First Congregational Church
June 28, 2015
8th Sunday after Pentecost
“Known and Named”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Knock Knock Who's there? Aladdin! Aladdin who? Aladdin the street wants a word with you! Knock Knock Who's there? Alex Alex Who? "Alex the questions round here!” Knock Knock Who's there? Anne Boleyn! Anne Boleyn who? Look! Anne Boleyn alley! Knock Knock Who's there? Ash! Ash Who? Bless you.
For those who haven’t been up long, I wish you a Happy National Paul Bunyan Day! I know at least one person that is delighted that it is Insurance Awareness Day and up der in da UP, today is Log Cabin Day in Rockland, MI. In Kanata, Ontario, today is Try-It Day at the Sailing Club. And at Fair Oaks, Indiana, today is Sizzling Day of Bacon. Yes, my friends, today the folks in the surrounding communities of Fair Oaks will celebrate the grand opening of the Pork Education Center by focusing on transparent pig farming practices, with a guest appearance by - Kevin Bacon! (No I’m not kidding!)
Certain words have nearly instant meanings to certain individuals, especially when those words are names. Say “Elmo,” and those big eyes and red fur come immediately to some minds. Say James Earl Jones, and maybe you “hear” him before you “see” him in your mind. Say Ole and Sven, and some eyeballs go into an immediate roll in the head.
Names can be pretty hard to shake – especially nicknames that are given by others to describe something about us. Whether they are accurate or not, whether we like them or not, whether they are flattering or not, the descriptors hung on us have significant power. In naming one reality about us – whether true or not – they can reduce all of who we are to that one dimension (think “Calamity Jane” or “Curious George”).
Mark 5:21-43 NIV
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. 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.”
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 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.
Thank you, Peyton. I would guess that at least a few pastors, including myself, might be tempted to split such a long passage. The longer I thought about it, tho, the more elements I discovered that had relationships with each other - sort of like points-counterpoints. For instance, realizing that there is no right or wrong here, but simply different, there is Jairus who asks for help and the woman who gets herself to “the help.” There’s “all” of Jesus necessary for Jairus’ daughter, and a hem of Jesus’ fabric needed for the woman. The little girl is twelve years old, the woman has been sick for twelve years. Both situations carry the element of desperation and immediacy and ground-level humility. Just as one person’s spirit’s soar, another’s plummets - not unlike individuals receiving donor organs. The little girl is dying, the woman has been dying for a long time.
The nameless woman’s issue was not just physical, but social and religious. All those years, she was considered unclean, and anyone who came in contact with her was also considered unclean - also requiring ceremonial cleansing. So she was socially isolated for a dozen years. If anyone realized her “sin” of being in public that day, she could have been legally stoned to death. She had no advocate, no family, no community to beseech Jesus on her behalf. She was nothing.
Unless we’re awake, we might miss the real healing that happens here. The woman had hoped for healing, but her hopes were far too small. The fear and illness that had defined her life still had their grip on her. But that is the way of the good news of the gospel. Now Jesus’ words endowed her with more than she could ever have imagined. She was no longer just “a woman,” but now was claimed as a “daughter,” one whose “faith” has “made her well” (“saved” her). Now words and a promise have been added to the new reality in her life - calling her a person of great faith, and naming her healed.
Even larger, before imminent panic got rolling, in renaming and sending her away with a benediction, Jesus not only restored her to the community, but conveyed to everyone there that the whole crowd of people who had, technically, been ceremonially contaminated by her, were now clean, too. This is more than a magical or medicinal touch; it is a life-changing encounter that is still changing the world.
To see people who for they really are, unique persons, each created in the image of God, and each worthy of our attention, care, love, and respect, this can change how we operate. Christ calls us to leave the comfortable and familiar behind in order to reach out to others as brothers and sisters, all children of God.
Yet we humans are, by nature, social, even tribal, creatures, and so we gather with those who seem like us and characterize those who don’t - as different, naming them by some attribute that creates convenient definitions and borders for us by stripping others of their individuality and labeling and lumping them together.
And yet the pattern of Christ is exactly the opposite. Jesus constantly crosses borders – whether geographic or social – to see people for who they are and to draw them into relationship. That’s why the nameless woman is no longer just “woman” or “the one who has been bleeding for twelve years.” She is now “daughter,” one restored to family and community and health and life.
(When I re-read this message this morning, I thought it somewhat ironic that because of my schedule, it was written on Thursday - which is way out of my usual pattern of Friday and Saturday.) Anyway, one of the resources that I was checking this week made an interesting comment. He said, “We know that the discrimination on the basis of ethnicity or religion or economic status that happens on the streets of cities and towns across the country every single day is (also) terribly and tragically wrong. We know this, and being told once more will probably make little difference.
What might make a difference, however, is being known and named ourselves. What might help is recognizing that we, too, often are labeled, reduced to one attribute or incident that hardly captures our identity and yet has named and shaped our behavior and our future in ways that are unhealthy and unhelpful.”
This same gentleman finished with these words. “And when we have remembered our new name and received again our new identity, perhaps then we can go out and resist the urge to use destructive names to define and label and reduce others. Perhaps then we can reach out in love to call those around us – and especially those whom society has overlooked – brothers and sisters, daughters and sons, mothers and fathers, all children of God.”
So what names have you been given, perhaps only by yourself – that seem to chase you through the day and haunt you at night. (Mine mostly come from the school bus when I was in elementary school.) Are there illnesses or failures or missteps or regrets that somehow have come to name and define you? This morning we have this story to remind us that Christ sees us differently. Christ names us differently. You are “daughter” and “son” and and “wonderful” and “beloved of God” and more.
And before we get all excited thinking about the coffee and cookies downstairs, there’s one more piece that someone may need this morning. After it is announced that Tabitha is dead, Jesus says, ““Don’t be afraid; just believe.” A better translation would also serve the point better. The command is not “Do not fear, just believe.” It should read something more like “Stop being afraid,” and “Go on living by faith.” The present tense of both verbs calls attention to the on-going transformation of our lives from fear to trust. It’s not once and done. It’s continual. And seems like a perfect beginning to our prayer for this morning.
Gracious, Merciful and Loving God, we are grateful that you don’t - have never and never will - see us as other than your beloved sons and daughters. Forgive us when we forget that reality of being known and named - by you - Creator, Savior and Sustainer. Heal our world by healing us, that others will be drawn to such healing as it blossoms into dignity and honor and all that it means to be a follower of Christ. Help us hear your voice calling our name whenever we feel less than worthy. In gratitude for each and every blessing, all your sons and daughters say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.