When our girls were little we had this bedtime ritual where I’d ask them for some nouns and verbs then I’d turn it all into a story. So I might end up with a kid named Alex, a cow, a coral reef, a papaya, an airplane and some laughter. The girls loved it, loved the unexpected twists and turns that the story would take. I, however, came to dread what I’d created. It’s no small chore to come up with a story on the spot with a beginning, middle and end, with a challenge to overcome or a new insight to be gleaned and do all that while desperately trying to remember what animal and mode of transportation needed to be included this time. When I did manage to put my own story telling anxieties aside I noticed that the kids didn’t actually need the story to be anything in particular. It didn’t even really need to have a point. It’s like the story itself was enough.
We’ve memorialized our stories in the Christian tradition. Look around at the glorious stained glass windows of this building. There, larger than life, are the stories of our sacred texts and down below the stories of our colonial history. They’re stories that are important to remember. But let’s not forget that these stories, literally enveloping us, were made for the light to shine through. We can try to capture them in the glass but stories never stay the same because we read them from a particular vantage point, in a particular moment in time, with all of the other stories we know reaching for the hem of garment of this one.
Mark tells the story before us today in so much detail that some have wondered was he really there? Or did he talk directly to someone who was? “It has the ring of an eyewitness account,” says pastor and theologian Frederick Buechner. These are the kinds of stories that have more to teach us in the way they flow over us and seep into us than in the way we try to explain and theologize about them.
Come with me, for a few minutes to the other side, the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which of course is not a sea at all but a big lake, but of course that doesn’t really matter. Jesus’ boat docks on the other side, near Capurnaum, where fishing is the livelihood of choice or of necessity as the case may be. Arriving on the other side, greeted by the smell of fish, gutted and cleaned and laid out drying lakeside; met by the sight of a crowd, fishers and whatnot, bare footed dusty children, all there because they’d heard about him and come to see for themselves or maybe there just because what else are you to do in fishing village in the first century. Jesus is the event, the only event, so why not come out and see for yourself.
Jesus and the boys get out of the boat and the crowd closes in and he starts to walk and the crowd presses in. We’re not told his intended destination, maybe the local hostel or a friend’s home to grab a meal, but no matter, before he ever gets there the story takes on a direction all its own.
He hasn’t gone far when Jairus, a synagogue lead, lays his body down at Jesus’ feet. Who knows how he managed to find his way through the crowd, maybe people cleared the way because they knew how desperate he was or maybe he was just important and people moved aside out of some societal sense of respect. But he doesn’t look all that important as he genuflects at the foot of this stranger. He’s been stripped of any pretense. In this moment the only story that is true about him is the one about a desperate father. Which may explain why he pleads “my little daughter is at the point of death.” She’s twelve, not actually so little anymore, more of a young woman on the threshold of adulthood, about to be launched into the next phase of life and maturity and possibility if not for the fact that she’s dying. But when you’re the heartbroken, desperate parent your kid becomes little again, the little being you first fell in love with and promised to protect and care for all those years ago.
“Who knows what kind of story Mark is telling here, but the moving part of it, I think, is the part where Jesus” looks Jairus in the eye and goes with him: doesn’t assess just how sick she is, doesn’t make him fill out paper work, doesn’t add her to the waiting list, or compare her to all the others waiting for healing. And Suddenly we ourselves are Jairus, worried beyond belief, overcome with that desperate feeling that you have to do something, and you’re met for what feels like the first time by an opening door, a hand of compassion, where everything you’ve been fighting falls away and now there is hope, and it’s not so much that the way forward has suddenly become clear, as it is the way your heart knows you’re not alone, there is a power in this universe that desires so very much for you, that’s want you to know life again
Jesus has no sooner said, show me the way to your daughter, than someone else just as desperate as Jairus, though with far less money or power, comes up from behind and reaches for the hem of his robe. She doesn’t care that the rules say anyone she touches will become as unclean as she has been for twelve years. She doesn’t care about the rules, she’s desperate and so she reaches out, not waiting for anyone to lay hands on her, taking matters into her own hands. He stops and abruptly turns and demands to know who just drew that power from him? The disciples take the approach of the level-headed realists and remind him that the whole crowd is pushing in, how could they possibly know who touched him?
“Who knows what kind of story Mark is telling here, but the moving part of it, I think, is the part where Jesus” looks in the eye of the woman who has suffered from hemorrhages for twelve years as she lays herself at his feet. He looks her in the eye and says “daughter, your faith has made you well.” And suddenly we ourselves are that nameless woman, and we realize our faith is not something that gives us all the answers, or makes our lives safe and easy, it’s not something we cling to as we hide away hoping things will get better. Our faith is one step in front of the other, pressing through the overwhelming crowd, reaching out for what we need, being bold enough to claim the life we know we were born to live in order for the bleeding to stop.
While Jesus is still speaking to the nameless woman some friends run up to announce that it’s too late, Jairus’s daughter is dead they say, don’t waste the time of the teacher. And Jesus looks Jairus in the eye, and reaches out a hand, gently placing it on his arm and says “Don’t be afraid, only believe.” And he makes his way to the home of that synagogue leader. And he sees the crowd outside the house weeping and wailing and he says to them “The child isn’t dead, just sleeping.”
“Who can say for sure what exactly Jesus did in that house where Jairus lived or how far down into the darkness he had to reach to do it, but in a way who cares any more than her mother and father can have cared. That was all that mattered.”
Pastor and Theologian Frederick Buechner says of the little daughter
I picture her looking something like the photographs we have of Anne Frank a wry, narrow little Jewish face full of irony and wit and a kind of bright-eyed exhilaration; I picture how it would be to have the child that was Anne Frank back again somehow, the way she was before the gates of the concentration camp closed behind her. I picture how one way or another, if such a thing were to happen, we would all of us fall to our knees. The whole world would fall to its knees.
“Who knows what kind of story Mark is telling here, but the enormously moving part of it, I think, is the part where Jesus takes the little girl’s hand and says, “Little girl, get up”—and suddenly we ourselves are the little girl.”
Little girl. Old girl. Old boy. Old [ones] with high blood pressure and arthritis, and young [ones] with tattoos and body piercing. You who believe, and you who sometimes believe and sometimes don’t believe much of anything, and you who would give almost anything to believe if only you could. You happy ones and you who can hardly remember what it was like once to be happy. You who know where you’re going and how to get there and you who much of the time aren’t sure you’re getting anywhere. “Get up,” he says, all of you—all of you!—and the power that is in him is the power to give life not just to the dead like the child, but to those who are only partly alive, which is to say to people like you and me who much of the time live with our lives closed to the wild beauty and miracle of things, including the wild beauty and miracle of every day we live and even of ourselves.
The woman was healed. The child lives. Things don’t always work out that way.
I’m not sure what to say about that. I don’t think these stories were told to explain that.
I don’t think they’re intended to be an exact blueprint of how to be healed. I don’t think they were told to shame all those who don’t have the courage to push through the crowd, who can’t stop the bleeding, who never get raised up.
And I wonder if maybe a story like this one with a couple of miracles and a big crowd gathered by the sea, with a whiff of an eyewitness tone might just be most useful to us today in the way it can touch our senses, more than our minds.
The life-giving power that is at the heart of this shadowy story about Jairus and the daughter he loved, is at the heart of all our stories, the power of new life, new hope, new being, and whether we know it or not, it keeps us coming to places like this year after year in search of it. It’s the power to get up even when getting up isn’t all that easy anymore and to keep getting up and going on and on toward whatever it is, whoever he is, that all our lives long reaches out to take us by the hand.
Sometimes I wonder if we settle for stained glass Jesus stories, transparent, frozen in time, two-dimensional stories; instead of the eyewitness account stories.
I don’t really mean that as a judgment on any of us, just a bit of an observation.
I mean, Jesus is what makes Christians Christian. But sometimes I’m not sure we know what to do with him. Because when he reaches down to the depths to pull us back, well it’s a lot! Sometimes we’re healed and sometimes not but one thing is sure, Jesus is always reaching a hand to those who, in this moment, are the most vulnerable, even you. Amen
 http://www.frederickbuechner.com/blog/2018/6/25/weekly-sermon-illustration-jairus-daughter I am indebted to the writing of Frederick Buechner for this sermon. I have borrowed liberally from his words in Secrets in the Dark and trust that what I have added to them upholds the same Spirit to which he was reaching.