Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Power of Faith

Mark 5:21-43

Life is full of interruptions, especially in this age of the cell phone. But, even if you don't own one, people will still find you. The phone rings, usually at an inconvenient moment, or maybe someone stops by, and before you know it, the day is gone. Just one interruption after another. Although you intended to finish the job, things got the better of you.

In the gospels Jesus is often interrupted. He’s going somewhere important, but then someone stops him and asks for help or advice. It can be frustrating, but Jesus understood that sometimes the needs of the moment are as important as what’s on the calendar.

But this morning’s text isn’t just about interruptions, it’s also about faith and the risks involved in living our lives by faith. In this text we encounter two interrelated stories of healing. Both Jairus and the unnamed woman take a risk in coming to Jesus, but that is often the way it is with faith. And in taking this risk, they interrupt Jesus’ life, but he understands, because they have come seeking help.

I. JAIRUS' DILEMMA

When last we gathered, Jesus was heading across the lake to the Decapolis when a big storm hit, and Jesus saved the day. Last week we learned that the word faith might better be understood in terms of trust – not just trust in God, but trust in each other. Today, we’re returning to Galilee, and faith is again a topic of concern. Once he arrives in Galilee the crowds gather and requests are made. He had intended to teach the people, but he was interrupted by Jairus, who asks for his help with his dying daughter.

Jairus was a man of prestige and wealth, and as president of the synagogue he was both a religious and a political leader in his community. Usually people came to him for advice and help, but on this day he needed the help of this religious and political outsider. You see, his twelve-year-old daughter was dying and the doctors had given up hope. They’d been praying for a miracle, but nothing happened. This didn’t make sense to Jairus, because bad things aren't supposed to happen to good people, especially the children of religious leaders.

When Jairus heard that Jesus was in town he decided, with some hesitation, to look him up. He knew about Jesus’ reputation as a healer, but he also knew that this young and popular preacher was despised by the religious elite. That’s because he challenged the traditions and rules they were supposed to uphold. He didn’t want to go to Jesus, but he also didn’t want his daughter to die. In the end, love won out, but just as he may have feared, Jesus was surrounded by a crowd of people. That would make his request more difficult and risky, but being determined, he pushed his way through the crowd and begged Jesus to come and heal his daughter.

I expect that many in the crowd recognized him, and they may have been scandalized by his pleadings. Still, he did what he had to. The hesitation was gone, and in its place was a heartfelt declaration of trust in Jesus. Seeing the man's faith and willingness to risk everything, Jesus agrees to go with him. They hurry off to Jairus' house, with the perplexed crowd in tow, knowing that time was of the essence if they were to save the little girl.

II. THE UNNAMED WOMAN'S INTERRUPTION

Although there wasn’t time for interruptions, Jairus wasn't the only one desperate for help. There was this woman standing on the edge of the crowd. She wasn’t wealthy or important, but for twelve years she’d been bleeding internally and had spent everything on doctors. In a way she was the victim of her doctors, for Mark says: "she had endured much under many physicians." We’ve all heard horror stories like hers. The doctors don't know what’s wrong, so they try this and then that, hoping something works. Now, having reached the end of her options, she’s still bleeding and she’s stuck with the bill. Like many in our own society, her medical bills had bankrupted her and she was living on the streets.

We don’t know the name of this woman, but like Jairus, she knew that Jesus was her only hope. Unlike Jairus, she didn’t have anything to offer him in response. So, seeing that Jesus was in a hurry, and unsure of herself, she decided to sneak in, touch the hem of his robe, and hope that this was enough. There was another reason why she didn’t want to be seen – since she was bleeding, by touching Jesus, she would make him ritually unclean. Maybe if no one noticed, she would be healed, and Jesus could go on his way, never knowing that anything had happened.

Unfortunately, Jesus did notice. Mark says he felt healing power go out from him, and he asked: "Who touched me?" Now, in a crowd this size, it would be impossible to know who had touched him, but Jesus insisted that his disciples find out who it was. Finally the woman came forward and confessed her deed, and she apologized profusely for delaying him. But Jesus wasn't angry, he simply wanted her to know that he cared about her. He commended her faith, which not only restored her health, but restored her to the people of God. You see, during those twelve years of illness, she’d been ritually unclean, which meant that she couldn’t worship in the very synagogue over which Jairus presided. In calling her daughter, Jesus let her know that social status doesn’t matter in the kingdom of God. She’s just as important to God as Jairus and his daughter.

III. A TURN FOR THE WORSE?

After that interruption, Jesus continued on to Jairus’s house, but before they could get there, word came that the little girl was dead. As long as she was alive, there was hope of healing, but now it was too late, and Jesus needn’t bother continuing on. I’m sure Jairus began to think: If only Jesus hadn’t been interrupted his daughter would be well. But Jesus didn’t turn back, he simply said: "Don’t be afraid, just trust me" (vs. 36, NLT),

To everyone’s amazement Jesus ignored the dire news and continued to Jairus’ house, taking Peter, James and John with him. When they arrived, he could hear the unrestrained wailing of the mourners, and then he asked what seemed like a most ridiculous question, "Why all this commotion and crying?" (vs. 39, JB). Why indeed? A little girl had just died. But Jesus wasn’t deterred. He responded: “ She’s not dead, she’s just sleeping and needs to be awakened.” Now, I’m sure that this response brought out a few snickers from the crowd of mourners, but Jesus didn’t let the laughter stop him. He put everyone out of the room, except the parents and his three disciples. Then he said: "Little girl, get up." And, to everyone’s surprise, she got up and began to walk.

Both Jairus and the woman acted out of desperation, but they also acted out of faith. They could have given up all hope, but they continued pressing on, in spite of the odds. The 30th Psalm speaks of this kind of faith:
O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.
O Lord you brought up my soul from Sheol, restored me to life from among those gone down to the pit (Ps. 30:2-3).

Two lives that in many ways had been intertwined for years found their salvation in Jesus. By taking such a risk, they became exemplars of faith.

This morning each of us comes looking for healing, for wholeness, for meaning, and for purpose. What we seek might be physical or spiritual, emotional or intellectual in nature. Like Jairus and the woman we’re desperate to see God act. We want God to "turn [our] mourning into dancing" and we want him to take off “our sackcloth and clothe [us] with joy, so that [our] souls may praise [God] and not be silent. Then we will cry out: "O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever" (Ps. 30:12).

But, it will take some risk on our part to live a life of faith. And we may not see healing of the physical kind, but our lives can be mended, our spirits restored, our hopes fulfilled. But, we must walk in faith, not knowing what the answers will be. However, that is the nature of faith.

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall
Pastor, Central Woodward Christian Church
Troy, MI
Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
June 28, 2009

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