Taking Jesus Seriously
Sermon published by Pastor Joel Pukallus
Bible reading: Mark 5:21-43
Have you ever tried not to laugh at the most inappropriate of moments, and that just made it worse? There are not many things that are more painful, or more determined to be heard, than stifled laughter. It seems that it only gets worse when the situation gets more serious, and it tries so hard to come out.
The writer of Ecclesiastes says that there is a time to laugh and a time to mourn, and today’s gospel lesson tells of a time when people laughed at the most serious of times, when people just didn’t take Jesus seriously.
Today’s gospel lesson is actually two stories woven together. The story begins with a desperate father, a leader of the synagogue, pleading with Jesus to come heal his critically ill daughter. It is no laughing matter. The story is then interrupted by Jesus' encounter with a woman who has been ill for twelve years with chronic bleeding. In the midst of a hundred grasping hands, Jesus feels a powerful connection with one hand. The woman believes that if she but touches his cloak she will be healed.
With everybody's elbows out, Jesus asks, "Who touched me?" And in effect, the disciples respond, "You have got to be kidding! What do you mean who touched you? Everybody's got their hands on you." They don't laugh out loud, but they don't take him seriously either. In spite of their disbelieving comments, Jesus heals the faithful woman.
Some mourners come from the home to tell the father that his daughter has died; now there is no point in having Jesus come to heal her. When Jesus tells the crowd that she is not dead but sleeping, they laugh at him. Right there in front of everybody, the mourners laugh in his face. The way Mark tells the story builds up to this dismissive laughter by the grieving skeptics.
These mourners are not the first to scoff at what God is doing. Remember how old Abraham and Sarah, each in turn, laughed when they heard God promise that they would bear a son and become the parents of a great nation? They had to laugh because the promise was impossible from a human point of view.
Like old Abraham and Sarah, these mourners don't take Jesus seriously. Why should they? They know about death. Death is an all too frequent and unwelcome intruder in the homes of the old and the young. This little girl is dead. What can Jesus do about death? With God all things are possible. And God is about to prove them dead wrong.
In spite of the ridicule of the mourners, Jesus goes to the house and restores the little girl to life. Now the outside of this story sandwich is the ruler Jairus and his daughter, at the beginning and end, but interrupting in the middle is the story of this woman.
Jesus addresses the woman, who would have been considered unclean, as "daughter." By touching Jesus, the woman threatens to spread her ritual uncleanliness to Jesus. When Jesus takes the dead girl by the hand, he dares to make himself unclean because he transgresses another boundary by touching the dead.
The healing touch of Jesus makes them well instead of making him unclean. You might say that Jesus reaches into the realm of the unclean and even the realm of the dead to restore these two women to abundant life. Two needy outsiders become daughters of God.
Both the woman and the father of the little girl take Jesus seriously. Both believe that Jesus can restore their lives. Both kneel before him.
When we experience the abundance of God's grace, we can't help but take Jesus seriously. In Jesus, God has a way of transforming our dismissive laugher into tears of joy, our skepticism into speechless amazement. When this happens for us, as it did for a desperate, grieving father and a sick, ostracized woman, we know what it is to be made whole. The gospel is full of promises that become our own when we take Jesus seriously. Touch the gospel promises and take them to heart:
"Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy." (Mt. 5:7)
"If you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will forgive you." (Mt. 6:14)
"Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid." (John 14: 27)
"Today you will be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:43)
"Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, our Lord." (Rom. 8:39)
"I will wipe away every tear from their eyes and death shall be no more." (Rev. 21:4)
What? These promises can't be true. Lord, you have got to be kidding. Then we realize Jesus isn't kidding at all.
What we are doing, when we baptise a baby, or an adult, is refusing to laugh at Jesus and his promises, but taking him seriously when he tell us to baptise and to teach, and also taking seriously his promise “Behold I am with you always, to the very end of the age”
What we are doing when we come to Holy Communion is taking Jesus seriously when he says: “this is my body. This is my blood” To our rational mind, it IS laughable. But we put that aside in light of the fact that he takes us seriously. Seriously enough to die for us, so that we can live for ever with him. What a sobering thought. Because of the love of Christ, we don’t laugh at him any more. We smile because of what he has done.
Let us pray.
Lord, sometimes we shake our heads in disbelief at the promises of the Gospel that seem too wonderful to believe. Yet when we turn to you, let go of our fear, we discover the power of your healing love and live-giving presence. Amen.