Tuesday, September 10, 2013

September 8, 2013 - The Gift of Hope

Mark 5:21-43

The Gift of Hope

When I was in college some of us would travel to the border of Tennessee and North Carolina to climb Roane Mountain.  It’s a beautiful spot.  Near the summit was a path that wound through huge Rhododendrons.  I remember hiking to a point on the mountain that was popular with hang gliders.  Have you ever watched someone jump off the side of a mountain strapped to a hang glider?  It’s one of those moments that makes you feel better about yourself, because you recognize that maybe you really aren’t all that crazy.

It’s an amazing sight to watch someone soar on the wind with just that little piece of fabric and aluminum frame keeping them from plunging down the side of the mountain.  I may think it’s crazy to jump off a mountain strapped to a hang glider, but I know it’s possible and almost always safe.  But imagine what it was like to be the first person.  Imagine the courage (I guess it would be courage) it took.

Why do people do such things?  Why would someone strap a bungy cord to their ankle and jump off a bridge, or strap a parachute to their back and jump out of an airplane?  I think it’s because we are so in fear of tragedy, and pain, and suffering, and death that we want to do something to make us feel we can conquer those things.  We feel so at mercy to those forces that we are driven to do dangerous things just so we can thumb our noses at tragedy and death and say you didn’t take me today.  I looked in your eye today and walked away and showed you don’t have total control over my life.

There is a very thin veneer to life.  We go through our daily routines trying to ignore the fact that life is fragile and tragedy may be lurking around the very next corner.  One moment life is fine and the next we get a phone call with shocking and tragic news.  One day we feel fine and the next we receive frightening news from the doctor.  One moment someone we love is here and the next they are gone.

This morning, we study a passage from Mark’s gospel about two individuals whose lives had changed very dramatically.  Jesus had crossed the Sea of Galilee and as soon as he steps out of the boat he is met by a man named Jairus, one of the officials at the local synagogue.  His twelve-year-old daughter is near death, and while he and Jesus are on their way to his house Jairus receives the news that his daughter has died.  Life changed in an instant for Jairus and his family.  Along the way Jesus encounters a woman who had been ill for twelve years.  Mark tells us that she had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse (verse 26).

Here were two characters who understood how life could change very drastically.  One had been dealing with difficulty for many years, while the other was about to enter a life dramatically changed because of loss.

This message – and this passage – is about hope.  The Gift of Hope.  Hope spring eternal in the human breast, wrote Alexander Pope in 1773, and it is hope that has allowed people to survive through the most difficult of circumstances.

The picture of Jairus at the beginning of this passage is almost difficult to read.  Here is a man who comes and throws himself at the feet of Jesus. It’s hard to see people when they reach the point of desperation.  My little daughter, he says, is dying.  You can hear the desperation in his voice.

And Mark simply says that Jesus went with him.  There is no discussion of anything Jesus said; Mark just says Jesus goes along with him.  Sometimes the best thing we can do is to walk with people during their struggles.  There are times we talk too much.  I have been guilty many times of blundering along, trying to give a theological explanation when I should have just kept quiet.  One thing I have learned over the years is that people aren’t always looking for an answer; they just need our presence.  I remember very vividly when my father passed away and we were at the funeral home and people were coming through the line.  My father sang in a choir at the steel mill where he worked, and all the members of that choir came to the visitation in the tuxedoes they wore for their performances.  Very few words were spoken as they greeted us, but I didn’t care; I was just grateful they were there.

This was a great gift for Jairus, just to have Jesus walk along beside him.  Presence is a great gift in the life of another person.  Don’t worry about having the right words to say; just walk with people.

We also notice something that Jesus does not do – he was not judgmental toward Jairus or this woman.  Why is it that people who are suffering are often judged for their circumstances?  There is a reason.  Do you know why people sometimes judge the hurting and those in need?  It’s a way of excusing one’s self from an obligation to help.  If we can find a way to blame people for their circumstances then we can excuse ourselves from helping them.  After natural disasters, such as Hurricane Katrina, there are always some from the religious community who want to judge people, and it’s a very convenient way to be removed from the calling to help people.

By this point in his ministry Jesus was facing a great deal of opposition from the leaders of the synagogues but he didn’t say, you know, you guys have been pretty hard on me down at the synagogue.  I can’t help you because I’ve been treated poorly.

And when the woman touched the fringe of his cloak he didn’t say, why didn’t you come to me sooner?  Why did you wait until you ran through all your money and tried every other solution first?  Why am I always the last resort for people?  Why can’t I be the first resort for a change?

Sometimes we stumble around and it takes awhile before we come to the realization that God wants to be present with us and to help us.  Notice that the woman came before Jesus, trembling with fear, Mark says in verse 33, perhaps because she thought he’s a religious person, and those religious people can be tough.  But Jesus isn’t tough with her, he isn’t judgmental, he isn’t critical; he gives her hope and healing.

I find it fascinating that Mark makes sure we have the story of Jesus dealing with these two people linked together.  These are two very different people in, at least in the eyes of society at that point in history.  Jairus, as a synagogue ruler, was a prominent person in the community.  This woman, not even named, would have been very low on the social scale.  She was ill – bleeding for twelve years – and would be unclean.  What Jesus saw was not people on different rungs of the social ladder but two people who had very great needs.  The need of this woman was as great as that of Jairus, and Jesus was going to meet that need even if it brought about grumbling from his disciples.

To the disciples she remained anonymous – “you see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, “who touched me?” (verse 31).  Everybody’s touching you.  Let’s just move on.

We live in a world that is always categorizing and stratifying people, and as the body of Christ we must fight that temptation.  There are no disposable people in this world, not in the eyes of God.

This story turns out well for both Jairus and this woman.  The daughter of Jairus is raised and the woman is healed.  It doesn’t always work out that way, unfortunately.  Sometimes we beg and plead for healing and it doesn’t come.  And when healing does not come, it’s easy to lose hope.  But, as one writer says, Christ did not come to do away with suffering; he did not come to explain it; he came to fill it with his presence (Paul Claudel).

Don’t be afraid, just believe, Jesus says in verse 36.  He wasn’t just speaking to Jairus, but to us as well. 

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