Scripture - Mark 6:30-34; 53-56
Mark 6:30-34; 53-56 (New Revised Standard Version)
30The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
53When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
It’s a bit ironic to be preaching a sermon on rest and renewal during Chebeague’s busiest season...or maybe not since a fair number of us are starting to feel that slide into losing all semblance of control you might have had over your summer plans...or perhaps I’m only speaking for myself here. In any case, where I want to begin this morning is with something I came across this past week -- it wasn’t the first time I had seen it. I first saw it several months ago. It’s a new fitness craze that was developed last year - a gym workout especially designed for the stressed out, over-worked, and sleep deprived. It’s not some new form of yoga or meditative kick-boxing….it’s called napercise. Napercise was developed by David Lloyd Clubs over in the United Kingdom and it’s a 15 minute stretch and workout session followed by a 45 minute nap. They provide the sleep masks, mood music, and the cots, covers, and pillows. The instructors even drop the temperature in the room to induce extra calorie-burning while participants are asleep. Reactions to this class - which you pay for - were initially positive. Among the target demographics were “exhausted parents” who may find it difficult or challenging to fully relax at home. (I wonder why). I was unable to find out if Napercise, which came out in May of 2017, was successful or not or still a thing over a year later; I suspect it didn’t take because napping is something that you can do for free. In any case, the mere fact that someone had the idea to capitalize on naps in this way points to a deep need and truth in our culture - we are over-worked and in need of rest.
The problem, perhaps, goes even deeper than this. Our society is addicted to busyness - our worth tied to what we do and what we produce. We are enslaved to our to-do lists. The world runs at a 24/7 pace and we always feel the need for more time - to fit this event into our schedules or spend more time with our families or reprioritize x over y to make everything balance out as if our days are a cosmic account ledger that we somehow need to reconcile at the end of the week only to discover that we’ve already borrowed next week’s energy to pay for what we did yesterday. We know that this isn’t right...that we’re tired and overworked and stressed as a culture...and we know all the right things to do and the cliches - that we need to “stop and smell the roses” or “you can’t take care of anyone if you can’t take care of yourself first”...that “we’re human beings instead of human doings” or any number of sayings that are true but we can’t seem to put into practice. There just doesn’t seem to be any time to stop...to rest...and to be filled….
Jesus and his disciples face the problem of busyness in our text for this morning. The disciples were coming back from being sent off two by two - gathering around Jesus and filling him in on all their adventures - the healings, the teachings, the exorcisms - and in all that commotion - perhaps in their excitement, perhaps because there was just so many people wanting more from them -- they didn’t even have time to eat. Has that ever happened to you - you were so engrossed in a project or a deadline that you look up and realize that lunchtime was three hours ago? Or in your haste to get everything done, you eat as you’re checking things off your to-do list...for the disciples, eating wasn’t even on the agenda.
So Jesus, in his wisdom, says stop. Come away. By yourselves. Let’s go where no one will follow - a deserted place - and rest. Just stop and rest.
They all pile into the boat and sail across the sea and some of the crowds were able to figure out where Jesus and the disciples were going. Word spread, and people hurried there on foot from all the times and got there before they did. Jesus sees the crowds and instead of dismissing them, instead of ordering them to leave, instead of grumbling about this interruption in what is supposed to be a restful retreat for his disciples, Jesus is moved with compassion and begins to teach them.
No matter where Jesus and his disciples go, the people recognize them, and line up for healing. There’s an urgency and fire around what Jesus and his disciples are about, a passionate excitement for the work of building the kingdom, of being a part of something big and important. But even in the magnitude of the work, in the midst of the miracles and divine teachings - we see a very human Jesus. A Jesus who needs rest - who desires to retreat for solitude and prayer, who gets hungry and thirsty and tired. We constantly see passages in Mark where he mentions Jesus withdrawing by himself to pray, hiding himself away from the crowds, sleeping in the boat or needing to eat. Jesus needing rest reminds me of the creation story, when even God rested from the work of building the universe. And there is this thread throughout all of scripture on the importance of sabbath rest - drawing away from the world to engage with matters of the spirit and to rest...not just so that you can go out and reengage feeling refreshed and renewed and ready for whatever’s next….but to restore your very soul.
Come away to a deserted place...all by yourselves...and rest awhile.
Rest is just the tip of the iceberg here in this passage, though the need to stop and take a break is a real one. In the Christian tradition, there is a deep spiritual element to rest and to withdrawing to that deserted place that merits paying attention to. It’s not just taking that much needed vacation or putting your feet up on the couch and binging Netflix at the end of a busy day -- coming away with Jesus to rest is a spiritual practice.
With all the demands on our lives, we Christians face the temptation to derive spiritual benefits from the things we are already doing - walking through nature, cooking a nourishing meal, reading or talking with a friend - or perhaps, if you are more justice-oriented, the advocacy work from last weekend’s protest or calling your representatives and senators as an act of kingdom-building or feeding the hungry and clothing the naked - and I’m not here to negate the value of those activities and the way they can feed our spirits or change the world or even change ourselves. It is important work. But this “spiritual life on the fly” isn’t going to sustain us for the work God has for us to do. As Claudio Carvalhaes, professor at Union Theological Seminary puts it, “Very few understand that spiritual disciplines actually entail painful processes of learning to listen and to deal with our desires and our death drive.”
Jesus knows the struggles we face in our daily lives - the pushes and pulls and demands on our time...especially when the work is important. Yet still he calls, Come away to a deserted place and rest.
It is only in those deserted places where we can truly regain our sense of self - who we are not in relationship to our families or friends or our job or our community - but simply ourselves and who God created us to be.
In those deserted places, the state of our hearts becomes known - we only bring ourselves...we refamiliarize ourselves with those places of peace and hope....and we discover the places of anxiety or fear within us...and in doing so, invite God to reshape that landscape to free us from enslavement to our broken places.
In those deserted places, we cut ourselves off from the demands of the urgent - the cell phone notifications, the constant news cycle, our hurried lives -- and open ourselves up to the wellspring of true life - God’s love and grace - that makes us whole and that enables us to be a sign of God’s love and action in the world.
When it comes to our work as a church - and as people who follow Jesus - there is always more to do - because our presence and work in the world as Christians are vital to those who are the least of these in our world. There is no escaping those who are sick or homeless, poor or stigmatized, hurting, addicted, or lonely...and we need to attend to their needs, to welcome them into our homes and into our lives, to work to undo policies rooted in hatred or fear, to be present with those in their suffering. The work is never ending. Jesus, himself, couldn’t stop at times - so driven was he by compassion for those who needed God’s love and care.
Yet even Jesus knew he needed to stop. To return to the source. To go to the deserted place to rest. No one can run forever on fumes. The risk is burnout.
The rhythm, then, is to be both attentive to the things that are crying out for our attention -- to discern where God is at work and what the Spirit might be asking for us to do -- but also to be attentive to our hearts...to our spirits...to be sustained by a strong spiritual life, with daily spiritual practices of prayer and solitude and silence, of being in that deserted place - to allow God to penetrate to the heart of who we are, take root ever more firmly, and grow so that we may better live in the way Jesus invites us to live. We aren’t trying to balance our spiritual life with the rest of what we have to do as if it were one more item on the to-do list - instead, we are called into a rhythm of abiding with Christ and fruitfulness in the world for the sake of God’s greater kingdom work...and for the sake of our spirits.
As followers of Jesus, we are invited both to go out into the world...but also to come away with him...to that deserted place...to rest and be still and know that God is present with us...sustaining us...restoring us. To be reminded of who we are as beings infinitely loved by God...to remember that personal love God has for each and every one of us. And to let that love seep into our hearts and spirits and become the wellspring of compassion out of which our whole lives flow. I pray this week that you might make the time to come away with Jesus - that your times of daily prayer and solitude might fill your spirits - that you might take steps to let your days grow out of this grounding in the source of our being so that you may be made new - for the work of God ahead of us. Amen.
Mark 6:14-29 (The Message)
14 King Herod heard of all this, for by this time the name of Jesus was on everyone’s lips. He said, “This has to be John the Baptizer come back from the dead—that’s why he’s able to work miracles!”
15 Others said, “No, it’s Elijah.”
Others said, “He’s a prophet, just like one of the old-time prophets.”
16 But Herod wouldn’t budge: “It’s John, sure enough. I cut off his head, and now he’s back, alive.”
17-20 Herod was the one who had ordered the arrest of John, put him in chains, and sent him to prison at the nagging of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife. For John had provoked Herod by naming his relationship with Herodias “adultery.” Herodias, smoldering with hate, wanted to kill him, but didn’t dare because Herod was in awe of John. Convinced that he was a holy man, he gave him special treatment. Whenever he listened to him he was miserable with guilt—and yet he couldn’t stay away. Something in John kept pulling him back.
21-22 But a portentous day arrived when Herod threw a birthday party, inviting all the brass and bluebloods in Galilee. Herodias’s daughter entered the banquet hall and danced for the guests. She dazzled Herod and the guests.
22-23 The king said to the girl, “Ask me anything. I’ll give you anything you want.” Carried away, he kept on, “I swear, I’ll split my kingdom with you if you say so!”
24 She went back to her mother and said, “What should I ask for?”
“Ask for the head of John the Baptizer.”
25 Excited, she ran back to the king and said, “I want the head of John the Baptizer served up on a platter. And I want it now!”
26-29 That sobered the king up fast. But unwilling to lose face with his guests, he caved in and let her have her wish. The king sent the executioner off to the prison with orders to bring back John’s head. He went, cut off John’s head, brought it back on a platter, and presented it to the girl, who gave it to her mother. When John’s disciples heard about this, they came and got the body and gave it a decent burial.
Right now I’m learning a new parenting skill - one that I know I will be using with Michael for many years to come...and it’s one that will change and evolve as he grows older.
That skill is: enforcing consequences...both positive ones and negative ones. It’s the skill of doing what you say you will do - even if those consequences are quick judgments made in frustration, even if they involve actions you’d rather not do (for example, we’re going to leave the party if you can’t stop throwing toys), even if it seems trivial -- like saying he can have a cookie if he eats 5 more bites of his dinner. (I never thought I’d be that parent, but you can’t resist the tide of this time-honored parental negotiating tactic).
Standing by your word is one of those important lessons that is foundational for trust - in personal relationships, in society, in our government...and going back on your word is frowned upon. As a parent, if I throw out a statement like, “we’re going to leave the party if you can’t stop throwing toys” and don’t follow through with it or change my mind, how can I set credible consequences for Michael in the future? What if the reason, however, he was throwing toys was because there was more to the story that I was unaware of - maybe a friend had pushed him, or he was overstimulated, or a full diaper was making him uncomfortable, or a whole host of reasons that - if known - wouldn’t be grounds for going home? When is follow through the right thing to do - and when is it right to change your mind?
Obviously, this parenting struggle is minor in comparison to the quandary that Herod faces in this morning’s text, where after a night of feasting and drinking and dancing, he is pleased with Herodias’s daughter and the entertainment she provided for the guests at the party thrown in his honor. So he asked the girl what she wanted - anything she desired, it could be hers.
It seems as though Herod thought her answer would be in the realm of property or riches or jewels - given that he stated that he would grant her request “even half of his kingdom.” Perhaps she even had this in mind as she went off to her mother to figure out what she should ask for. After all, such a request could mean social advancement, something that would have an impact on her whole family. But her mother Herodias has something different in mind -- Herodias, who carried a grudge against John the Baptist, instructs the girl to ask for his head on a platter. Perhaps this wasn’t on Herod’s radar, though he was well aware of her hatred of the man -- John the Baptist was in prison, after all, because he was trying to appease Herodias - and perhaps trying to keep her from killing John himself.
Her ire had been kindled when John had spoken against the relationship Herod had with Herodias (his brother Philip’s wife), even though Herod continued to regard him as a holy man, listening to him in awe, and returning to him again and again to hear his words.
So when the opportunity arose, she took it - and when the girl returns to Herod, wanting John the Baptist executed, head served up on a platter, Herod is dismayed, and, unwilling to go against his word in front of his guests, does as she asks. Clearly this was not what he anticipated would happen...and his regret is very much on his mind as this whole story is told as a bit of a flashback upon hearing the news about Jesus and what he’s been up to in the countryside - healing, teaching, and casting out demons. Herod immediately thinks that it is John the Baptist come back to life.
Herod - when faced with what is right or with going back on his oath, caves. He chose the easy way out as opposed to listening to that sense that kept drawing him back to listen to John the Baptist. He didn’t want to lose credibility with his peers by backing out - to be seen perhaps as weak or powerless or soft or lacking authority - decides to be faithful to his promise.
So is this an admirable trait - Herod sticking to his oath, regardless of the cost? Or is it a spineless move?
Normally, keeping your promise is a good thing. We applaud people who uphold their oaths. We like it when politicians do what they say they are going to do, uphold their end of the deal when we elect them into office. We value leaders who stick firmly to their convictions, no matter the resistance they may receive or the collateral damage such a commitment may require. But there are situations where there’s more to consider, especially when lives are at stake, or when you find yourself on the wrong side of justice, or when you are tempted to not to rock the boat and to go with the flow rather than changing your mind.
I think it’s easy to blame Herod, to point fingers and say “you spineless moron!” and criticize him for choosing incorrectly, and then to take that same finger and point it out in the world toward other people and leaders who have made similar compromises for the sake of amassing power, saving face, or not wanting to be seen as flip-flopping on an issue. But rarely do we take that finger and point to ourselves, looking inward to see the places where our practices are out of sync with the values we publicly profess - maybe we don’t go back on our word in as spectacularly a fashion as Herod did, but as human beings who are trying to follow Jesus, we daily face choices - some that are important and some that may seem inconsequential - that all either serve to enhance or weaken our credibility as Christians….and those decisions are a part of our public witness as a church as well.
Consistency and follow through on statements that have consequence and real-life impact are important and something that we hope for from our leaders and from each other. But when the statements we make don’t line up with what is right and true -- or when we say the right things but our actions don’t live up to what we profess - there is opportunity for conversation and growth - especially when it pertains to our own lives - and the chance to move forward more in tune with God’s kingdom than before.
And there are all times when the lines between what we say we believe as those who proclaim to follow Jesus and how we live that out aren’t that straight….the times when perhaps we fail to help out someone because they don’t fit the guidelines of what we deem as socially acceptable. The times around the dinner table with family or friends when we go along with a joke that makes us uncomfortable and we know we should correct but don’t. The times when we fail to give to charity because we really want that new cell phone or furniture for the house or whatever it may be. The times we say we are welcoming to others and then fail to listen to those with whom we disagree. The times when we judge or dismiss others. The times we don’t want to rock the boat or put ourselves at risk for the sake of compassion, justice, mercy, kindness, and love for all of God’s people, not just those who think and act and look like us.
Even though John the Baptist finds his unfortunate end in our story - I want to focus on what he was known for - the way he preached and proclaimed and prepared the people for Jesus and the arrival of God’s kingdom….and part of that process was baptism by water - a purifying, cleansing ritual - a sacrament that the church practices to this day. And the baptismal vows that parents make on behalf of their children and that we hope claim for themselves in confirmation or when we join the church...or that we make when we answer for ourselves in baptism...gives a picture of what we aim to do as Christians - both as individuals and as a faith community. We did this back at the beginning of the year, but it’s always good to revisit, so I invite you to look at page 34 in the red hymnal and see what kinds of things the Christian life includes -- and you’ll find not only this reliance and trust in Jesus Christ, not only this service to God through the church, but also resisting evil, injustice and oppression...repentance of sin...renouncing the spiritual forces of wickedness that pervade the systems of this world.
These are the promises that we have made - that we have claimed - as those who have been baptized, as those who strive to follow Jesus. To be sure, each one of us isn’t perfect, and we thank God for that grace that surrounds us when we don’t live up to these vows, that allows us to grow and to take ownership of our sin when we fall short, and that enables us to let Christ take root ever more firmly in our hearts. But we need to take that look within ourselves - within our own hearts - in order that God’s love may be the force that draws us into action and be the motivation for what we chose to say and do.
We live in a time and a place that needs us as faithful Christians to stand for what is right - not only in our nation, but also in our communities and in our relationships. To help those around us imagine a world where the Herods - instead of abusing their power, instead of trying to save face, chose justice and compassion. To help others see the humanity of those our society tries to demonize. To help those around us envision a different way of being in this world. And so may we step out of those safe and comfortable places to take a stand for what is right...to step out of going with the flow of our culture and into the flow of the baptismal waters...the flow of love and grace that streams from Jesus...and to follow through our profession of faith in Christ with a life lived in hope and compassion, forgiveness and peace. May our words and our actions - especially when we acknowledge the places we aren’t there yet - point to the wideness of God’s mercy, faithfulness, and love...so that God’s kingdom may yet come on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.
Scripture - Mark 6:1-13
Mark 6:1-13 (New Revised Standard Version)
He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2 On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” 5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6 And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.” 12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.
I remember the first time I disagreed with my parents. I’m not talking about the kinds of disagreements most adolescents and young adults have with their parents around what’s for dinner or how late you can stay out with your friends. This was a disagreement rooted in something deeper - a shift in worldview. I was in my junior year of college home on a short break. I had brought home school work since I had some problem sets to finish and a paper to write for my sociology class. When I had signed up for the class at the beginning of the semester, I really wasn’t interested in sociology at all - I was a math and physics girl -- give me facts and figures and proofs instead of this reading and writing stuff. I took it because it filled a graduation requirement. To my surprise, I was actually enjoying the course, and while I was home writing up my final paper for the class, I shared with my parents a bit about the book and other research my papers was based on - prepared to engage in conversation and dialogue about how interesting it was. I wasn’t prepared for the feedback I received. I remember being bewildered by their absolute dismissal - there wasn’t any real conversation, and I was so caught off guard that I couldn’t even ask where their ideas and statements were coming from. It made me realized how much I had changed and how much my experiences and learnings and conversations with others had put me in a different place than the one I grew up in. It was a bit disorienting for me - and I’m sure it was for them as well - as we had to renegotiate the changing assumptions and perceptions and differing value systems that are a part of growing up and differentiating from one’s family.
I also think about Martin Luther King Jr….a Newsweek article from early this year noted that in the years leading up to his assassination, he was very unpopular in the United States. A Gallup poll in 1966 found that almost two-thirds of Americans had an unfavorable opinion on him and only third had a positive impression -- and that unfavorable two thirds was an increase of 26 points from 1963. His popularity began to decrease after he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, particularly after he began to shift the conversation around civil rights in the south to segregation and poverty among black Americans in Chicago. When he took a stand against the Vietnam War in 1967, he started drawing even more criticism, especially from those in the black community. Finally, his tackling the larger issue of poverty in this country - the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968, calling for a march on Washington itself - was his final unpopular decision.
These moments are some of what came to mind for me when I read this passage about Jesus being back in his hometown of Nazareth, teaching in the local synagogue….it’s the tension of being in a different place than the rest of your community, of drawing criticism or critique from those who you had hoped would understand and know you, and wrestling with reality being ideologically and spiritually different than what was expected of you, particularly from those who know you - or think they know you - the best.
The people who came to hear Jesus speak were those with whom he had spent most of his life - they knew him as Jesus the carpenter, as Mary and Joseph’s boy, knew stories of what he was like as a child, perhaps they even had tables or benches that he had made. Presumably, word about what Jesus could do had made its way to their ears - casting out demons, healing lepers and paralytics those with all manner of diseases. The news about his wise teachings, too, had spread to them. So when he rolls into Nazareth with his disciples, he draws a crowd in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Initially, they are amazed and astounded at his words and by what he was able to do...but praise quickly turns to scorn. It was almost as if they still saw Jesus as the Jesus they had always known - not any kind of miracle worker or wise teacher, but just one of them. I can imagine them saying, How dare he think of himself as more than us, as better than us?” They didn’t understand the source of his wisdom and power.
Jesus, at their offense, perhaps gets a bit rankled himself, and responds with that famous proverb: Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown,...which goes on to say and among their own kin, and in their own house. Instead of pausing to lick his wounds or to high-tail it out of town with this less-than-stellar reception, Jesus forges ahead and offers deeds of power, except to find that nothing could be done, but for a few healings...and he is amazed at their unbelief. In rejecting Jesus, they are also rejecting the power of God that was at work in him - and so his inability to work miracles among his own community has less to do with him and more to do with the people who couldn’t see past the Jesus they knew and understood - the Jesus that seemed no different than them. Finally Jesus leaves, and goes to teach in neighboring villages.
And then all of a sudden in Mark’s Gospel we switch gears, and see Jesus sending out the twelve disciples two by two, giving them bizarre instructions for the journey - he tells them not to take a bag or bread or money or extra clothes - just a staff, sandals, and a tunic. He tells them to stay where they are welcome and shake the dust off their feet of the places they’re not. They went out on the road with “joyful urgency that life can be radically different” as the Message paraphrase puts it - healing the sick, exorcising demons, and proclaiming the kingdom as they went. A beautiful success story following a story of Jesus’ failure. We have to chalk this one up to the disciples - who really seemed clued in this time, after all the times in the gospels where they don’t get it, where Jesus rebukes them and corrects their mistakes, this time - they actually pull it off. Jesus takes off the training wheels a bit, sends them out and they make it happen!
So I have to wonder if Jesus taking his disciples to his hometown of Nazareth wasn’t a bit of hands-on modeling for his followers of what to do when resistance comes...what to do when they receive a less-than-warm reception...how to persist in the work Jesus set out before them. Watching Jesus handle rejection and offense among the people who knew him the best prepared the disciples for what they might face among the towns and villages where they would be preaching and healing.
Because the truth of the matter is, Jesus and his disciples were about this radically different way of life, this new message of God’s Kingdom being at hand, and it wasn’t exactly a popular idea among many people during his time - especially those who were good, observant Jews, those who connected with the Temple or who were religious scholars or who had an in with the Roman government or those who wanted to keep their heads down and not rock the boat, those who wanted to keep things the way that they were for fear of what those in power might do. This life of repentance, of lifting up the lowly and shattering the proud, of lavish grace and inclusion of the outcast and forgotten, of restoration for the broken and bloodied, of redemption for the sinners and tax collectors - it broke all the conventions of his time and threatened the very fabric of the society in which Jesus and his disciples lived.
And it remains a dangerous way of life. As followers of Jesus we should be finding ourselves a bit out of sync with the world. There will be times when people - sometimes people we love and care about - will look at us like we’re crazy when we talk about having compassion on the poor and treating them like human beings, or when we forgive the friend who betrayed us, or when we take time for the person no one gives the time of day to, or when we give generously not out of our extra, but sacrificially so that another person’s needs can be met. Christians operate off of a different script, seeing the world differently, taking cues from Jesus and how he lived and operated in the world...and Jesus continually invites us to pattern our lives and our hearts after his own. And as we are sent out into the world each week, each day, we find a world where we have to negotiate alternative messages to this life of love and peace - sometimes dealing with flat out rejection of the love that we’ve found in God, sometimes dealing with openness and excitement - and everything in-between.
In all of this, Jesus shows us how to persist in the work he gives us the power and authority to do - to heal, to attack the demons that plague our society and the world that God loves, and to share the good news….and shows us how to shake the dust from our feet and continue on when faced with opposition. For if we are following his lead, the resistance we face has more to do with where others are on the journey - their own worldview, their own assumptions about God and Jesus and faith - and less about who God really is and how Jesus lives and breathes in us. We are not held responsible for their response - but only for our own faithfulness as we are sent out in Christ’s name.
To close, I want to reread the second portion of the scripture passage from Eugene Peterson’s The Message - because as people who have found life in Christ, and as people who go back to our homes or workplaces trying to be faithful signs of God’s love with all the challenges that brings, I believe the way he frames this passage will help remind us of our calling as a people who are to build God’s kingdom in this world.
7-8 Jesus called the Twelve to him -- perhaps it should read “Jesus calls us to him”, and sent them out in pairs. He gave them authority and power to deal with the evil opposition. He sent them off with these instructions:
8-9 “Don’t think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment. No special appeals for funds. Keep it simple.
10 “And no luxury inns. Get a modest place and be content there until you leave.
11 “If you’re not welcomed, not listened to, quietly withdraw. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way.”
12-13 Then they were on the road. They preached with joyful urgency that life can be radically different; right and left they sent the demons packing; they brought wellness to the sick, anointing their bodies, healing their spirits.
Go forth this day to share this truth with the world. Amen.
Scripture - Mark 5:21-43
Mark 5:21-43 (NRSV)
21When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23and begged 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.”
24So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.30Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32He looked all around to see who had done it.33But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
35While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?”36But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40And they laughed at him. Then he 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. 41He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
For twelve years this nameless woman in our passage from this morning had suffered. Twelve years with a ceaseless flow of blood that rendered her unclean - which made her unable to touch anyone, unable to participate in the life of the Temple, unable to be in community with anyone lest they, too, become unclean and impure. Twelve years of perpetual doctor’s visits, spending every last penny she owned trying to find an answer, only to discover her condition was getting worse. Twelve years of constant, unending sickness and isolation - twelve years of being put to the side by everyone she encountered - twelve years of alienation and loneliness and desperation...until Jesus comes along….and instead of following the religious rules of her day, she pursues and encounter with Jesus. She reaches out to touch him, even though she knew she shouldn’t be defiling the crowds with her presence, even though she knew she was forbidden to touch any man in her condition, even though she knew her touch would render him unclean. She crosses all social norms to touch the hem of his cloak to be made whole again.
Jesus stops at her touch, knowing that power had gone out of him. He’s in the middle of a crowd - anyone could have jostled him by accident - but he knows something happened, and at his question “Who touched me,” she comes forward, fearful and trembling, after all she’s done wrong, perhaps she expected to publicly shame her or rebuke her, but she approaches yet again and told him the whole truth - her whole story comes spilling forth at the feet of Jesus. He listens to her, giving back her dignity and humanity after twelve years as this woman negotiated her body around others, dealt with other’s perceptions and prejudices and assumptions, kept back her full self from connection and relationship because of her condition. Jesus, instead of dismissing her, instead of casting her aside and admonishing her, calls her daughter, restoring not only her body but her whole being to community.
This story of this rebellious, transgressive healing is sandwiched between the healing of another nameless girl, known to us only by the relationship she has with her father - Jairus’s daughter. Jairus is a leader in the synagogue - wealthy in comparison to the destitute woman in the crowd - powerful enough to directly petition Jesus on behalf of his dying little girl. On his way to this man’s house, after this encounter with hemorrhaging woman, Jesus learns that the child has died, the messengers claiming that there is no need for Jairus to bother Jesus anymore. Would the girl still have been alive had Jesus not stopped to talk to the ailing woman? We don’t know. Regardless, Jesus is undeterred and enters the house to find mourners around the bedside of this little girl. When they mock Jesus for his pronouncement that the girl is “sleeping” - a common euphemism for death - he kicks everyone out except for the child’s mother and father and disciples - takes the girls hand and commands her to get up. In this case, it is Jesus who extends his hand to the girl - himself risking being made unclean by touching a dead body. This healing - resurrection, really - is a private miracle as opposed to the public spectacle just witnessed on the way, and Jesus orders secrecy around this event….as if anyone can keep quiet about a child proclaimed dead, whose funeral rites had already begun, coming back to life and eating and drinking.
What strikes me in both of these encounters is Jesus’s wholehearted presence with each of the people in this story - with the desperate father searching for healing for his little girl and Jesus’s ability to be with the family in the midst of the mourners who laughed at Jesus’s proclamation of life where they saw only death. Jesus unwavering commitment to this woman who had been covered in shame and who needed someone to hear her story and heal her. In both, Jesus not only performs physical healing, but restores each - the twelve year old girl and the woman who bled for twelve years - to community and fellowship. In each case, Jesus moves past the constructed boundaries of what is “impure” - this menstruating woman and the dead body - to practice compassion. In each story, a hopeless daughter can live and go in peace again because Jesus treats each one as a member of his family - finding value in each of them where no one else will.
I can’t help but connect this story to what’s been happening along the southern border of this country - and the ways that many Americans have made assumptions about their stories, about why they’ve come here and about their character because of the way they chose to enter the United States. Those in power have constructed narratives that make many in our country unable to listen to the stories of violence, pain, terror, that individuals and families are fleeing - often at great personal cost. Stories of gangs terrorizing and abusing single mothers and children, of domestic violence and high crime rates, unstable communities and violence that oftentimes came about due to previous United States involvement in their governments. These are the truths that immigrants carry with them into our country, but few are able to listen; instead, our government equates them to animals, criminals - fit for cages, with children continued to be held separate from their families. It’s clear how the principalities and powers are working to devalue the life of people crossing into our country - taking away their humanity, isolating them from community, treating them as less than and other. Compassion and empathy have been lost in the enforcement of law and order. Where there should be life and hope, our political system has been pronouncing death and despair.
In response to these and other horrors, Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, reminds us that “if it doesn’t look like love, if it doesn’t look like Jesus of Nazareth, it cannot be claimed to be Christian.”
If it doesn’t look like love, it isn’t Christian. Period.
Jesus valued compassion and mercy over the rigid religious law of the day. Jesus took the time to affirm the humanity of those his society considered less than and other - bleeding women, children, tax collectors and prostitutes, lepers and beggars and those whose very existence his culture sought to ignore and dismiss, whose very laws dehumanized and erased. Jesus instead lived by love. What does that love look like? It looks like one whose heart went out to the cries of a grieving father, who touched the hand of a sick child. It looks like one who risks defilement to touch the bloody and the broken. The one who insists on the whole truth, however falteringly told. The one who listens for as long as it takes. The one who brings life to dead places. The one who restores hope. The one who turns mourning into dancing. The one who renames the outcast, “Daughter,” and bids her go in peace.
It’s the same love that calls us into one family - that makes us all brothers and sisters - no matter who we are and where we come from, whether we live on this side of the border or the other.
We may live far away from the atrocities committed by our government at the border, we may feel powerless in the face of such devastation. But we can be love - in the conversations we have with friends and neighbors, reminding others of the common humanity of those our government has sought to dehumanize, strengthening and encouraging each other when we get tired or burdened by the weight of the news we hear day after day.
Love looks like us - the followers of Jesus in the world - reaching out to touch the untouchable, listening to the stories of the dismissed, and choosing to act with love even and especially beyond the bounds of social construction.
Jesus’s love is subversive and transgressive and radical, breaking boundaries and barriers. It is not always a safe and comforting love - but a love that demands action - a love that cries out for us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us - it’s a radically different way of being with one another in our world. It’s a love that heals and restores those whom everybody thinks are worthless. It’s a love that doesn’t conform to the rules and regulations of this world. It’s a love that shows us the way forward to a kingdom of peace and justice, of undeserving grace and mercy, of wholeness and redemption.
Later in our time of worship today, we’ll be taking Communion - a meal that binds us as a family, where we take the body and blood of Christ. It’s a meal that unites us in our common humanity, a meal where we believe all are welcome to be fed. But also, it’s a meal that is more than just bread and juice. You know the saying “you are what you eat?” well, in this meal we are taking in Jesus. In this meal, Jesus is becoming a part of us….and in response is this call to let Jesus flow through us - to be that love - to be Christ in the world today.
As we come forward to receive - let it be your commitment to live this life of love. To be the hands and feet and eyes and ears of Jesus. To be a witness to this radical, boundary breaking love. To stand together as the body of Christ, to be a people who point the way to the one who brought life to dead places...and to be a people working and serving and shouting and singing our way toward greater compassion, mercy, justice and peace in the world. This is my prayer for us, the church, the people of God this day. Amen.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and three year old son, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.