Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
I saw a sign in a store a week ago that made me laugh, it said, “I’m not a control freak, but can I show you the right way to do that?” Most people pride themselves on their sense of control, so we laugh at ourselves, when we show a little too much enthusiasm. We laugh at someone’s hand embroidered pillow stating, “As long as everything is exactly the way I want it, I’m totally flexible.” We may joke about the controlling homes where we were raised, where your parents not only cut up your steak for you, but numbered it as well. You are, however, a little cautious when someone says too vocally, “I actually don’t need to control my anger. Everybody else needs to control their bad habits that tick me off.” There seems to be an appropriate and acceptable portion of control necessary in life to be a happy and successful. So what happens when you can’t control your future, your family, or even your own health?
Of course, some of us have a hard time admitting that we’re not in complete control. We are assigned to tasks and we embrace them. We are convinced that others need us, and many times they do. Mind you, it’s a lot of work to keep up this appearance. I used to have a picture on my desk of a duck gently gliding across the still mirror like waters. The inscription read, “Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath.” By contrast, helplessness and vulnerability aren’t exactly prized attributes in today’s world. Some of us know we don’t have it all together, but we find it hard to admit it. What would people think?
This morning’s gospel reading is a perfect lesson for those people who have lost control, and for those who are simply afraid to admit it that they cannot hold it all together. It is the story of three vulnerable people who are trying to piece their lives together and their chance meeting with Jesus. It is their story, my friends, that offer us the assurance and encouragement that in difficult times, with Jesus, there is still hope.
Perhaps you can identify with one of the characters. First, there’s Jairus. He was the leader of the neighborhood synagogue who came to Jesus for help. He was well known and respected. People turned to him for guidance. Not every religious leader was opposed to Jesus. Indeed, many were supportive. But that is not the detail which is significant in this story. Jairus was a leader, and as a competent leader who got things done, he often sent others to do his bidding. But with his daughter being sick and near death, Jairus just couldn’t keep it all together.
I can’t what it is like to have a sick twelve- year old daughter and to wrestle with the feeling of helplessness. No, I can’t imagine the desperate agony of the synagogue leader Jairus watching his daughter dwindle away, disappearing before his eyes in the grip of illness. I can’t quite imagine his lack of control and his sense of vulnerability. But I do know what it was like to have a premature child sleeping in an incubator in St. Paul’s Children Hospital.
When I first flew back from Europe last summer after my grandson’s birth, the first place we stopped was at the hospital. Yes, I know the helplessness when the only hope you have is prayer and a trust that others know what they are doing. That experience helps me understand why Jairus ran to Jesus himself, instead of sending a servant. I can understand why Jairus threw himself at Jesus’ feet, rather than stand before him and address him as an equal. Yes, I can understand why Jairus didn’t ask politely, but begged Jesus to come. He was desperate; his love for his daughter had left him utterly vulnerable and helpless and looking for hope.
The woman who stopped Jesus on his way to touch the hem of his cloak was nearly the exact social opposite of Jairus. She had no standing in the community whatsoever. In Scripture, she remains nameless. The woman had neither servant nor advocate to go to Jesus on her behalf. She had suffered both personal and financial pain and hardship for medical treatments that have brought her no closer to healing and wholeness than had se done nothing at all. And if all this wasn’t enough, she was also ill, bleeding for twelve years. St. Mark doesn’t mention her particular form of bleeding or the ritual impurity that she would have experienced. But it was this bleeding would have left her unable to bear children. For any married couple in the ancient world, issues of infertility were grounds for divorce. It is a struggle for couples even today who are reminded every month that there is no child expected. The woman was desperate, helpless and vulnerable and looking for hope.
And then there was the little girl, Jairus’ daughter. It’s easy to forget about her. She was twelve years old — an important age, just verging on adulthood. Yet she may have never seen it. She, too, was utterly vulnerable and helpless. She, however, was in no position to look for hope.
The story of Jairus and his daughter, and the nameless woman searching for hope are powerful witnesses of how this world’s often most honored and cherished qualities and strengths can disappoint us in times of trial. Power, notoriety and influence carried no weight when the world started falling apart and they began losing control. Neither did disease nor death have any respect for social status. Surprisingly, at the very moment the nameless woman was miraculously healed, Jairus was informed that his own daughter was dead. The crowds that had gathered outside his home lacked a sense of respect for Jairus in his darkest hour. They were amused and laughed when Jesus announced that the 12 year old daughter was merely sleeping.
That is the trouble of clinging to the false hopes of this world. It is easy to depend upon your personal strengths and success when you measure yourself against others. It is easy to consider yourself better and greater than others, when you measure yourself by the profits your company earned, by the number of employees supervised, your relative income, the size of your home, or by your political affiliation. It is easy to set your life’s goals by the grades and promotions of a career. And yet when tragedy comes, what hope do you to cling to? And so Jairus came to Jesus, falling at his feet, begging 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.” And the woman came to Jesus in spite of the crowds searching to touch the hem of his garment.
Mind you, there are Christians who cling to false understandings of the faith as well. They believe that if you simply follow certain patterns and prescribed ways, all will be well. They look upon faith as a set of rules, instead of a relationship. And when they lose control, they do not know where to turn. Perhaps we have all wondered: What would happen to me and my faith, if tomorrow I were suddenly paralyzed? What would happen to my faith, if I lost my family? What would happen to my faith, if I woke up to abject poverty? Would I still praise God and trust in his abiding peace? Life’s tough times can either be a jarring, unstable crash on life’s way, or they can be an incredible blessing that catapults you along your spiritual journey. It all depends on how you experience God’s presence in your life. Is your faith merely a set of rules, or a relationship? Sometimes, however, in life’s most helpless, vulnerable, uncontrollable moments, God may challenge you as he challenged Jairus to hold on another hour, another day -and “only believe.”
Polycarp was the pastor of the church in ancient Smyrna. When he was 86 years old, he was threatened with death if he did not deny Jesus and acknowledge Caesar as Lord. Polycarp’s accusers were kind to him, and so they said, that because he was old, all he had to do was bow slightly to Caesar and they would let him go. But Polycarp refused. His words have been etched in Christian history: “Eighty and six years have I served Jesus and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” Can you say the same? God longs to offer you his support and mercy, if you will place your trust in him. “Do not fear, only believe.”
That was the trust that filled the unknown woman as she faced Jesus on the crowded road. “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” It was that confidence that led Jairus to the healing Jesus in the first place. Then Jesus 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.
You see, until you encounter Jesus, until you are either touched by Jesus, or you reach out and touch Jesus yourself, then—and only then—will you be free to experience God’s wondrous grace and healing – and his true abiding hope..
My friends, do not fear. The good news of the gospel is that whenever you are drawn into the presence of Christ, in those painful, vulnerable, out of control moments, he will free you and heal you, so that you may begin again restored. That is our lasting hope. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.