Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
When Jesus had crossed again in the boat to the other side, a great crowd gathered round him; and he was by the lake. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, ‘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.’ So he went with him.
And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.’ Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’ And his disciples said to him, ‘You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, “Who touched me?” ’ He looked all round to see who had done it.But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.’
While he was still speaking, some people came from the leader’s house to say, ‘Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher any further?’ But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, ‘Do not fear, only believe.’ He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him. Then he put them all outside, and took the child’s father and mother and those who were with him, and went in where the child was. He took her by the hand and said to her, ‘Talitha cum’, which means, ‘Little girl, get up!’ And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.
To Be Touched: Mark 5:21-43
Have you heard about good trouble? That a phrase that civil rights activist and congressman John Lewis uses sometimes to talk about the most important works of his life. Like on May 4th, 2016, he tweeted a picture of a bunch of people who were waiting to get on a bus. He described the picture this way: "55 years ago today, I was one of 13 original Freedom Riders who set out to integrate America's buses. #goodtrouble." Another time, when talking about why he once again began to use the protest tactic of the sit-in, he said, "Sometimes you have to get in the way. You have to make some noise by speaking up and speaking out against injustice & inaction #goodtrouble." That's what he means by the words "good trouble." A disruption of injustice. A willingness to put yourself on the line in order to do what is right. You may be getting in trouble, but it's the good kind of trouble. It's the kind of trouble that makes a difference.
This ethic of "good trouble" rose from his own experience as a black man raised in the Jim Crow South. Growing up in such a hateful political system, black people had to be very careful so as try to avoid the violence that white people were allowed to direct towards them. In the graphic novel about his life, March, Rep. Lewis talks about warnings his parents gave him growing up. "Stay out of trouble. Don't get in white people's way." This was not a heedless fear on their part. From 1882 to 1968, 3,446 African Americans were lynched in the United States, with 73% of those lynchings in the South. When Mr. Lewis was in high school in Alabama, just one state over in Mississippi, another teenage boy named Emmett Till was murdered by white adults who claimed he called a white woman "baby." Keeping your head down.... Not drawing attention... Choosing not to correct people when they were rude or cruel... Not getting in trouble... that is what kept you alive. It's what kept your kid alive.
Representative Lewis learned something though: Sometimes you need to get in trouble to force a change. Sometimes the rules of the society or even of one small community are contrary to what is good and hopeful in the world. Representative Lewis learned this. So, he started getting in good trouble, first as a college student integrating lunch counters in Nashville, Tennessee. Then, as a freedom rider. Continuing through his activities with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and the marches across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama, into his work as a public servant, he found power and transformation in getting into "good trouble." And, he helped change the world.
I'm going to suggest that you keep this idea of "good trouble" in mind as you hear these two stories, one of a father advocating for his daughter and another of a woman advocating for herself. These are people who are willing to get in good trouble. Now, they aren't joining in national protests. They are most advocating for themselves and their families. But, in approaching Jesus, they both are willing to look at the social conventions of their time, decide that they were not conducive to life and wholeness, and risk getting in trouble to demonstrate their faith and find healing. This is a story about two people getting into good trouble and about Jesus seeing the wisdom and care in their trouble-making. They show us a way to be brave and follow Jesus. They show us the power of good trouble.
At first glance, with the gift of hindsight, a whole pile of cultural differences, and 2,000 years of Christian tradition, neither of the two people's actions seem all that brave or unsurprising. Those of us who have read Gospel stories for years, who have come to maturity knowing that Jesus can do amazing things, we're not surprised to read the story of two strangers approaching Jesus. I mean, that's what you do when you see Jesus. You ask him for help. How could you not? Well, there were some pretty big reasons why they wouldn't that we miss because our cultures are so different. But, if we don't know about these differences, we miss some of the power of their stories. We miss the good trouble. So, let's take some time to see why they might have had a hard time approaching Jesus in a way that we wouldn't. It might help us figure out how to approach Jesus, too.
First, the woman who touched his cloak: She is a woman alone in public who slides through the crowd to touch the hem of Jesus' clothes. According to the research I have read, in the era in which they lived, it was common to believe charismatic teachers and speakers had the power to heal. This comes up in other parts of New Testament, like in Acts 5 and 19. Their clothes were an extension of their body, therefore, an extension of their powers. Knowing this part, we shouldn't be surprised that she would be content to touch his clothes. For someone with faith, they would have believed that this would have been enough to heal them. The clothes thing, it turns out that that's not the surprising part. It's the fact that she thought she could touch him at all that we should pay attention to. You see, her particular physical ailments, likely gynecological in nature, would have deeply affected are ability to engage with other people in her community.
She had been bleeding excessively for many years. Because of her particular ailment, she would have been labeled ritually unclean. People in her community, including a husband if she had one, would have hesitated to have physical contact with her because of her ritual status. While she had once had money, she had used up most of it on doctors who could not help. Her poverty, a product of going bankrupt to pay medical bills, would have also isolated her from the community. To reach out and touch a man, a teacher, who was not a member of her family, someone whom she would then make unclean... these actions put her at even greater risks for ostracism. But she has heard of Jesus' power and his compassion. She knew he could heal her. Her faith pushed her to risk trouble to gain healing. The risk ended up being worth it. He felt her touch. When she admitted what she had done, rather than run away, he praised her, calling her daughter, and sent her on her way in health and peace. She no longer bled. And, she was restored in relationship. And other people learned from her bravery. That is some good trouble.
Jairus is another one who risked trouble in going to Jesus. Jairus is the administrator of the local synagogue. He would have been close with Pharisees. They were the ones who ran the synagogues. Remember, Jesus and the Pharisees were often at odds over their interpretations of the law. I am not certain that it would have looked right for a synagogue administrator to go to a traveling teacher for healing. And, to go to such lengths for a daughter, that might have appeared unseemly... undignified, especially as the man fell at Jesus' feet. It was a risk to go to Jesus. He put his good relationship with local leaders in jeopardy. He put his public reputation in jeopardy. There were other, more appropriate ways to seek help, but he didn't. He believed Jesus could help. He calculated the risk (conflict with his community), and the reward (the restoration of his daughter's health), and decided to push the bounds of what would be deemed appropriate. He pushed his way through the crowd and found Jesus.
Jesus ended up doing something pretty risky, too. Shortly after healing the woman, people came up to him and Jairus and said that Jairus' daughter was dead. There is no need to come heal her anymore. That could be the end of the story. If the reason Jesus was going was to heal her and she was already dead, why go? Why risk ritual contamination by being near a dead body? Dead bodies, like bleeding women, were unclean. But, death did not stop Jesus. He looked at Jairus and said, "Do not fear, only believe." Then, bringing along Peter, James, and John, Jesus went to the girl's bedside. The professional mourners were already present. Jesus said, this girl is not dead but sleeping. With her mother and father by his side, Jesus said to her, "Get up." And, she did. And, he said to feed her something. And, they did.
And, he said to tell no one what had happened. I'm not sure why he did that. Maybe he knew the story would be too incredible and strange to be believed. Maybe he wanted to make space for people to meet him on their own terms, without having heard of him before. Maybe he wanted them to have a miracle story that stayed their own. Whatever Jesus' reason, none of it would have happened had Jairus not been willing to get in some good trouble. His daughter was alive because he was willing to ignore convention and seek help in unexpected places from a man with a dubious reputation. Like with the woman in the crowd, the risk, the trouble changed things. And his family was better for it.
Are you being called to good trouble? What conventions and preoccupations are keeping you from seeking healing in this world? Good trouble is not easy and will not be smooth. Ask John Lewis about his good trouble. But, it is remarkably worthwhile. If the woman and Jairus could talk, I bet they'd agree. I hope you can find your good trouble. And, I hope you know that Jesus is in the good trouble with you. So, do not fear. Only believe. And, be ready to reach out.
Pastor Chrissy consulted the following sources while preparing this sermon:
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.