June 28, 2015
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
For a long time there was a joke about all sermons being three points and a poem. This caricature originates in an old Reformed formula for preaching that indeed had three points. They were
- A description of the fallen, broken, or hurting state of the world
- The free gift of grace found in Jesus Christ both in the Gospel and in the life of faith
- How we, by faith, accept that grace, take our place in the life of the church, and how we then live in ways of justice and mercy.
One of the things I have noticed in the big ticket items of our day, the hot button topics, the church fights, culture wars, or whatever you want to call them, is that there are churches on both sides each using this same formula to argue for their side.
Part of it stems from the nature of the Gospel in relation to culture. Back in the 1950s or so, the churches were packed, and the Gospel and culture seemed to bolster and support one another. This collaboration of Gospel and culture was more perception than reality, but it was a widely held view. I remember Jackie Adams telling me about a Christian parenting class that Rev. Loomis taught. Ed and Jackie were the only two to show up. Rev. Loomis lamented that when he gave a class on how to be a better citizen, everyone showed up; when he gave a class on how to be a better Christian, nobody showed up.
But today, within our churches, both sides of our major debates set themselves as on the side of the Gospel, as opposed to that wicked culture out there.
The churches that take seriously the commandment to “be holy as God is holy,” and therefore see the practice of faith as following the rules of the Bible, set themselves over against the permissive and libertine culture of “if it feels good, do it.”
The churches that take seriously the life and teachings of Jesus, and therefore seek to practice hospitality and welcome, forgiveness and inclusion, set themselves against the demeaning, exclusive culture that demands conformity and sets arbitrary standards for what so-called “normal” is supposed to be.
So it is little wonder that people, even of the same church, can be all over the place when it comes to the ruling of the Supreme Court this past week, making same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. Normal is changing, and change is hard.
Not only that, each side has pitted itself against that evil culture out there, but each has defined the culture very differently. It is so difficult to have real dialogue because the two sides seem to live in two very different worlds and speak two very different languages. It is much harder to listen to someone whose world view is different from our own, and so many of us do not try.
So what does the Gospel say about this?
Our reading this morning is a sandwich story. There is Jairus, a leader in the synagogue, whose daughter is dying. He comes to Jesus, and kneels and begs that Jesus would come and heal her. Jesus does so, and even when the people say she is dead, Jesus says, “Do not fear. Only believe.” Do not fear, only believe…
And Jesus speaks to her, calls her, and lifts her up. This lifting up is the same word used when Jesus has been raised from the dead and appears to Mary Magdalene later in Mark’s Gospel.
This miracle, this resurrection story takes place at the center of the life of the people. The synagogue would be near the center of town. It was the center of people’s lives. And I can testify that when the pastor’s kid is sick, the whole town prays.
Between when Jairus asks Jesus to come and when he shows up at Jairus’s house, there is sandwiched the story of a woman who has not stopped menstruating for a dozen years. Not only is this a serious health threat, it has cost her everything. She has endured every medical procedure imaginable and some that are unimaginable. And because of her condition, she is in a perpetual state of being unclean, cast out, alone. Twelve years with no touch, no hugs, no one holding her hand, no one greeting her and washing her feet, no one coming to her house for dinner.
She is so desperate for healing that she knows she needs Jesus, but she is so sure of her state of not being welcomed, not being loved, not being seen as fully human anymore, that she is willing to try to just get close enough to touch the fringes on Jesus’ clothes.
The pastor’s sick kid gets prayers and love and hugs and every support imaginable, and I am grateful beyond words for the ways that my family has been supported and loved. But what about the sick woman who wanders the streets who does not believe there is a place that would welcome her? What about the kid kicked out of her house because she dared to tell her parents that she loves another girl who does not believe there is a community that could care for her? But what about the kid whose parents are too stoned to care for him, and he does not believe anyone would care enough to show him a more excellent way?
Christianity has always, at its heart, been a fringe faith. Not simply because when it gets into the halls of power it tends to warp to fit in there rather than call the power to account. But because Jesus cares for those on the fringes. Jesus will not let this woman slip in, touch the fringes of his robe, and slip out with healing. He must see her and look at her, something no one has done for so many years. He does not rebuke her for slowing him down on his way to get to the important guy’s daughter.
Our reading mentions two daughters. Jairus’ daughter. And when the woman now healed, now made whole, tells Jesus her story (and notice that he listens without interrupting), he says, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
The Gospel is a constant reminder that everyone, and especially those who are on the edge, those who are at the margins, those who can barely reach the fringe, are daughters and sons of God. The practice of our faith is living as though this were true.
Thanks be to God. Amen.