On Life Under the Influence of God
June 27, 2021
Wisdom of Solomon 1: 12-15
Seek not death in the error of your life: and pull not upon yourselves destruction with the works of your hands. For God made not death: neither hath he pleasure in the destruction of the living. For he created all things, that they might have their being: and the generations of the world were healthful; and there is no poison of destruction in them, nor the kingdom of death upon the earth: For righteousness is immortal.
Mark 5: 21-43
When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” So he went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” He looked all around to see who had done it. But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?” But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
This week we are offered the second set of readings in a set of three that are chosen to shed light on the divine authority that Jesus embodied and how he used that authority to change the hearts and minds of those around him. Last week we revisited the familiar story of Jesus calming the wind and the waves and calling for a deeper faith in his followers. This week’s scripture pulls us into two very specific instances that challenge two of our greatest fears, illness and death. Today’s sermon is titled On Life Under the Influence of God.
As I was growing up through the 70’s, my mother and I would often attend Travelogues. It seemed like every few months someone would return from somewhere exotic and they would offer an evening of story-telling sprinkled with facts and history about the region they had just visited. In that era, kodachrome slides and 8mm film seemed to me like cutting-edge technology; those slides and home movies allowed my mind to travel to far and distant lands from the safety of my chair in a high school auditorium in my hometown.
There was something very special about gathering in those auditoriums and sharing a common experience with hundreds of other people. I could have stayed home and found plenty of interesting offerings over the television (after all, we had four stations to choose from). It was the shared experience, it was the simultaneous moments of laughter and wonder that made those Travelogues so delightful.
I suppose my memories of the Travelogues were sparked from reading these scriptures over and over this week in preparation for the sermon. These scriptures helped me to travel to new places in my mind and heart and I’d like to tell you about it. I’m sorry I don’t have any slides or home movies to share with you though. You will have to use your imaginations.
Can you imagine the kind of world described in our first reading from the Wisdom of Solomon? It is a world long for. It is a world where human hands do not bring destruction, not to ourselves, not to one another, not to the earth. It is a world where God is not blamed for death. It is a world where God is a primal force of life and health, a world where “righteousness is immortal” and the “kingdom of death” is not the driving force.
We have been running up against this concept of kingdom of heaven and kingdom of God lately, but this is the first time in all of scripture where we are presented with the “kingdom of death.” It is essential for our understanding to remember that what is translated as “kingdom” is more accurately translated as “reign, rule, or under the influence of.” With this in mind “kingdom of God” becomes “under the rule and influence of God” and “kingdom of death” becomes “under the rule and influence of death.”
So, Friends, in our own Travelogue for today, I want to take us to a very specific place and time. We could call this place the kingdom of heaven because it is a place where the influence of God is visible and tangible, alive and at work through the presence of Jesus of Nazareth. He is creating all kinds of good trouble. He is healing all manner of mental and physical illnesses. A learned Rabbi and local leader of the synagogue falls at his feet and begs for him to come and save his twelve year old daughter and without saying a word, Jesus begins to follow him and the crowds are following, too, bustling with anticipation for what might happen next.
Jesus stops suddenly. Something has happened. He calls out, “Who touched my clothes?” Someone comes forward, someone who could not be more different than the respected leader who, up until now, has had Jesus’s full attention. It is a woman who comes forward. She is emboldened because she has just received the greatest gift: hope. She has no money; it was all spent seeking healing. She has had no place in her community; she has been isolated because her illness made her unclean under the law. She has no right to even speak to Jesus and every cultural tradition would justify his anger but Jesus addresses her as “daughter.” He says, “your faith has made you well, go in peace and be healed.”
Jesus of Nazareth is manifesting the kingdom of heaven on earth. Jesus of Nazareth is bringing the rule and influence of the force of goodness we call God everywhere he goes and to everyone he encounters, to the learned and the respected and also to the isolated and the outcast. In the kingdom of heaven, under the influence of God, all are cared for, equally. In the kingdom of heaven, under the influence of God, not even death can challenge the love that is God. Jesus takes the hand of the girl and says, “Talitha, cum” (little girl, time to rise).
These are tender and poignant stories from the life of our teacher, Jesus of Nazareth. When I was very young, I believed all of them, earnestly. Then I went through a long period of my life where I believed none of them. I have returned now to my childhood state of openness and receptivity and I find I am so much more fulfilled in just receiving them without so much judgement about their fiction or fact. Hearing these stories and thinking about them is a lot like traveling to a distant place without leaving the comfort of home, but hopefully we are changed, at least a little bit, when we come back to the here and now. It’s like that feeling, remember…when we used to go to the theater, to a concert or a travelogue or to even just to the movies? Re-entering the bright world outside always feels, for a few moments, awkward and strange as we integrate what we experienced.
In a similar way, if we are to take anything away with us from these stories, we have to go through a similar process of integrating. What can these stories of healing bring to our lives here and now? I will close with what I hope will be some answers to that question.
We, as followers of Christ, are called to bring healing into our world. How? Through what we do, through what we say, and eventually, if we really practice, we can bring healing even in how we think about ourselves and others, too. As followers of Christ we are called to bring the rule and influence of God into our everyday lives, into our relationships, and into each and every decision we make. As followers of Christ we are called to hold the fear of illness and death at bay, as much as possible, so that we can really live and love and find our being aligned with the goodness of God. That is heaven, Friends. I say bring it on. So be it. Amen.
God of chaos and God of calm, we pray your blessings over our beautiful world and all the life forms living here. Help us to receive the many ways that you nurture us, ways tender and subtle and also in the ways that shake our foundations. Give us courage to overcome our fears, Lord, so that we may be a clearer reflection of your love and grace to all we meet along our way. May those that are ailing in body or mind feel your soothing presence. May those that are facing death feel your reassurance and your peace. In the face of all uncertainty, may we remember to reach for the hem of the garment of Christ, for in reaching we act in faith and by holding we receive unimagined blessings. In gratitude for the power of prayer, let us join together in reciting the words of the Lord’s Prayer…Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not to temptation, but deliver us from evil, for thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever and ever. Amen.
Now, I leave you with the words of the prophet Isaiah, chapter 55, verse 12:
“You shall go out with joy and be led forth in peace: the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” Amen.