Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 07/01/2018

Lest we forget, besides semi-continuous Old Testament readings this summer, as always we also have semi-continuous gospel readings, with Mark being the featured gospel this year. At the end of this month and throughout August we’ll also check in with John and work through chapter 6 of his gospel, but then Mark will be back to carry us through to the end of November.

When reading any part of Mark, it’s good to be reminded of chapter one, verse one, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” As one of my seminary professors said, “That is the gospel according to Mark; the rest is details.” From the first verse though, we’re told who Mark believes Jesus to be and he then creates a narrative to support his belief. That narrative is certainly drawn from historical events surrounding the life of Jesus, but Mark’s intent isn’t to write a biography. Instead, he writes a story; a story of life and death, good and evil, human triumph and human failure.

Mark creates a world of conflict and suspense, a world of surprising reversals and ironies, a world of riddles and hidden meanings, all centered on the main character that Mark has already identified as, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. With that, as is the case with the David stories we’ve been considering, it’s more important to get at the truth the story is trying to convey than it is to ask the “Did it really happen just this way?” questions.

One of the techniques Mark uses in telling his story is to invite us to join him in sharing what is sometimes called a “Markan sandwich.” A Markan sandwich introduces one event but then interrupts it by narrating a second event before going back to the first one. Thus the second event is sandwiched between the beginning and the end of the first one thereby creating some suspense and also inviting comparisons between the two events. Today’s reading is a prime example of a Markan sandwich.

In many ways it’s a pair of classic healing stories, starting with Jairus, one of the leaders of the synagogue, coming to Jesus, falling at his feet and begging him to heal his twelve year old daughter who he says is at the point of death. Jesus doesn’t verbally respond to Jairus but he does go with him. The ever-present crowd follows along as well and in the crowd was a woman who had suffered from hemorrhages for twelve years. She doesn’t immediately speak to Jesus but instead wants to just touch his outer garment, saying “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” Jesus though, feeling power go out from him, knows that someone has touched him and seeks out the woman. She then falls at his feet in fear and tells him the truth of who she is and what she has done. Her confession complete, Jesus tells her that her faith has made her well.

Having taken care of the meat of the sandwich, Mark then takes us back to Jairus’ daughter who we are now told has died. When Jesus hears this, his response to Jairus should be familiar to us by now: “Do not fear, only believe.” Accompanied by Peter, James and John, Jesus proceeds to the house of Jairus, assures the people there that the girl is not dead, but only sleeping, takes her by the hand and she is made well, she gets up and with that, Mark’s sandwich is complete.

There are parallels between the two parts of the story, the two events. In both of them, the one who comes to Jesus asks for “salvation” although the English translation winds up as having them ask “to be made well;” both fall at Jesus’ feet; in both cases Jesus crosses a boundary to interact with someone seen as being ritually unclean; in both of them the one healed is called daughter; both Jairus and the woman with hemorrhages are persistent in their desire for Jesus’ healing both thus witnessing to faith that won’t give up, and in both of them there is a fear vs. faith factor; finally the number 12 plays into both of them, 12 being one of the Bible’s magic numbers, the woman hemorrhaging for 12 years, the girl being 12 years old; lots of parallels to think about.

Before touching on any of that though, let’s think back to Chapter one, verse one, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” What Mark does with his narrative, including this text today, is to create a different vision of the world, one with Jesus Christ, the Son of God at the center. For many of Mark’s characters, their response as this different vision is unveiled is amazement, including today when, following the raising of Jairus’ daughter, the text says, “At this, they were overcome with amazement.”

In other gospel texts, besides amazement you get words like marveled, filled with awe and utterly astounded and astonished in response to what Jesus does, even though…they never fully understand. Drawing from the treasury of classic rock lyrics that bounce around in my head, what they might have said was, “There’s something happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear.” However they expressed it, whether with amazement or with Buffalo Springfield lyrics, people noticed that when Jesus was around, life was changed; more was going on than they could understand. Mark though, through his narrative that has Jesus at the center, was inviting people to experience life and its possibilities differently.

In my opinion, the role of the church these days is to continue to do what Mark and the other gospel writers were doing, which is to create that different vision of the world, one that does have Jesus Christ, the Son of God at the center, a vision that should cause us to marvel and be amazed and filled with awe at its difference. Mark gives us a world filled with the presence of God and he invites us in to look around.

Looking around, we’ll see different things. Today we see a world where the usual borders don’t exist or if they do, Jesus crosses them. We encounter a world where those thought to be unclean and untouchable are returned to the family or to the community and called daughter. Looking around we experience a world where faith overcomes fear and hope comes to the hopeless. We find a world where, at the touch of Jesus, people are healed but maybe that’s where Mark loses us because we know that in our world, that doesn’t always happen.

Part of what Mark does as he creates his gospel world is to establish Jesus as the Son of God, chapter one, verse one. Jesus does things that only God can do, things like healing people at the touch of a hand. So this is a healing story insofar as it helps to make Mark’s case concerning who Jesus is. The story runs aground though if it’s interpreted as saying that such healing will take place in every case if you just have faith, if you just pray hard enough, if you’re just persistent like Jairus and the woman with hemorrhages. For me it also breaks down if you try to rationalize it and say that healing isn’t necessarily just physical healing, but for example, there’s spiritual healing that can happen even if physical healing doesn’t. That may be true, it is true, but that’s not what this story is about.

What Mark is saying is that in Jesus, the Kingdom of God was fully realized and in that kingdom, fully realized, healing does take place. For us then, in and through Jesus, the future of God’s kingdom is revealed. We however, don’t live in the future; we live in the in between time of already but not yet. In Jesus the kingdom has been revealed, but now, living in between, we wait for its fullness and what Mark and the other gospels do is to give us a vision of that future, a vision that can sustain us and bring us hope even as we face life’s challenges, even as we face life’s disappointments.

I’ve always struggled with stories like this one, fearing that if they’re only preached as miracle stories, they pretty much fall with muffled thud. I do believe in miracles; I believe that Jesus performed miracles and that they can still happen, but I also know that miracles don’t always happen, healing doesn’t always occur despite faith, despite persistent prayer so…there has to be more to this than the “just believe in miracles and pray harder” option.

What I’ve finally come to understand is that the gospels are not primarily about giving advice on how to live, they’re not about being on one side or the other of various social issues, they’re also not just about what are the right things to believe not that there’s not some of all those things in there, but I think the church loses its way when focus on those things takes over.

Instead the gospels are about a vision of reality, a vision of the world that has Jesus Christ, the crucified and risen Son of God as the main character and a relationship with him as the goal. Individual stories, like this one today, need to be read in the context of that larger vision. One can accept or reject the vision, but if you accept it, life does look different; in particular, it looks more hopeful especially when faced with life’s challenges. When difficulties mount, the gospels invite us into a world where Jesus is at the center, walking with us, a world where new possibilities are always present. Living in the in between, that gospel vision doesn’t replace the world we live in, but it does transform it and that is worthy of our amazement. There is something happening here.

When Mark announced “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God,” that something is what he was talking about.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
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