Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Do not be afraid. . . only believe.

Sermon for Pentecost 6, Proper 8B, preached on Sunday, July 1, 2018.

    In the Gospel for today we encounter a heart warming story of two people in desperate situations.  On the one hand, we have Jairus, one of the synagogue rulers, whose daughter is dying.  He pleads with Jesus to come and touch her.  It is the  plea of a desperate man but this is not superstition; it is raw faith that compels Jairus to break all the rules and trust in Jesus.  The other person in this account is a woman who had gone from doctor to doctor in search of relief from a twelve year flow of blood.  She joined the crowd that was following Jesus to the home of Jairus and reaches out to touch the hem of His garment.  Neither was this an act of superstition.  This was raw faith – the belief that even by touching his clothing she would be healed.

    It is impossible not to feel for these people.  We have all been there.  Is there any one of us who has not paced the hospital room on behalf of a wife, child, parent, or friend?  We know the pain of standing by and watching the pain and suffering of those whom we love.  We know the powerlessness of being unable to relieve their pain or restore them to health.  From cancer to weak heart to dementia, we have all been desperate to find something that would work.  In those moments of desperation, we would do anything, pay any price, and give up anything to make those whom we love better.

    In the same way who among us has not wrestled with chronic pain that does not end, with days in which you hope and pray for just a little relief.  How many of us have not gone from doctor to doctor to find one who knows what is wrong with us, in the hopes that if a diagnosis can be found, maybe relief can be found also?  In those moments when we are between a rock and a hard place, we would bargain with God or with the devil to relieve our pain and ease our struggles.

    In desperation we are always willing to take desperate measures.  For Jairus a ruler of the synagogue, that desperate measure was owning up to knowing and even trusting in Jesus when all the religious establishment was distant and skeptical of Him.  For the woman it meant reaching out her hand from the crowd and touching Jesus, violating the distance men and women kept in polite company.  But for both of them, the greater risk was that Jesus would do nothing, they would have played their last card, and there would be no relief.

    Faith always involves risk.  Faith is never safe.  Faith begins with the admission that on our own we are weak and frail, powerless to save ourselves and powerless to save those whom we love.  Faith affirms that despite what you eyes see around you, God is good, rich in mercy and determined to save His people.  This is no small risk since we see with our eyes all kinds of injustices and all sorts of injuries and it does not seem that God is doing much about them.  From violence in the public square to the age old unfairness of good who suffer and evil who prosper, our eyes constantly tempt us to believe either God isn’t there or God does not care.

    Faith is never safe and it is never easy.  It is easier to harden your heart and mock God. It is easier to stand on the sidelines of desperate situations and smugly say there is nothing that can or will be done.  It is easier to not to hope at all than to risk having your hope disappointed.  All around us are people who have let their broken hearts become hard and dark, refusing to hope, refusing to believe, refusing to risk anything anymore.

    Faith is the hand that risks everything and holds on to grace despite what your eyes see or the world around you believes.  Faith is the hand that holds on to Jesus when every other recourse has proven to be a dead end.  Faith is the hand that thrusts out to touch Jesus as the first hope of a people who have only the Word of God to hold on.  The ruler of the synagogue risked it all to ask Jesus to intervene and the woman risked all to touch Jesus.  The woman with the flow of blood was already an outcast but faith compelled her to risk her last and only hope.  Faith was the hand that touched Jesus when everything else said keep your distance.  Faith was the confidence that said God was not far from her pain, her need, or her despair.

    The risk to both was the same risk we take.  It is always easier when you believe God keeps His distance from you and your pain.  It is safer to complain about your misery than to hope in God.  You always take a greater chance appealing to God whom the world says is an abstract idea and ask Him to be a Father to a dying child or a friend to a woman consumed by illness.  It is the same risk to believe that God’s grace is bigger than your sin and His life more powerful than the grave.

    The world is practical.  Make your peace with death.  There are drugs to numb you into unconsciousness.  Find a doctor who will give you enough medicine to make your pain go away permanently.  Self-medicate with the drug or booze of choice.  Turn the doctors into gods who just might deem your cause worthy and, if you have insurance enough, they will help.  The world insists that everything else in life – including death – is smarter and safer than believing in a God who sent His one and only Son to be Your Savior through the cross.

    If Jairus can be faulted at all, it is not because he was superstitious but because he waited too long to plead the cause of his daughter to the Lord.  If the woman who reached out to touch Jesus can be judged at all, it is because she did not have the confidence to speak to Jesus and the faith to believe He would provide her with all the grace she needed.  If the guilty can be faulted at all it is because they show up in Church as a last resort rather than the first path of hope.  If those near death can be faulted at all, it is that they waited until they were forced to surrender all semblance of self-control and power of their future to trust in God.

    You are to be faulted when you hold onto your sin because you don’t want to bother God with something unimportant or when You hide your feelings from God because You fear He will judge you or when think you are doing God and yourself a favor by saving Him only for the big problems in life you cannot handle on your own.  To hide this from God or to make Him the God of last chances is to admit faith is weak and God does not care.
How foolish is this when we come here every Sunday to gather before a cross where the Lord proved He loved us more than life, where He suffered all in order to relieve our suffering, where the Innocent One paid for the sins of the guilty, and where the Giver of all life tastes our death so that we might be free from death?  How foolish, indeed!

    So take the risk and believe that God keeps His promises.  Take the chance and believe that He is not far but near to you in your trouble, trial, and temptation.  Take the leap of faith and trust Him to do exactly what He has said He will because He did exactly what He had promised in Christ.  God is not some abstract idea too far to help us in our need.  Neither is God a fragile deity who cannot handle the sins or diseases or tears or hurts we bring to Him.  For this is not about God who is too small but faith which fears taking the risk and trusting in the Lord first – instead of as a last resort.

    The truth is we are all like Jairus and his dying daughter and we are all like the bleeding woman.  Sin has make our bodies weak and our lives fragile.  Sin has stolen our holiness and left us with guilt and its shame.  Sin has turned everyone’s future into death and the grave.  We are exactly where Jairus was and where the woman with the flow of blood was.  God is not our last resort, our final hope, our emergency fund. . . No, indeed, God is the first hope of a hopeless people, the first grace to absolve guilty but repentant sinners, the first medicine to give eternity to mortals, the first righteous One whose righteousness is big enough to cover us all, the first life stronger than death, and the first voice to call from the grave, “it is not done yet.” 

    Ours is not a God of disappointment but of kept promises.  He does what He promises and gives what He says He will give and will be where He has promised to be.  And to a people fearful of hope or being disappointed by it, Jesus says to us what He said to them so long ago.  “Do not be afraid.  Only believe.”  No one ever screwed up because they believed too fervently but how much don’t we lose because we believe too little.  Do not be afraid.  Only believe.  Amen

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