Signs of the Kingdom (Lectionary 13, Year B)

Lectionary 13 (4th Sunday after Pentecost), Year B
June 28, 2009

Mark 5:21-43

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Every now and then my wife, Jessicah, will call me from the road,
on her way to some place she’s never been,
perhaps driving at night and in the rain,
in unfamiliar territory and completely turned around.
She’ll pull over, call me at home, and ask,
“Chris, can you help me figure out where I’m going?  I’m lost.”
So I’ll go to my computer, open up Google Maps, and ask, “OK Jess, where are you right now?”
She’ll respond, “I don’t know where I am!  That’s why I’m calling you!”
“Well, that sure makes this difficult, don’t you think?”

We can’t know how to get to where we’re going
if we don’t know where we are in the first place.

In helping my wife figure out where she’s going, I need to know where she is.

I need to know the starting point.

The starting point.
Today’s Gospel story is a starting point, of sorts, for us.
Actually, not just today’s Gospel, but the whole Gospel account.
The life, ministry, miracles and preaching of Jesus, 
his betrayal, trial, execution, death, resurrection and ascension.
These are all a starting point for us, for people of faith, for the baptized Children of God.
We are people of the book, people of the promises and Good News found within it.
This is where we start.
And today’s Gospel reading shows us just what an amazing place to start it is.

This is a story near and dear to my heart,
one which I’ve told more than just about any story in the Bible,
for nearly every time someone learns that I have a daughter named Talitha they ask,
“Talitha.  That’s a beautiful/unique/interesting name.  Where does it come from?”
And in response, I tell them this story.
A man named Jairus, a synagogue leader, comes to Jesus distraught,
asking, begging, pleading that Jesus come to heal his twelve year old daughter, 
who is sick and about to die.
From the get-go we sense that something odd is going on here.
A synagogue leader, 
part of the religious leadership in Israel which, just a few chapters earlier in Mark,
has already begun to turn on Jesus,
A man who by means of his religious and social prestige, 
if not also his financial position,
would have had access to the various religious and medical remedies 
available in that day …
This man of stature in the community and religious hierarchy
falls at the feet of Jesus, 
who was seen by the crowds and his disciples as a rabbi, a teacher,
but who was certainly not your typical establishment religious leader,
drawing ire and attention for his unorthodox manner of ministry.
Already in this juxtaposition of Jairus coming to Jesus
we see that something different, something special, is going on here.

And so Jesus goes with Jairus and quickly a crowd forms and follows them.
I can imagine that Jairus was terribly anxious and distraught,
eager to get on the way to his house, to bring Jesus to his daughter.
But along the way in the crowd comes a woman who had been sick for twelve years.
We don’t know her name, and that fact is significant in biblical storytelling.
Only those people of prestige and standing in the community are named.
This woman, this unnamed and perpetually sick woman, 
is not one of any significant standing.
In fact, by nature of her sickness – hemorrhaging for twelve years – she was ritually unclean,
and others were banned from even making contact with her.
But like Jairus, the socially and religiously prominent public figure,
with whom she would otherwise have little in common,
this nameless, outcast, sick and unclean woman approaches Jesus looking for a cure.
Just like Jairus.
Two very different people looking for the same thing.

Now, simply by joining a crowd this woman is already taking a risk.  
She has joined a crowd when religious law would dictate that she keep her distance,
separate herself.
And more, she dares to approach a religious teacher and touch him, 
an act that would make him unclean.
So what might look timid and meek to our modern eyes – 
this woman sneaking up behind Jesus and grabbing the hem of his cloak, anonymously – 
is actually an amazing feat of courage, faith and defiance.
And in reaching out to touch Jesus’ robe, she is healed of her disease.
But more …
This nameless, anonymous, over-looked woman is not just healed of her disease,
but in calling her out to tell her story to him and before the whole crowd
Jesus draws her out from the shadows in which she resided for 12 years, 
he makes her known, and in so doing restores her to the community.
“Your faith has made you well,” Jesus says.  “Go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

While all this is going on I can imagine Jairus, 
distraught with sadness and fear that he will lose his daughter, 
is going nuts – after all, he got to Jesus first!
But when this sick woman comes along and Jesus stops,
Jairus’ surely fears that his daughter’s healing has been slowed.  Delayed.  Put on hold.
The clock is ticking.
Have you ever been very anxious, waiting for something terribly important,
only to have it delayed for a few minutes, hours, days, weeks ….
The text doesn’t tell us that Jairus nervously looked at his proverbial watch 
and anxiously tapped his toe,
but I wouldn’t be surprised if he did.

Well, sure enough, just as Jesus was wrapping up his conversation with the 
previously sick but now healed and restored woman,
people arrive from Jairus’ house to report that his daughter has died,
and that he shouldn’t bother the teacher, Jesus, any longer.
Jesus implores Jairus, who I imagine was bursting with grief at this point,
to not be afraid, but to believe.
Could Jairus possibly believe that Jesus could turn around death?  
Yes, he did just witness a healing, 
but raising the dead would seem to be quite a different feat than healing the sick.
Raising the dead would defy one of the fundamental forces of our human existence.
Raising the dead would change everything.

So they resume their journey to Jairus’ house,
where people are weeping and wailing loudly.
Jesus, revealing that something different, 
that something out of the ordinary is going to happen,
asks why the people weep and cause a commotion.
They laugh at him, but he continues on,
leaving everyone outside except the girl’s parents and Peter, James, and John.
With no fanfare except for a simple touch and two words – talitha cum – 
Jesus restores the girl to life, to the amazement of all.

This past week I was at our synod’s Confirmation Camp, 
held at Mar-Lu-Ridge Camp, a Lutheran camp near Frederick, Maryland.
70 kids, including two of our own, 
10 pastors (including our former bishop), 
a full-time Youth Director and a full-time Christian Educator,
and 20 camp counselors recalled the life, ministry, death and resurrection
of Jesus in a crazy week full of skits and worship, hiking and singing,
fellowship and fun, service and silliness.
One thing I noticed is how quickly it all went.  
I played the role of Jesus, 
and I was amazed that shortly after I arrived to camp last Sunday I was “baptized” 
and off onto the work of ministry.
Yet by Tuesday I was turning tables in the Temple and was later betrayed by Judas.
Wednesday was the trial and crucifixion of Jesus – 
thankfully we didn’t act out the crucifixion, 
but instead showed them a clip from one of the films about Jesus – 
and Thursday the Resurrection.
I found myself wondering on Friday about where this trajectory of Jesus’ life and ministry,
his death and resurrection, where this trajectory of Jesus leads us.
What does this look like for us?
It’s nice to talk about Jesus, but what does it mean for us?

What I love about today’s passage from Mark’s Gospel 
is that it helps me answer that question …
it helps me picture what this whole Jesus thing means for us.
Today’s Gospel story contains just about everything – 
fear, suffering, death, grief, anxiety ….
but also faith, promise, restoration, healing, renewal, resurrection, new life.
This is a story that in its recounting of the feelings and circumstances
surrounding the anonymous woman and Jairus is a deeply human story,
telling the story of people and situations with which we can surely identify.
This story shows what the power and love of God mean for us …
Ours is a God who loves, who has compassion, who takes time for the interruptions,
who goes against the odds and heals the sick and raises the dead,
a God whose power is used for mercy.
This story, nearly 2000 years old, helps me think of what is to come,
of the promised future of God’s kingdom,
for which we pray in the Lord’s Prayer and we confess in the Creed.
That is, this story of restoration and resurrection,
of two women leaving behind suffering, pain, and death
for a future of life and fellowship and joy ….
this story helps me see more clearly what the Kingdom of God looks like,
a Kingdom preached by John the Baptist and Jesus,
a Kingdom revealed in Jesus’ words and deeds,
a Kingdom inaugurated by Jesus’ resurrection,
a Kingdom which is to come and be fulfilled in the Age which is to come.
This story of the anonymous woman and of Jairus’ daughter 
helps us to see what God’s kingdom looks like …
and it sure looks pretty nice, don’t you think?

When Jessicah calls and is turned around on the roads somewhere,
I ask her to look around and to try and find a sign 
that might give a clue as to her whereabouts,
so we can figure out where she is and where she’s going.
Today’s reading and the miracles it recounts are signs for us, dear friends,
signs that gives us a clue as to where we are and where we’re going.
Surrounded by so many signs and promises, ancient, present, and future,
in Word but also in the Sacrament we share here,
in this place but also in our homes, and in our places of work and leisure,
we live surrounded by God’s grace and mercy.
We live surrounded by signs of God’s kingdom coming in.
Amen.  Thanks be to God.

Published by Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. Veteran. Jedi. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

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