Ordinary Miracles

A sermon, based on Mark 5.21-43, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 6th Sunday after Pentecost, July 1, 2018

Ordinary Time. An ordinary title for this Season after Pentecost, running nearly half the calendar year, offering us the opportunity to reflect at length and depth on our Christian sacred story that we annually retell from Advent to the Day of Pentecost. The words of a well-known hymn well express this intent:

God of grace and God of glory, on thy people pour thy power;
crown thy ancient Church’s story; bring her bud to glorious flower…(1)

Where? In us!

Advent announces the coming of Jesus whose birth we celebrate at Christmas, who Epiphany proclaims is the Messiah not only for Israel, but for the world, leading to Lent’s declaration that Jesus was born to die to redeem and reconcile us to God, a death overcome by his Easter-resurrection, not only his, but ours, for, in fulfillment of his promise, by the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, we, the church, are born and bound together, strengthened and sent forth to share with the world, with our lips and through our lives, this gospel, this good news.

God’s “ancient Church’s story,” our Christian sacred story, I summarize in one word: Love. And manifold are the ways to say it:

God’s love…

God who is love…

God’s love made flesh in Jesus…

God’s love poured into our flesh through the Holy Spirit.

Whenever we talk about God’s love, we must remember that we’re not talking about an emotion, but rather active benevolence that wills and does the best for us, that is unconditional, unconstrained by time of day or place, mood or temperament, preference or prejudice, judgment of merit or deserving; therefore, bestowed, lavished upon all, always and in all ways.

We see this good news in this morning’s gospel passage.

Jesus, an itinerant preacher, has little in common, other than being Jewish, with Jairus, a leader of the synagogue. Jesus, in a patriarchal society, has little in common, other than being human, with a woman. Jesus, a rabbi, a teacher with a following, in a hyper-religious culture, has nothing in common with one whose sickness made her and anything and anyone she touched ritually unclean.(2) Jairus, by class, and the woman, by gender, were “the other” to Jesus and Jesus “the other” to them.

There’s more! Jairus was a member of the religious authorities, some of whom would become Jesus’ enemies. The woman, having heard about Jesus, didn’t know, couldn’t know who he was. Even the demons cast out by Jesus from the man possessed cried out, “Jesus, Son of the Most High God!”(3) She, in her desperation, was driven by superstition: “If I touch his clothes, I’ll be made well.”

Nevertheless, naked, vulnerable, insatiable hunger for healing overrode the difference of otherness, the distance of strangeness. Jairus fell at Jesus’ feet, pleading for his daughter’s life. The woman, infirm and impoverished, isolated by her illness, moved from the periphery of the crowd, drew near to Jesus, reaching and touching his cloak. And Jesus, doing love, being love, honoring no boundaries, ministered unto their needs.

To Jairus, Jesus refused to stay, to be at a distance, going to his home…
The Raising of Jairus' Daughter, James Tissot (1836-1902)To the woman, Jesus called her into conversation, compelling her confession of “the whole truth.” What? Of her condition, her contagion, and that in touching him she must have believed, in accordance with God’s law given through Moses, that she had made him unclean! Her courageous honesty prompted Jesus, who came to fulfill God’s law, to claim her as a “daughter”, a child of God and to redeem her superstition, proclaiming it faith.
Jesus and the Woman with the issue of blood, James Tissot (1836-1902)

Yes, it was a miracle that the little girl was brought back from death. Yes, it was a miracle that the woman was cured of the disease of her body and her exile from her community. Yet, as miraculous, though seemingly ordinary is that Jesus comes to us just as we are, who we are, where we are. There is no distance too great, no need too grand, no sin too grave that can keep Jesus from coming to us.

No matter who we are, what we’ve said and done, not said and done, how we think and feel about ourselves, where we’ve been, or where we’re going, today, singing, “Just as I am without one plea…O Lamb of God, I come,” can we hear Jesus singing to us, “Just as you are without one plea, I, the Lamb of God, come to you!”?

If so, then we know that our faith in Jesus, our faith in the love of Jesus, our faith in Jesus who is love makes us well.

 

Footnotes:
(1) From the hymn, God of grace and God of glory (1930); words by Harry Emerson Fosdick (1878-1969)
(2) See Leviticus 15.25-27
(3) Mark 5.7

Illustrations:
The Raising of Jairus’ Daughter, James Tissot (1836-1902)
Jesus and the Woman with the issue of blood, James Tissot (1836-1902)

5 thoughts on “Ordinary Miracles

  1. I love this sermon, Paul. It speaks so clearly to our time and place, doesn’t it? I think of the woman who believed, outcast that she was, if she could only touch the hem of Jesus’ robe, she would be all right. And I think of the people, the families outcast by the violence, the poverty, the oppression in their homelands, who, even in the face of what has been decreed and what has been done in this country’s name in recent months and days, still somehow believe if they can only make it to border of the United States they are going to be all right. Jesus assured the woman of her place and her worth, made her welcome in the human family. Would that all eyes could somehow be opened to the true and beautiful ending of the story that has been written by God/Love rather than the ugly false ending that is the only one that can ever be written by greed and power run amok, the same power that exiled the woman in the first place.

    Keep telling the story, Paul, my brother. We need to hear it again and again. One day perhaps we will learn how to live it.

    Love,

    Karen

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you, Karen, for your affirmation and encouragement. You view, verily, vision of the ailing woman of the story as a symbol or representative of those of our human family who seek the shelter of the United States from war-and-strife-torn lands is as striking for me as it is true…

    And in regard to the current vociferous debate about civility (I employ this ironic union of vociferous and civility purposefully), I hear and read many, that is, as I understand them, making an either-or distinction between civility (read: passivity) and protest. I tend to see – and see myself as a – civil protest a la MLK as a way forward in engaging what I consider to be what you, for me, so aptly describe as the “ugly false ending that is the only one that can ever be written by greed and power run amok, the same power that exiled the woman in the first place.”

    This leads me back to a…perhaps the place where I have come to stand. God’s love in Jesus, aye, in me, via the Holy Spirit, calls me to do benevolence, to be benevolent to all, always, and in all ways; even and especially those with whom I disagree mightily, indeed, even and especially those whom I do not like. This benevolence, that is, willing and doing the best I can for others, requires my civility, even and especially when my engagement with them is on the ground of the contest of values, thoughts and feelings, intentions and actions. This is not an easy position to be in, for many, it seems, are those who challenge the worthiness of this position, citing, say, Jesus’ cleansing of the temple. Yet I’ve perceived Jesus’ outrageously disruptive act in the context of my interpretation of his entire ministry, thus, it (the cleansing of the temple) was, as all his saying and doing, an act of love, calling all, in this case, the religious authorities, back to the grounding principles of self-sacrifice rooted in the work of the creation and the way of life…

    OK, enough ranting for now!

    Always, my blessed sisters, I thank you and live indebted to you.

    Love,
    Paul

    Like

  3. Well this was Fabulous Karen and Paul!! It was like three sermons in one!!! I do hope that one day we can live in to all of this!!! As Karen so eloquently said Paul until we learn how to do this keep telling this story!! I’ve printed this one and will read it often!!

    Much love to you both!!!

    Like

  4. I’m honored, Loretta and Karen, that my words matter to you.

    Love you both,
    Paul

    Liked by 1 person

  5. You two are high on the list of the most thoughtful and loving people I know. You, your words, and your actions make the world better, kinder, richer every day. I’m so glad to be able to stay in regular touch with you through your blogs.

    Much love to both of you.

    Karen

    Liked by 1 person

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