First Congregational Church
June 27, 2021
5th Sunday after Pentecost
Mark 5:21-43, 2 Corinthians 8:7-15
“The Grace of Giving”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Do you know what you can hold without ever touching it? A conversation. What do you get when you touch a phoenix? Bird-degree burns.
Despite the "Do Not Touch" signs, a museum was having no success in keeping patrons from touching - and ruining - priceless furniture and art. But the problem evaporated overnight when a clever museum employee replaced the signs with ones that read: "Caution: Wash Hands After Touching!”
This morning’s scripture passages are an interesting amalgam. The one from Mark may not seem to make sense - even within itself. When pairing it with the epistle lectionary passage from 2 Corinthians, it may even appear that this sermon writer may have lost her handle on things, too. Which is why I try to keep an ear to what God may need for us to hear, and we what may need to hear.
The passage from Mark continues from where we have been the last few weeks - Jesus teaching crowds and disciples, healing individuals and using parables from the immediate surroundings. Two weeks ago it was the parable of the mustard seed, last week it was Jesus sleeping in the boat during a storm. The lectionary skips the next section, the healing of the mentally ill man so physically strong that after he broke his own chains, he lived in caves, until Jesus healed him by casting the evil spirits into a herd of pigs, which ran to the lake and drowned. Even though this last event took place on one side of the lake, it didn’t take all that long for the news to reach the other side.
Before we get to Mark, just a note about 2 Corinthians, that it was written - in part - to encourage the formerly divisive and quarrelous churches to continue to get their act together, including helping those who were not as fortunate as themselves.
Jesus Raises a Dead Girl and Heals a Sick Woman
A 21 When Jesus had again crossed over by boat to the other side of the lake, a large crowd gathered around him while he was by the lake. 22 Then one of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. 23 He pleaded earnestly with him, “My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.” 24 So Jesus went with him. A large crowd followed and pressed around him.
B 25 And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. 26 She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. 27 When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” 29 Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
30 At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?”
31 “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, ‘Who touched me?’ ”
32 But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. 33 Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
A 35 While Jesus was still speaking, some people came from the house of Jairus, the synagogue leader. “Your daughter is dead,” they said. “Why bother the teacher anymore?”
36 Overhearing[a] what they said, Jesus told him, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
37 He did not let anyone follow him except Peter, James and John the brother of James. 38 When they came to the home of the synagogue leader, Jesus saw a commotion, with people crying and wailing loudly. 39 He went in and said to them, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” 40 But they laughed at him.
After he put them all out, he took the child’s father and mother and the disciples who were with him, and went in where the child was. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha koum!”(which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”). 42 Immediately the girl stood up and began to walk around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished. 43 He gave strict orders not to let anyone know about this, and told them to give her something to eat.
2 Corinthians 8:7-15
7 But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you[a]—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
8 I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. 9 For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.
10 And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. 11 Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. 12 For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.
13 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, 15 as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”[b]
Thank you, Bill, Julie & Ann. This week I read of a gentleman named Lou. The account doesn’t name the war, but it described the practice of triage, sorting the wounded into three basic groups - one color for those who had no chance of survival, another color for those likely to make it whether they get help or not. The third color-tag indicated a doubtful prognosis - a chance to live only if medical assistance was given. Since there were severely limited medical supplies . . . assistance was being given only to this last group.
Lou was near the detonation of a bomb and one leg was severely wounded. The doctor who examined him made the decision that Lou was a hopeless case and tagged him as such, leaving him to die. But a nurse noticed Lou was conscious and began to talk with him. They discovered they were both from Ohio. Getting to know Lou as a person, the nurse just couldn't let him die. She broke all the rules and changed his color-tag.
That event was followed by a two-day trip in the back of a truck and months in a hospital. But Lou made it and he met a woman in the hospital whom he later married. Even minus one leg he has led a full happy life, all because a nurse broke the rules of triage and changed a tag.
Jairus’ daughter was probably in that same third group, likely to get well with medical treatment. It was at age twelve that a Palestinian girl took a husband in marriage. Much as it is not the practice to marry girls so young in this country, Mark is trying to tell us that at in those days, she was just about to embark upon the threshold of her life; having everything in front of her. She was also had an identity - as the daughter of a well-known and important person, as a ruler of a local synagogue, charged with correct administration and the due conduct of worship. Without all the glitz and glitter of our present day, Jairus’ daughter was the Malia or Sasha Obama or Barbara Bush and Jenna Bush Hager of her day.
On top of all that, Jairus was the kind of father that, despite all his respectability, would dare to make a difficult decision to step out of his privilege and risk his reputation, maybe even his position, asking for a new-comer, wild-man Jesus to take care of the tag that had been attached to his daughter.
The woman in the middle of the passage from Mark was everything that Jairus’ daughter wasn’t. She didn’t have the dignity of a name, no one to speak up for her, a social outcast of the first order who was not even allowed to set foot into the synagogue. Jairus’ daughter had potentially unending funding available for whatever cure might be available; the woman suffered as much from her ‘cures,’ bankrupting her of pocket and purse as well as wellness. It’s also interesting that the time frame for both the daughter and the woman was twelve years.
One had everything, the other had nothing, yet both were in need, and Jesus treated them both just the same - and healed them - in different ways, yes. But healed both, just the same.
David E. Leininger, of ChristianGlobe Illustrations, told the story of a friend who came across a church newsletter with an article entitled, “Touch in Church.” It sort of takes an odd spin in post-Covid days, but still…. “What is all this touching in church? It used to be a person could come to church and sit in the pew and not be bothered by all this friendliness and certainly not by touching.
I used to come to church and leave untouched. Now I have to be nervous about what's expected of me. I have to worry about responding to the person sitting next to me.
Oh, I wish it could be the way it used to be; I could just ask the person next to me: How are you? And the person could answer: Oh, just fine, And we'd both go home...strangers who have known each other for twenty years.
But now the minister asks us to look at each other. I'm worried about that hurt look I saw in that woman's eyes.
Now I'm concerned, because when the minister asks us to greet one another, the man next to me held my hand so tightly I wondered if he had been touched in years.
Now I'm upset because the lady next to me cried and then apologized and said it was because I was so kind and that she needed a friend right now. Now I have to get involved. Now I have to suffer when this community suffers. Now I have to be more than a person coming to observe a service.
That man last week told me I'd never know how much I'd touched his life. All I did was smile and tell him I understood what it was to be lonely. Lord, I'm not big enough to touch and be touched! The stretching scares me. What if I disappoint somebody? What if I'm too pushy? What if I cling too much? What if somebody ignores me?
"Pass the peace." "The peace of Christ be with you." "And also with you." And mean it. Lord, I can't resist meaning it! I'm touched by it, I'm enveloped by it! I find I do care about that person next to me! I find I AM involved! And I'm scared.
O Lord, be here beside me. You touch me, Lord, so that I can touch and be touched! So that I can care and be cared for! So that I can share my life with all those others that belong to you! All this touching in church - Lord, it's changing me! What was it our audacious friend said so many centuries ago? "If I but touch...I will be healed.”
Bet a lot of you thought the sermon title, “The Grace of Giving” might have been about giving more money to the church. Don’t get me wrong - we’re not suffering any financial crises at the moment, but if you’d like to make a gift to this church family, the address is on the back of the bulletin and the little patterned code thingy at the bottom, used with your phone can take you right to the web page where you can make a gift digitally - she said shamelessly.
If we change the order of the great Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 8, we get “See that you excel in faith, speech, knowledge, complete earnestness, love, giving and in the willingness to give - not just cash or credit card numbers, but in noticing people, interacting with them when you feel the Spirit nudge you, changing their triage tags in ways that make a difference - daring to break the rules as we begin with prayer.
Holy God of Healing and Grace, sometimes we really fail in taking the opportunities you give us. Forgive us. And sometimes we do the bare minimum in being in this world. Stir us. Sometimes, God, others are the ones who change our tags that lead to hope and healing we didn’t think possible. Encourage them. And yes, sometimes there are issues like politics and perceptions and stereotypes that lead us to assumptions that are just not right. Pester us into requests for forgiveness and awaken our natural curiosities to be full participants in the Grace of Giving. And all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.