Responding to Seekers
Date: July 1, 2012
Text: Mark 5:21-43
Theme: Responding to seekers
Lesson: People approach us as they did Jesus. We extend help and care as we lovingly and boldly proclaim Christ crucified
Biblical scholars will tell us that these verses from Mark’s Gospel are meant to connect with other, nearby verses in the Gospel, in showing us the extent of Jesus’ power. He has power over creation – as shown in last Sunday’s reading about Jesus calming the storm. He has power over the forces of evil – as the immediately preceding verses in chapter 5 show us, telling how Jesus cast out demons in a man and cast them into a herd of pigs. Today’s verses show us that Jesus has power over illness and even death.
Scholars will also tell us that these verses from Mark are meant to show us the full scope of Jesus’ care for people. The 2 stories placed together – the raising of a girl from the dead and the healing of a woman – show that Jesus cares for the young and the old, those of means and those who are poor, those who have plenty of love and support and those who are seemingly all alone, those who’s condition is life-threatening and those who’s condition is about ongoing suffering and rejection.
Today, however, I’d like us to consider these verses from our perspective as people who have vowed to follow Christ and want to help others. I read these stories and find myself saying: “I’ve had days like this.” Not that my days have always ended like they did with Jesus. I haven’t always been able to see amazing results. But I’ve been approached as Jesus was many times.
You, too, have had days like this when an emergency has come up and you try to help, but then you get distracted by another concern. Or days when someone approaches you but you can’t really figure out what’s going on, or what the other person wants exactly. Times of confusion. Times of chaos. Times when you want to help, but the odds seem stacked against you.
Let me give you some examples. I’ve been approached many times over the years by parents who have asked me for help with their 12 year old girl, or 13 year old boy, or someone of similar age. Sometimes it’s a life-threatening illness, but more often it’s a life-threatening habit, or problem, or something that’s seen as life-threatening. “Pastor my child is hanging out with the wrong crowd. Pastor my child has an eating problem, or a drinking problem, or a studying problem, or a moral problem, or an emotional problem.”
Sometimes I’ve been able to help. I’ve been able to refer to specialists who can work with a particular disorder. Or I’ve been able to say the right things, or be that right person who connects with a young person and inspires them to do right. Sometimes it’s been us, the church, who have embraced a young person and been that place where they find friendship, direction, support and care. We’ve saved a lot of at-risk young people. I’m firmly convinced of it.
On the other hand, there have been youth that I, and we, haven’t reached. I can think of quite a few who have rejected what we say, or who didn’t feel comfortable here, or who just didn’t want to put us in their schedule. And I can think of others who loved it here, but then fell into a pattern of sin, or laziness, or despair.
Then there’s the great irony of those who have been helped by the threat of coming here. I’ve never actually heard it said, but I’m pretty sure the arrangement was: “If you don’t shape up, we’ll make you go to church.” Or perhaps the related arrangement: “If you shape up we’ll let you drop church.” I guess I should be glad that we helped people shape up! Although what was really happening, of course, was that short-term gains were given at the expense of long-term loss. And I’m certainly not happy about that.
One thing I’ve learned in all of this is that coming to Jesus is different than coming to church. In today’s Bible reading Jairus, the father, is the church—the church of his day, right. The church couldn’t help that 12 year old girl. But Jesus could. Sometimes people come to the church looking for help when they should be going to Jesus. Likewise, sometimes we at the church forget that we are not the real help, but Jesus is.
And then there’s the story about the older woman with a flow of blood. She approached Jesus very anonymously. Sure, it was probably tough to get an appointment, what with the crowds around him and everything. And maybe she knew that he was on another mission and she didn’t want to bother him. Maybe she had spent so much already, as the text says, that she didn’t want to take the chance in speaking with Jesus, lest he too ask for payment of some kind, or make some kind of demand on her. Or maybe, because her blood flow made her ritually unclean, she felt unworthy to speak with Jesus. She was already acting boldly in simply mixing with the crowd.
As a pastor, I’ve seen many people today act in similar fashion. The come into the worship service because they’re looking for the blessing of God, but they don’t want to speak to anyone. Or they’ll come from time to time but not want to get involved. Certainly some people feel unworthy to be a part of a Christian congregation. Many wonder whether they could ever make the changes they know they should make. Others feel burdened by a past sin, or a present sin.
Oftentimes these people take some kind of small step toward Jesus, like anonymously touching him in a crowd. They might just read about Jesus online—we’ve got all kinds of anonymous opportunities today, don’t we! Others might carefully bring up the subject of religion with me, or you, because they know we go to church, and want to see if there might be something there for them. Others pray on their own and tell themselves they’re doing just fine, although deep down they have a feeling that this really should be done in community.
The Bible records these stories for us because they tell us about Jesus. But I believe they are also there because they remind us that the world is filled with these similar kinds of people. There are people who come to Jesus in a time of emergency, and there are people who come to Jesus very quietly, preferring to remain anonymous. The challenge for us, the followers of Jesus, is to speak with these people as Jesus did.
Note how boldly and yet lovingly Jesus speaks. Actually, in the first case, note how Jesus didn’t speak! Jairus the Synagogue ruler cried out to Jesus for help and Jesus simply went to help him, without saying a word. Later, when Jairus heard that his daughter had died, Jesus said to him: “do not fear, only believe.” I would describe these as bold and yet loving words, and I recommend them for your use as a Christian. You’ll get all kinds of questions when you use them. “What do you mean, believe? Believe what?” You’ll then have the opportunity to explain. Yes, there’s a time to keep quiet. And there’s also a time to speak.
Likewise, Jesus spoke boldly to the quiet woman. He didn’t let her remain anonymous but he searched for her. And to her credit, she came forward. She did so with fear and trembling, emotions which we, today, don’t always see, because we have been taught not to show them. Those emotions are still around, however. And when they have been perceived, we speak boldly and lovingly as Jesus did: “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace.”
Yes, these accounts from the Scriptures tell us much about the state of our world and the ways in which we should offer help. The messages they give are of utmost importance because the stakes are of utmost importance.
It is certainly important that we help to overcome fears and prejudices and all those dynamics that are addressed in the story of the older woman. However, of even greater concern is that which is addressed by the story of the young girl. That concern is death.
It is a tragedy when a 12 year old girl dies. It is also a tragedy when anyone dies. We were not made for death. We were made to live. God wants us to live, and we want to live. Death, however, has come into the world as a result of our sin. Death now is coming for each of us, for all have sinned.
Only Jesus can raise people from the dead. Only Jesus can overcome the curse of our sin. And he does. Jesus died in our place so that our death would not be eternal, but only a gateway to life in heaven. Just as Jesus said Jairus’ daughter was only sleeping, so our death someday will simply be a rest in the tomb until that day of resurrection.
Speaking of sleeping, you noticed what happened when Jesus told the crowd that the girl was only sleeping… they laughed. Yes, people laughed at Jesus back then, and some do today too. They laugh at his claims of being God. They laugh at his claims of being able to heal. One of the sheep in today’s comic thinks Jesus is unfocused. Jesus faces all kinds of accusations, as we know.
Some people scoff because they are skeptics and faith is a tough thing for them. Others scoff because they are just plain mean—the love of God does not reside in them.
Whatever the case may be, we respond boldly and lovingly. We stand up for our faith because we know it works. We respond with grace, humility, care—whatever love calls for at the time. We know that Jesus raises people from the dead.