Hear a short recap of the Sunday service:
Watch the 11 AM Celebration of the Holy Eucharist
Watch the 6 PM Celebration of the Community Eucharist.
The written version of the sermon is here:
Broadway re-opened last night with its first show since March of last year. Early in the show, Bruce Springsteen said, “I am here tonight to provide proof of life.” Traffic, shops and restaurants, tourists, less restrictions on masks and socializing—it all kind of helps us “provide proof of life,” as Springsteen put it.
As people of faith, affirming life is what we do—and it’s at the heart of our scriptures. I love the first reading today, so much, and am surprised it’s not used more at funerals–
God did not make death,
And does not delight in the death of the living.
For he created all things so that they might exist;
the generative forces of the world are wholesome . . .
God created us for incorruption,
and made us in the image of his own eternity . . .
On this last Sunday in June, celebrated as Pride Sunday, when LGBTQ people celebrate with color and craziness—it’s about life. While we enjoy rights and privileges in most parts of this country, there are still 71 jurisdictions in the world that criminalize sexual activity between persons of the same gender. Eleven countries use the death penalty against homosexuality. I will not be visiting the legendary rock churches of Lalibela, Ethiopia any time soon, lest they learn of my marriage and put me in jail for a year.
And so—for all of its extravagance and pushing the envelope—LGBTQ celebrations are about affirming life. They’re about celebrating the power of life to go on, even in the face of prejudice, in the face of violence, in the face of fear or injustice, in the presence of a pandemic—whether it be of AIDS or SARS…. We affirm life and thank goodness our church is on the side of life and more life.
Today’s first reading sings of the power of life, and in the Gospel, we see people who move towards the life of Christ in search of healing. And they find it. Through Jesus Christ, they find new life.
Jairus, a leader in the local synagogue, sees Jesus approach, and when he does, he falls on his knees. Jairus is a religious big shot, one of the very sort of religious leaders who so often is threatened by Jesus. But here, Jairus is reduced to his knees, like a begger. His daughter is sick, and so nothing else really matters to him at this point—not his position in the synagogue, not his wealth, not the rest of his healthy family, not his own health— instead, here he is begging, hoping, praying for help because his little girl is sick and things are looking bad.
Fast forward a bit to Jesus making his way to the village where Jairus’ daughter lies. Mark the Evangelist loves to begin a story, interrupt himself with another story, and then complete the initial one—and that’s what he’s doing here. Jesus makes his way, but a huge crowd surrounds him. While probably everyone in the crowd had his or her own prayer, hoping Jesus might answer it, one lady in particular reaches through the crowd and places her hand on Jesus’ robe.
It is desperation (which is a kind of faith) that makes her do it. She has tried everything. She has gone to doctors—this one and that one—and there is no help. If she were living in our day, no doubt she would have seen even more doctors—(if her health care plan allowed it) specialists, technicians, geniuses, quacks—anything, anyone, to try to help her. And so, the woman pushes forward, she reaches out. She practically lunges at Jesus in what is her final prayer.
Jesus feels power go out of him. The woman is healed and is made whole again. She is restored to life. But this story is an aside, an insertion into the other story of Jesus going to the house of Jairus.
And so, back to the other story line. Jesus makes it to Jairus’ house. He sees the little girl and is told that she has died. But Jesus touches her, he tells her to get up, and she is healed. She is made whole again. And she, too, is restored to life.
The scriptures leave us with miracle stories, stories more wonderful, so much better than belief, that we are tempted to leave them in the land of storytelling. We are perhaps tempted to leave them with happy endings in the realm of make-believe.
The scriptures today don’t explain everything. They don’t give a recipe for miracles, but they do point us in the direction of God’s healing.
From the stories of Jairus’ daughter and the woman in the crowd we can see that for there to be healing, there are usually at least two conditions present:
The first is that there is an openness to God, a reaching towards God.
And the second is that there is what could be described as a “reaching towards God with others.”
The first is faith. And the second has to do with being in relationship. Faith is present whenever there is healing. But this is not to suggest that healing is somehow proportional to faith. There are some preachers who may suggest that. They will tell you that if you don’t see the healing in your life, then clearly you’re not praying the right way, or you’re not praying hard enough, or something else in your life is out of balance. But (I think) there’s a special place in hell reserved for such preachers.
Though Jesus says to several different people something to the effect of “your faith has made you well,” it does not necessarily follow that if one is not well, one doesn’t have enough faith. Faith is usually present when there’s healing, but it’s the kind of faith that is open to God’s moving. We sometimes limit our expectation of healing because we look for a cure. But sometimes healing brings something different from a cure. Healing can give us new strength. It can give us new confidence. It can bring us Christ himself. In healing, God works like a good doctor, working best when we give God room to work, not limiting God’s work by what we think we want or think we need. With such faith, we can pray for healing, resting in the knowledge that God works and wills nothing but the very best for us.
Faith is a part of healing, but notice also that in scripture, as in experience, healing rarely happens in isolation. It happens when two or three are gathered. It happens when one is brought into community by prayer, or by intention. Sometimes the reaching with others involves touch. In the Gospels, it was often the touch of Jesus himself. Sometimes it was the touch of friends who brought one into relationship with Christ. And after the Resurrection and Ascension, it happens that through the touch of the disciples, God’s healing begins to spread. It’s not so much the apostolic succession of bishops that makes the miracles happen. Instead, it’s apostolic succession as the deposit of faith and hope is passed down person to person, faithful community to faithful community.
And we pass it on, still.
In our day, we may be tempted to think that healing comes only through professional healers with medical degrees, or at least through specially gifted people who are healers, but the truth is that, more often than not, healing happens through ordinary people, when we reach for God together, with the touch of one person to another.
Ann Weems is a poet who writes about our relationship with one another, the relationship that can encourage healing. In one poem, she writes,
I see your pain and want to banish it with the wave of a star,
but have no star.
I see your tears and want to dry them with the hem of an angel’s gown,
but have no angel.
I see your heart fallen to the ground and want to return it,
wrapped in cloths woven of rainbow,
but have no rainbow.
God is the One
who has stars, and angels and rainbows,
And I am the one
God sends to sit beside you
until the stars come out
and the angels dry your tears
and your heart is back in place
Whether we walk in parades and wave flags, or make a call and send a note. Whether we simply pray for ourselves and others—we can’t say exactly when, where, and how God’s healing may come. We don’t even always know what that healing will look like. But what we learn from the scriptures today is that, like Jairus and the woman who touched Jesus, if we reach for God, and if we reach for God with one another, the conditions are good for God’s healing to flow.
Let us pray for healing. Let us look for healing. And may the almighty Lord be now and evermore our defense and make us know and feel that the only name under heaven given for health and salvation is the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.
In that name, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, Amen.
He is the Way.
Follow him through the Land of Unlikeness;
you will see rare beasts and have unique adventures.
He is the Truth.
Seek him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
you will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.
He is the Life.
Love him in the World of the Flesh:
and at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.
W. H. Auden For the Time Being (a Christmas Oratorio)