a sermon for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 8)
Two people came to see Jesus that day – one a leader of the community whom everyone knew, the other a nameless woman.
Two people came to see Jesus that day.
He had just returned from The Other Side, the place across the water where the Geresenes lived, the ones who weren’t like us. He went there just last week to teach and to heal. On their way, he and his men got caught up in a violent storm, which he calmed with a single word. And while he was there he came across a madman, a man possessed by so many demons they called him “Legion.” But he cast the demons out of that poor man and into a herd of pigs that went running into the sea.
Now he was back to teach some more and heal some more. And when he got there, the crowd went crazy! So many people, pushing, and shoving, and reaching out, just to get a piece of Jesus.
Jairus was the first in line. He was a good man, a kind man. He was one of the leaders of church – paid his dues, served on the vestry, occasionally read one of the readings in worship. He was the kind of man who you could go to when you needed help – he had the influence, power and connections to get things done. But his daughter was dying and Jairus was desperate. So when he decided to go see Jesus, folks knew it was important. This strong, powerful man walked up to Jesus with tears in his eyes, fell down to his knees and begged, “Please, come and lay your hands on my daughter, so that she may live.”
Of course Jesus went. And as they went, the crowd pressed in on every side. That’s when the bleeding woman came. She was a frail woman who had no money, no power, no friends or family – her sickness made sure of that. She was a nobody, a social outcast. Nobody even knew her name.
She was required by religious law to stay away from other people – she ate in separate restaurants, drank at separate water fountains, lived in a separate part of town. She, too, was desperate and she knew that Jesus was her last and only hope. So when she saw him walking with Jairus, and saw the way the people were all pressed against each other, she took her chance. She pushed and shoved her way, closer and closer to Jesus. She reached her hand out, and with one trembling finger she touched his cloak. And she was healed.
Of course, the problem was that she had stolen that healing. She didn’t wait her place in line, she didn’t have a place at the table, she wasn’t worthy of the blessing she received. And what if she had taken the last ounce of healing Jesus had? What if there wasn’t enough for her and for Jairus?
Trembling, she fell down at Jesus’ feet, and confessed everything she had done. She told him about all of her years of isolation, suffering, and pain. She told him about the endless waiting and praying. She laid it all out at his feet and asked to be forgiven.
That’s when the real miracle happened. Because Jesus turned to this sobbing, anonymous woman and gave her a new name. He called her “daughter,” and blessed her, and sent her on her way. At last, she had a seat at the table, at last, she was whole. At last she was free of the stigma that separated her from the rest of the crowd.
But while Jesus was with the woman, they received some terrible news: they had waited too long, the little girl had died. It seemed like he only had time to save one or the other – either the woman or Jairus daughter. Had healing the woman cost Jairus his child?
But God’s grace doesn’t work that way. God is not an either/or kind of god. God is a both/and kind of god. God’s abundance and grace flow on both rich and poor, both strong and weak, both straight and the gay, both white and the black. God’s mercy and love flow on us all – all who are open to receive it.
If the events of the past ten days have shown us anything, they have shown the transformative power of the love of God. God did not bring the shooter to the doors of Mother Emanuel AME church, but God transformed his hatred into pure love, as we have seen first in the response of the victim’s families, then in the response of the community of Charleston, and we are still seeing in the response of the state legislature and the nation. Race is not an either/or proposition – God is transforming the hatred of one man into an abundant overflowing of love for everyone.
In the same way, God does not choose who will live and who will die of sickness or disease or violence. God redeems our suffering and gives us the means to treat the sick. Regardless of our political views, healthcare is not an either/or proposition – access to healthcare is a fundamental right for everyone.
In the same way, God does not decide who you may love and who you may marry. God simply says that love is all that matters. Marriage is not an either/or proposition – marriage based on faithful, monogamous relationships is a blessing available for everyone.
It is unlikely that Jairus and the woman knew each other before that day. He was a strong and powerful leader of the synagogue. She was not welcome to even approach the doors of the synagogue. But their lives became intimately intertwined with each other. They were brought into relationship with each other because of Jesus. That’s what Jesus is all about – bringing all the world back into relationship with God and each other. Through Christ, our lives, too, are intimately intertwined with each other. When anyone is sick, we all are sick. When anyone is denied justice, we all are denied justice. When anyone enjoys freedom, we all enjoy freedom. That’s just what it means to be children of God.
Dr. Martin Luther King, paraphrasing abolitionist Theodore Parker, once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward Justice.” Jesus said it another way, “The kingdom of God is at hand.” However you say it, as Christians, our mission is to bring about the Βασιλεία τοῦ Θεοῦ – the reign of God, the kingdom of God – through Jesus Christ. Perhaps, over these ten painful days, God’s reign got just a little closer at hand.
Thanks be to God.