Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Proper 8 of Series B (Mark 5:21-43)

“But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’” Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen. The text for our sermon this morning is from the Gospel lesson read a few moments ago from the fifth chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Mark. Dear friends in Christ, a week ago was Father’s Day. On that Sunday we celebrated all those men who cared for us, nurtured us, and provided for us. As you heard the Gospel lesson read this morning, some of you probably thought that this would’ve been a perfect text for that day. If that was the case, then your preacher would’ve been tempted to spend the entire sermon talking about the example of Jairus as a caring and loving father. That’s all true and good to talk about, but this text has much more to teach us than simply the example of Jairus. He is important, but he is by no means the focus, as we will soon find out.

“And when Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered about him, and he was beside the sea. Then came one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name, and seeing Him, he fell at his feet.” Jairus was a leader of the Jewish community, and unlike most of the other leaders, he recognized Jesus as one from God, as one who just might be the Messiah. This ruler of the synagogue came to Jesus with a critical request. “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.” The urgency of His situation is apparent to all who hear these words. She is in the throes of death, the very last hours of her life. He loves his daughter, as a father he wants to protect her and care for her. He wants to find her help. It is at this moment that the penalty for sin becomes all the more apparent. Jairus is a ruler of the synagogue, a student of the Scriptures. He knows how death came into the world, and now it is extending its cold fingers toward his child. At the deathbed or at a funeral, we need no one to tell us the penalty for sin, we do not need any object lessons. All of humanity is “at the point of death,” facing the penalty for our sin, for the corruption that fills us. The daughter of Jairus is simply another victim of our greatest enemy. But Jairus will not accept defeat, and so he goes to the only one that he believes can help her, the one who has helped so many others, Jesus of Nazareth.

He cries out to this wandering rabbi in words that echo the cries of all of fallen humanity: “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.” This father and ruler of the synagogue comes to Jesus with the confidence that He can defeat death and disease. Jairus knows how Jesus operates. All He has to do is lay His hands on her, and she will be made well and delivered from the hands of death back to life again. Only Jesus can reverse the disease and grant her health. In the same way, all of fallen humanity, you and me, cry out to God with these same words- ‘We are at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on us, so that we may be made well and live.’

But even if we know that we need salvation, even if we know the only place to turn for our salvation, deliverance does not come on our schedule. Jairus made the urgency of his situation very clear to Jesus: “My little daughter is at the point of death.” He needs Jesus at her side right now, but other events intervene. A woman touches Jesus’ garments, and His stops to find out who and why. We can only imagine the depth of Jairus’ anguish as he watches Jesus pause on the way to heal his daughter. So often our God seems to be distracted by interruptions. He promised salvation immediately after the first sin, and Eve thought that her son would be the Messiah, but still God waited. We look around us at a world that is getting worse and worse, and we wonder what God is waiting for, what could possibly be holding Him up? Every generation of Christians has asked that question, they have cried out to God, ‘O Lord, how long?’ When we see our loved ones in the grip of death, or we ourselves are afflicted by disease, we want deliverance and healing right now, we don’t want to wait. Impatience can lead us to become angry with God, or to pay no attention to our spiritual life, falling into apathy. When we no longer care about heavenly deliverance, but instead wish to wallow in the filth of this sinful world, we have let impatience for the deliverance of God consume us.

Instead we are to cry out to God for deliverance and salvation, and then wait patiently for Him to deliver on His promises. Just like Jairus, we are right to want rescue from this world of sin, from this body of death, but this desire for deliverance should bring patience and faith, not impatience and unbelief. Jairus, despite the turmoil within him, despite his love for his daughter, does not complain, he does not try to prevent the healing of this woman, but instead having brought his urgent request before Christ, he waits for the promised deliverance. He trusts Jesus to save his daughter at just the right time, even if to his human eyes it seemed like the timing was completely wrong. As our Old Testament lesson for today puts it: “For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though He cause grief, He will have compassion according to the abundance of His steadfast love; for He does not willingly afflict or grieve the children of men.”

As Jairus waits, the woman is healed and sent on her way. Finally, Jesus can now go to heal his daughter. But messengers arrive, and the message they carry is the one he has feared. “While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler's house some who said, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?’” Can you imagine what Jairus felt as he heard these words? Death had won, it had triumphed over his daughter, all of his patience now counted for nothing, and in fact it seemed that only impatience would’ve saved his daughter. The hope he had, the confidence he held in Jesus’ ability to heal and deliver was apparently misplaced. Now there was little left to do but send Jesus away and mourn.

And on a cross only a couple years later, all humanity would think the same thing. The disciples and hundreds of others placed their trust in this wandering rabbi, this one who claimed to be the very Son of God. They believed that He was the promised Messiah, the one sent to restore fallen creation, to release all people from the iron grip of death, the one to answer our urgent request- ‘We are at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on us, so that we may be made well and live.’ But instead, on a Friday afternoon, this man who claimed to be God hung on a cross, dead. The Jewish leaders had accused Him, the Romans had crucified Him, the angry crowds had cried out for His blood. He had been scourged and beaten, forced to carry the instrument of death up to Golgotha. There, as the women wept, He endured the pain of death and the mocking of His enemies. And now He hung there, limp and lifeless, death had apparently triumphed, the hope that Jesus had brought was crushed. What had the patience of centuries of waiting brought? A corpse on a cross.

But if Jairus and all humanity believed that death had won, they were about to be surprised. “But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, "Do not fear, only believe." And he allowed no one to follow him except Peter and James and John the brother of James. They came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and Jesus saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. And when he had entered, he said to them, "Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping." And they laughed at him. But he put them all outside and took the child's father and mother and those who were with him and went in where the child was.” The messengers did not want Jairus to bother Jesus any longer, but apparently He wanted to be bothered. He wanted to see the corpse, perhaps simply to mourn with a devastated father. “Taking her by the hand he said to her, "Talitha cumi," which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, arise.’ And immediately the girl got up and began walking (for she was twelve years of age), and they were immediately overcome with amazement.” Jesus of Nazareth, who up to now had simply been a miracle-worker, here shows Himself as the Lord of life, as the One with the power over death. Amazement does not begin to describe how the family felt. Their daughter, who was dead, is now alive!

Jesus Christ slept in a tomb for three days as His followers despaired and wondered what came next. But on Easter Sunday the stone at its entrance was rolled away, and the Lord of life walked out, triumphant over death. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ rose just as He said to Jairus’ daughter: “Little girl, I say to you, arise!” His death was not some grand mistake, not some interruption to God’s plan, but instead absolutely necessary to it. Jesus Christ was crucified and died for the sins of all people, He shed His blood for you and for me. He died the death we deserved, He took all of our sin to the cross and there He paid the price for them. And now on Easter Sunday, He follows the raising of Jairus’ daughter, with one important difference. That little girl would die again, but Jesus Christ goes forth triumphant over the grave never to enter the grave again, as the Lord of life triumphant over death. He paid for our sins, crushed Satan’s head, and defeated death through His death and resurrection, through the cross and empty tomb. And He did this all for you and your salvation.

And so, while we follow the example of the patience of Jairus, that is not where we see ourselves in this account. We instead will follow the pattern of his daughter. We were all caught in the grip of death, doomed to temporal and eternal death and punishment. But God sent to us Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, to take our sin to the cross and pay the price we owed, then rise from the grave triumphant over all that held us captive. Death is a defeated enemy, and so Jesus says to us, ‘Child of God, I say to you, arise!’ With the power of His Word we are raised from the dust of death by the Lord of life, by the one who defeated death for us. He proclaims to us this Word that makes alive through the Holy Scriptures, through the proclamation of the forgiveness of sins. He touches you with salvation just as He touched the little girl’s hand when He pours on you water, or gives to your very lips bread and wine which are His Body and Blood. Christ makes you alive through the gift of His forgiveness, giving to you what He won in your place.

And so we pray, we cry out to God with the confidence that death is a defeated enemy, that Christ triumphed over it on Easter Sunday. We live as children of the resurrection, as those incorporated into the death of Christ through Baptism. And because we are now participants in His death, we will participate in His life- forever, a life without end, a life lived in the glory of Jesus Christ, our risen Savior. Death has lost its sting, it has now simply become the gateway to life. On that Last Day Jesus will say to each and every person redeemed by the blood of Christ, to you and me- ‘Child of God, I say to you, arise!’ And we will arise, delivered from sin and death to live with Him forever. May our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ help us to wait patiently for that day, Amen.

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