Fear VS Faith

This Sunday is the last Sunday for Richard and I to lead the music Worship service at the Manor.  It’s my turn to preach.  As I reflected on the readings this week, I realized that even in preaching at St. Paul’s we are “companioning” with the residents…A new word learned from books that Fr. Leigh gave us to read to prepare for the Grief Group that was formed while we were here (and that we “companion” with every Friday).  The books are Companioning the Bereaved, Companioning the Dying and Companioning You, all written by Alan D. Wolfelt. One of the first tenents Wolfelt teaches us is that WE are not the experts in anyone else’s grief, dying, etc.  WE are companions with them…sharing love, understanding… and common experiences to walk through these situations to a new reality; a new “normal” to peace and a new kind of joy.

I saw this unfold in the readings today.  Jesus walking with the woman and the synagogue leader.

Sermon Sunday 6/28/15 Faith vs. Fear

Of the four Gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, I’d always considered John my favorite writer – But, after two years in Seminary, I have to come admire and respect the Gospel of Mark (while still reserving John as my preferred ). This is largely to the credit of my New Testament professors.

Mark, as you may know, was actually the first Gospel written (not the second as the book is positioned in the NT).  And, Matthew and Luke relied on much of Mark’s writings for their own Gospels.  I’d always thought the structure of Mark was very simplistic, with most movement in the narrative containing the word, ” immediately”.  If you read the book in one sitting, you get the feeling that Jesus was constantly on the move- preaching, performing miracles, jumping into boats, sailing to one side of the sea to another, raising the dead, exorcising demons, healing sick, blind and unclean people.  Even if he found time alone to pray, his followers would find him and bring his attention to some person or community that needed Jesus.  Then, they would immediately bring Jesus to that community or person.

What I’ve learned about Mark is that he is in fact, one of the most brilliant Gospel writers of all.  “The Gospel of Mark presents Jesus’ preaching and manifestation of the kingdom of God as a decisive new development in the history of Israel, not as a beginning of a new religion…(presenting Jesus) as a specially designated son of God, or king…(who) turns out to b e a messiah(anointed one) who is a martyr, in contrast to the disciples’ expectations that Jesus would be invested with political power in Jerusalem.”[1]

Mark’s Gospel doesn’t contain Jesus’ Genealogy, the beloved story of the Nativity or of Jesus getting lost as a teenager at the Temple on family pilgrimage there.  Mark starts right out stating in the first sentence, that Jesus’ life and ministry, passion, death and resurrection is the gospel,” the good news”, and states without hesitation, with no build up, the fact that Jesus is the Son of God.

Mark 1:1:  “The beginning of the good news (gospel) of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”.

Last week, we read in Mark about the storm that overcame the boat Jesus and his disciples were traveling in to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. You will remember that Jesus was asleep, and in sheer panic the disciples woke Jesus up and seemed to question his vigilance in sleeping while they were in danger of losing their lives in the horrible storm. He stands up in a composed manner, and calms the storm; then turns to them and says, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith??” 4:39-41.

As we study the passage in today’s gospel, it seems to me that being afraid is a common occurrence for people who encounter Jesus in the hopes of finding a miracle; a miracle from Jesus, their desperate last hope.  Can this Palestinian peasant from Nazareth (of all places!), who even his own family have called crazy, really help me?  When my community laughs at him? When even doctors have all failed?

I imagine Jairus, sitting at his daughter’s bedside, watching some unknown illness take over her young body, his feelings of helplessness, his feeling of fear as he probably brought doctors in to help her, and she didn’t recover.

Jairus, a ruler in the synagogue, a powerful and wealthy man, Jairus, supposedly  close to the ear of God Himself- and yet he is helpless to save her life. I am sure he has heard the rumblings of the other priests and rabbis over this Jesus, this rabble-rouser, this man who claims to be the son of God, from Nazareth.  From Nazareth of all places! What price did Jairus pay in leadership, power and prestige to find Jesus and publicly beg for his help?

Jairus hears Jesus is coming in by boat today.  Everyone in town is talking about it, many of them run down to the boat as it arrives.  The rabbis and priests are shaking their heads with disapproval as Jairus gently lays his daughter down in her bed and runs down to the boat- all he can think of is the little girl’s life ebbing out of her minute by minute.  He puts his fear aside and falls to his knees(!) among the “great crowd” and begged him repeatedly, ‘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.’ 24 So he went with him.”

Standing off to the side of the “great crowd” of people, watching this all unfold  might have been the woman in the next verse, the woman suffering from hemorrhages for 12 years…

I picture the woman (who throughout this story remains nameless), worn out, depressed, broke, hopeless; somehow hearing about this Jesus and the healing he has done throughout the area.  She’s an outcast- due to bleeding for 12 long years. Leviticus 15:25-30 makes it clear that as long as she is  bleeding, anything she touches or her clothes touch, are also unclean and had to go through a cleansing ritual, to become clean again.  She goes from doctor to doctor, desperate to find a cure and return to a normal life; yet doctor after doctor  cannot help her, they can only take her money.

She must think, “What if he can really help me? I’ve heard so many people say he is a great teacher, that he is driving out demons and healing people. Some people say he is a prophet, or the messiah!  I have no money left…But if he sees me, will he know I am unclean?  A rabbi or prophet isn’t allowed to even touch me! What if other people see me? They will chase me away. She continues to follow on the margin of the crowd, with, I’m sure, her thoughts in turmoil.

Then, she puts her fear aside, and presses in among the throng of people following Jesus to the house of Jairus…as they stride along, she reaches down and touches the hem of Jesus’ robe and “immediately” she felt the healing power of Jesus throughout her body and her hemorrhage stopped; and ” she was healed of her disease.” The joy and awe she must’ve felt.  I picture her standing still in the realization that she has been healed as the crowd goes around her as they continue to follow Jesus.

She sees Jesus stop. Question those around him.  Looking among the crowd. Fear rises up in her…knowing she must go to him and tell him that it was she who touched his robe.  She, who hasn’t been fit to touch anyone or anything for 12 years.  What will he do?  Will he be angry? Will he return my sickness?

She walks up to Jesus, (trembling and shaking before Jesus  with fear) and admits that she touched his robe. He says to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’

Fear and Faith again. hmmm

Just at that moment, probably the most insensitive person the staff at Jairus’ house could’ve sent to tell Jairus the terrible news that his little girl had died comes on the scene to halt the collection of people walking with and around Jesus and Jairus to his daughter’s bedside.  This person seems more concerned with Jesus being inconvenienced than Jairus losing his daughter to an early death.

I wonder at this part of Mark’s Gospel.  Something tells me that the Synagogue didn’t want Jesus to be able to heal the little girl-that this would just increase his following. Besides, they may have thought, Jairus needs to stop this craziness, following this Jesus.  He’s embarrassing all of us. The girl died, just as we told him she would.  Surely, this Jesus is not going to enter the house of a corpse (clearly against the purity laws)?

Jairus turns to Jesus, devastated.  Jesus tells him, what?  “Do not fear, only believe.  He leaves the murmuring crowd behind and takes only Jairus, Peter, James and John on to the little girl.  He arrives at the house, where everything is in chaos.  Wailing, crying, commotion…he again, calm and pastoral, says the child is not dead, just asleep.  This brings down the house.  They all begin to laugh.  They saw her die, they know she is dead.  Who is this???

He proceeds to where the girl is, and tells her to get up. She does.  Then he goes back to the room full of naysayers and tells them to get something to eat for the poor girl.  I would’ve loved to see their faces at this news.

Clearly, Mark brings this story to us to show us again, how “the death of a loved one brings a petitioner to Jesus and becomes the occasion for presentation of Jesus’ power over death.  The story contrasts the turmoil of the mourners with the calm assurance of Jesus”[2].

When mulling this over, I am struck by the courage of the woman and the leader of the synagogue.  They went against all their own community’s laws, norms and probably faced a lot of criticism (or worse) for their actions against the cultural norms.

I wonder, would I be willing to pay any price-risk arrest, risk losing my job, risk causing me to be further ostracized from society, risk losing what little I had left to follow Jesus?

All of us in this room don’t arrive at this stage in our life without having times, moments in our lives where we are without hope.  With that hopelessness comes fear.  Fear of loss. Fear of pain. Fear of death. For me, it happens when I turn to myself or doctors, or “experts” for help out of that hopelessness.

Maybe that is the message Mark is giving us today.  The unfailing love and grace of Jesus takes the risk and the fear and replaces it with faith, strength and courage. Jesus did exactly that for the unnamed woman and Jairus.

We never hear what happened to either the Synagogue leader or the nameless lady with the hemorrhage.  But we do  know what their stories have done for others for over the last  2,000 years.

For those afraid to approach Jesus and ask for healing, thinking they are not “good enough” or doing something so outside what they and their family or the world would expect them to do…face to face, heart to heart;  to go against what the “world” outside believes is true and scoffs and derides anything else.  To no longer fear but to trust in the power of the love and grace of Jesus to heal us, to make us whole, to give us courage, strength and joy.

For me, that is what this Gospel writer is telling us today. After all, his first verse in the book reads,  “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”.

AMEN

[1] The New Oxford Annotated Bible. NRSV with The Apocrypha.  Horsly, Richard A. Introduction to The Gospel of Mark1791-1792

[2] Harper’s Biblical Commentary. Mark 4:35-5:43.  ppg. 990-991

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