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Mark 4: 21-39
July 1, 2012
Last week, I
spent five fun filled days camping in the hills of North Carolina at the Wild
Goose Festival. This is a festival of progressive Christianity, and a
glimpse of the ways that the church is changing and evolving.
interesting mix of people, ranging from recovering evangelicals to social
justice Mennonites to charismatics to post-Christian types.
One thing that
characterizes this event is that it is coming out of the emergent church
movement, which—in a nutshell—is a movement (especially among young people) to
re-imagine what church looks like. Now, I have a lot of questions about
the movement—I love the theology that’s emerging, but I have a lot of questions
about the worship style that’s coming out of it.
worship style tends to be a lot like you are hanging out in your friend’s
living room. It’s sharing stories, with a focus on a spiritual theme.
It’s not my bag. But—this is not a sermon criticizing the emergent
movement. What I appreciated about this casual worship style is that
people really opened up. They talked about times when they were really
down, and God was there. In God’s presence, it wasn't all warm
and fuzzy, it wasn’t perfect, it was still bad. But God’s presence and
God’s people were there, being the hands and feet of Jesus in broken and
There was a
transparency and openness at this event, an openness that perhaps comes with
living together in a field in extreme summer heat and humidity, sharing trips
to the water pump and ingredients for s’mores, and taking turns looking after
each other’s kids. It was a glimpse into the Christian community, as it
was intended when we love God, listen to the spirit, follow in the way of
Jesus, and bear each other’s burdens.
Our gospel story
today comes from Mark. It’s actually a series of stories, all of them
important to each other, and all of them connected. In this stories there
are four main characters—Jairus, the father of the unnamed girl; the 12 year
old girl who is ill then dies; the unnamed women with a gynecological problem;
religious leader and a rabbi, went to Jesus to ask for help. He managed
to get the attention of Jesus, who was surrounded by a large crowd. He
begged Jesus to help his daughter. Jairus got on his knees and begged
Jesus—in front of this large crowd—to heal his daughter.
that. A religious leader, a man respected by the people in his community,
on his knees in front of a controversial yet popular religious leader.
Jairus was desperate for help, and was willing to put his reputation on the
line to save his daughter’s life. And he had faith in Jesus, that Jesus
was really the one that could heal his daughter, at a time when she was about
to blossom into womanhood.
As Jesus and
Jairus were heading to Jairus’ home, Jesus was surrounded by people clamoring
to see him, to be near him. And Jesus, in the middle of this crowd,
notices that someone has touched the edge of his robe. Even in the middle
of all this attention, the crowd pressing up against him and demanding things
of him, Jesus managed to be open enough to notice the needs of someone
desperate enough to touch even the edge of his clothing. He noticed this,
the text says, because he was aware “that power had gone forth from him.”
Jesus asked the
crowd, “Who touched me?” Probably a dozen people could have answered, “I
did!”, but this woman knew what Jesus was talking about because she knew she
had been healed. She felt the power too. So, in front of the pressing
crowd, this woman told Jesus everything. She told Jesus that she had been
bleeding for years, that no one could help her, that doctors only made it
worse. She revealed her intimate, personal, reproductive problems in
front of this crowd of people.
And even in the
middle of this confession, Jairus’ friends arrived and told him that Jesus was
too late—that his daughter, herself about to be of child-bearing age, was
dead. But Jesus had faith and encouraged those around him to believe,
particularly Jairus, the Rabbi. He brought just a few of his disciples to
the home of Jairus, and when he arrived, there were already mourners
everywhere. It was a scene reminiscent of the raising of Lazurus.
Jesus told these
mourners, rather matter of factly, that the daughter was not dead, but
sleeping. And they laugh at him. Which is a much better reaction
than what I may have had. I could see myself lashing out at Jesus for
making such a ridiculous claim.
upstairs to where Jairus’ daughter was, took her by the hand and said to her,
“Talitha Kum”. Little one, get up. Now, as an aside, I’m struck by
the use of the Aramaic here. Talitha Kum. We know Jesus spoke Aramaic,
but the story of Jesus is written here in Greek. Why did the writers
leave this statement in Aramaic? I haven’t been able to figure out the
why, but from a cursory read it strikes me that speaking in one’s native
language the sweet words, “Little one, get up” is very parental, very pastoral,
very kind and personal.
This story is
actually 3 stories wrapped into one. It’s the story of Jairus, the story
of the woman who touched Jesus’ robe, and the story of Jesus healing Jairus’
daughter. And at the center of all of this is Jesus. Now, as a
preacher, there were about 100 different and wonderful directions I could have
gone with this sermon. But, today, in the context of Germantown Mennonite
Church, what strikes me about this story is that Jesus doesn't say
much. There’s a frenzy of activity, people trying to get near to Jesus,
people pressing against him, crying, or telling Jesus intimate things.
And in all of this, Jesus said little. He noticed when the woman touched
his clothing, and asked “Who touched me?” He gave her words of hope,
saying “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in
peace, and be healed of your disease.” When he heard that Jairus’
daughter was reportedly dead, he said “Do not fear, believe.” And when
Jesus saw the girl, he said to her, simply, “little girl, get up.”
The words from Jesus were simple. Simplistic, perhaps some could
say that they are simple-minded. But they come from a place of deep
listening, of being deeply in tune with what’s happening around him. When
Jairus came to Jesus, begging Jesus in front of the crowd to heal his daughter,
risking his reputation, his community standing, Jesus didn’t say
anything. He listened and followed Jairus to his home.
With the woman who was ill, Jesus said so little. He asked “who
touched me” and the woman told Jesus everything. She poured out her soul
to Jesus, and all he did was ask a perceptive question, a question that
indicated that Jesus was aware of himself and his surroundings, even when the
crowds were pressing up against him.
And with Jairus’
daughter, Jesus only had to say, “Talitha Kum”, and the power and gentleness of
those words restored her.
the Wild Goose festival, there is a forced community atmosphere that takes
places. There’s something about camping and heat and sharing stories that
creates an intimacy. But, the intimacy cannot and does not happen when
there is not vulnerability. I would not have gotten to know my neighbors
if I didn’t ask for a can opener, or if I my kids hadn’t asked the neighbor’s
kids to play frisbee.
The folks in
this story were vulnerable in this community—perhaps in desperation, thinking
that Jesus was their only hope, or perhaps with hope that Jesus truly had the
power to heal.
today as a community of believers. Some of us talk more than we listen,
others listen well and intuitively. Some of us come with heavy burdens—we
are grieving, we are sick, we fear the future, we are worried about our
finances, we are underemployed. We bring those burdens here, and here we
can share them. We share them, and those whose burdens are lighter gladly
pick them up, carry them for a while, and help the load feel lighter.
And as those
burdens are indeed lightened, we have stories of hope to share, stories of the
ways that God has been fully present in difficult situations. We testify
to them here too, offering words of encouragement to those who need them.
We say to our sisters, “Talitha Cum”, friend, get up. We stretch out our
hands and help our sister up. We say to our brother, “I’m listening to
you, and I’ll walk with you.”
This is what it
means to follow in the way of Jesus. It means not having it all together.
It means sharing our burdens with others, and holding each other up when we
have the strength. It means listening, it means being perceptive, it
means asking questions.
This is not a
contrived community, born out of being forced to be together in the heat and
discomfort of five days of camping. This is a real and voluntary
community of people. We choose this. Which means we choose it when
we are struggling, and when others around us are struggling too. And in
choosing this community, we covenant to walk with each other, to listen, and to
speak words of healing and hope to each other.
What can I do?