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There’s a nagging feature in gospel stories. It’s always there. It shows up time and again sometimes as yeast or a seed or a word or a parable. It may seem small, at first, but given time it grows. It’s hope. There is hope to be found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Today’s story is no different. It involves two healings, at least three people in need of something, a jostling crowd, some doubters, and a band of disciples oh and Jesus, of course. Hear now a word of hope from the gospel according to Mark:
[Read Mark 5:21-43]
Many years ago, about 12, I served as a chaplain at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas. It was CPE, clinical pastoral education. I had finished two whole years of seminary and if you’re wondering what the deep end of ministry might look like, CPE and Children’s was it, and my colleagues and I were thrown in and expected to swim. Contrary to what most people assume, Children’s was one of the most hopeful places I’ve ever worked. I learned a great deal there about myself, ministry, caring for others, what it means to be present with those in crisis and in grief. I learned how important and powerful listening can be. I learned that, more often than not, words are not necessary or even helpful. I learned what hope looks like, too. I saw it blossom in the face of impossible situations. I saw its power. Part of CPE is writing up conversations you’ve had with patients and their families and then critically looking at what you’ve done. Sounds fun, doesn’t it? Well, my supervisor and I got along very well. It felt like we’d known each other for ages and he was always honest with me. It turns out that very often in my write-ups I would use the word ‘but’ when reflecting upon conversations I’d had with patients. And my supervisor Doug would say, “You know, Alex, when you use the word ‘but’ in a sentence, you’re negating everything else you said prior to the ‘but’ and you’ve got to stop.” As in, “I think a did a good job but I probably could have done better.” or “I said this but I should have said that.” So, I didn’t really think I’d done a good job. And I wasn’t confident in my words. It actually got to the point where he would put a slash through my work anytime I used the word ‘but.’
When we talk about the presence and power of God in our lives, I think we use the word ‘but’ often. When we talk about who God is and what God can do, I think we use the word ‘but’ often. I think that we rattle off the idea that all things are possible with God but sometimes we don’t actually believe it. All things are possible with God until we are faced with a situation we think God can’t handle. Maybe it’s a situation in your personal life or maybe it’s a situation out in the world. God can do anything but not this. Jesus can forgive but not this time. God can heal but here, in this instance, that’s impossible. God is powerful but I look at the world and I don’t think things will ever get better. Jesus is at work in the world but I don’t see it. God is love but I’m not sure God loves me. God is love but God can’t possibly love them. Jesus forgives but I’m not sure Jesus can forgive me. God is the great reconciler but the division is too big. God provides but the cycle of poverty is impossible to break. God can bring about justice but look at all the injustice. Jesus can heal the sick but the little girl has already died. Jesus wants to know who touched him but there’s no way to tell in a crowd so large. I see ‘buts’ all over this passage from Mark. There are two healing stories here. Both are seemingly impossible situations.
Jesus was on the move in the gospel of Mark going here and there and back again. Each place he went, there were people in need of him. Each place he went, there were people who wanted to see him and to see what he would do and say. Back on shore with a gathered crowd, Jairus comes to Jesus in desperation. His daughter is sick. I imagine that any of you who’ve ever had a sick child understand that desperation. This leader in the synagogue, this man of privilege comes to Jesus. My child is sick, he says. She’s close to death, he says. On the ground in front of Jesus he begs for her healing. I think any parent would do the same. I wonder what the other leaders in the synagogue thought about that? Were their prayers not enough? Was their help not enough or did Jairus not feel they could do anything for his little girl so he went to this Jesus guy instead? He obviously believed Jesus could do something to help. His little girl’s life was at stake and though he was a leader in the community, though he had power and privilege he couldn’t do anything to help her but perhaps Jesus could. Jairus, it seems, was at the end of his rope.
As Jesus goes to see what he can do for Jairus and his daughter, the crowds follow and press in around him. There in the crowd is a woman at the end of her rope. She’s been bleeding for 12 years. 12 years. We’re not given her name which is no surprise as she’s on the lowest rung of the societal ladder. Her gender put her close to the bottom already plus the bleeding would have made her unclean and she’d spent all of her money being swindled by doctors who did nothing but make her worse. Quite the contrast to Jairus, a leader in the synagogue, this woman had zero privilege. She had no standing. She had no cause for hope. She believed, though, that perhaps this healer, this teacher, Jesus could do something for her. In her desperation, she took a risk, she reached out and touched Jesus’ cloak. As soon as she did, her hemorrhage stopped. As soon as she touched Jesus, she was healed. Jesus knew that something had happened and he wanted to know who touched him. The woman owned up to what she had done, she fell at Jesus’ feet, told her truth and the most astonishing thing happened, Jesus called her daughter and declared that she had been made whole.
I wonder what that felt like to be seen, heard, and healed? I wonder what the crowds thought about it? Did they marvel at the woman’s audacity? Had they even noticed her before these things took place? Remember that Jesus was on his way to Jairus’ house while all of this was going on. And while all of this was happening, Jairus’ daughter died. His friends came to tell him so. Jesus was too late, they said. The time he’d spent with the woman was too much time for Jairus’ daughter.
But that’s not the end of this story. Jesus said it wasn’t too late. Jesus said, do not fear, only believe. He went on to Jairus’ house where mourners were already gathered. He asked them why they were so sad and they told him that the little girl had died. Jesus told them that she was only asleep and they laughed. When Jesus told her to get up she did just as if she’d been sleeping.
But how?, we say. How can new life come from death? How can the impossible become possible? How can good come from so much bad? How can healing happen when it hasn’t so many times before? How can transformation occur? How can broken lives be made whole? It’s not too late, Jesus says. From our way of thinking and seeing, it was too late. It was too late for the bleeding woman. She’d tried all she knew to try. She’d gone to doctors. She’d lost all her money on false remedies. She didn’t have any choices or friends or support or help. Hers was an impossible situation. It was too late for Jairus’ daughter. He’d reached out. He’d sought help. He’d fallen down at Jesus’ feet and begged for healing. His daughter died anyway. It was an impossible situation. But Jesus said, it’s not too late.
It’s not too late for hope. It’s not too late for healing. It’s not too late for new life. I wonder what it would be like to believe it’s not too late. Jairus believed that Jesus could do something for his daughter. The woman believed that touching Jesus’ clothes could do something for her. I wonder what it would be like to believe the impossible is possible. I wonder what it would be like to believe and hope that something new can happen. You see, I want our belief to have power. I want our belief to be big. I want us to believe that if we ask Jesus to bring about healing and wholeness in our lives that he’ll do it. I want us to believe that if we ask Jesus for a vision that he’ll give it and he’ll equip us to see that vision come to life. I want us to believe that reconciliation and justice in the world are possible. I want us to believe that the grace of Jesus Christ is available to everyone. I want us to believe that if we reach out and touch even the hem of Jesus Christ’s clothing something impossible and unbelievable and miraculous will happen. And more than believing that with God all things are possible, I want us to live as though it’s true. It would be risky. It would appear foolish. It would go against all conventional wisdom and logic. It would be an act of faith.
Being here today is an act of faith. You could have been anywhere else this morning and you’re here. You’re here because you believe. Coming to this table is an act of faith. We come to this table because we believe. We come to this table because we believe it’s not too late. In the face of whatever it is that weighs you down, you believe it’s not too late for that burden to be lifted. In the face of whatever it is that is causing despair or doubt, you believe that God is bigger. In the face of your own brokenness, you believe that you can be made whole.This feast set before us, this bread and this cup, tell us that it is not too late for new life because Jesus meets us here exactly where we are, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves: despairing or hopeful, privileged or on the margins, full of faith or filled with doubt, we come to eat the bread of life and drink from the cup of salvation; we come to be reminded that we are worthy, redeemed, loved. We come because we know it’s not too late. God is working through the impossible situations in our lives and in this world. This table reminds us that God so loved and still loves the world. God loves each one of us, too, broken, bruised, sinful, unsure. And so we are here today seeking healing and wholeness, reconciliation and grace, justice and mercy. We are here today seeking hope. We are here today believing that in and through Jesus Christ we will find healing and wholeness, reconciliation and grace, justice and mercy and hope for ourselves and for the whole world. Upon receiving these things here in this place, we carry them out into the world because we believe it’s not too late.
Rev. Alex Rodgers
Decatur Presbyterian Church
July 1, 2018
Allysen Schaaf graduated from Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, Virginia with a Master of Divinity and a Master of Arts in Christian Education. Prior to that she received a Bachelor of Arts in Exercise and Sport Science from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
The Rev. Dr. Todd Speed has served Decatur Presbyterian Church since August, 2007 and has been an integral part of the Decatur community ever since. As a part of his personal calling and service, Dr. Speed regularly serves on local non-profit or education-related boards, has led or co-led over 20 mission trips in various cultural contexts, and has participated in learning seminars on five continents.
Rev. Alexandra Rodgers was born and raised in Dallas, Texas. She grew up in a large Presbyterian church where she and her family were very involved. Alex has a degree in interdisciplinary studies from Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, and a master of divinity from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Austin, Texas.
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Worship is the heartbeat of Decatur Presbyterian Church, the most important hour of the week. In worship, we offer praise, receive forgiveness, listen to God's Word, pray for the needs of the world, and offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God.
The mission of DPC is to share Jesus Christ's love for the world.
Founded in 1825, Decatur Presbyterian Church has contributed in numerous ways to the cultural development of Decatur over nearly two centuries, transforming Decatur from a tiny frontier settlement to building the foundations of the city we live in today.
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