Sermon preached by the Reverend Nicholas Lang
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – July 1, 2012
In the name of God, creator, healer, and restorer of life. Amen.
Two stories. Two unrelated people. Two different circumstances. Two surprising conclusions. That is the Gospel sandwich that Mark offers us today. There is a marked contrast between the two main characters. Jairus is a leader in the Synagogue, while the unnamed woman is among the marginalized of her society because of her gender and illness.
Both are stories of great need and of desperation. Both are stories of hope that life can be different or changed. Both demonstrate the nature of faith as humble trust and reliance on the grace and power of God through Jesus. Both this man and woman come with a real sense of urgency about their desperate situations.
Desperate situations. On Friday night, I had another unexpected and unwanted visit to the emergency room. This time a nosebleed that I could not get under control was the culprit. I don’t do well with blood – even turning away whenever I have to get it drawn so I sympathize particularly with the woman in today’s Gospel. While I waited for two hours to be called to an examination room, two other members of our parish were brought into the ER. Mother Cindy, on her day off, made haste to get to all three of us and ministered to us in our need. My experience on Friday night – the signs of desperation all around me, the anxiety of waiting family members, signs of domestic violence and abuse in some folk, evidence of addictions manifested by some behaviors, the crying of a little baby in the room next to where I landed – all of this renewed my awareness of the number of people who face desperate situations and who sorely need God’s healing presence.
These miracle stories in the Gospels – and there are many of them – can be as disturbing as they are consoling. The trouble with miracles is that it is difficult to witness them or even read about them without wanting one for ourselves. I would wager that everyone of you here this morning knows someone who could use a miracle.
The fact is that miracles are not easy to come by and everyone who prays for one doesn’t necessarily get one. Then there are some who get it without even asking. It all seems rather random and it is the source of great frustration for a lot of people. So we might have good reason to ask, “Why did the writers of the Gospels include certain miracles for us who would hear about them two thousand years later? Was it to make us envious of those who were as fortunate as the two characters in today’s Gospel? What’s the message intended for this audience?”
Jesus didn’t perform miracles to show off or to entertain. Jesus performed miracles to show us that the way things are in this world are not the way God wants them to be nor the way they will always be. The miracles of the Gospel are testimony that God does not want us to live in turmoil but rather in wholeness. Each miracle is an opportunity for God’s kingdom to break through time and show us – if even for just a moment – how things will be when God’s economy, not the world’s economy, reigns. Miracles are the stuff of the thin places that appear without warning and where we get a glimpse of what awaits us on the other side.
What these stories are not meant to teach or reinforce is the lesson that many of us may have learned at the hands of well-intentioned but misguided religious people. It goes something like this: “If you just believe hard enough, your prayers will be answered. If you don’t get your miracle, it is because your faith is not strong enough.” That’s just plain mean – and wrong. It also suggests that miracles are something we can control and, if you happen to be ill and you get worse, it must be your fault. You didn’t pray hard enough.
Faith does not make miracles happen. God does. Accrediting a miracle to the power of our belief that we can make it happen by wanting it enough is equivalent to the practice of magic. Real faith is acknowledging that we are not in control and that God is the source of every ounce of grace that we receive. And, I suspect that everyone of us in the ER on Friday night felt very much out of control and in need of God’s intervention – perhaps at that point through the healing ministry of clergy and medical professionals present to us.
People are desperate to be told that God loves them with a radical and reckless love that we cannot fathom, that God is with them in their pain and their happiness, their sadness and their joy, their faith and their doubt, their hope and their despair.
The Gospel sandwich Marks asks us to hear and digest this morning is about the power of God to transform death to life. Sitting here today on a hot summer morning, you may or may not know what shadow is in your path, what situation which you are facing that seems like a dead end, where you may feel confined or what may be pulling the life force out of you. And God does as well.
Perhaps the miracle is that two thousand years after Jairus’ daughter go up from her bed and the woman with the hemorrhage began to lead a healthy life, there is still a community of people like us who believe that God is with us and works through us – through our welcome of the desperate, our willingness to walk with one another in our distress, our offering of a sacred space in which to find and be found by God. And our recognition of how very precious – and fragile – is the gift of life.
Theologian Frederick Buechner writes: “Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness; touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it, because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”