August 7, 2022 ~ Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
“Discipleship by the Sea” ~ Rev. Beckie Sweet
A friend and colleague, Deacon Bonnie LeValley when preaching on this passage a couple of years ago, began by asking the question: “Have you ever had experiences in life that took you to the very edge of your ability to cope?” She went on to give some examples: Perhaps you lost your job, went months without any income, the bills were piling up, and you felt you had nowhere to turn. Perhaps you received a life-threatening diagnosis. Perhaps you looked into the face of the person with whom you shared your life and realized that all love was lost. The list of possible situations that would challenge anyone’s ability to cope could go on endlessly. In these situations, the stress one feels can easily push anyone to and beyond the limits of human endurance. We say that we come to the “end of the rope.” Most of us, at one time or another, have faced, or will face, such a moment or season in life. And at that time, humans sometimes feel that their hearts of faith leave them pretty empty. Or they may feel that faith is all they have left.
On this week’s gospel journey of Discipleship by the Sea, we meet Jairus, a father whose daughter is dying. Jairus is also a prominent man in his community, particularly in the faith community. Jairus’ official position at the synagogue was, most likely, a special appointment to supervise the observance of the law, especially regarding things that were clean and unclean. Approaching Jesus to seek the healing of his daughter certainly took Jairus outside of the realm of behavior becoming a synagogue official. But Jairus was desperate. He knew his daughter’s life was hanging by a thread, and he was at the end of his rope.
We all know that we relate to scripture, the stories, and the characters, based on our own experiences. And those experiences change over the course of our lives. Advent of 1993 was the first time I related so closely to Mary, the mother of Jesus, as I, too, was preparing to give birth to my first child. Likewise, this summer, I have a different connection to Jairus than I have ever had before, as I, too now, have had the experience of my child’s life hanging by a thread, and I was at the end of my rope. I have shared with a few of you some of what happened the first couple of hours after Paul’s logging accident the afternoon of May 18th. I received a call telling me that Paul had a terrible accident, and he was about to be life-flighted to Wilson Hospital in Johnson City. Then I was told the helicopter was redirected to Upstate because his multiple injuries were too serious for Wilson to handle. Upon Paul’s arrival at Upstate, he immediately received a PET Scan and then was brought into the Emergency Department where they let me in to see him. In the few short moments we were in the ED, nine surgeons and residents came in and out of that small space. Paul still looked like he had been rolling on the forest floor, dirty and bloodied. The Thoracic/Vascular surgeon informed us of the tear in Paul’s aorta and that he would be taken immediately to surgery.
As Paul was wheeled away, the Nurse Practitioner came in to ask me (his next-of-kin) to complete a form indicating “End of Life” directives, as Paul was only given a 20% chance of surviving the surgery. I am not quite sure how much time passed before I was once again aware of my surroundings. With pen in hand, I was blankly writing on a paper which was becoming wet with tears. “All you need to do is complete as much as you can, and sign the form, and then we’ll take you to the surgical waiting room.” The Nurse Practitioner said. “It will be quiet there, as the rest of today’s surgeries are complete.” What measures should be taken if Paul’s heart arrests? Will organs be donated? What funeral home should be called? Autopsy? Direct Cremation?
The end of the rope had slipped through one of my hands. I desperately reached out for prayer to the Great Physician.
Jairus fell at Jesus’ feet and begged him, “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” And they headed off toward Jairus’ house.
There are some places in the gospels that tell us that Jesus performed miracles so that onlookers would believe in him, and in his authority. I do not believe that was Jesus’ primary motivation. I believe Jesus had, and continues to have, compassion for those in need, for those who are hanging on by a thread, and for their loved ones, for those whose proverbial rope is slipping away. These miracles of healing show us the power of believing in a God who only wants the best for the human family, and is willing to offer a sacrifice of highest price for the benefit of others.
Although Jairus came to Jesus first, and they were on the way to Jairus’ home to attend to his daughter, there is an interruption in the action. The verses we skipped this morning are those that describe what happens along the way. You see, there was quite a crowd making the journey with them. And a woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years, in her desperation and faith, reached up to touch Jesus’ clothing, and was immediately healed. Jesus told her in front of everyone that her faith had made her well.
But then, Jairus is told that his daughter has died. One would think that would be the end of it. Jesus’ response: “Do not fear, only believe.” That seems a strange response to death. Normally we say something like, “I’m terribly sorry for your loss.” Or, “Please let me know if there’s anything I can do for you.” But to say, “Do not fear, only believe,” strains the imagination. What was this father supposed to believe in, now that his daughter was dead? Time must have stood still for Jairus that day. The rope was slipping through his hands. Should he just give up and accept the inevitable? Or should he continue with the belief that Jesus would bring her back? Jairus chooses to believe in Jesus. And as we heard, the girl’s life was miraculously delivered and she lived.
What do we believe in when we reach the end of our ropes? Many people these days have a difficult time believing in miracles. When life brings something so painful, so devastating that it feels like you’ve gone beyond what you can endure, what then? Does faith evaporate? Or does it become a lifeline? Do we give up on believing? Or do we anchor our lives more securely with that line of faith that is being tossed in our direction?
Those lifelines come in the form of those who offer us love, compassion, support, and faith reminders, as Jesus did for Jairus that day. The lifelines come in the form of those who are willing to walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death. That’s something we can believe in. The lifelines come in the form of prayers offered on our behalf. On that journey, as the length of rope comes and goes, those who simply inquire of our wellbeing and the progress of our loved ones are throwing us another lifeline to secure to the foundation of our existence in believing in the Healer, the Great Physician, our Loving Savior. The one who reminds us that God can and does bring something good from what seems to be our worst nightmare come true bears another lifeline. We can believe that God is working in and through all the heartbreak and suffering in this world to bring new life.
Bonnie also said, “There are times in our lives when things happen that press us to our limits and beyond. This daughter and father, this woman who had been bleeding, they are you and me. I have little doubt,” she states, “that there is something in each of us that is yearning to be healed, seeking a blessing, and willing to believe.” We have a choice. We can pull the covers over our heads, isolate ourselves, and try to escape from it all. Or, we can embrace what we are feeling and move forward in faith, believing that God has a future for us. All we need to do is approach Jesus, wounded and believing. When we experience loss, it doesn’t mean that our lives are over. It could very well mean that our lives are just about to truly begin! Jesus desires to tell us, “Your faith has made you well!” If we can only believe and open our hearts to see the new possibilities, it may just be the greatest miracle of all.