Sunday, June 28, 2009

Faith enough to chose life?

Mark 5: 21-43
The national news recently reported that men were 70 per cent more likely to die from cancers that affect both men and women. Apparently there are "no known biological reason" why men should be more likely to develop cancer and die. The researchers were forced to conclude that "stereotypical" male behaviours, such as down-playing early symptoms and not visiting the doctor, could be to blame. Men would rather risk death, it would seem, than go to the doctor when they are sick.
I wasn't surprised by the news, and not just because I'm married – but because I recognise the symptoms. In my experience, however, this is not a problem which is confined to men. I find that both men and women are, on the whole, reluctant to do something about things that really matter to them – even when they know that they can, that they really should, that there is no reason why they don't... Fear, and apathy with a large dash of insecurity all shaken together make a deadly cocktail, but it's one which most people drink daily. And as a minister, I have to deal daily with people who slip embarrassingly into death, often for no more good reason than that they believe that they are not really worth life. It is the greatest source of grief and frustration that there is.
I am come, says Christ, that you might have life, and have it in abundance.. but we cannot bring ourselves to believe it. Or, if we do, we believe it only refers to life AFTER death, and not to 'real' 24/7 life here on earth. The life that Christ offers is Sunday life, religious life, the Spiritual life, it has nothing whatsoever to do with cancerous life, menopausal life,suicidal life,painful nauseating gut-wrenching bone aching arthritic rheumatic life – now does it.
YES it does... I am come says Christ, that you might have life in all its fullness. And these two stories sandwiched together in Mark's gospel tell us this. There is more going on here than a pair of miracles, there is so much more being said and done than God waving a magic wand and making a chosen few better.. This is an account of HOW life in all its fullness can be seized and it is written to pose one simple question – what will it take for you to seek out God and choose life?
At first glance the answer might seem to be simple
For Jairus, it was love of his daughter, for the woman, relief from her haemorrhage.. but there is much more going on here than this.
We re told that Jairus was one of the leaders of the synagogue – these are the same people who will shortly condemn Jesus to death. He would have had to risk scorn, ridicule and perhaps even censure for coming and asking Jesus for help leave alone falling at his feet and begging for it.. but even more spectacular is the person he wants healing for – a 12 year old daughter - In today's touchy feely world, we see nothing wrong in a father's deep love for a daughter, but in the time of Christ a daughter was of lower value even than a slave (which is probably why the other gospel writers re-wrote this story so that it is a centurion's slave rather than a synagogue leader's daughter who is raised from the dead)
The very idea that a leader of the synagogue would go begging for help from a street healer, a dissenting rabbi for the sake of 12 year old daughter was laughable.. remarkable.. revolutionary and revelatory.. Here was someone seeking Jesus, for the sake of a person of less worth to him and society than a field slave.. but someone who, by virtue of their age and their gender, carried within them the potential for new life. I doubt he would have ever sought help for himself, but Jairus was prepared to Jesus for the sake of someone else.. Though it was odd for the time, though it undoubtedly baffled everyone, including the later gospel writers, Jairus evidently believed enough in the worth of another human being, in their potential, to overcome his own pride, social conditioning, fear and apathy, to seek out Jesus and to chose life.
And what of the woman whose story is sandwiched in the middle of this greater narrative? Even in these days of sanitary towels and tampon adverts on the TV, the truth is we are still uncomfortable for the most part with the very idea of periods, or women's troubles being mentioned from a pulpit. There are some things that are just not talked about in polite society, even though the silence that we build up around them kills hundreds and thousands of women each year.. this woman was not just ill, she was made outcast from society and from the community of faith by this complaint. She was not allowed in the temple to worship, she was in the Jewish tradition – unclean – and so as good as dead to her family and faith. Yet, she had enough belief in her own intrinsic worth to risk reaching out. She knew she could be stoned for touching a man, a rabbi even she knew she was risking death by seeking life – and so reasoned with herself - “If I but touch his clothes”.. for her – life in all its fullness was worth the risk of being found out.. She believed in her own worth – even when her society didn't. And her faith, her belief that she had value, that God made her for life not death, gave her the life that she sought. Daughter your faith has made you well.. go in peace.
Her faith and the faith of Jairus was not faith in Jesus as a miracle worker – it was faith in the value of life over death, it was faith in the worth of all humanity in the eyes of God, regardless of what society or even religion says.
They believed enough that God offers life – to seek it out and touch it, or be touched by it.
But what of us.
God chooses Life – time and time and time again – for everyone – regardless of whether society or religion says they are worth it. Jesus did not demand that either Jairus or the woman confess their sins before life was given, all he asked was for Jairus to believe in life, and to have no fear. Jesus did not give life based on his judgement of whether or not Jairus was a good man, or the woman a just woman, for 'God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world.' and the gospel is not about judging people and persuading them that they are not worthy. For God so loved the world – that he came to give them life – life in all its fullness, that God's joy might be complete.
Christ walks our world today in the skill of the surgeon, in the care and compassion of the nurse, and the hospital staff, in the love and listening commitment of the counsellor, the grace and compassion of the minister and the love and fellowship of the neighbour. Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, in the name of life of love and of hope, Christ is present, and tries to remind us 'lo I am with you always'. Repeatedly he tells us cast your cares on me, for I am gentle and humble in heart says Christ and in me you will find rest for your souls. Seek out God and choose life.
Through Christ we can find enough faith in God's love and purpose for us to know that life is meant as a gift not a punishment, that it is meant to be enjoyed, not lived out as a death sentence. In Christ we can find enough faith in our own intrinsic self-worth to act when we need to, to seek help when we should - to look for miracles and expect them, from family, friends, from God, from doctors and nurses.
Christ is calling us and saying

You are a child of God – you are worth ten minutes of a doctors time
You are a child of God – you are worth a phone call to the consultant
YOU are a child of God – you are worth the support of a friend in times of need

God values life above death, hope above fear, action above apathy and you above all else. That is the message that Christ came to share – that is the truth of the Gospel – to each and everyone of us God says - you ARE worthy – for you Christ died and rose again so that you would know that you are to have life now, not just after you have died – your life with God doesn't begin when you are dead, but when you are born -
All this for you – because yes – you ARE worth it.

So I ask again – what more will it take for us to seek out God – and choose life?

No comments:

Post a Comment