Sunday, June 28, 2009

Fools Rush In--a sermon for Ordinary 13B

Rev. Teri Peterson
Fools Rush In
Mark 5.21-43
June 28 2009, Ordinary 13B

When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake. 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 round 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.

When I was in high school, my best friend Rachel was also the daughter of our high school band director. Rachel and I were pretty well-grounded girls—we were into classical music and books, mostly, and we stayed out of trouble without really trying. Nonetheless, we still were well acquainted with a look Rachel’s dad could give very well, and which we called the “you are such an idiot” look. It came over his face with only a moment’s notice whenever we asked a dumb question, said something bizarre, or showed ourselves for the naïve 16 year olds we were. In the more than 10 years since I last saw Rachel’s dad give me that look, I’ve seen it on countless other faces, and I’ve probably given it myself without even realizing. I’ve seen the look on the faces of those who heard I wanted to be a professional musician, those who heard I thought I might be called to ministry, those who heard I was planning to move to the Middle East. I’ve seen the look on the faces of professors, friends, and colleagues when I’ve said something ridiculous or showed my idealistic side, daring to dream that the church and the world could be different than they are today. I’m sure I’ve given the look in similar situations, as well as when I’ve seen or heard someone do or say something that betrays their lack of common sense.

It’s also the look I imagine Jesus got a lot, especially in this story. I picture Peter and the other disciples with Rachel’s dad’s face when Jesus, in the midst of a huge Taste-of-Chicago-sized crowd, pushing and pulling and jostling for position, has the audacity to ask, “who touched me?” I mean, really, Jesus…you see the size of the crowd, you feel the people all around us, you see us being swept along rather than moving on our own—how can you possibly ask, “who touched me?”

But Jesus does ask, and he keeps asking, and he keeps turning around and looking, looking for the outcast, for the unclean, for the woman, for the one who is shunned and looked at with disgust and outrage. And when he finds her, after looking as if for a needle in a haystack, after repeatedly asking the same apparently stupid question, he changes everything in her world. No longer is she an outcast, no longer is she unclean, no longer is she shunned—he calls her “daughter” and reaches out to her, there on the margins of society, there in the land of no health insurance during a catastrophic illness, there in the invisible space where people we don’t want to see often live.

Doesn’t sound like such a stupid question anymore, does it? While the disciples, and the crowd, and the whole society—even including the church—said “why bother?” Jesus was looking, and asking, and doing something to meet a need. Sure, that need seems small if you’re the disciples, and outrageous if you’re the crowd, but it literally meant life for that woman.

Almost as soon as the look gets wiped off the disciples’ faces, servants come from Jairus’ house with bad news…and we see the look again as Jesus sets off in the direction of this house once more. Why bother, Jesus? Why bother when the girl is no longer sick, but dead? Why waste your time on an insurmountable problem? You’re being silly, Jesus—you can’t do anything, this is too big even for you.

But Jesus goes anyway.

When he arrives, he finds the professional mourners wailing and the family and neighbors sobbing—and when he says he’s going in, the incredulous look returns, this time with derisive laughter. You’ve moved beyond silly, Jesus—this is the full blown look now, complete with disbelieving raised eyebrows.

But Jesus goes in anyway. He walks right into the house made unclean by death, right into the midst of a family’s pain, right into a hopeless situation. He takes the hand of a little girl, worthless in the eyes of society, a piece of property to be married off in order to increase her family’s wealth and standing, a ritually unclean nothing in the house of a church leader. And in that one impossible moment, Jesus looks at the insurmountable task and he DOES SOMETHING. He takes a step, he makes a small movement, and manages the unbelievable. The girl gets up and walks around as though she’s just woken from an afternoon nap, Jesus orders her a snack, and everyone is amazed.

Gone is the apathy everyone felt in the face of a problem larger than they can imagine. Gone is the paralysis that comes from overanalyzing a situation. In its place, amazement.

I think initially that amazement was about the fact that Jesus raised a girl from the dead. But after that shock wore off, I bet people were amazed about something else entirely. Sure, it’s exciting and unreal that the girl was alive after being dead, and that the woman was healed after all the money and time spent. But it’s even more amazing that Jesus got into it at all. I mean, the crowd was overwhelming, the girl was dead…what’s the point of even trying?

How often do we hear these words? I know I hear them a lot, usually in the same sentence as I’m accused of naïve idealism as though having ideals is a bad thing. There’s so much wrong in the world, there’s so much violence, poverty is so overwhelming, hunger is so prevalent, disease is so uncontainable, what’s the point in even trying? I can’t fix the problem by myself, we together probably can’t even fix it, and even if the whole country and all our politicians were united on one thing, there’d still be other things. Why not just walk on by, since we can’t help every person who lives on the street? Why not walk on by, since we can’t feed every child suffering from hunger? Why bother at all when the crowd is so thick we can barely walk and when the girl is already dead?

But that’s not the Jesus way, and not the way of those of us Jesus calls to follow him, either. Jesus never asked, “why bother?” He looked. He went. He asked. He did something—anything to help even a little. When he sent disciples out two by two, he didn’t say, “if you can’t heal everyone, then just keep walking.” He told them to do what they could, to keep their eyes and ears and hearts open, to look and ask and go, to DO SOMETHING.

I spent the past three weeks at the Presbyterian conference center in Montreat, North Carolina. One of those weeks, I went to a workshop where we talked about gospel foolishness—that what we do in following Jesus, in proclaiming the gospel with our words and our lives, is foolish, stupid, deserving of the “you are such an idiot” look. No logical person would do this—it’s insane. The things we claim, the person we try to follow, the action we’re called to—it’s all ridiculous, and also ridiculously important. And then, when the youth arrived, we spent a week learning about the World on Fire—both in bad ways, like poverty and climate change and violence, and in good ways, with the fire of Pentecost, the fire of disciples, the fire of love. That week we talked about fighting fire with fire, which sounds ridiculous and foolish and wonderful all at the same time. The keynote speaker said one day that we are called to do SOMETHING, anything, really, not later "when we're ready," but NOW. We pray “thy kingdom come,” and now it’s time to realize that we are part of that coming, part of building God’s kingdom—that our living and our DOING is also our praying. In everything we are and everything we do, we dare to dream that the church and the world can be different, and that we can make that difference, even with our own two hands.

In that spirit, I invite you to finish the sermon with me, claiming our foolishness and our willingness to rush in where God has called us.
We believe in a with-us God
who sits down in our midst to share our humanity.
We affirm a faith that takes us beyond the safe place:
into action, into vulnerability, and into the streets.
We commit ourselves to work for change
and put ourselves on the line;
to bear responsibility, take risks,
live powerfully and face humiliation;
to stand with those on the edge;
to choose life and be used by the Spirit
for God’s new community of hope.
May it be so. Amen. *

*from the iona abbey worship book


  1. "and I’ve probably given it myself without even realizing"

    Probably? PROBABLY???

    You are the queen of that look.

    Second only behind me.

  2. LOL--this was pointed out, mid-sermon, by my music director at the first service. ha!

    As I said to her, "I learned from the best."

  3. also, for the record, the "probably" actually refers to the "without even realizing" part...sometimes I give the look on purpose. :-)

  4. Beautiful sermon; I loved it! Your writing is awesome :)