June 2009 Sermons:
Matthew 28: 19.
The Trinity is one of the great teachings of the church. It’s also one of the hardest ideas to understand. One of our favorite hymns, “Holy, Holy, Holy,” is about the Trinity. The Trinity is the subject of the Apostles’ Creed, and the subject of the Gloria Patri. We know the words to all three, by heart. But the idea of one God in three persons, still confuses us. Have you ever tried to explain it? I’ll never forget a question I first heard, when I helped to teach a new member class at a Presbyterian church. This happened right after I started seminary. A woman who wanted to join our church had grown up in China. She had been raised as a Buddhist. She asked our pastor about the “three Gods” of Christianity. It took a few minutes for me to figure out that this woman actually wanted an explanation of the Trinity.
Maybe you have heard the famous Trinity joke. It goes like this: A voice on the telephone says, “Thank you for calling heaven. To hear this message in English, press one. To hear this message in Spanish, press two. For all other languages, press three. We’re sorry, but all of God’s three persons are busy right now. However, your prayer is important to us. It will be answered in the order it was received. Please stay on the line and select one of the following options. If you would like to speak to: God, please press one; for Jesus, please press two; for the Holy Spirit, please press three. To find a loved one in heaven, please press four, then enter his or her social security number, followed by the pound sign.”
This joke makes fun of voice mail. I don’t think it ridicules Christian beliefs. I chose it for this sermon because it illustrates the two biggest problems in the way we view the Trinity—first, our perception that the three persons of God are remote from us. And, second, our tendency to think that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are separated from each other. The New Testament is, unfortunately, as clear as mud about the Trinity. And so, many pastors speak of the Trinity as a holy mystery no human can comprehend. That is a shame. It underestimates the intelligence of Christians.
The Gospel lesson today is one of the scripture passages that speaks of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It describes the risen Christ’s last appearances to His disciples. On the day of resurrection, the angel had instructed the two Marys to tell the eleven remaining disciples to go back to Galilee, where they would see Jesus alive. Today’s lesson from Matthew is the story of His last appearance. The words Shelby just read to us, are among the most powerful words in the Bible. The speaker in this scene is the risen Christ. The disciples have been following Him for three years. Now, He says to them, “Go and make disciples, teach, and baptize.” Jesus speaks of God as three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but He doesn’t explain further. You’ll remember that we heard this as the beginning of the baptism liturgy last Sunday.
How do you understand God? Many Christians envision God as the almighty Father—remote from our lives. Think about the passage from Isaiah that Justin read. The idea of God, sitting on the temple throne, surrounded by huge six-winged creatures, is pretty frightening. That scripture lesson describes the prophet as a young man, assisting in an ordinary temple worship service. Isaiah repeats the word, “holy,” three times in a row. “Holy” is translated from the Hebrew word, “qadosh.” Qadosh means, “separated from the ordinary lives of people.” “Holy,” three times, means very, very separated from humans!
God puts a piece of burning coal in Isaiah’s mouth. Then this young man answers, “Here I am, Lord. Send me.” Isaiah’s God seems magical and remote. Isaiah feels very small, standing next to God. Some of us see God that way. Once a child described God as "the one who opens the door in the supermarket."
This God is all powerful and can do anything. Here’s another joke that illustrates this way of seeing God. Moses, Jesus and an old man went golfing. Moses teed off, and his ball went down a waterway, the water parted, and the ball rolled across within four inches of the cup. Jesus then teed off, and the ball hit near the water, skipped across on top of it and came within two inches of the cup. The old man teed off next, and the ball went crooked, hit a tree and bounced. A squirrel picked it up and ran with it across the green. An eagle swooped down, caught the squirrel, flew high up into a thunderstorm and got struck by lightning, which made him drop the squirrel. The squirrel dropped the ball, which hit the back of a turtle and then rolled into the cup. Jesus said, "Nice shot, Dad."
We know the two other persons of the Trinity better. Jesus is God, not only the Son of God. The doctrine of the Trinity means that God is not only up in heaven. Instead, God came to walk on the earth so that we could know God as a human being, the second person of the Trinity.
It's hard to grasp this idea—how can the Son of God be both divine and human? All through the church’s history, some people have made Christ so holy in their minds, that they have ignored the fact that He was also human. Others have regarded Jesus as an ordinary man, just like the rest of us, without holiness. In the fourth century, when the church adopted the Nicene Creed, the arguments got very intense about the question of the humanity, versus the divinity, of Jesus. In fact, when the bishops met in Constantinople to settle this issue, people actually had fistfights in the streets over whether Jesus was completely holy or completely human. Why did the general public get so upset about a theological issue? My guess is that it’s because human life was shorter in those days. To live to the age of sixty was quite uncommon in ancient times. And so, it was uppermost on people’s minds, whether they would go to heaven and not to the other place. If Jesus wasn’t fully God, how could He have the power to save their souls? Salvation was literally a matter of life and death.
But God came to earth to show us some aspects of God’s self that we could never have perceived on our own. What a holy mystery, that God would live as a human being in Jesus Christ. He felt exhaustion and discouragement and human sorrow. He knew frustration and anger. He despaired, when He thought His Father might have forsaken Him. He nearly lost His courage when He faced the cross. The second person of the Trinity is a personal God that cares deeply for each and every one of us. Christians have seen proof of that in Jesus. But the doctrine of the Trinity means something more. It means that God didn’t just visit the earth two thousand years ago, in the form of a human, and then abandon us. Trinity means that “God with us” is not just ancient history. It means that the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, is with us always.
What a comfort, to know that! When things are going well in our lives, it’s easy to believe that God is in charge. But when things go wrong, it’s much tougher to hold onto our faith in God. So often we ask, "Where was God when this happened to me?" Where is God when we lose friends or family in a plane crash? When we are laid off from our jobs, or our homes are destroyed? When our children or our parents suffer? At those times, God as the Holy Spirit is especially with us. The Spirit is the person of the Trinity who sticks by us when we feel lost and frightened and alone.
Trinity means that we experience our God in three ways—as Creator, who made us; as Savior who went to the cross so we would be forgiven; and as the spiritual presence who never leaves us. The table before us shows the Trinity as a visible reality. God is our host today, but He has not stayed in the heavens, high and holy. God is here to eat with us. We know a personal God who prepares a table for us in order to nourish our faith. We see and feel God with us. And we will meet all three persons of God when we celebrate Communion. Let us proclaim the mystery of God—not three Gods, but one. God is mighty. God walked with us in this world, and now, God is with us always.
LET US PRAY.
O God, you come to us in many ways. Our understanding does not diminish your power. We praise you for your kindness and wisdom, and we stand in awe of your works. Lord, speak to us, so that we may speak clearly, and with understanding, about our faith. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.
F. Brown, S. Driver and C. Briggs, The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2000), 154.
The fourth chapter of the Gospel of Mark is a string of parables Jesus told His disciples. These stories were lessons about the coming of the kingdom of God. In today’s lesson, Jesus compares the growth of God’s kingdom to a mustard seed. The story is mysterious and rather hopeful. It captures our feeling of wonder as we observe nature changing around us. But the parable of the mustard seed is not a simple story. I think Jesus is trying to get his followers to shift the way they see themselves by telling them stories like this one. Remember that these ragged followers of Jesus-- Peter and James and John--are full of doubts and fears. They don’t understand much of what Jesus is saying. He is a rabbi, and they have no formal education. So Jesus talks to them about everyday things—little black seeds and birds and bushes. But these stories are really lessons in theology.
Jesus’ comparison of a mustard seed to the enormous bush it becomes, meant something a little different for the disciples, than it means to us today. There are mustard seeds, and there are mustard seeds! In North America, mustard seeds are round and yellow and fairly large. But a Palestinian mustard seed is much smaller than a North American one. It’s barely perceptible to the naked eye.
The growth of Middle Eastern mustard plants is very rapid, compared to that of American mustard. The disciples would have known that. In Jesus’ day, mustard bushes by the Sea of Galilee grew fifteen feet tall in one year. That is twice as tall as an American mustard plant grows. Any person living in Jesus’ part of the world would have been able to find mustard bushes growing near his or her home. These bushes grew from tiny seeds into shrubs twice as tall as the average Palestinian man. A mustard bush was big enough to shelter and shade many birds of the air, as Jesus tells us. Birds would eat the seeds and scatter them all around. The crop of resulting mustard bushes would grow to their full height by the following fall. And each bush came from such a small beginning—a tiny black seed.
The growth of a plant is an everyday miracle. It happens while we aren’t looking. But the results of plant growth don’t make us happy all the time. What about dandelions—aren’t they part of God’s kingdom, too. That’s the reason why I don’t believe Jesus’ parable is as simple as it appears to be. It’s tricky to preach about Jesus’ parables. Are we trying to play God when we judge the outcomes of nature as “good” or “bad”? Who are we to say that a plant is too small or too large, or that it grows too quickly or too slowly?
A hundred years ago, most Christian theologians believed that this story meant that life for believers, every day, in every way, would get better—as the kingdom of God grew stronger on earthly soil. We aren’t so optimistic today. I think this story isn’t so much about human faith, or even about the inevitability of growth. I believe the parable of the mustard seed is, simply, about the power and the mystery of God. It tells us to open ourselves to faith in the future, so we will be freed from frustration and anxiety in our everyday lives.
But it’s hard to have faith when we see what is growing around us. Since we are looking at plants, let’s take a look at a flowering plant called purple loosestrife. This flower is nicknamed the “purple plague.” Maybe you have guessed that the “purple plague” is a weed. Next to the dandelion, it’s the fastest-spreading weed on our continent. Americans used to consider this plant very pretty. In the early eighteen-hundreds, purple loosestrife was a highly-prized flower. Merchants made millions, importing the flower from Europe and selling in America. By the time of the Civil War, purple loosestrife was planted in the most elegant formal gardens of New England. But its growth got out of hand. Purple loosestrife produces millions of seeds which spread easily by wind or water. The seeds of the “purple plague” made their way to the Midwest throughout the twentieth century. These flowering bushes can be found, growing in wild tangles of bushes, in open water areas all over our country today. Quite a few wetland plants in our country are endangered because the “purple plague” has monopolized the water and light in swamp areas. Butterflies and amphibians are dying off. Purple loosestrife has engulfed their habitats. Efforts by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to control purple loosestrife have cost American taxpayers more than forty-five million dollars every year. Didn’t the overgrowth of the purple plague result from God’s power, too?
I'm always amazed at how weeds have a way of sprouting in the middle of a cement sidewalk. You can have one small crack in the pavement, and, sure enough, dandelions will take advantage of that crack and start to grow there. And that, Jesus says, is what the kingdom of God is like. When all we see is cement around us, God's kingdom has a way of breaking out in ways that we don’t expect. Maybe with weeds, maybe with mustard bushes, maybe with beautiful flowers. God is in charge, and His kingdom is growing all around us, and we can expect His will to be done. But does that mean that we neglect our lawns and gardens, and let nature run wild?
I remember hearing a story about a man who bought a house with an overgrown garden. Weeds had taken over the garden and it was a mess. But slowly, the new owner of the house began to clear the overgrown plants. Finally, he had created a showcase garden. One day his pastor came to visit. When the pastor saw the beautiful plants the man had grown, he commented, “Well, friend, you and God have done a marvelous job on this garden. The homeowner replied, “You should have seen it when God had it by himself.”
Our own role may be small in the grand scheme of things, but we can further God’s kingdom by doing small acts of courage and kindness. The signs of the kingdom are often unexpected. They may seem nearly invisible—until we notice the results of the seeds we have planted.
Seeds take time to grow. We get nervous and we start to twiddle our thumbs. We want to see growth now! That’s certainly true in the business world. Most companies report their quarterly earnings. If a company has had a rough three months, then its stock price will go down. But company executives try to get investors to take a long range view. It’s possible that, over the long-term, the company will do well. For the most part, however, people aren't willing to be patient. Instead, they want to see a continuous upward trend in the company’s income.
That’s the way it is with the coming of God's kingdom. It takes time. Too often we complain, "Well, yesterday I prayed and read the Bible but nothing has happened yet." But the mustard seed parable reminds us God's kingdom will come about in God’s time. Its fortunes don’t rise or fall with ministries that seem to be succeeding, or seem to be failing.
The incident was small, but those were unusual times in Montgomery. Martin Luther King Jr., a young pastor at a local Baptist church, was asked to lead the black community in a citywide boycott of the bus system. Black citizens of Montgomery either walked or rode bicycles for more than a year, and their action almost bankrupted the bus companies. They were forced to integrate every bus, or go out of business.
The courage of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., initiated a series of events that gradually broke down the system of segregation that had been practiced in the South for nearly a hundred years. One small voice, saying, “no” began transforming the laws and the moral conscience of our nation. It was like the tiny mustard seed that produced an enormous bush.
We live in a world where the good guys don't always seem to win. We live in a world where weeds choke other plants. The purple plague seems to be everywhere we look, taking sun and water from other growing things. Like the purple plague, evil will probably be around us all our lives.
We are heralds of the kingdom of God. Everything we do matters. Whenever we give a homeless person enough money for a meal at Burger King, or help a driver jump start his battery, or give a few cans of ravioli to the food bank, or pick up candy wrappers on the church lawn--all these acts of caring are God's work.
LET US PRAY.
Almighty God, the growth of the kingdom is in your hands. Show us how to help in small ways, we pray. Help us to see how good people can make a difference in the world. Use us, scatter us and grow us, so that we, in turn, may grow your kingdom. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.
Henri Daniel-Rops, Daily Life in the Time of Jesus (New York: Hawthorn, 1962), 27.
Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1993), 146.
“Mark 4:26-34,” Texts for Preaching: a Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV, Year B (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1993),390-1.
“Bad Plants in Your Backyard: Purple Loosestrife,” http://www.natureconservancy.org, June 12, 2009.
Story abridged and paraphrased from Richard Gribble, The Parables of Jesus: Applications for Contemporary Life (Lima, OH:CSS, 1999), 73-4.
When you go to sea, you never know what to expect. That's what the disciples discovered. These men were fishermen, and they didn’t think anything would go wrong, when they took a boat trip across the Sea of Galilee one evening. Jesus was with them. He had been feeling pressed by the huge crowds, and told them He needed a break. The only way to escape was to take a fishing boat over to the deserted side of the lake. So the trip was His idea.
The sky darkened. A severe storm gathered, and waves started to beat against the sides of the boat. You see, when the cool winds from the hills north of Galilee blow down and mix with the warm air that comes in from the Mediterranean Sea, that combination of warm and cool air creates major storms in a short time. The Sea is set in a deep gorge, between two mountain ranges, and the warm and cool air begin to swirl in that small area like a whirlwind. That’s what must have happened that night.
It was pitch dark. The wind started to blow around the lake. Waves began to engulf the boat. The disciples got their buckets out, but the water was pouring in faster than they could bail it. They began to panic. No Coast Guard boat would come rescue them. There were no life jackets. The fishermen had never seen the like of this! They were in big trouble, and they knew it.
So the disciples did what nearly every group of people does, when there's a problem. They found someone to blame. The one they blamed was Jesus. Why had He made them go across the lake at night? Why couldn't they have waited until morning? Why hadn't He called the National Weather Service and checked out the forecast? The disciples were terrified. And it was all Jesus' fault.
As the story goes, Jesus had fallen asleep on a cushion in the stern of the boat. He was probably snoring. This man really knew how to relax! But that doesn’t mean He didn’t care. It’s just that He was confident of God’s love for Him.
The forty-first verse of this story, in the original Greek, tells how scared these men were. It reads, “They feared a great fear!” When the disciples woke Jesus up, they said: "We're about to die. Don't you care, Jesus?"
Fear is not a bad thing. In fact, we need it. It's good that children are taught to be somewhat afraid of fire, so that they don't burn themselves. And it's good that we're taught to be cautious around strangers or suspicious-looking people.
When the disciples woke Jesus up and He saw the terrible situation they were in, He realized that they had cause to be afraid. But, just the same, Jesus was exasperated, and for one reason only-- that His companions had let their fears of drowning overwhelm them—and with the son of God in the boat!
The British Navy has a good custom. If there is a sudden disaster aboard ship, the "still" whistle is blown. That whistle calls the crew to a moment of silence in a time of crisis. When people on the ship hear the whistle, they know that it means, "Prepare to do the wise thing." Don’t react right away, the whistle says to them. Stop for a few minutes to collect yourself, then do the wise thing. Maybe we all need to take a lesson from the British Navy. Are there times in your life when you wish you had heard a whistle telling you to be still, to think before speaking or acting? Would a whistle have saved you from making a mistake?
This church has a custom that is not unlike the British Navy whistle. It’s the centering prayer with which you start worship, and then the meditation music. I’m learning to appreciate how that centering prayer and the soft music help us to put aside our worries for an hour. We come to God’s house feeling preoccupied from the cares and stresses of the past week. We need to find the calm center within ourselves. And meditation music does help.
Back in that boat, the disciples had lost faith. Their fears had started to take over. There was Jesus, snoring through the storm. What do you and I think if storms rage in our lives, and God seems to be asleep? Like those disciples, sometimes we just want Jesus to remind us that he does care about us. But the thing is that it's not just that Jesus cares about us. It's not just that Jesus feels our pain. Here’s the most important thing to remember-- that the son of God can do something about the storms in our lives. And that's what He showed the disciples that night on the Sea of Galilee. With a simple command, Jesus ordered the wind and the rain to stop. They did. It was an amazing show of power.
The disciples were surprised. It seems they didn't realize that He could help that much. This is Jesus’ first major act of divine power in the Gospel of Mark. In the Old Testament tradition, the one who ruled the winds and the sea was God himself. This fact helps us understand how stunned the disciples were by Jesus’ power. Now they were more afraid of Him, than of the storm. This story closes with the disciples asking, “Who, then, is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?” They now know that Jesus is much more than a man.
The gifts God has given us can help us navigate the storms of our lives. God’s power is revealed in our talents. Some of us are musical. Some know how to create beautiful things—murals, flower arrangements, hors d’oeuvres and fresh loaves of bread. Some have a listening ear. Others have a sense of humor and know how to make life fun. Skills like teaching and nursing and doctoring and managing are powerful resources to help a faith community. When we face crises of faith as a congregation, the gifts we have received from God encourage us and provide us with help.
It is amazing what you can do when you tap into God’s power. It is amazing how peaceful your life can become, if you can hear, in your mind’s eye, the words Jesus said, "Peace! Be still.”
We live in a more frightening world than most of our ancestors did. Telling someone not to be afraid is different from saying, “There’s nothing to be afraid of.” Everyday experiences have become downright frightening. Little children getting on the school bus. Teenagers driving to the prom. Parking outside a grocery store alone at night. Going into the city to see a show. Instead of crying out in panic to Jesus we need to allow Jesus to communicate His calm faith to us!
We say we have faith. But when a crisis comes, do you give in to deep dark fears that you are really alone? Do you trust Jesus? Or, do you keep your fingers crossed just in case? Do you knock on wood just to feel safe? We can count on dark and stormy seas. But the good news is that Jesus is a passenger in our boat, and He won't let us get swept away.
All of us have had the experience of feeling paralyzed by fear. Some fears come from inside us—but they seem so real. In this decade, we have experienced the unthinkable—the attacks of 9/11, stories of children and teachers being shot by snipers, and the economic collapse. How do we cope? Praying helps a lot. Reading the Bible helps, too. There are many stories in the scriptures that tell us how forcefully God has acted--from the Red Sea crossing in Exodus, to the miracles of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts.
We’re all in the same boat. But the good news is that this boat carries a passenger who can calm any storm. The next time the waves start to swamp your life, remember that you aren’t alone. Jesus is with us always. Trust Him never to panic! He doesn’t promise us a life of peaceful voyages. But His calm center can be our lifeline. Call on Him for help. Trust that He’ll deliver. And listen for His word.
LET US PRAY.
Gracious God, when the waves of life threaten to overwhelm us, you hold us securely in your arms. When the chaos of life causes confusion, your voice soothes us: "Peace, be still." Help us to trust the promise of our faith that you care for us. Help us to act on that promise by caring for others, for when we do, our heads will always be above water. We pray through the calm and confidence of the Christ and in the strength and stillness of your Spirit. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.
Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1993), 146.
Sakae Kubo, A Reader’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan 1975), 32.
http://www.management-issues.com/lessons-from-the-royal-navy, downloaded on June 19, 2009.
Leslie J. Francis, Exploring Mark’s Gospel (London: Continuum, 2002), 61.
Michael Lindvall, “Mark 4:35-41,” Feasting on the Word:Vol. 3 ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009), 166.
This idea is developed further in Walter Russell Bowie, ed., The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 7 (Nashville: Abingdon, 1951), 710.
When the faith of a seeker and the grace of God touch each other, miracles happen. Today’s gospel lesson from Mark is a story within a story. Jesus saves the lives of two women. Both stories start as interruptions in His ministry.
We don’t like interruptions. They eat up our time. They even make us behave rudely, sometimes. People in the health professions, police officers, and teachers get used to interruptions. The public needs their services. But some of our interruptions aren’t even human-- like internet spam, pop-up advertising on the computer, and recorded solicitation calls. When we are bombarded by mechanical interruptions, we have to work harder to protect our time. We get angry. We start to develop tunnel vision.
We never see that happen to Jesus in the gospels. He never had a telephone or a computer. But as the man of the hour in northern Palestine, He had His share of interruptions. The stories of the two women happen on the same day, in the first year of His ministry. Interruptions don’t seem to prevent Jesus from doing His job. On the contrary—He knows they ARE His job. He shows the disciples how to function in God’s time, not His own.
We need to learn that lesson from Jesus. Let’s practice the spiritual discipline of being right here, right now, in the presence of God. I hope you already turned off your cell phone until ten thirty. Now, go a step further. Put your wristwatch in your pocket, and don’t put it back on until you leave the church.
Why is Jesus the man of the hour? The word is getting around the Sea of Galilee that He has calmed a great storm at sea. And there’s a more sensational story making the rounds—that He has banished the evil spirits from a deeply troubled man. It’s said that Jesus sent those same spirits into a herd of two thousand stampeding pigs. Now the man is completely healed. Remarkable! People pay attention to stories like that. They tell their friends and relatives.
Everybody in Galilee has a friend or relative who is sick. They, and their children and their parents and their cousins and their aunts, are pressing on Jesus from every side. In the middle of the crush of needy people, Jesus never loses His calm presence or His sense of God’s timing.
But here comes the challenge of the day. A man named Jairus, a synagogue leader and a prominent member of Jewish society, is in that crowd by the sea. He tells Jesus that his twelve-year-old daughter is about to die. He comes to see Jesus himself, and leaves his child’s deathbed, instead of sending a messenger. Why? Because Jairus believes so strongly that Jesus’ touch will heal her. Jesus follows Jairus to his home to save the girl.
The crowds continue to follow Jesus. One face in the crowd is that of a woman who has been bleeding for twelve years. She has consulted with doctors and spent a fortune on medicine, with no result. The woman believes she can get well, if only she can touch Jesus. So she drops to the ground, reaches her arms forward, and feels for His robe. Jesus stops. He knows He’s been touched. He looks around, to try to figure out what’s happened. Imagine the woman, terrified. Meanwhile, picture the disciples, getting annoyed. “Let’s get a move on, Jesus, we can’t afford to stop now!,” We can hear His followers saying.
As readers, we feel worried when Jesus takes the time to heal the older woman. A little girl is about to die. Her father is the most important man in town. Surely a grown woman who has suffered twelve years can wait a little longer to be healed. A child has her whole life ahead of her—if she survives, that is. But Jesus knows—this isn’t an “either/or” situation.
The older woman has been unclean for twelve years, but she goes alone into a mob and dares to touch the garment of a rabbi who isn’t her husband. She snitches a tiny bit of Jesus’ power when He isn’t looking. She is violating the Jewish law. She could be punished for any one of those deeds. Jesus takes pity on her. He senses her desperation. When she comes forward and admits she is the one who touched Him, Jesus gently tells her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” And she is healed! He doesn’t give this poor woman half His attention, while mentally calculating how long this interruption will delay Him. Jesus takes time to be with her. He knows He can handle the next job after He finishes this one.
This story raises an important question for us. Who decides what situations deserve our full attention—God, or other people? Jesus answers only to God. He cares little for social expectations. Jairus’ daughter is rich, and her father is prominent. But, instead of playing local politics, Jesus stops to heal the older woman first.
Jesus’ action shocks the people around Him. They consider both the dead girl and the sick woman unclean. Jesus is forbidden, by Old Testament rules, to touch a bleeding woman or a corpse. If He does, according to the law, He himself will become unclean. Jesus never lets social expectations interfere with the will of God.
The tension is electric. Jesus is still talking to the older woman, when a crowd of people runs to Jairus from his house to tell him that his daughter has already died. They say that Jesus needn’t bother to come. We can hear, in these voices, a bit of nastiness, a little contempt. The people in this delegation don’t have faith that Jesus can raise the dead. But Jesus reassures the synagogue leader, “Do not fear, only believe.” The men keep walking toward Jairus’ home. And the suspense builds.
Jesus enters Jairus’ house. He asks the mourners, “Why are you making such a commotion? The child is not dead, but sleeping.” And the crowd laughs. Jesus sends the mourners outside. Then, He takes the child’s hand. He says, in Aramaic, “Little girl, get up.” She sits up. The father and mother and the disciples are amazed.
And that is how Jesus turns interruptions into miracles. What is the spiritual meaning of our interruptions? I’m talking about the ones that come from real people who need us. Are any of these, challenges from God? Most human interruptions present opportunities. I wouldn’t talk to a telemarketer for more than ten or twenty seconds while writing a sermon. Writing is my job, and I take it seriously. But I would respond to a call from one of you, if you were in need of a hospital visit or a prayer. I’d respond, even if it meant I wouldn’t finish the sermon until Saturday night. I would see it as God calling.
But I am just like anyone else. Sometimes I will have a solid day planned, with a list of important jobs on my clipboard. Then the phone rings, and the schedule changes. The Lamplighter article and my report for the Session meeting have to wait another day.
For Jesus, interruptions are the heart of His ministry. The kinds of interruptions His disciples might ignore, are the matters on which Jesus focuses. Even on one of the busiest days of His life, Jesus can’t stick to His schedule. He probably knows He has only three years of ministry left. He has a pretty good idea He’s going to die young. There isn’t much time. He’s the man of the hour. And yet, Jesus leaves His to-do list open to God. He stops to heal a Galilean nobody, no matter what the world expects Him to do.
I learned an interesting concept about time in my first year of seminary. In Christian theology, human time is called chronos, from the Greek word that means “regular time.” We are a culture obsessed with chronos time. But God's time is different from ours. God has a kind of time that is called kairos. Kairos means the appointed time, the correct time, the "right" time – God’s right time for action. Kairos is an understanding of time totally unrelated to our human understanding of time. God operates in God’s right time for action. God’s right time may or may not have anything to do with our plans. God’s time often interrupts our schedules.
Are we like the disciples, always wanting to hurry? Or are we like Jairus, patiently waiting? Can we try to be like Jesus? Can we let God’s time take precedence over our own scheduled time? When God interrupts your life, can you improvise? Pay attention to the gear shifting in your life. You never know how or with whom God might have interrupted you. Too often, we stride through life with tunnel vision. We can focus on reaching Jairus’ house, never stopping for anything or anybody. I’ve done that myself, too many times, and lived to regret it.
Right now, we are here in God’s house, free of interruption. Decide how you are going to handle your first interruption after church today. Try to think of it as a gift from God.
LET US PRAY.
Dear God, right now, we reach out to you in need. We can't handle everything. The pressure in our lives is too great. We ask you to touch us at our points of need. We have to make plans. But, at a much deeper level, we want to trust you and to understand what YOU want for US. We are surrounded by people who are suffering. Free us, O God, to reach out to them, and to feel your presence. Amaze us with the healing powers we receive through you, as our faith meets your grace. In Jesus' Name, AMEN.
Mark D. W. Edington, “Mark 5:21-43,” Feasting on the Word: Vol. 3,ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2009), 188.
Edington, Feasting on the Word, 190.
Leviticus 15: 19-33.
“Footnotes,” Mark 5:41, Bruce Birch and others, eds. The Discipleship Study Bible (Louisville: Westminster Jon Knox, 2008), 1759.
Robert E. Van Voorst, Building Your New Testament Greek Vocabulary (Atlanta: Society for Biblical Literature, 1990), 69.
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