applicable to our lives here and now and as such actions, are not for the faint of heart.
But then, we live in an age of skeptical individualism.
We would need to dare courage to believe in something other than our own resourcefulness when it’s so much easier to rely on ourselves.
We would need to dare risking courage to let go and let God when it’s so much easier to assume that it’s all up to us
We need to remember this:
The same God embodied in Jesus as he consoled Jairus on the loss of his daughter and the desperate woman is the same God who longs to hold us safe in the palm of God’s hand in all times and in all circumstances.
The good news for today? God knows what we need. God wants us to learn to risk daring to ask for those needs to be met.
Can we risk it? What, my friends, is there to lose?
May it be so, amen.