The following is the text from my sermon last Sunday, which was the first sermon I have preached since starting here at First UMC in Beaumont, TX.
The Kingdom of God: Illness and Death Kneel Before the King
A Sermon on Mark 5:21-43
The Gospel account we have just read is a joyous one. A story of healing that shows the stark power of Jesus Christ, and the discovery of life and health where there shouldn’t be. The story of the hemorrhaging woman even takes on an almost mystical quality, the hem of Jesus’ cloak appears to be charged with a great power, if only but a touch can heal. Who is this Jesus who can say two words and raise the dead?
If you look at our culture and the stories we love to tell, you may see a pattern arise revolving around legendary artifacts, around objects of power. The Lord of the Rings is 3 books (or 12 hours) revolving around one little gold ring, with the power to rule Middle Earth. Harry Potter focuses around 3 objects, one being the invisibility cloak. And not just novels, there is the cultural legend of the Fountain of Youth which brings eternal life, a lamp that is supposed to produce a Genie with 3 wishes, the philosopher’s Stone to change anything into gold, and the list goes on. These objects bring to us what we deeply desire, and all in an instant, with a single touch. We today are so very impatient, and its no surprise that the promise of an instant change in fortune excites us so much.
This is the desire that leads us to search for a quick fix. An addiction to gambling can happen, because the possibility of a sudden reversal of fortune lies in that next pull, from debt to riches.
This sort of imagination has built legends around Christian objects as well. The Ark of the Covenant. The Holy Grail. When I was in high school, I remember seeing the movie Constantine. In that movie, they search desperately for the Spear of Destiny, which is the spear that pierced Christ’s side, with a bit of his blood dried on it, and whosever touches that blood receives super powers. That was the first time I remember scientifically studying the text of the gospels down to the smallest detail.
And as we read today, the Hem of Christ’s cloak. Is it a magical object? Is Christ just another in a long line of folks claiming to have a way to cheat nature and death? If that is the nature of Christ’s power, then he is just another miracle worker of little significance to us gathered here, other than an historical oddity to read about.
No. I have to say no, Jesus is not a magician with a magical cloak. If we discovered the cloak in an archeological dig, it would be little more than a rag. No magical powers.
This story is not meant to wow us with Jesus’ powers, but the work of Christ here reveals to us the nature of God, and the nature of his Kingdom, the Kingdom of God. Yes, that Kingdom thing we’ve been talking about. When Christ came into this world, he came to save it. He Came to restore it to what it was meant to be in creation, to re-create and restore to his very own likeness. It is for this reason, Christ became a human walking around the sea of Galilee bringing healing and comfort to these people.
Like today, the people of ancient Israel had their share of problems, and you can see the human struggle they experience in this account. Two things bring people to the feet of Christ in this story.
The first is desperation. Because sickness, hunger, affliction, and sorrow can make us desperate. Desperate for a cure, for something to alleviate the pain and struggle, or maybe just desperation for some common human decency. There comes a time in our lives where it suddenly does not matter where we live, how much money we have, which jobs we have. Crisis breaks us down to this point.
Jairus finds himself at the feet of Christ, but he is a temple official. Normally, men of high power such as he would send an emissary or messenger to ask Jesus. But Jairus bowed before Christ, asking for the healing of his dying daughter.
The hemorrhaging woman had a free flowing of blood for 12 years. 12 years of being considered impure by the society of the day. Everything she touched received the impurity of her hands and was considered unclean. Needless to say she was outcast for her affliction because it violated the purity laws. Not only that but she had sought medical attention for 12 years, only to have her condition worsen. She was desperate to re-enter society, to be cured, and not to mention a relief on her bank account, insurance co-pays and a never ceasing series of phone calls made to her HMO.
Those who are desperate fall at the feet of Christ. Both set aside concerns for social protocol and social taboos. Jesus does not see a temple official degrading himself or an unclean woman, but a Son on his knees and a Daughter reaching out to touch him. And he heals the woman and restores life to the daughter.
The second thing that brings people to Christ is fear. Jairus no doubt feared that his daughter would die. And those who watched his daughter die feared that Jesus would be of no use, that his power would be limited. But Jesus says to them “Do not fear, only believe.” Fear is the opposite of faith. Fear causes those around Christ to laugh when he suggests that the little girl is sleeping. The hemorrhaging woman knows who Christ is, she recognizes that he is more than a doctor, more than a miracle worker, but for being the Messiah, the son of God. For Jesus says “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease.” He calls her Daughter, for now she is no longer an outcast, but is welcomed into the family of God as a Daughter.
This is the God we Worship. This is the God who we praise. Jesus brings healing to those in his presence. For those who have faith in him can see that his Kingdom is one where he reigns as King. Jesus not only saves, but he rules a new creation, where ails and sickness trouble us no more. Life is different there, and God is in control. Only in Christ, is life and light present where there should be darkness and death.
Jesus takes the dead girls hand, he receives the touch of the hemorrhaging woman he bestows life. And so Christ heals the fracture that death has made in our world. It is the business of God, the business of the Kingdom to heal us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. God has the power to make us new in our whole lives.
What we desire so earnestly when we fantasize about those magical artifacts, and finding a quick fix to our woes, is really about us searching for the power to fix our own problems. We want the hem of Christ’s cloak to be magic, so we don’t need Jesus to use it. Healing without faith. Salvation without service. In our sinfulness and brokenness, its hard to resist that desire we have deep within us to handle everything by ourselves. Its hard to admit our need of others.
I struggle with this I have to admit. With relying on myself to get things done. A year ago I went to visit a woman in the hospital dying from cancer. And I went in scared to death of what to say in prayer and how to say it. I got up there, and struggled through a pretty terrible prayer and afterwards Miss Bettie looked at me with the most gracious, loving look and told me to keep practicing and that she was proud of me.
You see, I came to her as if there was something I could say and make everything right, but it turns out God had already given her peace, and she was the one there delivering the word of God to me, assuring me that all was fine, giving me the spiritual healing to rely on God a little more.
When we look to Christ, we see that we do need others, and more precisely we need him. Because we cant do it alone.
We may search on for the magical tools to fix our lives, but God comes to us with the news that, in the Kingdom of heaven, everything is taken care of. We need but trust him and we will receive more than we desire.
And, Church, this is the good news. That its not up to us. That God has not abandoned us. That God is merciful enough to heal us, that God is gracious enough to be with us, to give grace to us. In your desperation, do not look to yourself for a solution, but look to Christ. In your fear, seek not for a way out, but trust in Christ.
All the actions of Christ revealed the Kingdom he came to proclaim. But he left this earth with a promise that those who believe in him would do “works greater than these” (John 14:12). We, the Church, have received the gift of the Holy Spirit, so that we now may go forth and proclaim the Kingdom with our own words and actions. When we feed people, when we pray with people, when we learn about God and share those words, we are pointing people towards the Kingdom of God.
So Let us take heart. Just like Jesus entreats the little girl to Get up! So I say “Awake, thou that sleepest and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” Awaken to the Kingdom around us where we see healing, where we see love and compassion, the presence of Christ is there. Not the magical presence, but the presence of a Divine King that caused the woman to fall down before Christ and tell the truth. Let us learn from the boldness and from the faith of the woman as we approach the throne of Christ this morning, remembering those words he shared with the crowd that day: “Do not fear; only believe.”
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.