Lord, teach us to walk your way

Sermon for 28 June 2009

As we listen for the Word of God,
let us pray:
Jesus, hope of the hopeless,
give us abundant confidence in you
that we may find comfort at all times,
relief from our burdens,
and healing where it is your will;
until that day when we see you face to face,
and know you as you are for ever and ever. Amen.

READING
Mark 5.21-43

Last week,
we were with Jesus and the disciples
on a boat on the Sea of Galilee.
Remember?
There was a storm that threatened
to swamp the boat.
Our clothes were sodden;
our eyes were stinging
from the rain being propelled horizontally
by the wind;
our hands had rope burns
from trying to furl the sail.

Remember the mission Jesus was on?
He was crossing
from the Jewish side of Galilee,
his home,
to the Gentile side,
a place where they kept pigs—
which were unclean to Jews.
They were about to meet a terrifying man—
the Gerasene Demoniac—
who cut himself and lived in the cemetery.

So Jesus is on mission
in both Jewish and Gentile places.
Today, he’s back on Jewish turf.

And there’s another surprise for the disciples.
Two people. Two healings.
One a woman,
one a young girl.
The woman had been sick for twelve years;
the girl was twelve years old.

The woman’s illness—
a ‘woman’s problem’—
has made her unclean,
and she is isolated from the community:
on the edges,
ignored,
and unable to worship God with the others.

The other is a young girl,
who dad was a leader of the synagogue—
a church elder.
She was sick,
but she wasn’t on the edges,
no one would isolate her.
Her place in society was in no doubt.

One was from an important family,
the other a nobody.
But both were in need.

We start off with the important one—
well, why not?
Isn’t that where most stories start?

The girl’s father—Jairus, the ‘elder’—
comes to Jesus.
He does everything right.
He bows low, falls at his feet in fact.
That’s what was expected—
Jairus had to show the right kind of ‘honour’
to Jesus…
if he wanted his help.
That was just the proper way to do things.
So he fell at Jesus’ feet, as he should,
and begged for his daughter.

I think the disciples were excited about this.
Jairus was an important man.
They could go places with his backing.

But Jesus is soon sidetracked.

Remember the woman, the nobody?
She steals up to Jesus,
and—summoning up all her courage—
just touches his outer cloak.
She knows she’s unclean.
She knows she shouldn’t touch Jesus.
She knows she’ll make him unclean if she does.
But she goes ahead.
No doctor had been able to help;
perhaps touching this healer Jesus may help.
It couldn’t hurt, could it?

She doesn’t come and bow at Jesus’ feet.
She daren’t.
She expects to be rebuffed.
Shooed away.
After all, Jesus is helping Jairus!
He’s a very important man.
She has no man to ask for her,
like the little girl does.
So she does what she can.
It’s not much, but she’s desperate.

Jesus knows something has happened.
Someone has touched him, and been healed.
He doesn’t know who it is.

He dawdles, finding out who touched him.
You can just about hear
the disciples’ frustration.
Who cares, Jesus?
You’re doing something important!
Helping someone important!
Jesus, the daughter of
Jairus is ill!
Stick to the script!!

But Jesus is unruffled.
He seems to have all the time in the world.
Jesus wants to know who touched him.

Isn’t Jesus frustrating sometimes?
Am I the only one who thinks that?
When I’m doing something important,
and the Spirit (the Spirit of Jesus!) says
Spend some time with that person, Paul.
I reply, I haven’t got time!
I’ve got more important things to do!

But Jesus doesn’t have the same idea
about what’s important.
When he sees who it is—
this pitiful, unimportant huddle of humanity—
he calls her ‘Daughter.’

Daughter.

So far, there’s only been one ‘daughter’
in this story.
Jairus’s daughter.
But now, this unclean woman,
this woman who has been
on the scrap heap of society,
this woman is named Daughter.

She belongs.
She’s part of the family.
She is a daughter of Abraham.
A daughter of God!
She counts for something!
She is someone!

That’s why Jesus calls us away
from what we think is important.
Because we haven’t got much idea
of what’s important and what’s not.

I’d be more concerned
about helping nice Mr Jairus
than worrying about this woman.
Don’t get me wrong,
I’d be glad she was healed,
but I’d have more important things to do.

But Jesus knows what is important.
And Jesus says
this hidden daughter of God is.

How can we know what is important?
How can we make decisions
that bring us closer to Jesus,
rather than lead us away from his heart?

The first thing is what we are doing right now:
gathering around the Word,
centring on the Word
to hear the good news
and to have our hearts made right with God.
Gathering around the Table,
centred on the Table
where Christ welcomes all people—
including and especially the left out,
unnoticed, ignored, excluded.

The Good News of Jesus challenges
our ideas of what life is about.
We ‘prioritise’.
We ‘manage time’.
We try to fit Jesus in
with everything else.
Isn’t that what it’s about?

No, in the end it’s not.
When we fit Jesus into our lives,
he tends to get second best.
At best.
Sometimes, he’s a lot further down the list.

The reality is
we need to fit our lives into Jesus
and his way.

Once, I was on the wonderful island of Iona
off the west coast of Scotland.
There’s an abbey there,
originally founded by St Columba
1500 years ago.
The Iona Community has its home on Iona,
and we sing a good number of their songs;
including a couple today.
Do you recall as we started, we sang:

Jesus calls us here to meet him
as, through word and song and prayer,
we affirm God’s promised presence
where his people live and care…

Jesus calls us to each other:
found in him are no divides.
Race and class and sex and language
such are barriers he derides.

At Iona I was at evening prayer in the abbey.
I sat down, feeling wonderful,
worshipping God in this ancient place.
Just as the service was supposed to start,
the door BANGED! shut.
I could hear someone muttering to himself
as he clattered noisily down the aisle.
He was dressed in raggy clothes,
he was carrying a big bunch of newspapers.

My feelings of calm were shattered.
I was irritated.
I watched as this man went right up
near the beautiful stone communion table,
where the seats were at right angles to the table.
He lay down on a seat
in full view of everyone
and covered himself with the newspapers.

Only then did the worship service begin.
That night it had the issue of homelessness
as its theme.
Somehow,
it wasn’t just an abstract issue any more.
We were in the presence of someone
who represented all homeless
men, women and children.
Someone I’d been annoyed by.

What were my priorities?
To have a peaceful evening prayer service,
in which I could rejoice
that I was on Iona.
Instead, I was confronted.
Confronted by my own lack of care
for those in need;
for the hidden people who sleep rough.
It may not have been a peaceful service,
but it was certainly memorable.

Gathering around the Word and the Table,
we need to keep our eyes and ears open.
If we do, Jesus will show us
something of himself,
something of his concerns,
someone to care for and share with.

And if we gather here
with open eyes and ears,
then they may be open beyond this place.
Because there’s so much Jesus wants to show us
through the week.
People are hurting.
People are being left out.
Jesus is calling us to notice.

When history is written,
it usually deals with the important people.
Many ordinary men died that day
fighting the Amalekites;
we hear only about Saul and Jonathan.
We are tempted too often
to decide what’s important
on the basis of the news media.
For most of the week we might have thought
that Utegate is the most important thing right now.
Not to Jesus.

We may have thought that the most important person to die this week
was Michael Jackson.
Many died this week,
each one important to Jesus.

How can we grasp what is important to Jesus?
I think the Apostle Paul helps.
In today’s reading he says,

you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that though he was rich,
yet for your sakes he became poor,
so that by his poverty
you might become rich.

Jesus the Lord, though he was rich,
yet he became poor.
Why? —
so that we might become rich.
And if we are rich in Christ,
how do we follow him?
We look for those who are poor, and ask,
Lord, how can we help? How can I help?
He will show us what to do.
He will show us how to let go of pride, or fear,
that stops us from following his way.

He will show us how to step out from the crowd,
and enable others to be rich in Christ.

Can we notice what Jesus notices?
Can we see the people he leads us to?
We can if we remain centred on Jesus each day,
praying that he may teach us his way.
We could start each day
with a very simple prayer:
Lord, teach me to walk your way today.

Let’s pray now,
a prayer of St Benedict, some 1600 years old:

O gracious and holy God,
give us diligence to seek you,
wisdom to perceive you,
and patience to wait for you.

Grant us, O God,
a mind to meditate on you;
eyes to behold you;
ears to listen for your word;
a heart to love you;
and a life to proclaim you;
through the power of the Spirit
of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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2 Comments

Filed under RCL, sermon

2 responses to “Lord, teach us to walk your way

  1. Thanks Paul. We had a distraction yesterday at Church when Lynn and the Hostel girls were to sing in worship. We got distracted and angry by all sorts of things that ‘should not have happened’.

    Luckily God was present and we finally noticed him. It was a great time for the girls – first time they had done it and they received a lot of great feedback.

    Grace and Peace

    Gary and Lynn

  2. Thanks… It’s amazing how many stories in the Gospels are about what happens when someone interrupts Jesus or catches his attention when something else is happening.

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