This sermon was preached at Kerr Presbyterian Church on Sunday, August 22, 2021 by Rev. KJ Norris as part of a sermon series on Mark.
Last week we got into a boat with Jesus and the disciples in the midst of a mighty storm and Jesus asked us: where is your faith?
Today in the stillness of this hour we have an opportunity to take that question further. Today we encounter two people who have great faith and who, if we will let them, might become for us a model of how we could live out our faith as well.
So let’s pray as we come to read the Scriptures together: Gracious God, we confess that we, like the disciples who gave up everything to follow you, are often a people of little faith. We pray today that as we hear two stories of great faith as told to us through the Gospel of Mark that you would increase our faith. Open our eyes to see you; open our hears to hear your Word; open our minds to understand; and open our lives to abundant faith in you.
Read Mark 5:21-43
Did you notice Mark’s amazing literary flare? He is a capable writer who uses suspense to pull us in. Mark often puts stories within in stories, one helping to draw out the details of the other. Scholars call this a Markan Sandwich—we have a story within a story, two pieces of bread made whole by the meat in the center–or for we vegetarians, the humus, in the middle.
On the outside of the story is a man named Jairus who comes to Jesus in desperate need of healing. Not healing for himself, but healing for his daughter. A twelve year old girl, who is close to death. And in the middle is a women who has been suffering with her own illness all the long years the girl has been alive.
Jesus knows that Jairus’ situation is serious. Sadly, in Jesus’s day the death of children was all too common. There were no vaccinations yet, nothing that could protect a child from the spread of illness. The Romans were some of the first to have a systematic way of handling human waste and keeping clean water flowing into the cities, but it was nothing compared to what we consider modern plumbing in America. Like in many parts of the world today, children suffered from lack of food and clean water and health care. Many families buried their young.
The mourners, we will soon see, have already begun to gather. She is on death’s door and the whole town knows it. Can Jesus do something? Can he save her life? Jairus reaches Jesus and begs him to come and to come quickly. The whole crowd gathers around and they hurry to save the child. Can you imagine them rushing along the street together, pushing in against Jesus, stepping over one another in the race to save the life of a child?
One women sees Jesus coming by. She, too, is at the end of her rope. Apparently she was once a women of means. She had wealth. But something happened. The Scriptures describe it as a “hemorrhage” or some translations from the Greek call it simply “a bleed.” We don’t know the details of this disease but it’s important to understand a few things about the culture at this time, things that Mark’s early readers would have taken for granted but may not come to mind for us.
In Jesus’ culture, blood was understood to be the life-force of a person. And people were instructed to not touch nor go near blood for fear that they would somehow become infected, that their own life would be taken. There are rules in the Old Testament that command those who are bleeding to not be touched by others.
So this unnamed woman in Scripture is not just suffering physically. She is not just suffering economically, having given all she has to try to seek medical care. She is not just suffering emotionally from the weakness and sorrow that comes from prolonged illness. She is also suffering socially. She is put out from the community. Unable to be held. Abandoned by laws that were intended to keep the community safe but in this case which lead to prejudice against her.
No one would permit her anywhere near a holy man like Jesus. Sure, everyone will crowd around Jesus and beg him to save the life of a little girl, but no one would do that for her. No crowd would ever race toward her, preventing her death. No friends would crowd around her and lower her down to Jesus through the roof. In that culture, her illness is too personal, too private, too well, let’s just say it, too gross, to be acceptable conversation around the dinner table. So she is abandoned.
Her only hope is to just sneak in. She has great faith and knows in her heart that if she can only touch the hem of Jesus’ robe she will be healed. Now is her moment. The crowd has gathered around him. They are so focused on another that no one is paying her any attention, if she can just get through it will be all over.
She reaches out her hand and we can imagine her finger tips just brushing against him, barely even a touch that could be noticed. But it’s enough. Somehow in her body she feels it. The 12 years of suffering are over. The pain is gone. Salvation has come. She is recreated in her body and will never be the same again. Hallelujah!
But then the unthinkable happens. The Lord Jesus stops. He stops. He has important work to do. A child’s life depends on him hurrying. But he stops.
Can you imagine Jairus? The crowd? Why is he stopping!
“Who touched me?” Jesus demands an answer, “Who touched me?”
The disciples, always our comic relief, always there to say the things we are thinking but perhaps which we dare not ask, respond to Jesus: Huh, Jesus? Look at all the people. They’ve been pressing against all of us. It’s a crowd. Lots of people touched you.
And still, Jesus stands in the road. No longer in a hurry. Waiting for one to come forward.
The women comes and falls to her knees before him. Comes before him with fear and trembling, our Scripture says. Will he condemn her? Will he take back his gift of healing? Will the crowd stone her for her action, she after all, if forbidden to touch anyone, forbidden to even be in public.
She falls at his feet and tells the story of her long suffering and her desire to be made whole.
Jesus turns to her and says the most beautiful word God could ever say to us: “Daughter.” Daughter.
She is not an outcast. She is not forgotten. It is not God’s will that she would suffer. Not physically, not economically, not emotionally, not socially. She is a child of God. She is a daughter of the great King of Heaven. “Daughter,” he says, “your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
Why on earth would Jesus do that? I mean, really. She was already healed. She had already felt the medical condition in her body come to an end. Why does Jesus put her on the spot? Why does he invite her to tell her story? Why does he speak to her at all?
I think there are two reasons Jesus stops in his tracks that day.
One, Jesus knows us. Jesus understands so much about our lives, about our human condition. Yes, health matters to God. If you woke up this morning with aches and pains. If you have a medical condition that you have been battling for 12 years, maybe even longer, God has not forgotten you. God loves you and cares for you. And desire that you will be able to get the medical treatment you need to live your best life while on this earth.
And, and, we are not just physical bodies in need of healing. All of us needs to be healed by the Lord. We need physical healing. We need emotional healing. We need economic healing. We need social healing. It is not enough to simply say: well, I’m healthy. I could walk in here today.
Where are you broken? Do you mourn? Do you suffer? Are your relationships broken? Is your marriage falling apart? Are you estranged from your children? Are you angry? Are you desolate? What is the state of your soul? Do you know you are a beloved child of God?
Healing is not just about the body. It is about every part of us. Every facet of what makes us human. Jesus stops, first and foremost, because he wants to restore the woman fully. It’s not enough for Jesus to just heal her physically, Jesus also wants to heal her place in the community. To let her know that she is a beloved child of God. To make sure that everyone who is around her at that moment knows she is healed. To insist that she is no longer held at arm’s length by the community but rather that she is fully embraced.
And I think there is a second reason Jesus stops. If Jesus had just kept walking the only person who would have known about this healing is the woman. But instead, Jesus lifts up for all the people her astonishing faith. If only she could touch the hem of Jesus’ robe, she knew healing would come. “Do you still have no faith?” Jesus asked the disciples last week. This is what faith looks like.
Well, by now, you are probably sitting on the edge of your seat, wondering about the little girl. We were rushing to get to her and now there has been this big delay.
As Jesus is talking with this woman, people come up from Jairus’ house and deliver terrible news. Jairus’ daughter is dead. Jesus has traded one life for another. He saved this woman and now a child is gone.
That’s what we expect, isn’t it? In our world we have an understanding that one person’s gain is another’s loss. “Climbing the corporate ladder, one person’s promotion means that someone else didn’t get the job” (Platcher, 84). If we spend money on one thing, that means we can’t have something else. There is an expectation in our world of limited resources. There is only so much to go around and if we don’t get there first, we simply lose.
Jairus is too late, it appears. He might as well give up and not bother the teacher any longer, he is told.
But Jesus looks into the eyes of the leader of the synagogue and says to Jairus, “Do not fear, only believe.”
You see the Kingdom of God is a kingdom of abundance, not of scarcity. God is a God of blessing and recreation. These are not blessings for some at the expense of others. No! God is a giving God who is alive and active. Who gives more abundantly than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20, Pastor’s Paraphrase). We can trust in God’s abundance. In God’s goodness.
So, they arrive at the house and the mourners have gathered. She is dead. People in that culture knew death. There is no doubt about this. But Jesus goes anyway. Jesus demonstrates he has power over life and death. He is the one true God of all. The creator of life who can recreate life.
This is an incredible story which should stands on its own. When John tells a miraculous story of Jesus raising someone from the dead he writes one of the longest chapters in the Bible to do so. A whopping 57 verses to tell the tale. Here Mark tells of Jesus bring life out of death as if it was the plain bread to a story sandwich.
Why? So that the meat of the story can shape the bread.
Jesus has great power. Power to do anything. Power to bring life out of death. But that doesn’t mean that Jesus only cares about the big stuff. The little things matter to God to. Yes, God will bring life out of death. That is absolutely true. We can trust that when we die this life is not the end. Just as Jesus himself was raised from the dead, so too, shall we be raised.
But the Christian walk is not just about life after death. No death does not have the final word. But there is so much more to the story than that. Jesus doesn’t just bring life after death. Jesus brings wholeness into our lives. Physical, emotional, economic, spiritual wholeness.
The story of Jairus’s daughter shows us that God can do anything; that Jesus has the power to bring life even when death is certain. But when we have faith, we have so much more than just life after death.
So, how about us? Where do we need healing today?
For some of us, perhaps that question is a deeply personal one. Perhaps we, like the woman with the bleed, have something in our lives that we want to keep secret. Something that we think if others knew this they would stay away from us. Our families would ostracize us. Our communities would hold us at arm’s length.
For many issues around drug or alcohol addiction or mental illness are diseases that we choose to hide. We don’t like to talk about them because in society these things are taboo. But today we are reminded that we don’t need to hide from Jesus. Only by coming forward, by sharing our story, by seeking help in faith healing can come.
Jesus knows you. Knows you from the top of your head to the bottom of your feet. Knows your past, your present, and your future. And Jesus is reaching out to you today calling you, “beloved daughter,” “beloved son,” “beloved child.”
If there is something that you are hiding and the guilt or the anxiety or the embarrassment is eating you alive, come to find healing today. Know that you will not be judged. If you would like to tell me something, I promise to keep it confidential. To pray for you and with you. To stand with you in this time—and yes—healing sometimes takes time. It took twelve years for the woman to be healed and then Jesus took time to make sure she was societally healed as well.
Those who have walked the path of the twelve step journey know this. Healing takes time. And community. And we are here to support one another. To stand in community with one another through the challenges of life.
Or for some the questions of faith are deeply public and communal. We as a session have been asking: what is the future like for Kerr? Summer is always a time when people are away and there is less involvement and less funding regularly coming in. And this year was a particularly difficult year for all churches. We all cancelled events and activities. Opportunities for people to connect with one another socially were few and far between.
This has left many with general feeling of disconnection. We feel cut off from the communities we love and perhaps we feel unloved because we are disconnected. It may appear that things are dying all around us.
Mark today reminds us that others have been here before. Others have felt disconnected from their communities. Others have been told that death is eminent. But Jesus today is looking us deep in our eyes and saying to us: “Do not fear, only believe.”
Can resurrection come? Yes!
Can relationships be restored? Yes!
Can our lives physically, emotionally, economically, socially be healed? Yes!
Friends, let us have faith. Let us not face the future with fear but with trust. For Jesus is all powerful and if only we touch the hem of Jesus’ robe, we will be healed.