Sunday, June 28, 2015

Sandwiches & the Stuff of Life

MARK 5:21-43
21When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23and 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." 24So he went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28for she said, "If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well." 29Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, "Who touched my clothes?" 31And his disciples said to him, "You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, 'Who touched me?'" 32He looked all around to see who had done it. 33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34He said to her, "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease."
35While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader's house to say, "Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?" 36But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, "Do not fear, only believe." 37He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39When he had entered, he said to them, "Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping." 40And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child's father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41He took her by the hand and said to her, "Talitha cum," which means, "Little girl, get up!" 42And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
I’d like to begin by asking one of the deep philosophical questions of our time: 

What is a sandwich?

This may seem like a silly exercise for church, especially when such monumental things are happening all around us in the world. But trust me, it will help us to understand the Gospel reading today. What makes something a sandwich? 

We can’t really have a sandwich unless all of the components are there. Bread and some kind of filling are required. Bread with no filling is just bread. Filling with no bread is just lunchmeat or peanut butter or jelly.

In our gospel reading in Mark, we have a sandwich. We have the story of Jarius, one of the leaders of the synagogue, at the beginning and the end of the story, like the bread. In the middle we have the story of the woman who had been bleeding for twelve years.

It’s a convoluted way for the gospel writer to make a point.  But, it’s Mark’s way of making sure we read both of these stories together. He wanted us to look at them as one story, not two. Each story has it’s own little lesson, but together they send a bigger and more profound message. Mark wants us to take a bite of the whole scripture sandwich, not ingest them separately.

We need to ask, why? Both stories show us the incredible healing power of Jesus Christ. Either one could have shown that on its own. Why read them together? Why make a scriptural sandwich?

When we read these stories together we get a broader picture of who Jesus is and how Jesus works. If we just read the story of Jairus and the healing of his daughter, we see a Jesus who works with the system. We see Jesus helping one of the leaders of the synagogue. Read on it’s own, we might be tempted to think that Jesus comes for all the right people. Those of us who follow the rules and get up, clean up and show up every Sunday.

If we just read the story about the woman who had been hemorrhaging for 12 years, we might think that Jesus is just for those who are on the margins. People who are on the margins, unclean or impure as this woman was. Remember, because of her illness, she would not have been permitted to attend synagogue or come into contact with other people. Read on it’s own, read on its own this story might lead us to think Jesus comes for only the desperate and needy, people who are willing to risk everything.

But the stories are not presented independently, but together. That leaves us to wrestle with the question of how do they inform each other. What do a synagogue leader and a hemorrhaging woman have in common?

To help us understand I'd like to tell you another story…

A man named Mr. Cash lives on an exclusive gated property. He grew up rich and is now a CEO of his family’s company. He has house cleaners and cooks who come every day and he tries to pay them well and treat them fairly. The last time he wore jeans he was 22-years-old. He’s never had a pizza delivered to his home—that he knows of.  At 65, he’s a little old to have a gangly 12-year-old with braces, but he loves his daughter fiercely. She came to him late in life and has helped him to see what is really important. He thanks God for her.

One weekend when his wife is away, her fever spikes to 104 and she starts convulsing, he’s in a panic. She doesn’t have a nanny anymore and it’s not really the housekeeper’s job. So he calls their family doctor who tells him to call an ambulance and get to Children’s Hospital. The doctor says she will meet them at the emergency entrance. The ambulance arrives at the house and the EMTs recognize the man from the stories about him in the local paper. They put on their most professional demeanor for Mr. Cash.

Driving toward the hospital, the ambulance passes under the bridge and the driver sees a group of panicked homeless people. Some are trying to wave a car down on the street and others are surrounding a woman and pounding on her chest as they attempt CPR. In the rearview mirror, the girl is moaning and stirring in the back. The ambulance driver slows down. Before Mr. Cash realizes what’s happening, the ambulance stops. The driver is on the radio asking for another vehicle and the other EMT is out of the ambulance and making his way through the crowd to attend to the homeless woman.

At first Mr. Cash is furious. Why are they stopping? His daughter should not have to wait. But he sees this unnamed, anonymous woman lying on the ground and something shifts in his heart. He looks back at his daughter who is delirious with fever and he’s conflicted. He has not choice but to wait until the paramedics are done.

In our story today, we see that the world is made up of many different kinds of people—Jarius, the synagogue leader has a name and a title and has power to control a lot of things in his life, like Mr. Cash. The bleeding woman is unnamed and likely not able to control much of anything, just like the homeless woman.

Yet, life happens both of them.

Have you heard that saying, life happens? It means that all of us have ideas and plans for how our day should go—and then suddenly the car breaks down or a kid gets sick. All of us have these ideas and plans about how our lives should go—but then illness comes or we lose our job.

Life happens to both Jarius and the unnamed woman. They end up on their knees before Jesus. Both of them end up saying to Jesus, I can’t take this. I can’t do this on my own. I can’t live like this. Jesus have mercy upon me.

Jarius comes to Jesus the way he does other things—by following the rules. He comes to Jesus and begs for help. He defers to Jesus authority and asks Jesus to lay his hands upon his beloved daughter. Jesus agrees and intentionally heals the sick girl.

The unnamed woman does it the way she does things—reaching out in desperation to whatever is available. Remember, because of her illness she is unclean and should be isolated. But, she sneaks into the crowd, making everyone she touches unclean and unfit to be in the presence of a rabbi. Then she touches the rabbi himself with her impure hand—rendering him unclean.

And she is healed presumably without Jesus even intending it. She takes the healing with her own hands.  She pulls on Jesus cloak and Jesus says, who touched me? I felt the power go out of me. She took her healing from Jesus.

Taken together—these stories show us that life has a way of bringing all of us to our knees. It doesn’t matter if we have a lot of money or none. It doesn’t matter if we have a huge house or live on the street.

If we are reflective and compassionate people—as I know you are, something in life will break our hearts. Something will bring us to the feet of Jesus as we reach out for mercy. We may be there for our selves like the bleeding woman, or we may be for someone else, like Jarius. It may be the love of a child who suffers. It may be a photo from a concentration camp in WWII. It may be a news story about people dying in Sudan or Charleston or in our own family.

Pure or impure. Clean or unclean. Powerful or poor. We are all equal at the feet of Christ. We all need mercy. There is something humbling about this realization. There is something profound in realizing that all of us are in the same boat.

This story sandwich shows us that Jesus is there for each of us. Jesus’ healing power is available to us however we happen to be. If we are rich or poor, male or female, pure or impure, Jesus is with us and Jesus is for us.  We can reach out to Jesus.

The good news of the Gospel is this. There is enough Jesus for all of us. Jesus’ love and God’s promises aren’t limited to an important few, but are available to a surprising many. Jesus responds to the people who reach out in faith, love God and love their neighbor.

We see this over and over again in Jesus’ actions and Jesus’ stories--Jarius and the unnamed woman, the prodigal son, the adulterous woman about to be stoned, the Good Samaritan, the woman at the well, the tax collectors and sinners that Jesus ate with regularly.

This story sandwich is important because it shows us that none of us is entitled to be in the presence of God on our own merit. As the Apostle Paul says, all of us sin and fall short of the glory of God. It is only by God’s amazing grace that we are here. It is only because of the faith of Christ that we can claim any righteousness for ourselves. At the feet of Jesus, we are all needy, desperate people. When we realize this, we truly understand the goodness of God.

When we realize this our hearts open in gratitude and worship.

What a wonderful thing to worship a God who says, I know you. I love you. I forgive you.

What an honor it is to be in a relationship with a God who puts a hand under our chin, lifts us to our feet and tells us to get up, go in peace.

The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are a testament to the great love God has for us. The gift of grace is available to all, clean or unclean, man or woman, powerful or powerless.  That gift of grace is available to you and to me.

Neither of us deserve it, but God gives it anyway. Thanks be to God.

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