Calvary Episcopal ChurchPhoto of Peggy Gunness
Memphis, Tennessee
July 2, 2000
The Third Sunday After Pentecost

A Child, A Nation and Healing
The Rev. Margaret B. Gunness

Gospel: Mark: 5:22-24, 35b-43

My first mentor in the Episcopal Church was a kindly, curmudgeonly man who seemed to be old even when he was still young. He was the rector in the parish where I was confirmed and ordained, the person I then worked with both before and after my ordination and eventually replaced as an interim when he retired. He was a wonderful man. From time to time when he was preaching, he would go up into the pulpit and declare that a good Christian should go through life with the Bible in one hand and the New York Times in the other. Now, all his years of teaching me surely have had their effect, so I say the same to you this morning, but in honor of Memphis and of some of our newspaper parishioners here, I would say let's go through our daily life with the Bible in one hand and the Commercial Appeal in the other. The Bible is the news of God; it's called the Good News of God in Christ. The Times and the Appeal are the news of the world, of people and communities, politics, business and commerce. And sometimes it's good news, and sometimes it's not.

So today I'd like to play for a while with this juxtaposition. I'd like to look first at the Bible story that was read this morning of Jesus coming to heal the daughter of Jairus, and next at the news of this country of ours and of the national holiday we will celebrate this week, commemorating the birth of this nation. Sometimes I wonder if we've forgotten to be patriotic, or chosen not to be. So today let's intentionally recall both our love of God and our love of this land we inhabit.

First let's go look at the Bible's story of Jairus and his daughter. We don't know much about Jairus himself. But the single piece of information we do know is critically important - that he was "one of the rulers of the synagogue," a respected, powerful man, a leader among the Jewish people, one who was held in honor and in awe. He was recognized everywhere as a figure of prestige. And in the society of that time, prestige was the dominant value, a quality so important that people would commit suicide rather than forfeit it. So in light of that, look at what he was willing to do for the sake of his daughter whom he loved desparately. Suddenly Jairus was confronted with his need of a God who was more tangible and real than the God he had taught about and debated about in the Synagogue. A God of theory and of theology wouldn't do any longer. He needed the living God of power.

It has been said that the Kingdom of God is not so much for the well meaning as it is for the desperate, and that true faith is not so much theological as it is existential, born from the experiences of life -- not something learned, like a catechism, but something lived, like being born or falling in love or being forgiven.

So it is that Jairus, the father of a dying child, sought out the living God whom he found in this man named Jesus. And so I believe it is with us. We too often yearn for the palpable presence of God, and we stretch and reach out for God especially in our times of desperation. And at such times God comes to us, not just in theory or theology, but in living gifts, in powerful experiences -- experiences of forgiveness or healing or even in the blessing of death. Just as Jesus came to the child of Jairus, so Jesus comes to us and says to us in much the same way, "Come, stand up, be well."

So holding this story in mind, let's turn now and look for a moment at the news of today and at the upcoming birthday of our nation.Two hundred twenty-four years old she is; yet in the broad sweep of the history of civilization, that's not very old at all. I think we often tend to think of the nation as our parent -- the land that gve birth to us, older than we are, more experienced, care-worn and weary. And we are a generation of her children --independent-minded, often stubborn and determined to do things our way. But what if today we switch that around and look at her as our child, the fruit of the womb of the people, one whom we love desperately as Jairus loved his child desperately so that he was willing to forego all pride and prominence for the sake of her well being. His beloved child was suffering from an illness, and in many ways our beloved nation is suffering with a grave illness too. So often as we gather here for worship we pray for her healing, and I think that this story of Jairus gives us some insights on how that healing comes about.

Notice first of all that Jairus had the courage to ask Jesus outright to come and heal his daughter -- presumptuous some might say but necessary the scripture says. Ask for what you need, the story says, because in the very asking a bond is created that brings into relationship the truth of our need and the truth of God's power. This is the first step of God's healing.

Then notice that Jesus took Jairus and his wife with him into the room where the child lay. He was inviting them to become a part of the healing process -- an integral part of the response to their own prayer. His healing work was not to be done alone but with the help those who longed for it most deeply.

But then comes a puzzling, surprising part of the story. Jesus turned and charged the parents and the disciples who were there with him to tell no one of what had happened. He didn't want this miracle of healing to become a sensational event on the news circuits of the day. It was enough that he had saved the life of a child.

Then the final thing he does there in the house of Jarius is instruct those who were there with them to give her something to eat, for he desired that she continue to be nourished in her wellness and grow strong.

Yet how do you apply this Biblical story to the healing of this country, you may ask. Briefly I would say that first of all we to need to have the presumptuous faith of Jairus to ask Jesus to come, to come to this nation and to this world, and to heal us of the many ills that impoverish us, divide us and keep us from the vitality and leadership that we are capable of having. Then we need to be willing to stay when Jesus asks us to, to stay and to become an active and committed part of the healing process we are longing for. In the story, the healing comes when Jesus asks the one who was ill to stand up. I believe that the body of this nation as a whole will not long be able to stand up until all of its members can stand equally together. And in order for this to happen, all of the members of the nation need to have access to the things that will make them strong -- to a good education, good health, good work and good opportunities. And just as Jesus instructs the parents to get the child something to eat, so he instructs us to nourish the body of this nation so that it may be strong and alert and overflowing with vitality.

So think about these things this week as you celebrate the day of our nation's birth. Think about them as you see both the abundance and the scarcity that surround us. Think about them as you recall the past and as you envision the future. Think about them as you pray and as you work. And may the God who gave us this good earth also give us the courage, the wisdom and the will to honor and conserve it.


Copyright 2000 Calvary Episcopal Church

Gospel: Mark 5 22-24, 35b-43
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.

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. NRSV

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