Sunday, June 20, 2004

Sermon: Pentecost 3

20 June 2004 at Holy Trinity L.C., Columbia, SC (Vicarage)
Text: Mark 5:21-43 (RCL)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

Today’s Gospel text finds our Lord interrupted during the course of one miracle in order to work another miracle. Both of these miracles are so intimately related that the Gospel writers, including the evangelist Mark, felt compelled to retain this odd sequence in their accounts, weaving them together in an interlocking series of events.

Both of these miracles demonstrate Jesus’s divinity, his almighty power over life and death, and his mastery over disease. These miracles give us a clear picture of the central mission of our Lord in his earthly ministry – to free those held captive to the frailties of the flesh, and to reverse the ravages of death itself, a mission only God can accomplish. These miracles also demonstrate Jesus the man, a compassionate human being who speaks kindly and lovingly to people who are grieving, who are harassed by fear and imprisoned by death.

Shortly before this couplet of miracles, our Lord has made other demonstrations of his divine work: calming a storm (causing the disciples to ask “who is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?”), exorcising a legion of demons from a possessed man (causing the observers to react with fear of Jesus’s power). And immediately after our text, in which our Lord cures the hemorrhaging woman and raises Jairus’s daughter from her death bed, Jesus goes back home to preach – where he, and his preaching, are rejected.

Miracles such as these provoke strong reactions – either of belief or unbelief. Either people see the miraculous work of our Lord, and believe in him, repent of their sins, and in some cases, give up everything to follow him, or, they react with fear (asking him to leave) or even hostility (forcing him to leave). When confronted with our Lord’s miraculous works – which are never harmful or arbitrary, but rather are helpful and healing – people will respond in one way or the other. Either they are strengthened in their faith, or they are entrenched in their disbelief. Those who are healed are typically grateful and filled with faith, and those who mistakenly believe that they have nothing from which to be healed, usually react with scoffing or violence.

And nothing has changed today. When confronted with the truths of Holy Scripture, when forced into a consideration of Jesus, when visited with disease, death, or the fallout of sin – people will react strongly – and sometimes with violence. Those who understand their plight, their imprisonment by sin, the devil, their own flesh, disease, and death itself – will be forced to consider the person and work of Jesus Christ. Those who do not understand, or who simply reject, the relationship between our broken universe and sin, will push Jesus away and will not accept the free gift of healing and restoration from death.

The two miracles in our text are similar, and yet distinct. The woman who suffers bleeding seeks out Jesus. She has believed in Jesus because of what she has heard. She has heard testimony of Jesus, and she believes in him. In response, her faith moved her to seek out our Lord to pray for healing. The girl’s situation is quite different. She is dead. She is in no position to have faith. She cannot believe based on accounts of the work of Jesus. She is in no position to do anything at all for herself. And yet, our Lord heals both.

In his ongoing ministry through the Church, our Lord heals the adult convert to the faith, who believes because of what he has heard, because of the testimony of our Lord, because of the preaching of the Gospel. And our Lord also heals the child, the infant, who is clearly dead in sin and unable to seek out Jesus. A child at the baptismal font can do nothing for himself, just as Jairus’s daughter couldn’t. Both the baby at the font and the 12-year old girl in our text were granted second births, both were born again in a way beyond their control or will. Jairus’s daughter was in no position to make a decision for Jesus, or accept him as her personal Lord and Savior. All she could do was passively receive his free gift in spite of her own situation. In every infant baptism, our Lord says: “Little child, I say to you, arise.” In fact, every baptism, infant or adult, is a resurrection from the dead.

Although we usually don’t think of the healing of the woman in our text to be a resurrection from the dead, in reality that’s just what it is. Just as surely as Jairus’s daughter was freed from death’s dark bands, the dear woman in our text was likewise liberated from death. She had been bleeding for twelve years, and her condition was growing progressively worse. She could see where this was going. A person’s blood contains a person’s life. The Old Testament confesses that blood is life, and the spilling of blood is the draining away of life. Sacrifices were the spilling of blood as a way to atone, as a way to satisfy the judgment of the Lord when he told Adam and Eve that they would surely die.

As this woman helplessly watched blood issue forth from herself for twelve years, she understood what this meant. Her life was literally draining from her. This can only go on so long before the body will suffocate cell by cell. She has been dying for the same period of time as Jairus’s daughter has been alive.

From the day we are all conceived, our bodies are on a collision course with death. Over the course of time, our cells will begin to malfunction, our organs and joints wear out, our bodies’ abilities to ward off illness diminishes. It has been said that life is a terminal illness. But this is really not the case. Of course, each one of us is on “death row” so to speak, but the problem, the terminal disease, is not life. Life is a gift from God. Life is good. The problem is sin. The problem is the fall of man back in Eden. The problem is that we have exchanged paradise for a damaged universe, swapped a glorious eternal body for a piece of rotting meat. Sin has corrupted the good gift of life – and so we all die – some suddenly, others gradually, cell by cell, perhaps even over the course of a century.

And so it is with the woman who is bleeding. Her date with death is more obvious than it is for most of us. For the most part, we carry on as though we will never die, will never become sick, will never be ravaged by the devil, will never be tempted to doubt. Sometimes it takes a scrape with death, a serious illness, or some other trauma for the Lord to get our attention. As a result of her affliction, the woman in our text has a clarity, a true understanding of her need to have a relationship with Jesus. She seeks out his healing in faith that this power will restore her. She doesn’t understand how it works, she doesn’t even really know if Jesus would want to heal her – but it doesn’t matter. Her faith compels her to take a chance, to seek life. And once the power has emanated from the God-man, it is received into her own body by faith, and the power of the Lord has done its mighty work. Jesus assures her that her faith has made it possible for the Lord’s power to work on her. “Your faith has made you well. Go in peace.”

This restoration is the mission of Jesus in the world. He is the life-giver who re-creates and cleans up the mess we’ve made of the universe.

The example of Jairus’s daughter is even more explicit. She was dead. There was no blood draining out of her – the life was already gone. The funeral procession has already started, with mourners carrying out their grim duties. The girl of twelve, an age at which the flow of blood becomes a natural rhythm in the Lord’s plan of creating new life, lies cold. The remaining blood in her body is motionless and of no use. What a bitter icon to the corrupt, sin-laden universe we inhabit after the fall in Eden – a dead child. As bitter a pill death is when it comes to those who have lived a long, full life, it is unthinkable when death comes to a child. Even the unbelievers who think death is natural, who have been fooled by Satan into believing the lie that death is “just a part of life” or the completion of some pagan “circle of life” – even the most cynical materialist will instinctively gasp when a child dies. The unnaturalness of it slaps us in the face. This is when death is at its most appalling, when Satan is at his most brutal and mocking, laying evil bare before us, tempting us to curse our Lord and to blame God Almighty for the corruption we have brought on ourselves.

And yet, in spite of it all, walking straight through the mocking mourners, in full view of the child’s heartbroken parents, our Lord sets his face like a flint to carry out his Father’s will to give life to this girl. He touches her, and speaks his word to her. The physical Flesh of Jesus and his divine Word do what reason tells us cannot be done: the girl’s dead heart begins to pulse, the blood in her body stirs and begins to course anew, through cells that have been revivified. She awakens from death as though from a nap. Jesus tells her bewildered parents to feed her, to give her the nourishment that every living creature needs to sustain the gift of life.

In these two miracles, the Lord Jesus Christ gives all people – believers and non-believers alike – a glimpse into their own future. We are all, like the woman with the hemorrhage, counting down the days as our corrupted flesh dies, the life ebbing from us day by day, moment by moment. We will all, like Jairus’s daughter, lie lifeless – cold, bloodless, and corrupting. What happens next is in the hands of God – who is not only a Creator, but also a Redeemer. The same God who gave us life and called it good, also gave His life on a Friday we now call “Good.” This sacrifice upon the altar of our world sanctifies all creation. God has reclaimed his own from the Enemy – giving the gift of healing, the gift of faith, the gift of a resurrection, and the gift of life eternal in paradise to every creature. Amazingly, most people are not interested in the gift. They are content to bleed their days away, pushing away the One who can heal and resurrect them with a touch of his Holy Flesh, or a single drop of his Holy Water. Though most people fear death, they are content to call it “natural” and figure there is nothing to be done about it except to try to die with the most toys.

However, those who have been called, redeemed, sanctified, healed, forgiven, and raised from the dead – the members of the holy catholic and apostolic Church, on earth and in heaven – gladly receive the words of our Lord: “Your faith has made you well. Go in peace… I say to you, arise.” And having been revitalized and reborn, our Lord instructs our spiritual fathers to give us something to eat. Our Lord himself feeds us with the eternal Bread of Life, his very Flesh which nourishes us unto eternal life. And just as the life of any living thing is in the blood, our Lord does more than simply wrap a tourniquet around our limbs and stop us from bleeding to death – rather he gives us of his own Blood, giving us his own life as a gift, a gift of life unto eternity.

For we have a far more intimate relationship with Jesus than even the woman and the girl in our text. Whereas they only saw, heard, and touched Jesus, we have the gift of communing with him, of making his Flesh our flesh, and his Blood our blood. Jesus pours the life of the Godhead into us, reversing the unnatural decay of our flesh and the Satanic wasting away of our blood. We too are healed. We too are raised from the dead.

While the world scoffs at us, just as they scoffed at our Lord, we believe. While the world wallows in death and calls it “natural,” we live unto eternity and call death what it really is: “evil.” While our culture can’t make up its mind whether it is anti-life (singing the praises of infanticide and euthanasia) or whether it is terrified of death to the point of ghoulish measures to avoid it (such as cryogenics and ever-increasing and invasive “laws for our own good” to regulate any form of behavior that might be risky) – the Church simply confesses that death has been conquered by God himself, who himself died, and who himself rose again. And this God is also a man, a man who speaks the gentle and yet bombastic words to us as well as to the people in our text: “Your faith has made you well, go in peace… I say to you, arise.” Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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