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Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Tale of Two Daughters

PREACHED AT FIRST BAPTIST CHURCH OF AUSTIN, TEXAS JUNE 28, 2009
LECTIONARY TEXT FOR SERMON IS MARK 5:21-43
OR YOU MAY LISTEN TO IT ONLINE HERE, JUST CLICK ON 2009-06-28

“I’m exhausted,” they said in unison. It was said on two separate sides of town. One in a home made of wooden beams, straw mats and clay and one a makeshift house of odds and ends since the money for a real home had been lost long ago.

“I’m exhausted. But I think there’s one more thing I’d like to try.”

Seriously? Seriously.

“I’ve heard of a man, a teacher and he might be able to help.”
Jairus’ wife protested. “Jesus?! You’ve got to be kidding. You would risk your reputation, and our livelihood by going to Jesus?”
“If it would heal our daughter, yes. I would risk it all to petition that man.”

Anyone who lays down their life for their brother…

The hemorrhaging woman whispered to her sister. “There’s the teacher, he’s coming into town, they say. I’m going to see him.”
“Give up child,” her sister chided. “You’ve lost everything already and if anyone in that crowd recognizes you, you could lose your life too.”
“If I could just get close enough to touch him…”
“Touch him? You’re not even supposed to be touching me. I’ve got to go wash this dress now cause I let you cry your tears on my shoulder. You’re dying honey. Give it up. Die in peace.”

She who has the faith of a mustard seed…

One had plenty of money for doctors offering a plethora of prescriptions to heal his sick daughter. One had used every penny she had searching for a cure. One wasn’t supposed to be seen talking to the teacher because of his powerful position in the temple, let alone prostrating himself before Jesus begging for help. The other wasn’t supposed to be seen in public because of her illness, let alone bumping shoulders with people in a crowd. One risked pledging allegiance to Jesus and ruining his own reputation all the while giving credit to Jesus’. “Even that Synagogue leader went to Jesus, remember?” The other risked contaminating Jesus, polluting him with her uncleanliness. “Even that hemorrhaging woman touched him, remember?”

As if his reputation could be enlightened or his holiness compromised by a couple of human hands. ☺

If the unnamed hemorrhaging woman and Jairus the Synagogue leader told anybody, they were both probably discouraged from approaching Jesus, yet both did.

Faith will make you do things you never thought possible.

Jairus went boldly, publicly and fell down on his face in front of Jesus. Prostrate before him he cried, “Please sir. I know you can heal her.” The hemorrhaging woman went anonymously, slipping in with the crowd silently shouldering her way to the front and then down she went to the ground, perhaps already bent over from pain, and grasped for a moment the edge of his garment before she was pushed out of the way. Lots of people crowded in to see Jesus. They parted ways for Jairus the synagogue leader, but trampled the humoring woman already cowering near the ground.

“Someone touched me!” Jesus cried out and stopped, halting the crowd of people around him as they bumped into him and each other like dominos.

“Ya think?” replied the disciples. “This place is a mad house. There’re people everywhere. Come on Jesus. Keep going, this guy’s kid is sick.”

“No, someone touched me.” Jesus said again and the woman rose up from among the people. Standing tall now, the pain gone, the bleeding stopped she knew he was talking about her. She could feel the change in her body, and while it might have just been her fear, something in her soul felt changed too. “It was me, sir.”

I imagine the crowd stepped back. Now they’d all be deemed unclean if she’d been among them. That was the lady who carried the ostrich egg in a linen rag in summer and a cotton rag in winter. For a whole year she’d done that! Most of them had seen her, trying all the Talmud’s remedies to heal her sickness. And the ones who hadn’t were soon getting the story as whispered gasps of amazement and disgust rippled through the crowd.

“Daughter,” Jesus said to her. Daughter? I thought the daughter was the kid they were going to heal. Is she here? Or was Jesus calling this poor, sick woman “Daughter?” The crowd’s whispers simmered to silence. “Daughter, go and be free.”

There was no need to go to the temple and present a sacrifice for cleanliness like the man healed in the story before this one for the woman’s disease didn’t necessitate it. And there was no need to stand before Jesus embarrassed for her belief that he could heal her and there was no need to stand in front of this crowd and call out “unclean” so they would know to avoid her anymore.

Go and be free, Jesus told her.

Go and be free.

But then another voice was heard.

“It’s too late,” it said, with a hint of an indignant “I told you so” in its tone. “Your daughter’s dead. Don’t trouble the teacher anymore.”

Jairus’ face dropped. All the money or power in the world couldn’t save his daughter and now Jesus couldn’t either. It was too late. Jairus too felt the fear sweep over him like the woman had and he covered his face to hide his grief. But Jesus said to him, “Don’t be afraid. Keep on believing.” Jairus looked at Jesus and he looked at the back of the healed woman who walked away with a crowd of people interviewing her and patting her on the back. His heart stirred. He nodded to Jesus who singled out Peter, James and John to accompany them and the five of them carried on, leaving the rest of the disciples to deal with the remaining crowd.

But they found another crowd at the man’s house. The mourners had already gathered and had already ripped their clothing the appropriate length and the flute players had already begun their songs. “She’s not dead, she’s sleeping,” Jesus said over the noise. And at that the laughter of the crowd only added to the noise. “She’s dead, you moron.” “Jairus, you missed your daughter’s last breath.” “Wait ‘til the temple priests hear about this.”

Undaunted by their jeers, Jesus and Jairus, now with his wife and the three disciples went into the room of the dead child. And to their surprise, Jesus grabbed her hands. Touching the dead, like touching the diseased was forbidden, but Jesus did anyway. And to everyone’s surprise, he helped her out of bed. “Little girl,” he said, “Rise up.”

Rise up.

And she did.

Peter, James and John exchanged glances as Jairus and his wife threw their arms around their daughter, alive and breathing and giggling with surprise.

Rise up, go and be free.

“Rise up, go and be free,” I wanted to say to the 14 year old girl named Tabita in the Chilean Girl’s Home. I and 11 others from FBC went down to Temuco, Chile to volunteer at the Baptist children’s home last month. We worked and played with 23 girls between the ages of 6 and 19 years old. All the girls living there have been court-ordered removed from their abusive or neglectful homes. Tabita was sitting in the corner hunched over, wiping tears from her red eyes. “Rise up honey, go and be free,” I tried to tell her with my eyes. “You have experienced the love of God through the women and men who work at this home, the Tias and Tios, the aunties and uncles who love you, you’ve experienced love through your 22 sisters here at the home and now, through us, twelve U.S. citizens who came to serve you. Rise up. Go and be free. You too have a second chance.” But she sat crying in the corner, while the rest of the girls played with the North Americans. She was angry with her mother I learned from one of the Tias. No matter how much love and compassion the girls experience at the home some of them still want to go back to their real families, she explained. Some of them still believe things will get better at their real homes, that things will change. Some of them want healing for their bleeding families. Some of them want resurrection for their dead homes.

Unfortunately, healing abusive relationships between parents and children can feel like a greater challenge than raising the dead. And most of those girls will never be allowed back in the homes they’ve been removed from. But that doesn’t mean they’ve been left alone.

It’s true; Jesus isn’t here on earth right now. There’s no reaching out to touch the edge of his garment. There’s no being taken by his hands and helped out of bed. There’s no healing in that way anymore, but that doesn’t mean that Jesus isn’t still among us.

I’m sending a comforter to be with you he said. And of course, you’ll have each other. There’s a reason Jesus took Peter, John and James with him. Someone had to take what they saw and tell the story and share the love.

And what a story it is, this tale of two daughters. Mark 5 is a story about sickness, illness, disease and death. And it’s not a story we’re unfamiliar with. In an age where as the world’s number one super power we can’t provide healthcare, let alone adequate healthcare, to our own citizens, we know this story. In a state where 24% of Texans don’t have healthcare and where we have the most uninsured children out of any state in the entire United States of America, we know this story. In a city where House Bill 1541 and CHIP, both aiming to provide healthcare for children in Texas, didn’t even make it to the House floor, we know this story. In a church where this week alone we had spiritual giants Millie Bishop and Mary Guemple in the hospital, we know all about this story of sickness.

But it’s also a story about faith. And sometimes it’s enough. Sometimes, like the hemorrhaging woman, we can muster enough faith to stand on our own in the middle of a gawking crowd and say yes, this is me, reaching out to Jesus for help. I’ve got nothing but faith right now, but by God, I’m clinging to it with all I’ve got.

Sometimes we need some help from others. Sometimes we need other people, our fathers and mothers, our Tias and Tios, our brothers and sisters to go to God with their faith on our behalf. And hopefully some of their faith spills over on us too. To us, those faithful men and women of God bring hope and healing in the spirit of Jesus Christ.

But sometimes despite our faith or the faith of others, we don’t get healed. Situations don’t get better and the disease doesn’t go away. And this too is a story we know all too well. Confessing faith in Jesus Christ isn’t a sure ticket to health and happiness.

But it is a ticket to freedom. Rise up, go and be free Jesus tells us, our pastor tells us, our brothers and sisters tell us, our Tias and Tios tell us. Rise up. Be free. We don’t have Jesus to cling to here on earth anymore, but we’ve got each other. We’ve got each other. That’s why it matters what you say. It matters what you do. It matters how you vote. It matters how you spend your money. It matters how you feed your family. We live in a world full of disease and death sometimes in obvious forms like hemorrhages and cancer and mental illness and sometimes in more metaphorical forms like abuse and negligence and greed and lust.

Maybe you’re exhausted. Maybe like Jairus and the bleeding woman you’re at your wits end and are willing to try anything. In that case, I say just do it. Try anything. Try believing in a Savior who was also a carpenter. Try believing in a God who wanted to become human. Try believing in a Spirit who communicates what with words we cannot. Try placing faith in a Messiah who said love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. Try placing faith in a Parent who loves without distinction of class, race or gender. Try placing faith in a Comforter that unites instead of dividing.

And when you’ve done that, everything changes. Now it’s your responsibility to tell the world, rise up and be free! Because sometimes our own faith is sufficient and other times we get by with a little help from our friends.

The woman was poor, Jairus was rich.
The woman had no social worth, Jairus was a synagogue leader.
The woman was sick, Jairus was speaking on behalf of one sick.
The woman was estranged from the community. Jairus was respected by the community.
Both had tried lots of other options.
Both risked being exposed in front of the crowd.
Both were faithful.

And both were recognized and accepted and changed by Jesus and both left with a story they couldn’t help but tell.

And we’ve been telling it ever since.

Rise up. Be free.

2 comments:

austinokie said...

Extraordinary! Beautifully done....

Roger

field said...

Fantastic Ann! Loved your treatment of the text and your application to the story we all find ourselves negotiating at this moment. We all can find ourselves somewhere in that text... Thanks! Peace!

Mike Young