The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
June 28, 2015
This week, a cluster of events in the life of our nation stirred many people’s feelings. We watched as nine families grieved after their loved ones were shot to death by a racist young man during a meeting at “Mother Emanuel” A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C. We learned that the Supreme Court voted 5 to 4 to legalize same-sex marriage. We heard increased concern about Isis terrorism spreading abroad and possibly here in the United States. Events like these stir feelings. I heard people speak about their anger, compassion and fear. And in response to these feelings, I heard more “God talk.” “God talk” is when we try to make sense of the events that take place in our lives and in the world around us in terms of our understanding of God. In our Bible study here in Holy Trinity on Wednesday morning, we asked the question, “Does God cause horrific events?” The conversation was sparked by the death of an 81 year old man killed by a lightning strike when he was taking a walk in his neighborhood last week in Largo. We came to the conclusion that God does not direct lightning to kill anyone, any more than God causes other accidents which take people’s lives. God allows things to happen in the natural world because there is freedom in creation. God also gives us freedom to make decisions.
“God talk” is important for us. It is one of the ways we seek to understand God amid the perplexing circumstances of life. When I am pondering a particularly difficult set of circumstances, I often ask the question, “Where is God in this event?” That question can lead us to think about the incarnation. That is a theological word that signifies God coming among us, being in our midst. God comes among us in our Lord Jesus Christ who experiences the suffering of the world firsthand. God is among us in the midst of those who suffer. God is among us in the midst of those who seek justice. God is among us amidst a world terrorized by hatred. God is among us amidst the swift and varied changes in the world today.
This week I rediscovered a book entitled We Are Theologians by Fredrica Harris Thompsett, who is professor of historical theology at the Episcopal Divinity School. She presents a strong argument that the people of the Episcopal Church are called to be theologians. All of us need to learn and grow through “God talk.” That means we think carefully and thoughtfully when speaking about God. You realize how important this is. No doubt you have heard someone make a theological statement without thinking. Like the person who hears about the death of a child and says, “It was God’s will.” Another person might say that something is “against God’s will.” Such quips are often painful to the listener. They are spoken without deeper reflection or without careful study to understand the mysterious ways of the Almighty God. This is one of the reason we are called to be theologians.
So let’s spend just a few more minutes pondering the theology of the incarnation. God comes among us in the form of a servant named Jesus of Nazareth. God comes to bring love, peace and healing in the midst of a world filled with suffering, division, and illness. God stands in the midst of our world, beckoning to us to serve as God’s hands, heart and feet in the world today. God calls us to listen carefully, and by listening, to understand other’s pain and suffering. When we stand with our Lord among those who suffer, our talk about God begins to sound very different. No longer are we making empty pronouncements about God’s will. Now we are speaking the language of love and peace and healing.
Our Gospel passage today, Mark 5:21-43, describes our Lord as he stands in the midst of pain and listens carefully. He is called by Jairus, the head of the synagogue, to come because the man’s twelve-year-old daughter is gravely ill. Immediately our Lord goes with Jairus. But the crowd presses in on him. So many are seeking his love, peace and healing. A woman in the crowd has suffered from hemorrhage for twelve years. She has sought many physicians but has not found healing. She realizes that Jesus is the incarnate Lord, and she reaches out to touch his cloak. Immediately she is healed. Our Lord stops suddenly. He is scanning the crowd because he knows someone was healed. He wants to converse with her. He wants to understand her pain and suffering. He wants to fully share God’s peace, love and healing.
Scripture often presents contrasts for us to ponder. Notice the contrast between Jairus, the head of the congregation, and this woman. She is an outcast, rejected by the community because of her illness. Our Lord is certainly mindful of this dynamic when he pronounces that she is healed.
Upon completing this interaction, he makes his way to Jairus’ home and finds the young girl seemingly lifeless. We hear the Aramaic text, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl get up!” And the girl wakes and walks.
Notice our Lord’s single-minded sense of mission evident in this passage. In the midst of many demands, he is steady and dedicated. Some who surround him do not understand him. They are dismissive, making quick judgments about him. The disciples are dismissive as Jesus looks for the woman in the crowd. The people from Jarius’ house try to dissuade him from coming. The mourners laugh at Jesus when he says, “The child is not dead, but sleeping.”
Jesus stands in the midst of people who are in pain. Jesus stands in the midst of a world racked by terror and fear. Jesus stands in the midst of those who seek justice. Jesus comes among us as the source of new life and new hope. God among us.
I close this sermon with a story told by Arnold Mindell in his book Sitting in the Fire. The story comes from war-torn Belfast, where a terrorist tells the story of witnessing his father’s murder at the hands of extremists. He was only a boy at the time. He rode in the ambulance with his father, who leans towards him and says, “Forgive the killers.” The child could not. He grew up and joined a terrorist organization, devoting his life to revenge. The book describes how this terrorist meets a priest in a group brought together to seek peace. The priest is initially shocked to hear such vengefulness. But the two spent more time listening to each other, and priest opened up, hearing the pain deep in the heart of the terrorist. Slowly the priest became more compassionate. In the midst of this transformation, the terrorist admitted for the first time in his life that he did not want to kill any more. Instead, he wanted to devote his life to teaching children how to resolve their problems.
I am praying for us and for all Christians today to discover a new level of courage. It takes courage to stand with our Lord in the midst of a broken world. It takes courage for us to stand with those who seek justice or are filled with fear.
Let us follow our Lord into the heart of the world.