Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
July 01, 2018
Preacher: The Rev. Bret B. Hays
Every week brings losses and gains, but as I started planning this sermon, all I could feel were the losses. The phrase “pillar of the parish” often sounds a little over the top, but with Adele, it seemed like an understatement. Even though she was 93, or “in her 94th year,” as she sometimes put it, up until she had her stroke, I thought she just might outlive me.
The shooting at The Capital in Annapolis hit home for me. My family subscribed to that paper, and I remember when I was a kid, I got to go on a field trip to their offices and printing plant. I remember the dull roar of the newsroom, enormous rolls of paper and presses, and how welcoming, friendly, and patient the staff were with us.
Then there was the death of Deacon Dan Dunn, who was also remarkably welcoming, friendly, and patient. I never saw Deacon Dan in a less than cheerful mood, and he was very active both within the Roman Catholic Church and in our Cape Ann clergy group. He was 80, but seemingly in excellent health, so that was another shock.
And then, this afternoon, some of my family will be scattering the ashes of my beloved cousin Niles in San Francisco Bay. I love all my family, but I especially looked forward to seeing him when we gathered. He was so gracious, curious, thoughtful, and funny, truly exceptional. He was diagnosed with cancer about 15 years ago, and seemed to be doing great until a very rapid decline began on December 29. I wanted so badly to see him one last time, but he only held on until January 7, and today feels like that all over again.
We know that “God did not make death, And he does not delight in the death of the living. For he created all things so that they might exist.” But it doesn’t always feel that way. In a world that cries out to God for relief from suffering, sickness, and death, it feels like God is on another shore, or like God got delayed coming to us, or like God is so deep in the crowd we can’t be sure of just where he is, let alone try to grab at the hem of his robe. Sometimes all we can see is scarcity and need.
That’s when it’s most important to remember that there’s a way out of despair. There’s an opposite perspective to our own. Our experience, our point of view, is one of scarcity to be managed. Time, money, attention, even compassion, for us, are limited resources, requiring wise and careful stewardship. But from God’s perspective, there is abundance without limit. People laughed at Jesus when he said, “The child is not dead but sleeping,” but from his point of view, raising her from death was as simple as waking her from sleep. Though, if she had been a teenager, it might have been another story.
That’s why Jesus doesn’t mind stopping to investigate the healing of the hemorrhagic woman and speaking to her. Her condition was serious, but if she’d lived with it for 12 years, presumably she could have waited one more hour, but the dying girl might not have had that luxury. But when you aren’t bound by the limitations of the physical universe, you don’t need to triage your patients. So again, while it looks like Jesus doesn’t have his priorities straight, and his own disciples try to discourage him from stopping, he ignores them and engages with the woman as if he had all the time in the world, because he does.
Which is a nice story and all, but if Jesus isn’t going to work miraculous cures in our time, what’s the point? Until he comes again, we do have to make hard decisions about limited resources. But this story shows us how we might start adopting God’s point of view by making different choices. I’ll talk about three.
First, we see Jesus push back or simply ignore the people who are interfering with his ministry. Kicking “people weeping and wailing loudly” out of the house sounds harsh, but St. Mark may have been thinking of professional mourners who were exploiting a girl’s untimely death for a quick denarius. Anyway, standing up to the greed and despair of the world doesn’t come naturally to most of us, but you’re always glad you did, so it’s a habit worth cultivating.
Second, we see Jesus crossing boundaries like he’s playing hopscotch. The story starts with him crossing from gentile to Jewish territory. He crosses from public to private space, and takes charge of a synagogue leader’s house. He speaks to and touches women who were not his family, which was a big deal then, not to mention the ritual purity angle, which is a whole other sermon. But, briefly, you had to be in a state of ritual purity to enter the Temple, the dwelling place of God. So by healing them of the hemorrhage and the death that made them sources of impurity, Jesus is bringing the world around him into the state of indelible purity that prophets expected would be part of the world to come. For instance, Zechariah prophesied not the suspension of the Law, but rather, that God would open a fountain that would cleanse God’s people of all sin and impurity forever.* So while this is about a lot more than social norms, we shouldn’t let any of the world’s boundaries or categories separate us from God’s intent, which is the unity of all people with God and one another.
Thirdly, notice the way in which the women are healed. Touch. The hemorrhagic woman touches Jesus’s cloak, and Jesus heals the girl by taking her hand. And he speaks to both of them. He tells the girl’s family to give her something to eat, reminding them that she is truly back to normal, fully alive and one of them again. Just like we can come up with a thousand excuses for skipping church, or giving less, there is no end to the reasons we can concoct for keeping our distance from people in need. And just like going to church and giving generously, when we finally do engage with people who need help, we are so glad we did. Hoarding our resources is tempting, but it leaves us isolated, restless, and bored. Whereas every act of love gives us satisfaction, grace, and joy.
Disappointment and trouble will remain part of our world until Jesus comes again. But God will never disappoint us, and the more we try not to disappoint God, the more we will see things from God’s point of view, and the less hold the world’s trouble will exert over us. The best way to share another person’s perspective is to get up and stand with them.
*Zechariah 13:1, as referenced in The Jewish Annotated New Testament note on this passage, p. 71.