Sermon by The Reverend Christian Baron Pentecost 5, Year B Mark 5:21-43
“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.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit… Amen.
This has been an incredible week. For me, it has been a roller coaster, filled with ups and downs. A time of great sadness about the human condition and at other times, I felt some of that hope restored. It has been a time of extremes for sure. We are still mourning Charleston and the nine human beings who were killed because of the color of their skin. There has been a raging national debate on race and racism and whether we should reasonable gun restrictions or whether individuals should arm themselves to the teeth for personal protection.
Should government buildings be allowed to fly a flag that for many is a symbol of heritage and pride and for most others a symbol of oppression and institutional racism. A racism that has built this nation on the backs of black men and black women and black children. A racism that still affects this country to its core. A racism that is difficult to notice if you happen to be Anglo and a racism that is a constant reality if your skin is not the same shade as mine. A racism that built the Episcopal Church in America and that oppressed and prospered from the slave trade.
Absalom Jones was an abolitionist and Episcopal priest that led a black congregation in a white church. The group refused to sit in the balcony and wanted to be treated as equal and as baptized followers of Jesus. But the Philadelphia Church refused and so the black members walked out giving birth to the black church… The same denomination, The American Methodist Episcopal Church that was the site of the newest nine martyrs of the Christian Church in Charleston, South Carolina. . For those of you that didn’t know this story, I’m sorry to tell you. I’m sorry that the Church that you love has black eyes and that the body of Christ has an ugly and broken past.
Though it seems like last Sunday was weeks ago, a few of the members of Grace sat with the community at Maple Ave Ministries and heard some speakers and sang lamentations for the nine who were killed. One of the speakers talked about the birth of the black church and told the congregants about Absalom Jones made them aware that the need for the black church in America was due to the racism of the Episcopal Church. I’m sure he didn’t know that there were Episcopalians in the pews. I felt ill. I was angry. I wanted to stand up and say, “Yes! But we aren’t like that anymore.” I’m glad I sat and remained silent. I sang with and wept with those in the pews. And I felt helpless. I had no idea what to do. This isn’t something that many of us feel very often. I knew that I couldn’t fix anything but i knew I wanted it to be fixed as soon as possible. I felt like I had no agency. I felt desperate.
And then three black churches were burned in the south, presumably by Anglos because of hatred and racism and sin. Last week Jodi preached about Jesus calming the storm. The disciples cried out “Jesus, don’t you even care if we perish?” I could have just read that sermon today. You there Jesus? Do you care about what is going on? Do you care about what we’re doing to ourselves and to your children?
And if we’re waiting for the kingdom of God that the apostle Paul speaks about… These are the parts of the Kingdom that are not yet finished. Not yet redeemed. Not yet realized. Not yet arrived.
The text for today is one of my favorites. I love Mark and I love how he writes. I can see things in the text and can imagine being right with Jesus. It isn’t difficult for me to put myself in the sandals of Jairus. A man whose daughter is deathly ill. A man with no hope. He has exhausted all of his options. tried everything. Feels like he has no agency and no other place to turn. “God do you care about my daughter? Do you care if she perishes?” HIs idea seems crazy and at best a longshot. He has heard about Jesus… a man who can do things that are almost magical. He can heal people and calm storms. “If he can command the storms, surely he can heal my daughter simply with his touch.”
And now we get one of Mark’s sandwiches. Mark’s gospel is full of stories within other stories and this is one of the best. In the middle of the Jairus story, Jesus is in a crowd of many people. In Mark, the crowds signify chaos and anxiety and tension. In this crowd, Jesus feels power leave him. A woman who has been bleeding for 12 years touches his cloak and is healed immediately. What? Magic clothes? Surely desperate… this woman would not have been permitted in worship because of a strict purity code for men and women.
But the Markan sandwich offers us two distinct kinds of people. A wealthy and powerful leader of the synagogue. A man. And a woman who would have even less agency than a Jewish woman living in the first century. An outcast. Both helpless… both dependent. Both desperate for healing.
And the woman receives healing. Not because of Jesus magic or because of magic clothes. Jesus says that it is her faith that heals her. And that, in and of itself is perplexing. Her faith has healed her. Because we need to get back to Jairus and his dying daughter. The text says that as he is speaking the words of healing to the nameless woman, a messenger arrives to declare that Jairus’ daughter has died. The tension has mounted… now what? I can imagine hearing this the first time and thinking “How tragic. What will Jesus do now? No Jesus… don’t tell everybody that she is just sleeping.. that isn’t going to work.”
And then he touches her, just as Jairus had asked… similar to the touch of the nameless woman… and says “Talitha Cum”. Get Up! He resurrects her and tells them to feed her… It is a great story. Filled with twists and turns and pithy statements and dozens of theological nuggets. It is in fact good news.
And, we could use some good news couldn’t we? Is there good news in this gospel text today that can speak to our racism in America? to our racism in the Church? We need a task list don’t we? Well, I think there is good news for us and for our context. I think there is healing in this text.
Both Jairus and the nameless woman, took matters into their own hands. Their faith in God pushed them to action. Jairus certainly could have sent a messenger to find Jesus and beckon him to help. He could have sent several. But he was desperate. He was all in and much more committed to the task than a messenger. This was his last shot and didn’t want to risk leaving it up to somebody else. He got his hands dirty and got to work.
And the nameless woman… she also was desperate.. she sought her own healing. She yearned to be well. And she had to break the purity code to do it. Because of her ailment she was not supposed to touch others. She wasn’t supposed to be in public. But when you’re desperate, you are willing to risk. You are willing to do whatever it takes.
The powerful must take action on behalf of those without agency. The action must come from Jairus because his daughter cannot. Her problem has become his problem. Both are relying on his action.
Faith and action… Faith and action… This is our problem… What will we do Grace? What will we do as individuals and corporately? What action must we take on, on behalf of our black brothers and sisters? For our healing and for theirs.
May I offer a couple of suggestions?
Sit in uncomfortable places. Put yourself out there and be willing to be vulnerable. Find where the conversation is… and lean into it.
Listen to real experiences about how people of color feel on a daily basis.
Unfortunately, not much of this work can be done on the internet.
We must go to the places, like Jairus and the nameless woman, crowded places…
Places that will not be easy to get to or go to.
We will need to sacrifice our schedules if we want to experience this healing.
It will take work and the work will be slow.
It will take intentionality and patience.
That is how we begin our journey to healing.