*This post is taken from my Sunday sermon on June 28, 2015 at Good Shepherd, Asheboro*
"Jesus said, 'Do not fear. Only believe.'"
-Mark 5: 36
I’m a somewhat learned person. I got a couple of degrees. I know things about stuff. It’s mostly useless, but I know things. And I like to think that I have some pretty good common sense. But I have to admit that as a follower of Jesus Christ, I have to throw common sense out the window from time to time. Today is one of those times because our gospel gives us two stories of individuals who meet Jesus, and common sense is ignored.
First is the woman suffering from hemorrhages. She comes to Jesus not only because she is in physical pain, but her hemorrhaging means that she is perpetually unclean. So, according to the law in Leviticus 15, she is to be shut off from worship of God in public and from the fellowship of her friends. Common sense would tell her to stay home and not run the risk of being seen in public, for fear of a greater condemnation, one which was perfectly legal. And common sense would most certainly tell her that simply touching the fringe of Jesus’ garment would not make her well. But she goes outside to seek Jesus anyway. Does that make any sense to anyone here? It did to her. And she is healed for it, even though common sense said otherwise, and even though the crowds around her were telling her to leave Jesus alone.
Speaking of leaving Jesus alone, that’s exactly what the people tell Jairus, the synagogue leader, to do when he gets word that his daughter is dead. All around the house are mourners, folks rending their garments and wailing, It’s plain as day that she’s gone, so why bother Jesus any further. Common sense says she's dead, and there is nothing more to do except mourn and pray that they'll see her in the Day of Resurrection. Yet Jairus does not hear the folks preaching common sense. Instead, he hears Jesus say those words, “Do not fear, only believe,” He follows Jesus into his daughter's room where he says in Aramaic, “Talitha kum,” –“Little girl, get up”—and she does.
Two individuals meet the living God in Jesus, and common sense weeps in the face of this gospel. Here we have a picture of the one of the great contrasts within the Gospel of Jesus Christ as a whole: the contrast between fear and belief. Over and over again the gospels give us glimpses of Jesus calling a generation steeped in fear—fear of Rome, fear of change—to step out of that fear, which common sense would say is justified. Today the woman and Jairus both show us what happens when we do not give in to our own fears or the fears of our society, but we only believe.
But what is Jesus tellings us to believe exactly? That we can save folks from dying if we pray hard enough? That if we believe in Jesus hard enough bad things won’t happen? No. God doesn't work that way. God does not give us the bad stuff; the Wisdom of Solomon tells us God creates all things for goodness. Bad things still happen, and life still gets in the way. It seems to me that Jesus is telling us to believe in something greater: in hope, in the goodness and love of God that dwells in the midst of our fear and adversity, like that light shining in the darkness. And how is it that we come to believe? When encounter the living God in Jesus—as the woman does, as Jairus and his daughter. And when we encounter the living God in Jesus incredible healing can occur, and that which our common sense says is not possible becomes possible, and our fears are abated. We have the means by which to meet the living God in Jesus. We call them sacraments, namely two: the waters of baptism, where our old selves are washed away and we become a new person in Christ, and Holy Communion, where we reach out our hands, and Jesus is known to us in wine and wheat, where we partake in that which Ignatius called the medicine of immortality.
When Jesus tells us to not fear, only believe, he is not promising an end to all the bad stuff that happens in our lives. Instead, he is inviting us to meet him, and in doing so, to believe in something so much bigger than our own fears, bigger than our own pain. We’ve all been there. We were there last week. We’ve all lost loved ones suddenly, and there’s nothing we can do about it. We’ve all had our hearts broken and believed we could go no further. We’ve all had our faiths shaken, and many of us have had our faiths totally shattered. Still, there is the quiet voice of Jesus urging us to not be afraid, but to believe. Believe in a God that promises never to leave or forget us, a God who loves us beyond our wildest imaginations, a God who can turn death into an instrument of life. The woman knew this God. That’s why she went to Jesus when everyone and every instinct said not to. Jairus knew this God. That’s why he ignored those who told him his daughter was dead and followed Jesus. And we know this God. It is the God we meet when we meet Jesus.
We will meet the living God in Jesus today. Right here at this table. And as you leave here you may meet Jesus as you dip your fingers in the baptismal waters at that door and be reminded of your bond with Jesus. But we will meet him even before then. We will meet him when we turn to our neighbors and share the Peace of the Lord. We will meet him when we look into the eyes of those standing beside and in front and behind us. Because, brothers and sisters, you ARE the Body of Christ. When you share the peace with your neighbor in a few moments, you’ll be sharing it with Jesus. When you speak a kind word to someone on the street, your speaking that kind word to Jesus. And where you go, Jesus goes. When folks see you, they see Jesus. When you share the love of Jesus, the unconditional, uncommon kind of love, the fears of this world are abated, and all that remains is belief. Share it with each other today, share it every day, bear each other’s burdens and fears, offer hope and belief in the face of fear and adversity. Let others see the face of Jesus in you. You may be the only Jesus anyone ever encounters. Say those words to one another, and live those words for one another: do not fear, only believe.
There are so many times I want to hear Jesus say those words to me. I want to believe. I want to believe in something bigger than my own fear, my own pain, even when my common sense says otherwise. The times when I most believe, though, are the times when my brothers and sisters in Christ have reminded me of God's love for me, when they have raised me up out of the darkness pits of my soul and have cast out my fears and my pain. Because in them I have seen the Lord Jesus. And he is bigger than our fears, brothers and sisters. Bigger than our pain. And when we meet the living God in Jesus we know this to be true, even to the point that common sense gets thrown out the window! Go be Jesus, brothers and sisters. Speak those words to one another. Show his perfect love that casts out fear because, as we know, love always wins. And believe.