Sunday, July 1, 2018

Sermon -- 6th Sunday after Pentecost (July 1, 2018)

NOTE: A good number of the thoughts in this sermon were gleaned from a lecture on the Gospel of Mark by Prof. Daniel Deutschlander.  Some of Prof. Deutschlander's seminars can be found here:

MARK 5:21-43


In the name + of Jesus.

     Two people had an encounter with Jesus.  One thing they had in common was that they were both desperate.  A man came to Jesus in a panic because his daughter of twelve short years was dying.  This probably had come on her quite suddenly.  Any care by a physician had produced no results.  Instead, she was at death's door.  This man pleaded with Jesus to come and put his healing touch upon her.  The other person was a woman who was also at her wits' end.  Her problem had gone on for twelve long years.  After blowing all of her money on every solution she could think of, she was desperate for healing.  Like Jairus, she had heard of Jesus, and she longed for Jesus to heal her.
     There were also stark differences between these two people.  We know the name of the man was Jairus, but his name is mentioned only once.  He is usually referred to as “the ruler of the synagogue.” (Mark 5:22,36,38)  In other words, Jairus was important.  He was a man of prestige and influence in Capernaum.  If Jairus had asked you to do something, you probably stopped what you were doing and did what he asked.  On the other hand, we don't even know the woman's name.  Perhaps, at one time, she was well-to-do, but her medical expenses wiped out her of money.  Her bleeding disorder was more than a medical issue, too.  Her continual bleeding caused her to be ceremonially unclean.  That meant she had to be secluded from much of society.  She lived in the shadows—impoverished, unnoticed, and unimportant.
     The devil is pleased to use these two ends of the spectrum so that we withdraw from Jesus.  The devil may stroke your ego and convince you that the world is here for your benefit.  He causes you to believe that your job is important, your hobbies are important, and your commute on the road is important.  As a result, you despise other people who share the road with you.  You despise your family because the responsibilities you have with them take up time you would rather give to other matters.  You even despise God, convinced that your schedule is too important to take time to pray or to read God's word.  The devil may even convince you that God's word can be dismissed when your choices and behavior defy his word: I am too important to be bothered by God's opinion.  No matter how important Jairus may have thought he was, God brought him down to nothing when his daughter was dying.  Then, all that mattered was God's mercy.  What the world regarded as a horrible thing for Jairus' daughter, God used for good, because showing mercy is important to Jesus.
     When the pendulum swings the other way, the devil uses that too.  The woman who came to Jesus was regarded by society as unimportant.  She eventually believed it, too.  She did not come to Jesus with a face-to-face request like Jairus.  She had hoped to slink up behind Jesus among the crowds, to touch his garment, and disappear as invisibly as she showed up.  The devil is pleased to convince us that we are also unimportant, unnecessary, worthless, and useless.  How often do you conclude, “What I do does not make much of an impact”?  How often do you wonder, “If I just disappeared, would anyone really care?”  The devil drives us to despair.  Although God has been pleased to put us in this world and calls us to serve him in our various vocations, the devil would have us believe that it is all meaningless and a mistake. 
     In the one case, we exalt ourselves over God and our neighbor, thinking that we are all-important.  In the other case, we convince ourselves that we are unimportant and worthless.  In the first case, we end up believing that God is unnecessary.  In the second case, we end up believing that God is uninterested.  These are all lies.  Do not believe them.  Showing mercy is important to Jesus, no matter who it is shown to.
     Notice how Jesus dealt with each person.  When the woman had been healed by touching Jesus' garments, Jesus immediately turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my garments?” (Mark 5:30)  The disciples thought this was absurd.  The crowds were jostling Jesus about.  Everyone was touching him!  Still, Jesus persisted.  He looked around to see who had done it.  The woman, still thinking she was unimportant, fell trembling at Jesus' feet and fessed up.  And, as St. Mark records it, she told him the whole truth. (Mark 5:33)  
     Now, to appreciate this, understand that men and women are different in how they communicate.  A man would sum this up in three sentences: “I had this problem.  But then I touched your garment.  I'm healed now.”  Women are much more detailed.  (This is not a criticism, but an observation.)  You can imagine this woman saying, “Well it all started twelve years ago.  I talked to my sister about it, and she told me to see this doctor.  That was a waste of time.  So I went to the next doctor and spent money there.  That didn't help either...”  And on and on it went.  Never once did Jesus cut her off.  He let her say all she needed to say, because to him, she was important.  Showing mercy to her was important to Jesus.  And so, he was pleased to tell her: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” (Mark 5:34)
     Meanwhile, you can also imagine Jairus getting more and more anxious as this was going on.  He knew his daughter was at death's door, and he knew that time was precious.  His body language would have screamed, “Tick-tock, Jesus.  Let's go!”  Then he got the kick-in-the-gut message: “Your daughter is dead.  Why trouble the Teacher any further?”  But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” (Mark 5:35-36) 
     When Jesus heeded Jairus' plea to come and heal his daughter, a promise to heal her was implied.  Jesus urged Jairus to cling to that promise no matter what the circumstances suggested.  Jesus entered Jairus' home and said, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping?  The child is not dead but sleeping.”  And they laughed at him. (Mark 5:39-40)  The mourners laughed because they knew what death was.  Nevertheless, Jesus went to the daughter, grabbed her by the hand, and commanded, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” (Mark 5:41)  Death had to give her back, and then Jesus gave her back to her parents.  Showing mercy is important to Jesus.
     Now, you have not been given such specific promises that your every disease will be healed or that you will receive your loved ones back from death—at least, not in this life.  Still, God uses such evils to show us that we are helpless so that we will continue to call upon him for mercy.  He does this because it is showing mercy is important to Jesus. 
     Jesus demonstrates his mercy most vividly at the cross.  He has carried to the cross all of our sins—from our fantasies of self-importance to wallowing in self-pity.  He went to the cross for all people—great and small, young and old, healthy and disabled, famous, infamous, and anonymous.  There, he bore the curse and the punishment for the sins of the world.  There, he won forgiveness for all people.  And he included you.  Even though Jesus was given a place in the grave, he conquered death.  He now holds the key to death and Hades, and he lives to set you free from these.  On the Last Day, he will summon you from your grave.  Just as the little girl bounced up from her death bed to live again, so will you.  You will be given a resurrected body which will never succumb to disease, disappointment, despair, or death.  All your diseases will, indeed, be healed.  And death will, indeed, have to give back your loved ones who have died in the Christian faith.
     Throughout your life, there will be times you feel important and there will be times you feel worthless.  People may tell you that you are one or the other.  Do not be bothered by them.  They are neither your Creator nor your Judge.  And they are certainly not your Savior.  To Jesus Christ, you are important.  Showing mercy to you is important to Jesus.  He assures you that, through him, you have become children of the Most High God.  There is no greater title than this, and you are honored by it both now and forever.  For you are important to the Lord.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

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