Saturday, June 30, 2018

Year B, Pentecost 6, Mark 5.21-43, Unfailing Hope

Grace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus, The Christ.  Amen

Desperate Hope,
Resilient Faith,
And Healing—
                These are the words that come to me today.
We believe in a God who is the author and giver of all life, and Jesus, the Son who came to redeem and heal.
Powerful stories of healing dot our lives.
We’ve heard them, perhaps even experienced them.
And also, there are those times of disappointment, of longing for a healing that did not come.
This is the stuff, the important stuff, of faith and life.
A father is desperate.
His daughter is at the point of death, and so, he reaches out to Jesus, begging him to lay his hands on his daughter and make her well, so that she might live.
Many people have prayed the prayer.
Sometimes we pray because we believe it’s the first thing we should do.  We pray at the first sign of trouble, a diagnosis we did not want, and yet we pray with a degree of confidence in the prognosis, believing that God can heal us through the various gifts of the medical profession.
And indeed, there are so many times when those prayers do not disappoint, when healing comes, and when life is fully restored.
Thinking of my own life, I am reminded of having heart surgery.  My mitral valve had failed.  In time, it might have killed me.
Prayers were offered.  And a skilled surgeon sought out, and healing happened.  A time of thanksgiving.  And then life goes on.  It’s been over fifteen years now and everything is fine.
Such healings come so frequently these days, we hardly even think of them as an answer to prayer.  We tend to think that healing occurred because we had a gifted surgeon.  And a well trained medical staff. 
Yet, we pray because that’s what we do as people of faith, and whether Jesus gets the credit or not, we are healed.
Thanks be to God.
When Jairus came to Jesus, it was not the first thing he had tried.
His was not a prayer of reverent and confident piety offered as a matter of course.
Everything he had tried had failed.
His daughter was at the point of death.
And his prayer was now one of desperation.
Brad was my doctor, the one who had diagnosed my heart problem.
A few years after that, tumors were discovered in Brad’s  brain.  Such news sets all sorts of things in action.  Surgery was not possible, but radiation was, and so the journey began.
Prayers, week in and week out.
But as the weeks and months passed by, those prayers became increasingly desperate, and even hopeless.  At the point of death we prayed more for peace, than healing, and in anticipation of the resurrection.
That’s likely where Jairus was, hoping against all hope, desperate, but also realistic. 
What could it hurt, this one last try.
There was no time to waste.
And so he turned to Jesus.
Here’s where a curious turn of events happened.
On the way, as the crowd pressed in upon Jesus, a woman who had suffered many years from hemorrhaging, snuck up behind Jesus and touched him, hoping that by doing so she might be healed.
And in that moment, she was.
“Who touched me?” was Jesus response.
What ensued was a conversation that Jairus probably found both hopeful and disturbing all at the same time.
That Jesus had healed this woman undoubtedly gave him hope.
And yet time was running out and here they were caught in the crowds, delayed.  And his daughter was at the point of death.
There is a subplot going on here, that we might note.
Jairus was a leader of the synagogue.
The woman, due to her ailment, her bleeding, was an untouchable.  To touch her made one unclean.
Jesus, feeling her touch, would have become unclean himself according to the Law. 
At any rate, it was an outcast that had delayed Jesus going to Jairus’ daughter.  An outcast who was healed.
Imagine if your heart surgery had been delayed because a homeless person had been brought in that day. . .
And then, Jairus’ friends arrived from his home.
It was in fact, too late.  His daughter had died.
So often, this is where we find ourselves.
We are left to offer care and compassion at the time of death.
One morning I received the phone call from my colleague at hospice.  Brad had indeed died.
And so we go, intent on only one thing, doing what needed to be done at the point of death.
A different prayer would be offered.
A funeral would be planned.
We try to find words to comfort one another, but there really are none, grieving is the agenda for the day.
“Your daughter is dead.  Why trouble the teacher any further?”
We have resolved to accept death as a part of life.
Gathered together in Brad’s living room with his wife, and his doctor friends, we dealt with reality that day.
The prayers for healing had long since fallen silent.
As a pastor the scene is all too familiar.
Every time I experience it, I’m reminded of the many times before.
Despair, though, is not the emotion of the day.
There is a resilience of hope, and we do not grieve as those who have no faith.
“Take off your shoes, Moses, for you are standing on Holy  Ground.”
The time of death is a sacred time and a sacred space.
My own ministry was shaped early on by the experience of death, some far too soon, some delayed so long.
I began to see my ministry as “walking people to the gates of heaven.”
We speak of that ultimate hope in the face of death.
We might have preferred that healing had come, but we still have hope.
And yet, as holy as those times are, there is a yearning.
I wish that I had the power to say two words.  Just two words in those moments.
Especially when death comes too soon, like it did for Alison, a fifteen year old, or Paul, a nine year old, or for the Benton’s baby, just five days old, all people who died within a few weeks of each other in my first parish.
Two word I wish I could have spoken.
“Talitha Cum.”
“Little girl, get up!”
But only Jesus can speak those words.
Not I.
Not You.
Not the greatest surgeon in the world.
Just Jesus and him alone.

Prayer has its limits.
That’s what I’ve come to believe.
And this is the limit.
No matter how desperate, no matter how resilient our faith, no matter how hopeful – we cannot pray ourselves out of our own mortality. 
Talitha Cum.
Oh that we could speak those words, oh that Jesus would speak those words, to all the Alisons, or Pauls, or dying babies of this world.
Death, however, will never be defeated this side of the grave. 
This is a mystery hidden in God’s wisdom.
We will never know or understand why some are healed, and others die far too soon.
Oh, we know the basics.
Brad died because of the tumors that grew uncontrollably in his brain.
Alison, because she was thrown from a car going about 80 miles an hour.
Paul, because of a blow to his head.
And the Bensons baby because it had been born before its lungs had developed enough.
What we understand though, is merely the cause of death, not the why.
But even more so, Life’s ultimate victory will remain for us a mystery until that day dawns in heaven.
But what we have is a deep, resilient faith, that will not be defeated in the face of the reality of death.
Jesus will speak the words “Talitha cum!”
And we will arise and experience what is spoken about in Revelation:
"See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
4 he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away."

Amen, Come, Lord Jesus.  Amen and Amen.

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