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July 2, 2000
Third Sunday after Pentecost

| Full text Sermon |
| Discussion and Reflection on the Texts |
| Worship Helps |

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LECTIONARY READINGS
from the Revised Common Lectionary

Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15, 2:23-24 and
Lamentations 3:23-33 or
Psalm 30
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
Mark 5:21-43

[ Read the texts at the Vanderbilt Divinity On-Line Library ]
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Can One So Great Care For One So Small?

The gospel lesson this morning shows like nothing else can, the desperation a parent feels when a child becomes seriously ill.

A man who would normally be counted among Jesus' detractors comes running to him and falls to his knees at Jesus' feet begging over and over to come and help his dying daughter.

Never mind that the whole village would see this leader of the synagogue at Jesus' feet.  Forget the fact that his reputation would be damaged by an association with someone the religious officials of the day had already decided was dangerous and should be eliminated.

This man's daughter lay dying and everything that had been important the day before was now of no consequence at all.  Pressing matters become pointless details in the face of loss.  Things we value so highly loose their meaning when someone we love is taken from us.

***

Eugene Field, the prolific Missouri author of the late nineteenth century captured the horrific pain of loss of a child in his poem, Little Boy Blue which was written about his son's death.

The little toy dog is covered with dust,
   But sturdy and stanch he stands;
And the little toy soldier is red with rust,
   And his musket moulds in his hands.
Time was when the little toy dog was new,
   And the soldier was passing fair;
And that was the time when our Little Boy Blue
   Kissed them and put them there.

"Now, don't you go till I come," he said,
   "And don't you make any noise!"
So, toddling off to his trundle-bed,
   He dreamt of the pretty toys;
And, as he was dreaming, an angel song
   Awakened our Little Boy Blue---
Oh! the years are many, the years are long,
   But the little toy friends are true!

Ay, faithful to Little Boy Blue they stand,
   Each in the same old place---
Awaiting the touch of a little hand,
   The smile of a little face;
And they wonder, as waiting the long years through
   In the dust of that little chair,
What has become of our Little Boy Blue,
   Since he kissed them and put them there.

***

It is precisely at these moments of the worst possible news that the good news of Jesus Christ comes to impact our lives. In our scripture lesson for today, Jesus brings the good news of health and life to confront and overcome the bad news of sickness and death.

There is something very important to pick up on in our lesson. The good news of God's reign and God's overcoming of sickness and death is all about a relationship with God. When Jesus is present to the woman with the continual hemorrhaging and becomes available to Jarius --  healing and life are possible but they are not yet present. God's care is not dispensed automatically, but rather is given when the woman reaches out and the synagogue leader asks Jesus to come and heal his daughter. Christianity is not a passive religion whereby rules and regulations are set forth which automatically bestow blessings and benefits upon those who tow the line. God wants a relationship with us and not religious observance alone.

***

A central issue of the gospel lesson today has do with barriers that need to be overcome before the reign of God is actualized.

The first barrier is  the barrier of significance

One of the reasons people tend to see faith as a religion about God instead of a relationship with God is the sense that they are not worthy of the attention of an Almighty God.  "My problems are too small for God to care about."  or "With all the pain and suffering in this world, why would God care about me?" are a couple of ways people give expression to this sense of insignificance. The sense is the one expressed by our theme title today, "How can one so great care for one so small."

Have you ever felt that sense of insignificance?  There have been times when I've gazed into the incredible expanse of a starlit sky and felt ever so small and insignificant.  Even our planet is hardly a speck of dust in the vast cosmos.

And yet, the heart of the lesson for today says that God is attentive to the heartache and suffering of all persons, no matter how insignificant they may seem to the world around them.

The woman in the lesson almost counts on the fact that she is insignificant in the eyes of her townsfolk.  "I'll simply steal my way through the crowd and reach out and touch his clothes -- no one will ever know and perhaps I will be healed."

NOT!

We can only imagine what it must have been like for the poor woman to have the whole attention of God and the town turn directly to her with, "Who touched my clothes?"

The encounter turned out to be more than she could ever have dreamed of. She was not only healed, she was able to with God's peace and a relationship with the God who cared for her when the world had turned its back.

There is no such thing as an insignificant person with God!   What a wonderful thought that one so great should care for one so small.

***

Another barrier that gets in the way of a relationship with God for some people is strangely enough the religious barrier The religious regulations of the day that had to do with cleansing would have prevented the woman from going anywhere near Jesus - much less touch him. And more than that, once the woman touched Jesus, he himself was unclean. By asking "who touched me," Jesus drew attention to what had taken place and thus would not have been able to accompany Jarius to his house. As a leader of the synagogue, Jarius knew very well that Jesus would have been unclean after being touched by the woman. If he kept the letter of the law, there was no way he would have continued with the request to have Jesus come and touch his daughter. To make matters worse, the whole entourage is stopped by a servant who comes to tell Jarius' his daughter has died, the mourning has begun and there is no need to trouble the teacher any further.

Jesus continues anyway and takes the girl by the hand. Now he is doubly unclean as the rules are clear that dead bodies are not to be touched except for ritual preparation for burial.

But as they say, "Desperate times call for desperate ______ (measures.) And Jarius is desperate.

All of this goes to show that religion can get in the way of a relationship with God. Faith is not about rules, regulations and religion. It is about we human beings reaching out to a God who reaches out to us through Jesus Christ who reaches into the pain and anguish of our living. The good news for the people in our scripture lesson is that the barriers all fall away. For the woman, for Jairus and for the little girl - the greatness of God and the good news of Jesus Christ eliminate all obstacles to health and life.

And aren't you glad that Christ cares more about our wholeness and our living than he does about the niggling details of religious convention? When I am in anguish and wish for the presence of Christ, I do not need to worry that I am too great a sinner or that some folks would consider me to be unacceptable -- I know that Jesus cared for a woman who was a social reject and for a little girl that was not among the children of his followers.

***

 The last - but by no means the least important of the barriers that are overcome in this gospel lesson in the barrier of differences.  Jarius and Jesus might as well have been from two different planets.  Those who opposed the ministry of Jesus were plotting his demise almost from the beginning. When Jesus healed the man with the withered hand, the Pharisees were all bent out of shape and immediately joined in with the Herodians to eliminate Jesus. (Some folks called the Herodians, "compromisers" because they cooperated with Herod and the Romans.)

The disciples were not particularly less parochial.  When some Samaritans would not extend hospitality to Jesus on one occasion, the reaction of James and John was strong. Listen, "When his disciples James and John saw it, they said, "Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?"

Jesus' world was a divided world.  There were Samaritans and Jews.  Jews and Samaritans did not mix.  There were the Gentiles and the Jews.  Gentiles were in the same class as dogs for the most orthodox of Jews.  Men and women did not worship in the same parts of the temple compound.  Women were treated as property. The religious officials opposed Jesus and his disciples.

It was a "Us and them" world.  There were the "good guys" and the "bad guys."  (Of course we are the "good guys" - whoever "we" happens to be.

Is that so different from our world?  Prejudice... hatred... intolerance... oppression... still stalk the corridors of human interaction seeking victims to dehumanize.

Into a world fractured by differences, Jesus comes to smash barriers.  A woman who is considered unclean is freed from her bondage and received into the fellowship of hope.  A synagogue leader has his daughter restored and is gathered into the community of those who receive the good news of Christ.  Throughout his ministry, Jesus will eat with sinners, fellowship with the unclean, gather in the Samaritan and accept the stranger.

***

All of this comes down to each one of us.  Somewhere, someday, in some experience we will feel insignificant or too sinful or too different to come near to Christ.  Our hope may dwindle and our hopelessness grow like a noxious weed.  Or perhaps someone we care deeply for will experience the despair of desperation and we will hurt for them.

And when that time comes, you will want to remember the story of Jesus and the woman in the crowd.  We will want to call to mind the little girl whose father happened to be one of a group of people who were not friendly to Jesus - and how it is that Jesus brushed that barrier aside to bring new life to a little girl and her family.

When the question comes into your own life, "Can one so great care for one so small?" -- remember the words of the Master, "Your faith has made you well... go in peace...." 

Just as he cared for the nameless woman in the crowd, he cares for you.

 


  Another poem which gets at the heart of grief's intensity is W. H. Auden's, Funeral Blues.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

Let aero planes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead.
Put crpe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

  This is expressed in the old gospel song His Eye is on the Sparrow (link to words and music)


Discussion and Reflection on the Texts

Connections in the Text

"O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me."  So the Psalmist (30:2) praises God for relief from his pain and anguish.  How many of us have similarly cried out?  Sometimes with an answer we desire, sometimes with what seems to be divine silence - but always there is the voice that whispers negatively in our spirit that the Great, Almighty God could not care for someone so insignificant as me.

Today's texts all point to the compassion and mercy of the Lord and suggest, as in the Wisdom of Solomon, that death and sickness are not a part of God's original intent for humanity.  There is a connection between sin, suffering and our desire for redemption.  The healing ministry of Jesus Christ is a mark of the restoration of God's rule.  Where God rules, there is neither sickness nor death.

Nothing is so life defeating as chronic illness and nothing can rob life of its joy more than the death of one we love.  Jesus encounters both and brings God's good reign to each situation.

Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15; 2:23-24

"God did not make death and he does not delight in the death of the living."  For those who do not use the Wisdom of Solomon in their lectionary readings, this passage points to a central biblical theme. Death was not a part of God's intent for creation and is in fact an enemy which will be overcome in the end.

It is by the devil that death enters the world.  Paul puts this in terms of the entrance of sin via humanity in Rom. 5:12:  "Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned..."  

This brief passage can help illustrate the "kingdom bearing" nature of Jesus' ministry and particularly the Mark 5 passage. 

Mark 5:21-43

This story in Mark continues the ministry of Jesus Christ in proclaiming the "good news of the kingdom of God" through his healing ministry while the barriers against those traditionally considered "outside" fall.  The woman is healed and a synagogue ruler comes to Jesus for help.

The woman was ceremonially unclean (Lev. 15:19-30) yet Jesus stops to console her and to pronounce God's peace upon her.  Meanwhile the emergency with Jarius' daughter continues and the disciples appear to be almost impatient with Jesus' question about who touched his clothes. The interruption in the mission to Jarius' daughter shows how the concern of God is not necessarily our concerns.  The woman, who would have been of no account, is very important to the Master.  Her pain is his pain and he has come to free her from bondage.

Jarius' servants come to tell him the daughter has died.  Jesus, however, asks Jarius to believe and not fear.  The words are worth memorizing as the Lord says to us in times of crisis or difficulty, "Do not fear, only believe." When they reach the house, Jesus says the little girl is not dead, but sleeping."  Sleeping here is used in the biblical sense of death which is represented as sleep (as in 1 Cor. 15:51 which is translated "sleep" in the KJV, NIV, and "die" in the NRSV)  The effect is that without God there is no real life and with God there is no real death.  Those who die "in Christ" are not dead, but sleeping.  (1 Cor. 15:22)

There is an amazing insight into the Jesus' concern for the details of our living.  While the people who witness the event are "overcome with amazement,"  Jesus asks that the girl be given something to eat.

Jesus gives an order that no one is to "know this" - yet news of the ministry of Jesus continues to spread like wildfire. The frequent theme of Jesus telling his disciples and others not to go about announcing his messianic identity is a concern is that the popular understanding of Jesus' messianic work would lead to undue expectations and even rash action. (as in John 6:15 where the crowd wants to take him by force and make him king.)  Even Peter will not be able to integrate the concept of a suffering messiah with the popular expectation of messiah as a warrior king. (Matt. 16: 20ff - Peter identifies Jesus as "messiah" and Jesus, "sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah."  Then when Jesus tells the disciples he will die at the hand of his opposition, Peter scolds Jesus and says that this should not happen.  It is the kingdom of God, repentance and forgiveness of sins that must be proclaimed by Jesus and then by his followers. The messianic work of Jesus Christ will be proclaimed soon enough and a focus on the person of the messiah prior to the accomplishing of the work and ministry of messiah would have been abortive. 

2 Corinthians 8:7-15

Paul encourages the church to complete their desire to contribute toward relief for the less fortunate in other churches.  They had expressed an "eagerness" to contribute, but the actual collection had not taken place.  Paul does not, however, order them to make the gift.  He instead points out the example of Jesus Christ and notes that when gifts are given "according to what one has", the gift is acceptable.  It is not the amount of the gift that counts but the ability to give which is translated into generosity.  The meager dollars of the poor are higher gifts than the greater dollars of the rich. This is the principle of the "widow's mite."

There is an interesting quote from the exodus experience that Paul uses to illustrate Christian giving.  The issue in charity is that each one might share equally in abundance.  The reference is to Exodus 16:13ff where the manna provided in the wilderness was equal to all.  Whether people gathered much or little, God's provision turned out to be just right for each one. The task of the Christian Community is to reflect in its life together the desire of God that all should share equally in the abundance of creation.

 


 Worship Helps

Call to Worship  (Based on Psalm 9)

Leader:   Place your trust in the Lord all you people of God.
People:  For our God will never leave us or forsake us.
Leader:  
Let us worship the Lord and lift up our praise.

People: 
Let us make known far and wide the mercies of our God.

Prayer of Confession

Lord of grace and mercy, we humbly come before you today to confess that we have come short of all you have designed us to be.  You have created good works that we might walk in them and have entrusted us with the good news of Jesus Christ.  Yet, we have kept your good gifts to ourselves when we should have shared them with others.  We have missed opportunities to stand up for you and share our faith.  O forgive us of our sinful ways and renew our spirits today for the sake of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Assurance of Pardon

Nehemiah spoke these words, "...you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love..."  [9:17]  Let us rejoice in the grace and love of God as we receive the forgiveness of the Lord.  Amen.

Prayer of Thanksgiving

Gracious and loving God, we are surrounded by the evidence of your might and power.  We rejoice in the beauty of a new day and the joys that await all those who look to you for the substance of their lives.  If we will but look and listen, even one day is filled with more miracles than we can imagine.

The rising of the sun over misty fields,
The first birdsong of the morning,
The glory of a flower opening to the sun's warmth,
The laughter of children at play,
The cheery "hello" of a neighbor,
The touch of a friend's hand,
A child's, "I love you."
The first taste of our favorite meal,
The pillow's feel at the end of a long day,
All come from the bounty of treasures
you open up to us each day.

Lord, give us we pray just one more gift.  Slow us down, open us up and fill our hearts with the ability to see you in every waking moment of our day.  O how we have let the moments slip by and in hast close the treasure store you have opened to us.

We love you Lord, and this day we lift up our grateful hearts in wonder and joy. . Speak to us now and send us from this time as renewed persons in Christ

Amen.

Prayer of Dedication

We bring our gifts to you, O Lord, knowing that you can change the world through the offerings we make.  Now  give us grace to offer the whole of our lives that you might make a difference in this world through us. Amen.