The sermon for week July 01, 2012
I think that hospital chaplaincy is required of pastors before ordination by many United Church of Christ associations so we have something to preach about on Sundays. I have lived the scripture for today, albeit vicariously through a good friend and fellow chaplain.
Sage is the type of person you canít help but love. She has a bubbly personality and an infectious optimism. You just feel better when youíre around her. She told me a story of how she once answered a call for pastoral care to support a family whose family member had just died.
Sage met the family, a mom and her two grown children. There in the bed lay her dead husband, the father of her children and her high school sweetheart. The family was beside themselves with grief. The death was unexpected and sudden, as most deaths are, no matter the personís age. Sage sat with them as they poured out their grief. She learned that he was a beloved and devoted father. They shared many stories, all bittersweet, sometimes laughing or crying, or both, as they recounted stories of the manís life.
Then Sage received a call to head to the emergency room. She hated to leave the family, but a chaplain must report to every call from the ER. So she left, but her mind remained on that family. She hated the interruption. She visited the ER, it was nothing too serious and within a few short minutes she was heading back to the floor to be with the family.
As she neared the room, she saw the family huddled up in the corner and heard someone shouting in the room. She entered and saw a group of about 4 people gathered around the dead manís body, shaking it and rubbing it saying, ďIn the name of Christ, I command you to get up! TALITHA CUMI! In the name of Christ, get up! TALITHA CUMI!Ē
Sage went right to the wife, who was sitting in a chair just sort of looking at the ground. She had a 1,000-yard stare. Sage asked who the group was.
ďOur nephew and some members from his church,Ē answered the woman in a monotone voice.
ďWould you like me to ask them to stop?Ē Sage offered.
The woman looked right at Sage as if noticing her for the first time and said, ďYes.Ē
Sage asked them to stop and they replied "Don't you believe in the will of God?"
Sage said, ďPerhaps God's will is often too hard to understand."
They said they'd be back, but they never came. Instead,they have lived in my head these past few years. Coming back unexpectedly, popping in and I ponder that whole scenario again. When I read todayís scripture, they came storming back through the doors of my mind yet again. This strange scenario now makes sense in light of scripture. For me, what that crazy nephew was doing was living out a literal reading of the bible. And in that literal reading, there was a massive denial of death. Where is death in your theology? What do you make of it?
In Jesusí culture and the culture of the Bible in general, the people lived with death. Death was their constant companion. Droughts caused famines. There was the ever looming sickness and risk of infection since germs were not understood. Death was at the table, in the fields, and it was present at your birth. Ironically bringing life into the world was when a woman faced the greatest chance of dying. So what was the response during Jesusí time to death and its constant presence?
Everyone carried the story of their people, their family, their tribe and religion with them. These were indeed intertwined and inseparable. That story made people what they are. They built their individual identity out of the story of their people. And that story would continue long after the individual was gone.
The story of Christ is our story. It is what we build ourselves on, and it makes us what we are. Yet we can often get this story wrong. At least, I know I can.
I was raised to think that Christ was always in control. Calm as a cow, as peaceful as a sleeping puppy all the time. He knew what was coming and acted perfectly all the time. So last weekís story of Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee showed us how he was always in control and in charge.
But a closer reading of the text shows that this isnít Markís Jesus.
Markís Jesus is constantly running from the crowds. They always follow him. Heís tired from being hassled all the time. So he goes out into a boat to get away and finally gets some shut eye when a storm kicks up and his disciples start freaking out. They land, Jesus gets out of the boat, and there are the crowds again, pressing in on him. Jarius, a leader of the local synagogue, begs Jesus to go to his dying 12-year-old daughter. Jesus tries to get there, but the crowd presses in and slows him down.
Then heís interrupted by a woman who has been bleeding for 12 years. She touches the hem of his garment, and sheís healed. But the scripture states that Jesus felt the power leave him, and he didnít know who touched him.
Hear that again, Jesus doesnít. know. Who. Touched. Him.
He asks the disciples, and they basically say, ďAre you kidding me? Weíre practically getting crushed by this mob of people, and you ask, ĎWho touched me?!í Itís more like who in all of Israel isnít touching you!Ē Then the woman comes forward, and Jesus blesses her.
As he blesses the woman, we learn that the 12-year-old girl Jesus was trying to reach has died. Now let us pause for a second. What do we call a child who has lost both parents? An orphan. How about a wife who has lost her partner? A widow. How about a parent who has lost a child?
Thereís no name for that. Itís too terrible of a concept.
Christ is laughed at but he raises the girl. I wish I could do that. I would if I could, but Christ can and he does. It seems that this concept is too terrible even for him to bear.
So what can we learn from this story? Whatís the good news here?
First, Christís ministry in Mark often comes from interruptions. Christ wants to pray and get away from the crowds, but heís stopped and interrupted, and thatís where his ministry happens. Thatís good news!
While I try to write sermons, someone may call or stop in. In these moments, I must remind myself that Iím not in the business of sermon writing, Iím in the business of pastoring people. The sermon is the interruption, not the visitor! Or in the case of my chaplain friend Sage, she was interrupted just like Jesus was. But that didnít stop her from ministering effectively. She was invited to and attended the funeral of the man.
So when youíre interrupted, take your time. Donít stress out. Parents, put down the iPad or magazine: Your children arenít the interruption, the technology and TV are. You can DVR the TV, you can find that website again, you can play your Words with Friends move later; our children wonít always be young. Or if you feel like visiting a neighbor or giving a family member or friend a call would be an interruption, it isnít. And if it is, hopefully after hearing this sermon, theyíll get over it. The point is: find the chance to minister when you feel interrupted. Ministry happens in the interruptions.
The second thing we can learn from this passage is that we are about healing one another. Even if Jesus couldnít do anything for the family of that 12-year-old girl, Iím positive he would have still gone to her home. He would have ministered to that family because they were in need. The great Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel would visit every family in his congregation that had faced death. Often times he would go to a house, hug the family, and sit for an hour or so, saying nothing. He would just sit there. Then he would get up, hug the family and go. All without saying a word. Talk about a ministry of presence! And the people felt blessed by it!
Just by showing up, you honor and help others heal. Whether itís dropping off a casserole or sending a note or attending a funeral, your presence is enough. Even though you canít bring the person back from the dead, at least you didnít try and disrespect the familyís wishes like in Sageís case. You just show up. And in showing up, you remind those in mourning that they are part of a bigger story. A story that is bigger than the death they are facing. They are more than this. They are connected to others, they are connected to the story.
And what is this story that never ends and where nothing interrupts it? What story could we possibly be talking about? It is the story of Godís grace made known and taught to us by Jesus Christ. And our presence is enough in this life. AMEN.