Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on June 27, 2021

Posted by on Sun, Jun 27, 2021 in Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

June 27, 2021

The story we hear from Mark today is so detailed it makes Matthew’s account sound like a different story altogether. That richness makes it easier to see it, to place ourselves on the shore in the crowd, watching his boat coming in. So consciously release those storybook pictures from childhood that now makes it seem too long ago to be relevant, and too simple a ‘moral to the story’ to inquire of it now. Instead, hear it as to place your self at that lake, among friends and strangers both. These are people just like you and me, who stand in line or steal the covers, who sweat and laugh and grieve and get sick of what they cannot fix. Close your eyes and just be there. Feel the lake breeze on a hot day, (though it’s only104°F there today). Notice the contrast of warmth of bodies around you. Hear and smell the water, how the person in front of you smells different or familiar, all craning to see him. Which one is Jesus? Can you jostle for a glimpse, can you tell just by looking? A man from the other direction looks important enough people let him through, and with a cry he throws up his arms and falls to the ground in front of the one who must be Jesus. His face contorted in pain he’s pleading. Jairus is unexpectedly humbled by desperation and love for his “little daughter” — who at 12 is no longer a girl but considered a woman now, though they’re all little girls to their fathers, no? He pictures her face as he left, increasingly certain Jesus can—must—heal her. This faith is his last resort, and he boldly asks, not only for healing, but also for her thriving! Unbelievably Jesus nods and they walk, only to be abruptly waylaid.

“Who touched me?” Jesus absurdly asks amidst the throng. ‘Keep moving!’ Jairus silently urges. ‘Stop, wait!’ the woman behind him thinks. She knows to her bones that touching his presence will heal the blood flow which has painfully shamed her for over a decade. Years of seeking out healers and remedies only made it worse. ‘Why was I so sure?’ she wonders — And then she knows;  it  has  stopped.  Her fingers held the soft well-worn cloth only a moment; it was enough. “Who touched me?” he says, and her heart stops. ‘I’ll be caught out, he’ll be angry at being made unclean by me, I’ll be outcast or stoned to death’, her fear-filled mind races. Unconsciously, she too falls at his feet to beg his mercy, just like the synagogue leader. Shuddering she admits the truth about her bold forbidden touch. He gives her a new truth; “Daughter…” his voice raises her to her feet. “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” She nearly falls again, and before he can say another word, he’s pulled into news about the synagogue leader’s daughter.

As she watches Jesus and the others go, she feels the new strangeness of the absence of pain and disease. Not only that, she believes his words; she is now also whole and sound. Her faith is that the mystery of Jesus simply is. Her faith touched him and they both felt it. I daresay no one will take the power of touch lightly for a very long time, after being starved of it for over a year. I remember the first person at St. Michael’s who hugged me, and just how Walt’s strong arms felt, his aftershave, his deep laugh so resonant that I felt the vibration. His touch healed my apprehension and my uncertainty. Equally powerful is that first ‘post-pandemic’ hug. She will remain nameless because the abandon which stirred it felt almost illegal! Who was or will be yours? Whose embrace holds Christ’s healing power for you? I pray that you too gasp(ed) slightly at the connection and breathe(d) together. Something was restored in that moment, and I wonder if that wasn’t a reflection of what the unnamed women who touched Jesus knew too.

It is poetic that the word used for touch here isn’t passive. It specifically means a touch that modifies or alters, changing-touch as opposed to casual jostling of the crowd. Healed, and made whole, well-alive. Similar words are in Jairus’ plea for Jesus to lay hands on his daughter, “so that she may be made well, and live.”

Neither is about a mere malady fixed nor even being rescued from death. Both stories include a two-fold change; restoration and thriving, healing and living. You’ve been there today — what would it mean to be touched by him or talk with him? What passes between you if your eyes lock for a moment, or shares a smile? What do you hope for, reach for? This is the gift of these stories told and retold. They ask us to listen anew, enter them anew, experience the story and expect it to be new each time. The gospel try to bring us into what it was to be with him, what it was that made people follow, believe, or be bold enough to reach out to him. 

Jairus didn’t behave like an important man, he was a desperate father, addled by fear, panic and dread. And then the worst thing that can happen does; messengers say, “Your daughter is dead.” It is too late for healing now, don’t bother Jesus to come. I cannot imagine how Jairus heard Jesus speaking to him in that moment when his world went still and dark. It can only be what some might say is denial—a glimmer of faith that still hopes… Then, “Do not fear, only believe.” Jesus says. Believe what? He doesn’t ask. He stands on that road in the hot sun not knowing what to think. Does ‘Believe’ mean that there is nothing left to fear? He no longer fears for her life, she is gone. Our literal minds wrestle hearing Jesus say she is only sleeping. Maybe it wasn’t a miracle of healing, she had simply been sort of comatose. Was it a euphemism of comfort that she sleeps in eternity? At the house Jesus sends everyone out, so that just Jesus, his three fisherman friends and the parents, perhaps holding each other up. They gather by this ‘little daughter’ in her awful stillness.

I’ve prayed at enough bedsides, and maybe you have too, that I can say it’s almost reflexive to join hands when invited to pray for the one lying before you. When did you last do so? I hope this will be what we think of next time we do. Say, “The Lord be with you” and this scene will come to mind; you will know full well he is there too. 

Like a spark to a current, again it is touch that connects his healing with her receiving as he takes her small limp hand in his strong male one. The parent’s and disciple’s faith form a surround of sacred mystery, hope. Then, “Talitha cum!” Little girl, rise up! 

Someone who was there at the time must have heard these Aramaic words of Jesus and remembered them, preserving the language of Jesus for all time amid the the rest in Greek. He speak to her, touching and raising her up, not only to health, but to life! Imagine her parent’s awe, their constant looking at her to be sure she’s really there, the curve of her toes on the floor, the damp hair clinging to her neck, her eyes bright again — she truly lives. How has the worst thing than ever happened to them turned into the best thing? We watch it unfold as if standing just inside the doorway. You hear ‘Little girl, get up’ and you wonder, anticipating, hoping. And something within us rises up as she does. We become that child, brought to new life by faith, lifted high by his touch. It doesn’t matter that I’m sixty or that you’ve got a bad back or that another doesn’t mean every word of the creed, or even that your faith is tested to it’s limit and sometimes beyond. You might rather not get up, it might be hard, painful, or seem impossible. You may still be self-quarantined, forgetting how it feels to hug someone, be miserable or joyful—even so, he says it to us all; ‘beloved, little one, rise up!’ The mystery of his presence is ever with us and his touch is always upon us. Amen.

© 2021 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved.