Fresco from the Catacomb of Sts. Marcellinus and Peter, Rome, early 4th Century
A sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, July 1, 2012. The lectionary readings are Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15; 2:23-24, Psalm 30, 2 Corinthians 8:7-15, and Mark 5:21-43.
Not too long ago I was talking with a couple who were trying to figure out a difficult problem. There seemed to be no easy solution, no obvious answer. It wasn’t a life or death problem, but one of those nagging, intractable, “simply-won’t-go-away” problems. I knew that I was out of my league with their situation. I had no suggestions, no advice, no ideas. Finally, very much at my wit’s end, I looked at these two people, both of whom are of deep faith, and I asked, “By any chance, have you prayed about this?”
There was silence for a minute. And then they both burst out in laughter. I began laughing too, immediately understanding that we were all laughing because we were realizing the most obvious thing in the world one might imagine a Christian might do, and yet, we had not thought of it until that moment. They had tried all kinds of things and talked to various people, but they had not yet gotten around to praying, to asking for help from God.
It’s a situation that I know all too well in my own life. I like to tackle problems and strategize solutions and too often, after I have made a decision or done some kind of action, I think look to God, almost as an afterthought to ratify my decision.
Rarely do I live in the awareness of my need for God.
In today’s Gospel, Jairus, the leader of the synagogue, asks Jesus for help. Jairus was probably a fairly capable guy—I bet he was responsible and organized and knew exactly how to run a tight meeting. But he was at his wit’s end. His daughter was sick and some were saying that she was dying. And so, out of resources, out of ideas, with no more options, he reaches out to God.
The other other story in today’s Gospel fits in with the one about Jairus. Mark the Evangelist sometimes likes to tell stories like that: he begins a story, and then right in the middle he begins another story. But then he finishes the first story and we then see that the middle story simple serves to highlight and focus a part of the first story. The old lectionary skipped over the middle story, but we have it today, in verses 25 through the first part of verse 35. It’s the story of a woman who has suffered from a flow of blood for twelve years. She has tried all the things she knows to try, and in a note that sounds like someone trying to navigate healthcare in our age, the scripture says that she “had suffered much under many physicians and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse.” But then she reaches out for Jesus, as he passes. She touches just the hem of his garment, but she is healed.
Both the woman in the street that day and the man who ruled the synagogue have the humility to recognize their limits and ask for help. They reach for God and find that place where God in Jesus looks them in the eye and says, “Do not fear, only believe.”
In the Sara Miles book we are reading this month and discussing at the Adult Forum, she writes early on about her experience talking with leaders and participants on all sides of the conflict in Central America in the 1980s. One of the people she interviews was a Jesuit professor, priest and activist named Ignacio Martín-Baró. Martín-Baró and the others associated with the University in San Salvador (“CUA,” or Universidad Centroamericana “José Simeón Cañas), and its activities after the revolution and its aftermath consistently got death threats, but they kept speaking, teaching, writing, and inviting speaking from every side of the issue to come and share their views. Miles writes that she couldn’t grasp how Martín-Baró could be so unworried. But the stress, the danger, the threat, the risk… “didn’t seem to penetrate. He wasn’t trying to be brave; he wasn’t reckless: He simply wasn’t scared.” (Take this Bread, 45). In 1989, Martín-Baró, six other Jesuits, their housekeeper and her daughter were all murdered by members of the Salvadoran Army.
God did not make death… the Wisdom of Solomon offers. “God created all things so that they might exist; the generative forces of the world are wholesome…” And so there is a life-force, a kindness, a purpose, and a movement to creation that we can tap into. To ask for help, to ask for healing, is simply to reach out for this generative, life-giving, healing force that is the love of God.
The reading from 2 Corinthians has to do with the other side of help– with generosity, with our lending a helping hand to those in need. But being generous also has to do with our being honest about our own neediness. Think of the stingiest person you know and I bet you’ll find that it is a person who thinks that he or she has no needs and can take care of himself or herself. On the other hand, isn’t it often the case that those who are needy themselves are often the quickest to respond to others in need? They know what it’s like. They’ve been there.
Richard Rohr is a popular writer and priest of the Franciscan tradition. In one little book, he says, “to finally surrender ourselves to healing, we have to have three spaces opened within us—and all at the same time: our opinionated head, our closed-down heart, and our defensive and defended body” (Breathing underWater: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps
To keep the head open, some kind of contemplative prayer or meditation helps.
To open up the heart, we take a look at our past, be honest with our relationships, allow for creativity, and actually allow our heart to broken, at some point.
For that third part—keeping the body open—Rohr says that the “body is like the ignored middle child in a family.”
Having been ignored for so long, the body gets revenge through compulsive eating, sexuality, anorexia, and addiction…”
The body needs to be reclaimed as being a part of God’s “good, generative force.”
God called it good.
God calls US good.
And so, we try together, to pray and to live our prayers that God might open within us, “head, heart, and body,” so that we might be healed and might share healing with a wounded world.
As we celebrate this week that includes Independence Day, much of the national celebration will probably focus of the celebration of strength and success and power.
Those can be good things and for them, we can offer honest thanks.
But also, at least in our own lives, may we also be clear about our weak places.
May the Spirit reveal our deficiencies, our inability to fix everything and control everyone. May we be aware of our neediness and ask for God’s help, that we, too, may know God’s healing and resurrecting love.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.