God’s Story, Our Story: Reach Out and Rise Up

Preaching: Marijke Strong
Text: Mark 5:21-40

MARK 5:21-43

21 When Jesus had crossed again in the boat[f] to the other side, a great crowd gathered around him; and he was by the sea. 22 Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw him, fell at his feet 23 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.” 24 So he went with him.

And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. 25 Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. 26 She had endured much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse. 27 She had heard about Jesus, and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, 28 for she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.” 29 Immediately her hemorrhage stopped; and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease. 30 Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, “Who touched my clothes?” 31 And his disciples said to him, “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” 32 He looked all around to see who had done it. 33 But the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came in fear and trembling, fell down before him, and told him the whole truth. 34 He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

35 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?” 36 But overhearing[g] what they said, Jesus said to the leader of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” 37 He allowed no one to follow him except Peter, James, and John, the brother of James. 38 When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. 39 When he had entered, he said to them, “Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.” 40 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. 41 He took her by the hand and said to her, “Talitha cum,” which means, “Little girl, get up!” 42 And immediately the girl got up and began to walk about (she was twelve years of age). At this they were overcome with amazement. 43 He strictly ordered them that no one should know this, and told them to give her something to eat.

*Where do we feel stuck, hopeless, afraid, think it is impossible, where have we been told "you can't"? The invitation is for us to reach out and rise up, because Christ first reached out and rose up for us…..

GOD’S STORY, OUR STORY: REACH OUT AND RISE UP

THE SWALLOW – INCARNATION

If you go to the Prado Museum in Florence, walk up the marble staircase, duck through the entryway and turn left, you will find yourself in room 56B, right across from a massive altarpiece from the monastery of San Dominico. In the center of the altarpiece is a painting of the angel Gabriel visiting Mary to tell her she will bear a son. It is The Annunciation by Fra Angelico. Have you seen this painting? Gabriel’s visit to Mary was a popular image in Renaissance art but this piece is different than the rest.

First, the scene was usually indoors, with Mary on a fancy throne. Severe and removed. Angelico brought it outdoors into the world. Also, most painters focused in on the two figures.  Angelico pulled out away from them and widened his lens to show the bigger salvation story. In the top left is the Garden of Eden. He is taking us back to the beginning, to the reason Christ would be sent to be born of Mary. The Fall. And look at this: just as Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden, the hand of God emerges from on high, reaching out to send the Holy Spirit slanting across the frame and across time toward Mary, just at the point that she says, “Let it be with me according to your Word.”

It’s an amazing piece. People always crowd around at the museum. But there is one detail not everyone notices: a small bird. Not the dove of the Holy Spirit but a different kind of bird. A swallow. We know nothing in Renaissance art is without meaning. So why a swallow? These are shy, independent birds that flit and streak through the summer sky in the evening. They often build their nest with mud. Sometimes they come among people and build in the eaves of houses.

Around the time of the Renaissance (before much was known about migration patterns) it was commonly believed that when winter approached and swallows disappeared from cities, they flew to nearby lakes and ponds to burrow down in the mud and hibernate until Spring. Because of this mysterious movement of coming down out of the skies into the mud, the swallow became a symbol of the incarnation of Christ. So Fra Angelico put that bird in his painting as a message: he’s saying that from the very beginning, God meant to send Christ to earth, as Eugene Peterson says, to “take on flesh and move into the neighborhood.” Jesus was sent to be with and among the people he would save. To build his nest in the mud.

JAIRUS AND THE WOMAN – SPEAKING OUT AND REACHING OUT

Jairus and the woman with the flow of blood saw this firsthand. These are two people from very different stations in life. Jairus was a leader of the synagogue, an elected position so he must have been a respected and prominent person. But in this story we find him powerless. I think it’s Homer who said “death is the great leveler.” It makes everyone equal. Jairus had discovered that respect and prominence were useless when it came to his daughter’s health. She was sick to the point of death and he could not fix it. He was stuck. So he abandoned dignity, cast himself at the feet of Jesus, and begged for healing. “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!”

Let’s put this in context: Jesus had become a public figure by this time because of his teaching and healing, so he was constantly surrounded by crowds clamoring for attention and he had these disciples with him who always wanted to protect him. He had just come across the lake on a boat. He was probably tired. Jesus could have easily kept on his way, flitting above the needs of the crowd saying, “I’m sorry, my time has not yet come.” But this is incarnation: he stopped and came down into the mud and the mess of the moment. I imagine him stooping over the man to lift him up, looking him in the eye. “I will come with you.”

In his book, Reaching Out, Henri Nouwen asks, “What if our interruptions are in fact opportunities…?” What if they are invitations to “a movement toward, a deeper engagement….” What if we saw interruptions as “occasions for a conversion of heart… which creates the inner space where a compassionate solidarity with our fellow human beings becomes possible”?

I wonder. What if the entire life of Jesus was one interruption after another? Jairus interrupted Jesus on the road, and no sooner had he turned to go with him (he couldn’t even take two steps!), than someone else came forward. This person was as different from Jairus as you could get. It was a woman. She seemed alone. She had suffered hemorrhages for many years, which made her “unclean” and untouchable in the eyes of her people. She was also poor because she had spent all her money on doctors. She was about as low on the scale as Jairus was high.

And yet, they had something important in common. They felt powerless. Stuck. Maybe you know what that feels like. They had come to the end of their rope and there was nothing they could do. Nothing except reach out to Jesus. I imagine this woman standing on the edge of the crowd, alone. And then she saw him. She had a wild idea. How could she get to him and touch him without contaminating the entire group? It was crazy. But she saw Jesus. And before she knew what she was doing she was pushing through, “don’t hold me back! I know what he can do.” She could see the back of his head. She was reaching out. Maybe she was so bold as to think that she would put her hand on his sleeve. She was rehearsing what would happen: he would turn to her, she would smile.

But just as her fingers brushed the edge of his robe he was jerked away in the chaos. A shudder ran through her body. Disappointment. And then wonder. Something was different. She could feel it. The pain was gone. The shame was gone. She felt good for the first time in years.  She thought about slipping away home, but Jesus stopped. And it happened again. He could have kept going, flitting above the needs of the crowd. But this is incarnation: he came down into the moment. He found her. And she fell on her knees to explain that when she saw him her heart lifted up out of the shame and loneliness and reached out to him. And then something happened in her body, and then something happened in her heart. I think he smiled as he lifted her up: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Do you remember two weeks ago Pastor Brian talked about the difference between healing and cure? This was both. The woman was made well inside and out. What should have happened was that her touch should have contaminated Jesus. Not only did it not contaminate him, but his touch made her clean. It healed her body and her soul. And then Jesus sent her out to share what she had received.  “Go in peace,” meant, “Be a person of peace. Make peace.” You have been restored… now make restoration.

THE LITTLE GIRL – RISING UP

We could probably end here. But Jairus is still waiting. While Jesus was speaking with the woman, some people came to tell him it was too late. Their words seem callous: “Your daughter is dead. Don’t bother the teacher anymore.” Ah, Jairus. Can you imagine his stomach sinking? What is it like to hope and then lose hope? The crowd is in chaos. They’re swirling around the woman. She’s laughing and talking. The disciples look impatient. And Jairus stands empty handed. Surely Jesus had forgotten him. But this is incarnation: Jesus came down into the moment. He turned to Jairus, looked him in the eye and said, “Don’t be afraid.”

Then he took three of his friends and went with Jairus to his home. I imagine it was a quiet walk. But as they got closer to the house they heard an uproar of weeping. It was so loud that when they got there Jesus had to raise his voice: “Why are you crying? The girl is sleeping.” He’s always telling a different story, isn’t he? And then he sent them away and took the girl’s parents and his disciples into the room where her body lay. She was so small; only 12 years old. You know he should not have touched her. A dead body was also unclean. But he took her by the hand and spoke the words that would give her life, “Talitha Cum.”

This phrase is usually translated from Aramaic to mean, “little girl, get up!” Talitha is a pet name for a child. In Dutch it might be “liefje.” Little dear one. But the Hebrew root of the word is “little lamb.” It’s the same word used by Isaiah when he prophesied about a new heaven and earth, when the former things will pass away, “and you will be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating, for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight…. no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime... Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb [the little lamb!] shall feed together… They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the Lord.”

This is a vision of the shalom that God intended back in the Garden of Eden, and it is the reason that even in the moment of the Fall God was reaching out to send Christ to be born of Mary. It is the reason Jesus came down to “build his nest in the mud.” He came to be with and among the people he would save so that he could restore all things to God’s design. “Little lamb, get up,” he said.

You’re probably not surprised to know the Aramaic word for “get up,” has a deeper meaning too. Its root is the Hebrew for “rise up.” As in the invitation from God through Isaiah, “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you.” (Isaiah 60) As in the conversation Jesus had with Martha about Lazarus, “your brother will rise again.” (John 11) As in the words of Paul, who said, “everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it [is written], “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Eph 5)

What Jesus said was not what parents say when they knock on their child’s door before the bus comes. It wasn’t, “Hey, it’s time to get up!” What he really said really was, “Little lamb, you whom I cherish, for whom I have great redemptive plans… rise up from the dead, rise up to new life. This is why I came down to you. I am making all things new.” And what do you think happened? I think that girl felt herself pulled upward, out of darkness and into the light. Out of heaviness and immobility into freedom and movement. Her eyes opened and she got up. She rose up. She started walking around.

OUR CALL – TO REACH OUT AND RISE UP

 “Do you not know,” Paul said, “That all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6)

It’s what we were created for. Do you feel it? I do. And I see it in you. Fellowship is a church of people who are walking in newness of life. I want to tell you, on a personal note, that it has been my honor to walk with you these four years. It was not easy to answer the call back to Canada, for a number of reasons. One is that I love you. We have followed Christ together. And I’ll miss you like crazy. You have loved me with glad and generous hearts, welcomed me into the family, and taught me how to be a pastor. I am deeply grateful.

Another reason it was not easy to answer the call back to Canada is that I have my own ways of getting stuck. Maybe we all do. Mine is fear. There’s a quotation by the author Annie Dillard that has haunted me for years. She says, “On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? …Ushers [at church] should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”

If I am honest, I love the idea that God is wildly and powerfully beyond our understanding, drawing us out into new life. But I get stuck by the thought that God might draw us out to where we can never return. I am afraid. What if God reaches out his hand to me, and I say “yes” and take it, and he draws me up and out into new and beautiful things that are beyond my systems of control? What if it’s lonely there? What if God asks me to do things I don’t want to do? What if I’m not good enough? What if I have to open myself up in uncomfortable ways? What if I have to let go of possessions? What if I have to leave my friends and family, my country? What if I have to leave you? And what if after I say “yes” to God, I am never able return to life as I know it now? I hold back because of fear. Everyone gets stuck by something.

But this is incarnation. Christ comes down into the mud and mess of our lives. He reaches out to us. “Little lamb, rise up,” he says. That is the invitation… to you, to me, to us as a church. He is drawing us outward. Pulling us upward, out of darkness and into the light. Out of heaviness and immobility into freedom and movement and life. You know, there is another reason Renaissance artists used the swallow as a symbol in their paintings of Christ. Because they believed that when swallows suddenly returned to civilization in the Spring, they had burst up and out of the mud, just as Christ burst up and out of the tomb. He who came down to be with us, who reached out to us and walked among us, also died and went down to the grave for us so that when he burst forth and rose to new life we would rise too.

It makes me think of the poet Maya Angelou: “I rise, I rise, I rise.” That’s how we are to live. We are the resurrection people. Do you hear it? The ones who, no matter how uncertain or stuck we feel, are invited by Christ to speak out, to reach out and rise up in the Spirit. And then we are sent out (“Go in peace”) to live a resurrection life, to join with Christ as he restores all things to God’s design. To live in such a way that our lives are a sign of the One who makes all things new.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen. 

Fellowship Church