Sermon for Trinity 4 2021
Jesus, aware that power had gone forth from him, turned to the crowd.
It’s been a hard year for carers and those in the medical profession. I remember having a chat with a nurse in one of our Nursing Homes in January where things were so bad she felt herself swimming in a sea of need. She contracted Covid and, despite being a very energetic person, suffers from debilitating fatigue much of the time and has had to stop work. For the moment, some of the power has gone out of her. Even if we haven’t known people like that, we all have memories of TV reports from Covid wards where staff were– and in some cases still are– pulledfrom pillar to post in efforts to save their patients. Exhaustion is everywhere.
Our Gospel reading this morning catches Jesus in a similar situation. It begins with him by the Sea of Galilee, presumably teaching the crowd. Suddenly he is implored by the leader of the synagogue Jairus to visit his daughter who, he fears, is at the point of death. So off he goes, taking the whole crowd with him, or so it would seem.
This crowd stops him making much progress towards that destination, as it presses in on him. One woman in particular seems determinedly selfish. I’ve sometimes thought that about people until I hear their life story. Mark does that for us about this woman, and it’s a sad story, one that is all-too-familiar to anyone in ministry, about suffering from a debilitating disease – in this case, haemorrhages, which would not only have been physically painful and socially awkward, but spiritually disastrous as a Jew. The OT prohibits any woman from entering the Temple during her menstrual period, making her unclean during those days. This woman’s condition would have made her perpetually unclean, therefore, cut off from society and from worship. Did Jesus know that? It would seem not, for he is initially quite annoyed- ‘Who touched my clothes?’ – an annoyance that passes itself onto his disciples, not always the most sympathetic group in their attitude to persistent women.
When she realises that she has maybe overstepped the mark, the woman falls at Jesus’ feet and pours out her heart, leading Jesus to say: ‘your faith has made you well; go in peace’. By doing that, he restores the woman to herself, to society and to God.
Yet there is no time for peace for himself, as a delegation arrives from the synagogue. ‘Don’t bother coming, the child is dead.’ Yet remarkably, Jesus presses on , taking the supposedly dead child by the hand and saying, ‘Talitha Cum!’ (Little girl, get up).
Yesterday Tony Lawrence was ordained deacon to serve as a Curate in these parishes. Ordination as a deacon (in the C of E) is the first stage in the process that will lead, by God’s grace, to his serving eventually as a Vicar or a Chaplain in a parish, hospital, prison etc etc. Deacon means servant, which is exactly what we are called to be. In our New Testament reading from 2 Cor, Paul writes ‘You know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ that, though he was rich, yet for our sake became poor. Paul is saying that, in Christ, God emptied himself of his divine glory and came to be one of us, a servant, literally– sometimes– being pulled from pillar to post, as we can see in our Gospel reading.
There are times in our ministry, Tony, when we feel a bit like this. Somebody asks to help them, or their loved one, you listen, start going in that direction, then someone else accosts us and regales us with a long life story involving many ailments and tragedies. All this may happen when we’re trying to prepare a sermon, or a funeral address or a school assembly. WE may be approached physically, but more likely, these days, we may feel assailed by the phone or emailsin our inbox, so much so that we feel the power going from us.
Or maybe not. There will be other days when we will long for the phone to ring, for people to tell their life story to us, to ask us to help, but we feel ignored and not needed. This takes power out of us in more insidious way. Last year I experienced this feeling a lot and struggled with it, but I found a prayer coming to my rescue, not from the Church of England but the Methodist Church’s Covenant Service:
‘Lord, I am no longer my own but yours. Put me to what you will. Rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed by you, or laid aside for you.’
Servants, after all, are not always busy, and may sit around for a long time, but will await the click of the master’s fingers to spring into action.
So, Jesus felt the power go out, and so do his ministers on occasions.
There is one other thing from today’s Gospel, relevant to ministry. Jesus was told that Jairus’s daughter was dead but he kept on walking, carrying within him the life that would raise her up. Now I am not recommending, Tony, that you should regard yourself as a miracle worker, (That’s for Year 3!) yet every minister carries the light of life within them. Sometimes, we literally visit a house of death, or of a dying person, or of someone who feels dead inside but in truth everyone of us lives under a sentence of death, but are just very good at avoiding thinking about it, like most people today.
As Easter people, we bear witness both to the cross of death and despair and the life and hope of the Resurrection. As St Paul wrote:
‘We are dying- and see- we live; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich.’
So Tony- and all God’s servants here. Keep on walking through life even when it lies under the shadow of death and people tell you to turn back. Carry within you the mirror that reflects the life and hope of Jesus our Saviour, to whom be glory, with the Father and Holy Spirit, now and always. Amen