Sunday, June 28, 2009

Interrupted Again - Mark 5:21-43

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

I confess that I find myself in a bit of a quandary this morning. My sensibilities about what is proper in worship mandate that the good news of God in Christ be proclaimed in some way during our time together – what we would ordinarily call a sermon. But, I also realize that this is the last Sunday I will stand in this pulpit as your associate pastor, and I really would like to take a few minutes of personal privilege and speak from my heart to yours about what these four years have meant to me. You see my predicament.

A few years ago, I saw a cartoon in a pastoral leadership magazine. The pastor stood at the pulpit, and all behind him on the chancel were boxes, appliances, and furniture. The caption read, “This morning, I’m going to say some things that have needed to be said for some time.”

This morning, I am going to say a few things that have needed to be said for some time. May we pray.

Our story today begins with a man named Jairus. He was an official in the synagogue, given the very special appointment of interpreting the Law, particularly regarding things clean and unclean. He and his wife prayed for years for a child, and finally, their prayers were answered. They were the proud parents of a remarkable girl. They loved her. They cherished her. They named her Talitha, which means “beautiful little girl.” She was a daddy’s girl. No father has loved his daughter quite the same. She was the apple of his eye. She put a song in his heart. And woe to any of the little boys in the village who wanted to date her.

When she was about 12 years old, she came down with a mysterious illness. They brought in the best doctors, but no one could do anything to make her better. She slowly became worse and worse, and every night, Jairus cried himself to sleep at the thought of losing her.

He woke one morning, and when he went out to get the Galilee Gazette, the neighbors were outside talking. There was a visitor in their town who had everyone excited. A carpenter from Nazareth who was also some sort of itinerant preacher. Someone named Jesus.

As it turned out, Jairus had already met Jesus. A few months earlier, Jairus went to one of his revivals out in the country. The truth was that Jairus was there to check him out. Some of his colleagues in the synagogue were a little nervous, and they sent Jairus out to see if he was breaking any of the purity laws.

Jairus found him to be a compelling and fascinating person. And while he spoke, something stirred within Jairus that had lain dormant for years. He felt alive. He felt his faith coming back to life. But right at the end of the revival, Jesus walked away from the microphone and off the platform and walked right over to Jairus. With great grace and gentleness, Jesus said, “Jairus, will you follow me?”

The first thing Jairus thought about was his job. He was an important person in town. He was an official in the synagogue, for goodness’ sake! He had a family to support! Be a follower of Jesus? How could he? What would everyone think? The cost was just too great.

Now, Jesus was in town. He had arrived with his entourage by boat, and was making his way from the shore through the center of town. Suddenly, it became clear. Jairus would go to Jesus. He made his way toward the town square, and you can imagine the scene. Everyone was there. Followers, skeptics, and the curious, vendors and merchants selling cheap trinkets trying to make a fast shekel.

Jairus pushed through the crowd. The people recognized him, and an excited whisper went from person to person. “It’s Jairus, from the synagogue!” Some wondered if he was there to accuse Jesus of breaking the law, or if he was going to throw his weight around and stop Jesus. Right there in front of everyone, though, Jairus knelt down, in full humility, not caring what anyone thought, Jairus said, “My daughter is at the point of death. Please, come lay your hands on her, that she may be made well.”

Jesus simply said, “Lead the way.” Jairus jumped up, grabbed him by the hand, and began to push back through the crowd toward his house. And then, he saw her. The bleeding woman. Jairus had driven her away from the synagogue more than once. She’d be there begging, but she could contaminate the whole place and everyone in it. Jairus saw her making a beeline for Jesus – stealthy, secretive, of course, but there was no doubt that she was zeroed in on Jesus. Jairus shot her a look that said, “Don’t touch him!” He knew that if she touched Jesus, Jesus would be unclean and unable to come and pray over his daughter until he had been purified, and by then, Talitha would be dead.

But it was too late. She touched the hem of his garment. Jesus immediately began to look around. “Who touched me?” he kept asking. Jairus wanted to lie and pin the blame on someone else in the crowd. Anyone other than that unclean, bleeding woman. But she confessed. It had been her.

But then, the most remarkable thing happened. Jesus looked at her, and called her “Daughter.” And suddenly, it all made sense to Jairus. As precious as his own daughter was to him, this woman was just as precious to Jesus. She mattered to him. The rest of the world had called her “unclean,” but Jesus called her daughter. And looking at Jesus, it was clear that Jesus loved her and cared for her deeply. She was not meant for the cruel labels the world had put on her, for she was a child of God.

The lesson was clear to everyone in the crowd that day. Call no one created in the image of God unclean. No one of God’s creating is beyond God’s redeeming. Every life, even the ones we don’t like, is an arena in which the glory of God can be revealed. As deeply as Jairus loved his own daughter, so Jesus loved this woman, and so he loves every man, woman, and child who ever has and ever will live. As is captured in one of the simple and profound children’s songs: “Jesus loves the little children; all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white:” (and here I add any and every other category of difference or distinction) “they are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children—and the youth, and the adults, and the old people—of the whole, wide, wonderful world.”

Jairus got it. Suddenly he didn’t care that Jesus was now unclean, because he recognized that the fullness of the power of God rested within him. I wonder what it would look like for us to recognize the power and presence of God at work within the very same people you and I are quick to call “unclean.” I pray for the day to come when we will not look solely on outward appearances, on distinctions and differences that we may not even understand, but when we will look for the power and presence of God to come through the very people we thought were the last people God would ever work through. I pray for the day when our own prejudices and judgmentalism will be overcome by the love of God shed abroad in the human heart.

But during this interruption, Talitha had died. Jairus’ heart sank. There was no sense in bothering Jesus anymore; death is final, and there is not a thing or a person who can overcome it. But Jesus simply turned to Jairus and said, “Where were we? Lead on.”

Jairus saw this woman as an interruption to his plans for Jesus. Perhaps you’ve heard it said that life is what happens to us when we’re making other plans. Often we see an interruption where Jesus sees an opportunity. Where we see an inconvenience, Jesus sees a situation in need of the love and grace of God.

They arrived at the house, Jesus looked around, and asked what all the fuss was about. The little girl was just taking a nap, he said. They laughed. Jesus emptied out the house of everyone but the girl’s parents and Peter, James and John. They went into the girl’s room, where Jesus took her hand and prayed for her for the longest time. Finally, he said, “Little girl, get up.” As he held her hand, she made the journey from death back into life, looked around the room, and reached up to her dad for a hug.

I have to admit that this part of the story got very personal for me all of a sudden. Three and a half weeks ago, I prayed beside the bed where my mom lay, I told her how much I loved her, and was holding her hand as she finished her earthly labor and joined the church triumphant. Then I read this text, and notice that Jesus is holding the hand of this little girl as she crosses the same threshold. Just as there was surely a palpable sense of God’s presence in that moment, there was the same sense in the room as I shared those moments with my mom. It is a certain holy privilege and God is certainly present in the midst of those moments.

Life is what happens when we’re making other plans. I hadn’t planned to go to New York that week, in fact, I had plans with many of you that were suddenly abandoned. But it was a holy interruption, and I wouldn’t trade the time I spent with my mom for anything in the world.

Friends, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you. To thank you for your many expressions of kindness and concern for me and my family over the past few weeks. But it goes beyond that. For the last four years, you have welcomed me more warmly than I thought possible. You have invited me into your homes and made me feel like a member of your families. You have invited me to share special and sacred moments in your lives. You welcomed my family when they came to visit. My mom loved coming to Boone. She referred to my home as her vacation home in the mountains. She and my dad always looked forward to their visits, and they looked forward to spending time with all of you as friends. And as well as they were treated indicated to them that you had all grown to love and care for me as much as I have come to love and care for you. It made them so proud to know that you had accepted me and my ministry among you as warmly as you have. Thank you for welcoming me.

I have been there for the birth of many of your children, I have prayed at bedsides and in hospital rooms as you said goodbye to loved ones. I have baptized some of you and your children, I have performed your weddings, I have buried your loved ones. You have listened to my sermons, worshipped with me around our Lord’s table, participated in my classes and Bible studies, and sought my counsel. It is a holy privilege to be invited into those intimate places in your lives, and it has been my honor to be there with you. Thank you for accepting my ministry here.

You allowed me to make my mistakes and keep learning and growing from them. I came to you still green around the edges and wet behind the ears. I had a great education, but little experience. Thank you for making my first experience in full-time ministry as wonderful, and rewarding, and fulfilling as these past four years have been. Seminary will give you a good theological education, but only a church can teach you how to be a pastor. You allowed me opportunities for continued growth and learning, and willingly forgave all of my human faults, failures, and shortcomings. Thank you for teaching me how to be a pastor.

You surrounded me with staff, lay leadership, and volunteers who are arguably the best team in all of United Methodism. I have learned so much from all of these people I have worked with on a daily basis, but more than that, I have enjoyed them. Even when the hours were long and the issues difficult, the day was always a bit brighter because of the people I would face those issues with. Thank you for surrounding me with those relationships.

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you. For the rest of my life, Boone United Methodist Church will hold a soft spot in my heart. In the years to come, when people ask me about my first church, I will pause, a slight smile will creep across my lips, and I will remember my appointment as your associate pastor for four years. I will say, “My first appointment was as the associate pastor of Boone United Methodist Church, and I wouldn’t have traded it for anything.”

Thank you.

God bless you.

I love you.

1 comment:

  1. My eyes are moist, and I'm not even a member of your congregation. Absolutely beautiful. Makes me wish I lived in the Carolinas and could be part of your cell of the Church.