(A sermon for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost B–July 1, 2012-Mark 5:21-43)
It started for me with two words on Channel 6 that caught my attention. With Lucy away at camp, the house was too quiet. And when the house is too quiet, I turn on the TV. That doesn’t mean I watch it, or even listen to it very carefully. I just want the background noise.
And in the background noise, I heard two words: “North Yarmouth.” And then two more: “plane crash.”
Then I paid attention, and as I watched more news and caught up with members of our church family on Facebook and via email, I learned that more than one accident last weekend meant something to many of us. Not that we don’t all feel something when we hear the story of a young person killed in a car crash, or an older person, but these stories were all, in one way or another, close to home, close to North Yarmouth and Cumberland and Greely High School and all the intersections where our lives come together and sadly sometimes collide terribly.
Friday afternoon at 2, in Cumberland and North Yarmouth, three different services were held, in a church and in a high school and at the graveside. We want to think that gathering with friends will allow some sort of closure for grieving families, but when the loss comes in the shock of an accident, a memorial service or a celebration of life or a burial merely mark one more day of being stunned, one more morning of waking up and realizing again what has happened, one more moment of “I can’t wrap my head around this.”
Every day she got up and realized again what she had gone to sleep praying would no longer be true: she was bleeding. Every woman does, she knew that, but there is a right schedule for it, a pattern that is acceptable, and a way of making yourself clean again so you can go back to the synagogue and worship. There is a right way for everything, even bleeding, and her way was not right. Twelve years of being wrong, of being ritually unclean, of being out of community: twelve years is a long time.
Somehow, though, she didn’t give up. She spent her money on healers and offerings, hoping, until the money was all gone.
Still, she didn’t give up. And on this day, when Jesus and his disciples returned from the other side of the Sea of Galilee, she went out into the crowd, believing. The stories had been passed from one neighbor to another, all around the town. This man could heal people. This man could cast out demons. This man could make the wind and sea obey him!
This man was more than a man. Although the beginning of Mark Chapter 5 finds Jesus and his disciples on the other side of the sea, among the Gentiles in Gerasene, we remember from last week that there were other boats with him in the storm. Surely, they came home and told the story. They must have.
She went out into the town, hoping to see him, inspired by the stories of his power. This man was more than a man. She had faith in him, faith in his power to heal, faith that something could still change. She would reach out and touch faith.
Jairus left his house that morning on a similar errand. He went to sleep knowing his little girl, twelve years old, was very ill. On this day, he discovered she was worse, “at the point of death.” It didn’t matter that he was a synagogue leader, one of the people who disliked Jesus and what he was doing. On this day, Jairus was a father first, a father who loved his little daughter, a father who believed Jesus could help her. He didn’t care what anyone else thought about Jesus, or about him.
He was a man, with a secure position in the community, a leader in the faith community because he had the money to help maintain the building where they gathered to worship. He went straight to the teacher, the healer, and “fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly.” Come and lay your hands on my daughter. Come and make her well. Reach out and touch faith!
And as they moved off together a crowd pressed in around them. It was quite a demonstration of grief and desperation, you see, a respected member of the community prostrate before the man who was already stirring up trouble, begging for his help. The people pressed in and followed to see what would happen next, and in the midst of this came the woman, not daring to ask for anything, but believing, somehow, that this healer, this wise man would be the one to cure her.
“If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”
“Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”
These are hard stories in this week, a week when we wonder why some things turn out well, why some people get their apparent miracles, and some do not. We’re living, some of us, with more than the accidents that happened. We’re waiting for test results, or wishing we had heard something different. We’re enduring the ups and downs of chronic illness and wondering why we, of all people, have them. We’re worrying about people we love and grieving people we’ve lost.
We’re asking questions with no answers.
How do we reach out and touch faith?
There’s something about the interweaving of these stories—we find it a lot in Mark’s gospel; one story starts and then another interrupts it, and then the first story is resolved, and we’re left to calculate the connections between them. There’s something about the interweaving of these stories: a man at the center of the community and a woman on the margins of the same community both go down on their knees, seeking healing. We, all of us, have pondered death and life and what matters to us and who matters to us as we’ve run into people we know and talked about our connections to the Gaddis and Stewart family, or to Dr. Hanson, or to Casey Green or Glenice Hutchins.
We’ve thought about what our faith has to say in the crisis, and in the grinding work of learning to live without a person you love, in both the acute and the chronic.
It’s on my heart that some people who are grieving right now do not have a sense of God’s presence, and I am sorriest for them. We don’t always get the miraculous outcome, the literal physical healing, the end of the bleeding, the raising from the dead. But our faith promises us that God cares about our broken, ailing, injured physical selves. Our embodied lives matter. We are not just souls on a scorecard. We are beloved children of the Heavenly Parent. We are sisters and brothers of Jesus Christ. Our lives matter to the One who made us. Our embodied lives matter.
Jesus entered the house where the little girl lay. The word had come to them on the way that she was already dead. Why bother the teacher?
In a moment of deep intimacy, away from the crowd, with only her father and her mother and his three closest friends as witnesses, Jesus reached out and took the little girl by the hand. And she lived.
How do we reach out and touch faith?
We do it when we break the bread and pour the cup. We remember that God lived an embodied life in Jesus, and suffered an embodied and terrible death. We experience his love for us in the sharing of a meal together, bringing to the table the mess of our lives and the love we have for each other and the tangled interweaving of our lives in community. We bring it all, and we lay it down and take the bread and feel the love.
Reach out and touch faith, in the name of the Risen and Healing Christ. Amen.