Trinity 4, 2021 – Sermon

(Modified 2021-06-27: Added audio recording of sermon.)

St. Mary’s Anglican Church, Trinity 4, June 27.2021 Revd. Canon Claude Schroeder

Sermon on Mark 5. 21-43

Audio recording of sermon

“The moment is coming when, having done the ‘right’ thing all along, your round peg will not fit in the hole that’s next presented to you. The time is coming when you will be on the outside: a divorce, a bankruptcy, a felony, a betrayal, a cancer, an addiction, a death. Well, yes, death.” (Timothy Kimbrough)

I don’t think there is a person here doesn’t know what it’s like to find yourself on the outside, when the round peg that is your life doesn’t go into the square hole that is presented to you. Divorce, bankruptcy, crime, betrayal, cancer, and death, well yes death, sooner or later come calling.  

The sooner one realizes this, the better. “It is good”, writes the author of the Book of Lamentations,” for one to bear the yoke in youth, to sit alone in silence when the Lord has imposed it, to put one’s mouth to the dust (there may yet be hope), to give one’s cheek to the smiter, and be filled with insults.” (Lamentations 3. 27-30). It’s why if at all possible, you should try have your nervous breakdown early in life, in your youth, and learn what it means to place your hope in God. It will hold you in good stead for when things really get difficult later in life.

Our Gospel lesson for today from St. Mark tells the story of three people, whose round peg did not fit the square hole that had been presented to them. 

Jairus, a leader of the synagogue, a very religious, righteous, respected member of the community, has a very sick teen-ager, who is on the verge of death. Sickness and death are no respecter of persons, and Jairus’s religiosity, righteousness, and respectability cannot help him. He finds himself on the outside, where he becomes one of the crowd, one of the many desperate people who gathered around Jesus seeking help.

As far as Jairus’s daughter is concerned, the usual adolescent struggles around trying to figure out who you are, where you fit in, and being teased and bullied at school is nothing compared to the experience of grievous illness that threatens to kill you. That’s taking being on the outside to a whole new level.

And what about the woman with the hemorrhage, who had been on non-stop period for 12 years? Can you imagine?  Mark tells us that she had endured much under many physicians, which means that at one point in her life she was a woman of status who had plenty of money to pay for medical care. But not anymore. After 12 years of doctor’s bills, she is completely broke with no husband or family to protect and provide for her. She is on then outside. According to the public health orders in the Law of Moses, she should have been quarantining and social distancing all this time, warning people of her approach by shouting “Unclean, unclean” lest she ‘infect’ others with her disease. Do you have any idea what 12 years of quarantining and social distancing and hiding away with your problem would do to a person? The bleeding wasn’t just physical. It was emotional, psychological, and spiritual. Although the woman with the hemorrhage, and Jabirus’ daughter never met, they are connected to each other.  Jairus’ daughter was born in the same year this woman started to bleed un controllably, which is suggestive of generational trauma.  Neither woman is named in our story. They are nobodies, as good as dead, robbed of the capacity to bear life and give birth. And both women are restored to life, to family and to community, and to a future when they come into contact with the Man, Jesus Christ.

Jesus, for his part, has just a returned from a dangerous trip across the Sea of Galilee, in which He was confronted by a storm that threatened to capsize the boat He and the disciples in, and then was confronted by a man possessed of legion of demons who threatened to attack him. Having stilled the storm and cast out the demons, Jesus continues to face danger as he comes into contact with the power of sickness, uncleanness, and death. But as we have come to expect by now, Jesus, ‘‘rises’ to the occasion.  The pun is intentional. Jesus does what He does because of Who He Is. He is the crucified and risen One, who manifests the power of his life-giving resurrection, even before He is crucified and rises from the dead. 

In telling us this story, St. Mark uses his signature ‘sandwich technique.’  He starts by telling us how Jairus arranges for Jesus to come to his house to heal his sick daughter, only to interrupt the story with another story, that of the healing of the woman with the hemorrhage, before going back to finish the story he started with. Only now, because of the interruption, things have changed. “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” (Mark 5.35) But the class, and the story, is not over. The Teacher still has something to say and do. And so we have all this multi-layered story demonstrate in a differentiated way the fullness of Jesus’ healing and saving power. Just like in a sandwich which is made up of a number of savory elements, the meat, the cheese, the bread, the garnish, something things just taste better when eaten together. 

So, let’s dig in, shall we?

Jairus says to Jesus, “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.” (Mark 5.23) showing himself to be a man of faith to which Jesus responds. In the Gospels, faith is a crucial element in healing, whether it’s the faith of the person seeking healing, the person conducting the healing, as in the case of Jairus, a third party interceding for the sick person. Jairus believes that Jesus can heal his daughter. We note the humility, the intensity, and the persistence with which Jairus made his prayer.  “He fell at Jesus feet and begged him, repeatedly.” (Mark 5.22)

You know that when it comes to desperate situations in your life, what you need to do. The Bishop has assigned clergy in the churches and given them authority to visit the sick and bring them Holy Communion, anoint them with holy oil in the name of the Lord, and to  lay hands on them and to pray for healing. 

All you have to do is ask. Why doesn’t that happen as often as it might? One reason might be ignorance. You didn’t know that this is what you are supposed to do as a Christian. Another reason might be pride or shame. You don’t want to admit that you needed help. Another reason might be unbelief.  You don’t actually believe God is at work in the sacramental actions of the Church to preserve our bodies and souls unto everlasting life. None of these problems are insurmountable, as we see in the example of Jairus.

I have to say that over the years here at St. Mary’s I have seen the Lord act in powerful ways, in response to the humble and persistent prayer and faith of His Church, mostly in secret and hidden from public view, as in our story today.

So far so good. 

Interesting thing about the woman with the hemorrhage, she had faith, but she didn’t ask. She didn’t pray. Apparently, not asking, and not praying is not an obstacle to healing. What did this woman do? Breaking all the rules of quarantine and social distance, she reached in faith and touched the Body of Jesus.  And that was enough. Rather than infecting Him with her uncleanness, He healed her by His purity. But she wasn’t a passive recipient, but rather an active participant in her healing. It’s why active physical presence and participation in the Church has an important role to play in healing. Church is the place to touch and to be touched. It’s where and how we get in touch with the Body of Christ.

It’s why when we come to the Holy Communion, we pray that our “sinful bodies may be made clean by His body, and our souls washed through His most precious blood.”(BCP, 84). Somebody called me recently to ask, whether we are having Holy Communion. They said, “I didn’t realize how desperate I was to come to church!”   

How do you know if you have been healed? It is something you can feel within your body. You feel better. Mark tells us that after she touched Jesus’ clothing,  “Immediately her bleeding stopped, and she felt in her body she was healed of her disease.” (Mark 5.29)

Jesus for his part felt power flow out of Him, and He stopped and turned to the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” (Mark 5.30)

Jesus comes across here as something of an incompetent triage nurse, and has no sense of priority,  because although he stopped the woman’s bleeding, the original “code blue” emergency  is still waiting. This is no time to chart the patient and take their history! Let somebody else deal with that!   Besides, as the disciples said to him, “What are you nuts? You see this crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?” 

Jesus looked around to see who had done it. Was He mad or something, that somebody had “stolen” a healing?

I don’t think so, because of the conversation that took place. Mark tells us that the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth.”

Because we human beings are a psycho-somatic unity of body and soul, when something happens to the body, the soul is impacted. And when something happens to the soul, the body is impacted. All of which to say, when it comes to healing, is not just a matter of treating the disease, with medication and or surgery. You have to treat the patient.  There is the illness, and there is the story and the trauma associated with the illness. And that story, the whole truth, and needs to be told and it needs to be heard, loved and forgiven, ministered to through the Word of God and prayer. This is what Jesus proceeded to do with this woman. Having stopped the physical bleeding, he needed to stop the emotional, psychological, spiritual bleeding. 

The word we use for this in the church is confession. There really is no healing without it.  This is something that can’t be rushed. It takes time to tell the whole truth. And so, you start small. If previously healing power flowed from Jesus’ body, now we have healing words flowing from His lips. Jesus said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you; go in peace, and be healed of your disease .” (Mark 5. 34).

This is the power of the Gospel. It stops not only the physical bleeding, but the emotional and the spiritual bleeding. It releases us from our victim identity where we go through life as the sad victims of other people’s mistreatment and exploitation of us, and restores to the agency and dignity that belongs to a beloved child of God. 

By the time Jesus arrives at the home of Jairus , the girl is dead. Now what? The family doesn’t need a doctor anymore, but a chaplain, some who can compassionately empathize with the family in their grief and pain and offer some comforting words, and get the hysterical members of the congregation who are weeping and wailing loudly to calm down. 

This requires a certain amount of pastoral sensitivity, skill, training, and experience, which Jesus clearly doesn’t have, because when he arrives at the house, he said to them, “Why do you make a commutation and weep? The girl is not dead, but sleeping.” (Mark 5.39)

Talk about botching it. Good night!  Psychologists tell us that there are 5 stages of grief through which we pass when somebody dies, the first of which is denial. But who is in denial?  It’s not Jairus, but Jesus. 

What do you do when the Chaplain is in denial? You get this clown out of here, and get somebody in who knows what they are talking about.

Mark tells us that they laughed at him.

But Jesus sent them all outside and took the girl’s father and mother, along with Peter, James, and John and went in to where the child was and said, “Talitha cum” which means, ”Little girl, get up!” “Rise and shine!” as my mother used to say to me in the morning when I was a kid.” And immediately this 12 year old girl got up and started to walk about. At this they were overcome with amazement. Jesus strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.” (Mark 5. 43) .Forget about reporting this to the press, forget about asking what she saw in the other side. This girl has a life to live!

What we see here is how the saving power of Jesus Christ reaches not only into the diseases of body, soul, and spirit. It reaches into the grave, into death itself. The saving power of Jesus Christ isn’t a fix of something gone wrong, a going back to what was. It is a going forward into a new creation. This raises Christian faith to a whole new level. It isn’t just the power to heal. It is resurrection from the dead.

I am wondering if after 15 months of sickness and death, quarantine and isolation, under COVID, and all the sin and sadness of the world which the media unearths for us on a daily basis, we are just about ready to receive afresh the healing, death-defeating, life giving, future creating  power of the  crucified and risen Lord, to be healed of our sicknesses of body, mind, and spirit, to touch and be touched, to shed the narratives which sustain our victim identities, break the generational trauma, be restored to our true selves as beloved sons and daughters of God, and be released from the grip fear has on our lives, and be empowered to live lives of faith, hope, and love in the new creation of Christ’s making.