With Great Power…

Justin Thornburgh

Irving Park Baptist Church

Sermon: Mark 5: 21-43 (5th Sunday after Pentecost B – preached out of order) [note: since I don’t preach every week, and was the guest preacher at a non-Lectionary church, I chose this text.]

10 June, 2012

With Great Power…

(Scene 1: The Static)

This section of the Gospel of Mark is one of my favorite passages in the entire Bible. These two stories sandwiched together. The vividness of Mark’s storytelling just draws me in. I feel I am there, waiting on the shore. Knowing that he is on his way back from the other side of the sea. I can feel the heat of the summer day causing the sweat on my skin to stick to the cloak I am wearing to protect me from the rays of the sun. And I feel overwhelmed and engulfed by the crowd that appears and is waiting for Jesus to get back on dry land.

As he does they crowds just swarm around him. People who have heard about how he has gone around healing people and casting out demons. I imagine it to be like being in an eL car during rush hour. People shoulder to shoulder. Getting bumping into each other. Starting to get on each other’s nerves a little bit. Hot. Sweat. Stink. There are people who I would rather not deal with all around me. And as the crowd follows him like a swarm of bees, suddenly a path opens up as the Jairus, one of the town religious leaders, comes through the crowd. The noise and movement seem to stop as the crowd become silent. Watching. They had heard that Jesus has had encounters with the authorities in other towns. The news had reached them that Jesus was barred from ever coming to the synagogue of his home town again. They had heard stories about how he he healed a man on the Sabbath, how he had had dinner at the  house of tax collectors and prostitutes. They had heard how the religious leaders of other communities had challenged him calling him the devil, and that he responded talking about the Reign of God being more important that the rules the leaders sought to enforce.

So when Jairus came through the crowd, parting it like their forefather Moses parted the Sea so the Israelites cold cross, they were expecting a confrontation. “How dare you enter into our town with your magic.” “Your demonic ways are not allowed within our wall.” “Go with your band of losers to another place, a place with sinners like you.” Instead, though, what they witnessed was their town leader falling on his face, prostrated before Jesus. As his face was in the dirt he began to weep, uncontrollably. He was speaking, but they could not understand what he was saying. Jesus reached down and helped him up. With dirt stuck to his face, tears in his eyes, snot and spittle coming from this nose and mouth their leader looked like a lost little child. Confused and shaken he said to Jesus, “My daughter, the little girl and love of my life is dying. Come and touch her so she will become well and live.” Jesus placed his arms around the man and said something and they turned around and began to head to Jairus’ house.

As they were turning around the crowed began to engulf them. The disciples of Jesus tried to surround the two men as the walked. They tried to be a buffer between their master and the crowds. Kind of  like the secret service surrounding President Obama. But the crowds kept pushing.They were getting anxious, of course Jesus would ignore them and go with the guy with the power. Of course he would try to impress the guy who could make his life easier. They were beginning to turn on him a little bit. When suddenly Jesus went pale and stopped moving.  “Who touched my robe?” The crowd was stunned. Again, “Who touched my robe?” At this his disciples began to laugh at him, “Jesus, you see how many people there are and how they keep pushing in. How can you say who touched me? Many have touched you.”

“It was me.” A voice from the crowd, and as people began to see who said it, they stared to move away from her. It was her. The one that had to be kept on the outskirts of town because she was always bleeding, and as good Jews the people could not come in contact with such an unclean person. She looked somehow different now, “It was me. I touched you. I knew you had healed all those people and that if I could just touch you I would be healed. I touched you, and I am no longer bleeding. After 12 years and all my money  spent, I am finally clean. I am no longer an outcast.” The color had returned to Jesus’ face, and he moved toward the woman. What was he going to do. He grabbed her and embraced her. He took her face in his hands and said, “Daughter, your faith has made you well. Shalom, and be healed.” He brought her face to his lips and kissed her on her forehead. He had a tears coming from his eyes as he embraced her again like a father holding on to his baby girl.

As they are holding each other, some approaches Jairus and says something and Jairus falls to his knees. Jesus holding the woman’s hand, returns to Jairus, “Do not fear. Only believe.” Jairus stops crying and stares at the woman. The one he had repeatedly run out of the synagogue because she was making it impure. He looked at her and as he got up he whispered something in her ear. She let go of Jesus’ hand. Reached her hand to Jairus’ and he her. The held hands for a moment, and she retreated into the crowd. Jesus took Jairus and they went to his house where people where wailing and weeping. They were making a commotion. Jesus looked at them and said, “The girl is asleep.” The aunt of the girl came up to him and spit in his face, she laughed with rage in his face. “How can you say that? We have been here with her. She is dead.” “Get out, all of you except Mom and dad.”

“Take me to her.” The went to the room where she lay. She was not breathing. She was dead. It was quite obvious, but then the words Jesus said came back to Jairus’ mind. “Do not fear. Only believe.” Jairus took him to her lifeless body and put Jesus’ hand on her chest. Jesus bent down and whispered in the girls ear. “Little girl. Get up.” He kneeled at her side with his hand on her chest, and then his hand began to move up and down as breath entered the little girl’s lungs. She got up and ran to her mommy and daddy. Jairus looked and Jesus. Peace in his eyes. Jesus said, “Feed her, and don’t tell anyone about this.”

Back outside, the crowd waited. The woman in the front of them. Jesus exited the house with his disciples, and they made their way across town. Healing others along the way. Acting with great power.

( Scene 2: The Power is Out)

This story cuts across all kinds of boundaries and expectations. It has a power that flies in the face of the expected. Jesus goes to heal the daughter of a man who represents those who oppose him. He touches an unclean woman. He stops going to help the man in power to first acknowledge the personhood and kinship with a woman who is an outcast in her society.

The crowd is its own power. They represent the expectations of the world; the power of the world. They represent the need for healing. The need for reconciliation. The demand for answers. The ebb and flow of indecisiveness. The love and want Jesus to heal. They laugh at him when he says something that requires faith. The crowd and the disciples in Mark are the everyman that represent us.

The crowd  are a people who are oppressed by powers that places the honor of the elite above those who are the outcast and least among us. That mentality, though imposed by the Roman elite has trickled down into the smaller Jewish society. It is expected that Jesus will stop and help the one who could help him. The man with the power in that village has the ability to make life for Jesus better.

The man with the power has the ability to make our lives better, too. The ones with the power can act to help, but most often their self interest takes priority. Like the man who comes to Jesus for help, yet rejects the bleeding woman from the synagogue; the ones in power in our lives claim they are here to help, but only if we do things their way. Or they just mock.

I have a friend whose unemployment benefits are about to run out. That means he has been unemployed for almost 99 weeks, nearly a year and a half. A couple of months ago he was told he had been hired, but then a few weeks before he was to start he was informed that the company had decided to not hire new workers because of the state of the economy. They said they were going to extend the hours current employees work, and have a hiring freeze. They are claiming the economy is to unstable for them to hire new workers, without realizing that by hiring new workers they would be helping the economy. They might not make as much money or their share holder might not get as much in their dividends, but people would have jobs and their community would be strengthened. The power says that the greenback is more important that a renewed and restored community. So, in the meantime, my friend keeps fighting for a new job.

About a year ago there was a big fight in the state house about giving tax breaks to major companies to keep them in the Chicago area. Tax breaks that would guarantee these companies would stick around and keep people employed. So the powers at the corporation decided as a thank you to lay off hundreds of workers as the ink was drying on the bill that gave them the breaks. Tax breaks that are paid for by taking money from programs that are in place to help those with the most needs: WIC, Medicaid, Schools. The powers work to stir up anxiety in the crowd.

The powers of this world continually try to put us in our place. Giving us the name of victim or token. Telling us that we are not important. Powers that cause infighting that can destroy communities from the inside out. That leave us hemorrhaging seeking cures  from places that in reality offer no true healing. Making us reliant on the very powers that are seeking to keep us in our place. Our power is out. We fight and strive to name ourselves. We collapse in the dirt and reach for the garment.

(Scene 3: Flip the Switch)

In the midst of the crowd, the woman reaches out and touches Jesus’ garment. She fights her way through the crowd to liberation. Trusting that Jesus has the power that can transcend all of the powers that seek to keep her on the margins. Jesus who is on his way to heal the daughter of the powerful. Jesus who breaks the rules and touches her. Jesus who takes her in his hands and calls her daughter.

Jesus bucks what is considered right, and instead uses his power – the power of the Living God, to say to this woman: “You are whole. You are beautiful. You are special. You are my daughter. I love you with the love of the Father. I don’t care what the powers of this world say to you. I will stop what I am doing and say to you, you are my beloved child.” Jesus uses his power to restore this woman and say to the crowd that she is part of their community. Jesus uses his power to cause reconciliation between the crowd and this woman. Jesus is healing community and body.

But Jesus does not leave it at that, no, he goes on to heal the daughter of the powerful. He changes Jairus’ world when he says, “Do not fear. Only believe.” Words that make the leader of the synagogue see that it is the woman’s belief that made her whole. It is her belief in the God of all creation that gave her the courage and daring to reach out and touch the hem of Jesus’ robe. Jesus tells Jairus not to fear. Believe in the God who is for all. Believe in the God who can bring this woman to wholeness, to healing, to restoration and reconciliation. Jairus has some faith for he fell at Jesus’ feet, but his world view was altered when Jesus stopped to help the least among them first. He  had hoped Jesus would heal his daughter, but when she dies he is fearful. “Do not fear. Only believe.” There is a new power at work here. Flip the switch.

(Scene 4: Power Surge)

Sisters and brothers, there is a new power at work here. The power that transformed the bleeding woman into a full fledged member of society; the power that said to the powerful, I love you too; the power that walked the hillsides of Palestine; the power that emptied itself on the cross only to say to the power of death you have no hold us: that power is alive and moving here in the city of Chicago; it is alive and moving in this neighborhood. At the corner of Irving Park and Kostner; there is a power sure. Jesus Christ is alive an moving in this place.

The power of Jesus says to those who are on the verge of loosing their benefits, “I am with you. You are my child. I give you the power of God’s peace. I will not let you go.” The power of Jesus says to those who are trapped in the unknowing of the future, fighting to hold onto the security they have, desiring deeply to be named, “Hold my hand. You reached out, I am here. Do not fear. Only believe.

The power of Jesus is the power that seeks to heal. That seeks to reconcile. That seeks to restore broken relationships. The power of Jesus is that sound of a child laughing at the exact moment when we loose hope in the wold. The power of Jesus is the gust of wind that tickles the hair on the back of our neck, patting us telling us we are loved. The power of Jesus is the healed relationship with a parent or child. It is the embrace of a friend when you can’t stand up on your own. It is the love of a parent, or the kiss from a child. The power of Jesus is that thing that makes us perk up our ears in the middle of the night. It is that warm feeling of peace we get when we are told we are being prayed for. It is when you, Irving Park Baptist, are gathered together to worship God. To pray for each other. To eat together.

Sisters and brothers, Jesus has given us the power. We are his beloved. We are healed, restored, and reconciled. Let us go from this place seeking to heal, restore, and reconcile. Let us go forth knowing that we are sent with great power. With the power of Jesus.

Thanks be to God.

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