We enter the gospel of Mark to a crowd waiting for Jesus. He’s led the disciples out across the sea through the storm to places they wouldn’t have imagined themselves going, serving people so outside their boundaries, that encountering the storm must have seemed peaceful in comparison. Now they’ve crossed the sea again.
The people Jesus left earlier must have told their friends about his work, and now, as word spreads that Jesus has returned, a great crowd gathers. The Gospel focuses us on two people in the crowd, one, a leader of the synagogue, who has come to plead for healing for his daughter, and the other, a woman, who has searched for healing for years and now takes one last chance with Jesus.
I imagine them both as desperate people, who have tried all other options, and now, as hope is fading, reach out to Jesus.
Jairus, the desperate father, is put on hold while Jesus notices the woman and talks to her about her healing. In those few moments between Jairus’ appeal to Jesus, when he begged for healing that would save his daughter’s life, a world has changed. His daughter died. Someone comes to pull him away from Jesus. There’s nothing left to be done.
But Jesus doesn’t agree. Overhearing their conversation, he says to Jairus,
“Do not fear, only believe.”
Those words ring in Jairus’ ears as he walks back to him home, steps following the path, eyes blind to the world. When they arrive, all those who had gathered to support the family, to help them mourn, respond with derisive laughter when Jesus declares, “the child is not dead, but sleeping.”
The girls’ parents are the only ones who do not.
Any sensible person can see the truth. The child has died, and there’s no going back from that. To follow a man who says otherwise is delusional; foolish.
Anyone who has ever loved someone can put themselves in those parents’ place. If there was one glimmer of hope that the beloved could be alive instead of dead, wouldn’t you hold on tightly? Or if you were to have a loved one who became sick, can’t you imagine spending all your free time on Google, trying to learn more and see if there’s anything more you can be doing? No matter how crazy it might be.
Jeff and I were in that situation around four years ago, when I was pregnant with Laila. We went in for the ultrasound in which they check all the body parts, scanning into the organs. When we got back into my midwife’s office, she said the baby’s heart didn’t look quite right. She moved quickly into assuring us that she’d get an appointment at the children’s hospital in South Dakota, where we’d get a better scan, where they would quickly start looking at options for surgery, even before she was born. We went home with minds and hearts spiraling, unable to process that the baby we looked forward to might not live, or that there might be a long road of medical procedures ahead of us. In the days to come, we searched for answers, looked at heart diagrams, read medical journals.
I share this to say that I know it doesn’t take much, sometimes just a whisper of a possibility that something’s not right, to throw us into desperate search for answers and for healing.
The mourning crowd might have thought those parents had lost their good sense, following this teacher who says the dead aren’t dead, but I can understand. They will try anything. In that moment of fear, the choice to believe isn’t a rational commitment. It’s more like a clutching at any possibility for a better outcome.
Jesus sends those who hold no hope out of the house. He brings the parents into the place where the girl is. He commands, and she gets up, and walks. He tells her family to get her something to eat.
What are those laughing mourners doing all this time? Have they left in a huff after being dismissed by Jesus? Maybe some. But I imagine more are waiting outside. Perhaps peeking in through the open door or window, wondering what is going on- what Jesus will do and how the parents will react.
Do they hear Jesus’ command? Do they catch a glimpse of her rising from her bed? What happens in a few days, when the whole town has seen her out and about, very much alive? What do they think then?
We see an echo of those laughing mourners in our world today. We live in a world in which more and more often people are deciding they don’t need church and they certainly don’t need any antiquated belief system. It’s obvious what is true, and the whole God thing isn’t it.
Just because some people today aren’t choosing to be a part of a faith community doesn’t mean they don’t long for the life, hope, and forgiveness that Jesus brings. None of those mourners wanted a little girl to die. They just couldn’t see any other possibility.
Jairus and his wife are around to see the beautiful miracle of life Jesus brings. Those who couldn’t believe in this possibility were cast out of the room, but I have to imagine that eventually, they too saw the result of Jesus’ work. We don’t hear their story, but some of them must have been moved to faith when they saw that Jesus restores life.
We gather here today as a people who believe Jesus gives life. What have you seen? What have you experienced? What is the life-giving work that Jesus is doing in the presence of us believers?
We’ll take a few moments during our offering for those who wish to share how they have experienced the life-restoring work of God in their own lives.
Part of our work as the Church is to proclaim the life-giving Christ so that people who have never considered faith an option might find their way into relationship with God. I think of the image of those laughing mourners outside the house, with an eye to the crack in the door, watching what Jesus is doing, even as they have distanced themselves. As the Church, we aren’t serving God by only leaving a sliver of hope shining for the world to glimpse. We need windows open, doors open, all invited to step inside and see!
How are we opening the doors so that those who never would have considered Jesus are now seeing the life he brings?
Our public leaders open the doors. The Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, our church, has called on all of us to spend a day in repentance, of publicly declaring that we are also participants in the sin of racism that destroys life. In this public statement, we say to the world, yes, black lives matter, and yes, we in this congregation have lived with privilege to which we are blind, but we believe in the power of God to continue to transform us, to confront us with our sin and raise us up with his love, so that one day, we will live with justice, and mercy, kindness and humility. For those who have written off the Church as aligned with the powers of this world that thrive on oppression and injustice, we show a Church that is not too proud to repent, a church that says, you can be a part of teaching us a better way.
Our work in service opens the doors. We join with more than a dozen local churches as we begin our participation with Family Promise, working with those homeless families who need one more step of support before they can reach a level of self-sufficiency. To those who see the Church as full of petty in-fighting, while not caring about the real needs of people, we show the compassion of Christ, making new life possible.
We have the life-restoring God in our midst. We have faith that casts out fear. This is good, good stuff. It’s time to be sure that our neighbors know this Christ. Open the doors, open the windows, share the story: those who once rolled their eyes and laughed at the foolishness of faith may one day laugh with joy at the amazing love, the complete faithfulness, Jesus has always had for them.
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