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Perhaps We See Now

June 29, 2015

A sermon preached by the Rev. Jeffrey A. Geary at the White Plains Presbyterian Church on the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, June 28, 2015

 Psalm 104: 1-14       Mark 5:21-43

A man … comes to Jesus … full of grief and hope. “My little daughter is dying,” he says. “She is at the very point of death. Please, if you could but touch her, she would be made well and live.”

Just. Touch. Her.

Urgent words. Desperately spoken.

Just touch her.

The man’s name is Jairus. He is a leader in the local synagogue. He is a man of importance. He knows the people in this neighborhood, for it is his own neighborhood. This road on which he meets Jesus is one he travels often.

But all he can see right now is the face of his little daughter. He’s afraid of losing her, she is on the point of death. Jairus has heard of this Jesus, whose deeds go before him, and who large crowds follow, and he thinks, “maybe, just maybe.” So he goes out, and begs. “Please, just touch her, that she may live.”

No response is recorded, none of the words Jesus might have said in reply, but we are told Jesus goes with him.

Sitting in my office yesterday I tried to imagine the relief this father must have felt when his hope was restored. When Jesus … starts walking … toward his home. I tried to imagine my own child in such need, and what it would be like to suddenly have at least a chance, that he/that she, will live. And then I thought of a colleague and her daughter, and I just wept. And I thought of some of your families, and the prayers we offer here each week, full of grief and hope, urgent prayers for our lives and our world.

To think: Jesus walks with me … is coming home with me.

To know: Whatever the outcome, I will not be alone. We can face this together.

But then, according to our story, everything stops. Or at least Jesus stops. Jesus actually turns around and looks in a different direction.

“Who touched me?” he asks.

And I think “WHAT? Are you kidding me?” Like the disciples, I want to shout, “There’s no time for this. A little girl is dying.” My little girl is dying.

But Jesus persists, “Who touched me?” And I wonder: Who is he asking, the person who touched him, or me? Does he want to know if I saw what happened?

I used to act this story out with my confirmation class. I would assign parts and we would literally walk down the aisle of the sanctuary together on the way to Jairus’ house. Counting on the fact that most of my kids would not already know the story, I would prepare the two students playing Jesus and this unnamed woman for their encounter, but not say a word to the others. Sometimes, when Jesus stopped unexpectedly, the crowd would keep walking, often ten or fifteen feet, before realizing that Jesus was no longer with them.

Imagine thinking you are following Jesus only to discover that he has gone to work somewhere else and you didn’t notice.

Someone has touched Jesus, has gotten his attention. And he turns around to see a woman who no one else had seen. A woman who had been made poor by her attempts to be made whole; whose suffering had gone on year after weary year, a woman whose only thought was, “If I can but touch the hem of his garment, I can be healed.” And when she does, and when Jesus asks, this woman tells him everything, according to scripture, “the whole truth.”

Consider how much there was to tell? The shame involved as each doctor and priest, healer and quack, men all of them, examined her perpetual menstrual flow, but could offer her no cure. The medicines and procedures that had cost her everything, but still she bled. The years of bandaging and binding, the hours of washing and washing, but still the blood, the stains …

And Jesus listens to this woman as if he has all the time in the world.

Now we are supposed to feel the tension here. The urgency of Jesus arriving in time to save the little girl; the interruption by the woman who had suffered so long, so long, that surely she could have waited a little longer. We wonder whether Jesus feels this the tension too, the competing demands, the limited time, the shifting priorities…

Despite the urgency of first request, Jesus is touched by this woman. He sees her. And he stops. And for as long as it takes, he cares for her. In the end, of course, Jairus’ daughter lives too. Despite the manifest fear that she has died, Jesus recognizes that she has only fallen asleep, and he wakes her, and orders her something to eat.

The first thing I take from our gospel reading this morning is simply that when someone or something intrudes upon our lives, we should pay attention. Life is full of interruptions. But when they happen, we can look to Jesus, because he sees what do not. Those whom we overlook. And we can trust Jesus to see us through.

On Friday, our President, Barak Obama, delivered the eulogy for The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, pastor of Emanuel AME Church. Delivered to a congregation of 5000 at the TD Arena in Charleston, South Carolina, the President’s message was heard throughout the nation and around the world. For an hour, for several hours, we turned aside with him in grief and hope.

And as he sang, (that’s right), sang, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me,” our President invited us TO SEE where we have been blind:

  • TO SEE the pain that the confederate flag, a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation, has caused in too may of our citizens;
  • TO SEE how our complaisant acceptance of poverty and racial segregation in our school system leaves too many children unprepared for jobs or careers and leads them, too often, straight to prison;
  • TO SEE the unique mayhem that gun violence inflicts upon this nation: “eight of our brothers and sisters (he said) cut down in a church basement, 12 in a movie theater, 26 in an elementary school. But I hope (he added) we also see the 30 precious lives cut short by gun violence in this country every single day; the countless more whose lives are forever changed…”
  • “For too long,” he continued, “we’ve been blind to the way past injustices continue to shape the present. Perhaps we SEE that now.
  • Ultimately, he invited us TO SEE one another, how “my liberty depends on your being free.” How “justice grows out of the recognition of ourselves in each other.”

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This moment of sight, of insight, our President called grace.

As a nation, out of this terrible tragedy, God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind. He has given us the chance, where we’ve been lost, to find our best selves. We may not have earned it, this grace, with our rancor and complacency, and short-sightedness and fear of each other — but we got it all the same. He gave it to us anyway. He’s once more given us grace. But it is up to us now to make the most of it, to receive it with gratitude, and to prove ourselves worthy of this gift.

None of the problems the President mentioned, of course, are new to this congregation. We have had sermons, classes, discussions, and in many cases taken action together on most of these issues. We are not afraid of following Jesus, even when he interrupts our well planned lives, even when he seems to have changed direction.

But the second point I take from our gospel reading is even more important. Having seen, we must see the connections. As our congregation has grown in mission over the last couple of years and publicly committed ourselves and our resources to the challenges of our day, to education, immigration, affordable housing, marriage equality, racial justice, ending gender violence, combating climate change – there is a danger that these aspects of our discipleship may be seen as competing, even disparate, priorities. That we may feel a tension between them. I was planning, for example, to preach on climate change this morning, to lift up the central points of the Pope’s new encyclical, but the events in Charlotte interrupted and took priority. Nevertheless, they are deeply connected, part of what Pope Francis has called ‘integral ecology” in which the health of our human communities and our planet are entwined, and require our coordinated response.

Our gospel reading is an invitation to make these kind of connections – to find the intersectionality between these two stories. You see, the woman with a flow of blood does not just interrupt the healing of Jairus’ daughter, she interprets it, helps us understand it more fully. In this case, both stories are about gender. Though her father refers to his daughter as “little,” the girl is twelve years old, almost a woman. She is on the cusp of puberty, ready to begin her period, and on her twelfth birthday she became eligible to marry and presumably bear children. With the risks attendant to childbirth, her father is right to worry that she is “at the point of death.” The woman with Jesus, on the other hand, suffers precisely as a woman. She cannot bear children, has not in fact been able to stop menstruating for the same twelve years the little girl has been alive. She can tell Jesus things about being a woman in that society that the girl’s father cannot even imagine. Interestingly, with an eye toward making connections, every single confirmation class I have taught has wondered aloud whether the woman is secretly the mother of Jairus’ daughter, suffering complications from childbirth and rejected by her husband.

There is obviously much more to this story, of course, but it has served its gospel purpose today if it reminds us to look for the deeper connections between the issues in our lives, and to trust and follow Jesus when they interrupt us and thrown off course.

I have wept a lot this week, in grief, in hope, and in joy. At clergy gatherings throughout the week, the community vigil and march this past Wednesday at Calvary Baptist and Allen AME, here in White Plains, I have shared the pain as well as experienced the generosity of my neighbors. Our nation’s public response to an act of hate that was meant to divide but which has only brought us closer together has inspired more hope than I have in a long time. The Pope’s detailed call to take up the challenge of caring for the human and natural world, and to make the connections them, has reignited my sense of urgency. The Supreme Court decisions upholding the Affordable Health Care Act, and establishing marriage equality in all 50 states, were moments of pure joy.

This morning, Sarah and I were asked to lay our hands another little girl, Danielle, and speak over her the words of life. We baptized her in name of God our creator, Jesus our healer, and the spirit of holy and divine community. And I saw the future. I had a colleague who used to say at every baptism that the birth of a child is God’s sign that God want the world to go on. I look at Danielle this morning and think, yes, this is why – she is why – we work so hard on so many fronts, on our human community and our earth community, to build the world God intends. We have made promises a promise to her.

Thank you, for being such a faithful community.

Thanks be to God, who walks with us.

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