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Sermon – 30th June

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    Readings: Wisdom of Solomon 1: 13-15 and 2:23-24; Mark 5: 21-end

    Today’s Collect seems particularly apt for this weekend, when women and men are being ordained in dioceses throughout the Church of England. The Collect prays ‘Hear our prayer for all your faithful people, that in their vocation and ministry, they may serve you in holiness and truth.’ Vocation and ministry – I wonder what thoughts occur to you when you hear those two words.

    This morning’s gospel relates two instances in the ministry of Jesus, in which we see his vocation in all its fullness. He once said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”  We see Jesus the healer, and it makes for gripping reading, because, as Jesus answers the emergency call to the sick bed of the daughter of Jairus, he allows himself to be distracted by another person in need.

    The two ‘clients’ – as Social Services might say – couldn’t have been more different in social standing. Jairus, the leader of the local synagogue – pillar of the community; and the woman suffering with haemorrhages. We’re not told her name: maybe Jesus never got to know it or the gospel-writer never got to hear it. Mark’s skill in binding these stories together is reflected in the repeated number of twelve years: both the age of the girl, and the length of time the woman had been suffering. The young girl would have been at the age of burgeoning fertility, and even marriage – yes, 12 in those days; the older woman faced the prospect of dying before having borne a child – a matter for lament and even reproach in the thinking of the time.

    We can imagine the scene in the street and Jesus walking through the crowded throng, with many people anxious to see or speak to him. Now in an election campaign these days, you might see television footage of a renowned politician making his or her way along a crowded street, apparently open and available to all and sundry, but in the background there will probably be security staff keeping well at arm’s length any protesters who might upset the image of harmony in the photo-shoot. Not so with Jesus. The status of the person before him didn’t matter. He wasn’t concerned with position, wealth, or image: in fact he was far more likely to notice the outsider; the person down at heel: the outcast, and restore the dignity that circumstances had taken from them.

    And for a woman known to be suffering with haemorrhages, all dignity and happiness would have been removed. She was considered ritually unclean; unable to worship at Jairus’ synagogue; unable to take part in any community activity. Indeed, by touching Jesus she would have rendered him unclean, too. She had most likely been a woman of substance, for Mark tells us that she had spent quite a lot on medical advice. But the Jewish law, designed surely to bring people nearer to God, had actually driven her out of society.

    We find a different scenario with Jairus. It was probably testing for him to come to Jesus – the leader of the synagogue requesting help from an itinerant preacher who had already had several clashes with the authorities about his unauthorised activities. But then if your only daughter is grievously ill, and you’ve heard about this guy who seems to have wonderful powers of healing – to hell with the formalities.

    Both Jairus and the suffering woman share something that enables Jesus to help them, and that is faith. It encourages Jairus to throw himself at Jesus’ feet, which may have caused some eyebrows to be raised. And the woman with the bleeding believes that all she has to do is to touch him. But that won’t be easy, because presumably she shouldn’t have been in the crowd anyway, let alone get near to Jesus where all the attention is.

    The incident is costly for all the three principal figures involved. Jairus is made to wait. How agonising it must have seemed when time was of the essence, with his daughter near death, to see Jesus diverted onto something else. How did he feel then, I wonder? Was he resentful towards the woman, or irritated at Jesus? We aren’t told. Then word came from his house that his daughter had died. But Jesus reassures him: Do not fear, only believe.

    The incident was costly for the woman with the bleeding, too. She had just hoped to come up and touch the hem of Jesus’ robe, and be healed: what faith she had!  But Jesus was aware that power had gone out of him, and anxious to know on whose account this had happened, he asked: “Who touched me?” The woman had to own up before everybody. The text says that ‘she told him the whole truth’ – suggesting that there were other things about her life she needed to tell Jesus. We can imagine that the eyes fixed on her from the crowd were not friendly, but accusing, judgmental, as she would have been a distraction, a hold-up in Jesus’ progress towards Jairus’ house.

    And the incident was costly for Jesus, too. He felt power go out of him. Of course it is impossible for us to understand the true nature of our Lord, both human and divine. But here he is human enough to know that somebody has drawn that divine healing power from him. You and I know the feeling of having given everything we could to a particular situation, physical and emotional energy drained – perhaps caring for a loved one; helping a friend through a divorce; shepherding a child through a crisis; clearing the house of a parent. We know that when love is given to the uttermost, that is costly, and it is prayer, too. It was no different with Jesus. The great passage in Philippians 2, thought to be an early Christian hymn, talks of Jesus ‘emptying himself’ – not clinging to his divine nature but becoming a servant.

    But in stopping to look at these three characters, we’ve almost forgotten that word came from Jairus’ house to say that his daughter was dead. Why bother the teacher further? But Jesus has more love to give, and he raises up the girl. But he orders the family not to broadcast what had happened. How could such an event possibly have been kept a secret? Throughout Mark’s gospel Jesus insists that his Messiahship was not to be made known. Why should that be? Possibly because the kind of Messiah most people had in mind was not the Messiah he was to be. He did not want expectations growing that he had come to drive the Romans out and establish Israel’s kingdom once again. His Messiahship was to bring peace, and God’s love: wholeness to people whose lives were broken, or who had been rejected because something in their lives transgressed the over-zealous strictures of the law of Moses.

    Notice the contrasts in behaviour when Jesus arrives at Jairus’ house. It was laid down in the law that even a poor man should have at least two flute-players at his wife’s funeral, and people were brought in to wail so that everyone around might know that death had struck. What a contrast between the caterwauling of the musicians and the faith of Jesus: calm, quiet, and in control. What a contrast between the despair of the mourners and the hope of Jesus.

    Incidentally, there is food for thought here about the growing trend today for families to ask for a non-Christian funeral at the time of death: to engage a humanist or one of those ministers called ‘Life Celebrants’ who seem to be getting ever busier. It’s a trend that seems to have accelerated since Covid. OK, these secular ministers celebrate the person’s life, and some do a very professional job, but the Christian message at a funeral offers hope; hope that God’s purposes for us are not just worked out in this life, but in eternal life, won for us by the death and resurrection of Jesus. The short reading today from the Wisdom of Solomon reminds us that God ‘does not delight in the death of the living…He created us for incorruption’, and that ‘the generative forces of the world are wholesome.’

    So are there any messages to take from the gospel-story today?

    Firstly, when you are irritatingly interrupted by something that distracts you from the main task, try  to see some purpose in the interruption.

    Secondly, remember that Jesus had time and compassion for all those he met on his journey: the great and the poor. They were all treated the same – all were to receive his loving attention. Nobody was turned away. Thirdly: is your or my Christian discipleship costly in some way? Because if it isn’t, then perhaps that should cause us to ponder. We’ve followed the stories of Jairus and the woman with haemorrhages and have sensed their pain and the tragedies they faced. Perhaps you were thinking of people or situations you know about or other human tragedies. Reading and meditating on such bible passages can help us enter into deeper and more costly prayer; laying these situations before God and praying for people who are too much caught up in pain or grief to be able to do so. And may our prayers and Christian bearing bring hope in God’s name, and bring those we pray about to know his love for them.

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