Idealistically, perhaps, Jeanne and I were imagining that we’d find a way to focus our worship this summer each week on the theme of love. This was to be the Summer of Love. But once we began reading the stories in Mark that the lectionary has lined up for us, we quickly realized, with a little disappointment, that there is another theme emerging in different forms, week after week.
And so instead, we are in the Summer of Faith.
But as we’ve gotten into it, I’ve been kind of amazed about how faith doesn’t really mean exactly what I thought it meant, and that it comes out in people’s lives in all sorts of interesting ways.
Last week, when we watched Jesus still the storm we heard the disciple’s question, Wait, who then is THIS? And we explored the idea that faith might be that point when, whether because of God’s tangible presence or noticeable absence, you are drawn to ask the question, Who is this God?
This week we see two other encounters with Jesus that pull us into the question of faith, Who is this? But also then get led by the question to some kind of faithful action, some kind of faithing.
So we meet some people. First, Jairus - a man with a name. A man with respect and reputation, pressed suits and polished shoes. A leader in the temple, presumably composed, upright and influential. Jairus approaches Jesus in the midst of this crowd, and of course the crowd parts, he’s a man for whom crowds part – but when he gets to Jesus, everything they’ve known of him crumbles in an instant.
Because this put-together man, this reputable man, falls on his face in the dust before Jesus. And suddenly, crumpled there, smudged with tears, he is a desperate man, a man full of fear, despairing and pleading. And in front of them all, he begs this Jesus, “My little daughter is dying, dying! Please. Do what it is you do. Come to my house, Put your hands on her and heal her!”
And they watch, astonished, as he oozes honesty.
And I imagine in that crowd the mood shifts, first embarrassment, then intrigue, and restrained excitement builds as they press in and follow – this man!? This man’s house!
Have you been inside? No! Have you?
This man’s little daughter- who isn’t really so little, is she? 12, why, almost a woman herself!
We’re gonna see a heal-ing!
And perhaps their voyeurism trumps his panic and sadness as they scuttle off after Jesus to watch the big show.
But their progress is interrupted.
Who touched me? he asks.
Can he be serious? A million people are touching him.
We’re a huddled mass of arms and feet and bodies and sweat and breathing, and everybody is touching everybody, Jesus, it’s crowded in this crowd!
Who touched my clothes?
But one person knew what he meant.
I did. I touched your clothes.
I did. I touched your clothes.
And the crowd parts again, and we meet the second person, this woman, on the ground.
And she tells him the whole truth. All of it.
The way her life had been, the parts she hid from strangers, humiliation, pain, shame, and the miraculous healing she just now received. That she felt her body healed.
And the bleeding for 12 years -the whole lifetime of Jairus’ daughter -the suffering of this nameless woman, is thrust front and center. And she has been healed.
And the crowd watches astonished, as she oozes honesty.
She did it covertly, secretly, the desperation for healing no less intense, though perhaps after 12 years she could have waited one more day, no? Her need is not as important as this important man’s, is it? But no, she takes her healing, and Jesus touches her and tells her she is healed indeed.
Who is this Jesus?
The one who stops the crowd on their way to the important man’s house and lifts up the hemorrhaging woman. Who takes her from the shadows to the light, and sends her from there healed of her ailment, but also her dis-ease.
Daughter, he calls her. As important as this important man’s daughter. Your faith has healed you. Go and be healed.
And that’s one way of faithing.
Trusting that this one is a healer, even if not necessarily for you. Believing God can do it, but not so sure God will. She believes but won’t ask. That’s her kind of faith in this moment.
Jairus’ is the opposite. He asks. Perhaps he doesn’t believe, but that’s beside the point. Jesus will come if he asks, and Jairus will try anything. For love of his daughter.
My baby girl, on the threshhold of her life, is about to die.
So his way of faithing doesn’t give one whit what others will think of him – not the other religious leaders who distrust Jesus, not the crowd who is shocked to see him so pathetic.
His way of faithing is to ask, Help Me Jesus!
But it’s too late! Comes the word, the people rushing to tell him because who can resist being the bearer of bad news. She’s already dead! Don’t trouble the teacher any more; it’s too late!
And Jesus turns to him and says, Don’t be afraid. Believe.
Don’t be afraid of what?
It’s over. My fears have already come true. What could there be left to believe?
Impossibility. It’s impossible.
Disease a lifetime of doctoring can’t cure.
A lifetime cut short by death. Permanent and Final.
There’s nothing left to do. Nothing to be done. It’s all over. Don’t bother the teacher any further if there is nothing that can be done.
And the festive mood of the crowd shifts as the reality sinks in.
So, while he was caught up with that bleeding nobody woman, this man’s daughter died.
And then Jesus sends them all away.
And they go. Because there’s nothing left to be done.
What did they go off thinking, I wonder? What was the take-home lesson coloring sheet that day? Did the question nag some of them, Who then is this Jesus?
When they arrive at the house, Jesus tells the wailing grievers that this man’s dead daughter is just sleeping. And they laugh at him. They laugh through their tears, because there’s nothing left to do, and crying - they’re already doing. It is so dark and terrible, and inappropriate of him to say. If only it were so. Sleeping. Don’t we wish, Rabbi. Don’t we wish.
And then they are sent away too.
And they go, because there is nothing left to be done.
And because this isn’t their story. Today isn’t the day of their faithing.
And then it’s just mom and dad, Jesus and his three friends, crammed into her room. Her body laid out. Stillness. Emptiness. The very air on their skin feels like too late.
But her he touches too.
And Mark wants you to hear his voice, so, unlike the rest of the gospel written in Greek, Mark uses the words Jesus actually said, in Aramaic, Talitha, Cum. Little girl, get up.
And she opens her eyes and gets up. She stands up and pushes past them and starts walking around. Because she is alive. She lives. And Jesus tells them not to tell. And also to get her some food, because apparently dying and living again leaves one famished. And also, I suspect, because seeing your daughter alive again after she has died would probably leave you at a loss for how to act. And she’s really alive, like eating, sleeping, laughing, crying alive, so give your little daughter some food.
And that’s the story. In all its ambiguous and unsettling glory.
And we want to get some moral out of it, some way of having faith the right way, but it’s actually not too helpful there. So let’s start with the question that led the father and the woman to Jesus, the question the disciples gasped out after the storm was stilled in front of their eyes, Who then is this Jesus?
He’s the one who hears the father’s cry of faith, Help me!
And Jesus goes with him to heal his daughter
He is the one who feels the unspoken cry of faith the bleeding woman’s grasping hands convey Help Me!
And Jesus heals the bleeding woman without even meaning to
Jesus credits her for faith, and then tells her again that she is healed
He lifts up the woman and restores her story as well as her health
He tells the father of the dead girl not to be afraid, to believe
He sends away the gawkers and leaves the voyeurs unsatisfied and confused
He touches the girl and she comes alive
He tells them to give her some food
He wants them to keep the secret of her death and new life,
but he shares the story of the bleeding woman for all to hear, Why?
Perhaps because the bleeding woman’s healing becoming public makes her one of them, restores her to community.
But the dead girl who now lives’s healing going public would set her apart, isolate her from community. She would be a freak, an anomaly, a symbol, a marvel. And Jesus seems to want to heal them completely.
So he is the one who is interested in wholeness, and healing not only of the body but of the person’s personhood, and place within community.
And what is faith then?
After asking who is this Jesus, where does faith lead us? Some kind of action, right? Some kind of trust?
In this story, their faith action is to take some guesses and some risks.
Maybe he’s the one who can heal my kid. I’m going to act on that hope.
So Jairus asks.
And Jesus honors his faith.
And the bleeding woman’s faith? Maybe he can heal me if I only touch his clothes. She has faith, but also not really. She doesn’t’ trust that she can ask. She just takes. And Jesus honors her faith too.
And the daughter? The other one? She is dead, has not a bit of belief or faith or trust or even fear, for that matter. She takes no action and makes no guesses and doesn’t ask, and he heals her anyway.
And now she too has experienced God. And we know the question such experiences stir within us, Who then is this Jesus, who brought me from death into life?
The gospel of John talks about faith as trust. And so it is. But rarely is faith a fully developed, arrived place, a conclusion. Complete trust. Sometimes, God-willing, we feel such trust, but rarely.
Faith is the experience, the encountering, the unfolding of trust. It’s the learning of trust, the developing of the relationship that begins with a question and deepens as it continues to ask in each new situation, each new encounter – who is this one who loves me? Who cares for me? Who is this one who surprises me? Who sees me as I am? Who is this one who shares life with me? Who doesn’t act like I expect, who doesn’t give up on me? Who cares for the least more than the greatest? Who cares for the body as well as the soul, my community as well as my person?
Who is this? And the trust deepens, and the faith grows.
Faith looks different on everyone. And it looks different at different times in our life.
Sometimes faith begs for help. Unashamed, unabashed pleading.
Sometimes it creeps in and hopes to merely brush against glory, and that will be enough.
Sometimes it’s cold and dead. Beyond asking. Beyond hope. And Jesus resurrects it. And tells us to give it some food, for pete’s sake. Because faith is nothing if not concrete and practical. It means something real and tangible, faithing does. Even if it’s whipping up a meal for someone who hasn’t eaten in a while. Faith is acting on what hope gives you.
Where are you being invited to trust?
What are your places of pleading?
Where are you afraid to even ask for help?
Where do you need God to bring life, brand new, life that cannot come from you?
Your faithing starts there. At the place where you have nothing to lose, and you are willing to be met by the God of life.
Go to that place that oozes honesty, and Jesus will meet you there.