Sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost – June 27, 2021
Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Do you ever feel like you are just hanging on by a thread? Maybe it is something physical, trying to stay one step ahead of a medical condition that is dragging you down. Maybe it is emotional, trying to keep your head above those anxious thoughts that are pulling on you. Maybe it is financial, trying to hang on when there is too much month at the end of the money. Maybe it is social, trying to hang on to relationships that are frayed down to the last wisp of thread. Maybe it is spiritual, trying to hang on to faith in Christ in a world that increasingly ridicules and even vilifies such faith. Maybe you are trying to hang on to hope in a time that has been very challenging for all of us.
Many of us – maybe all of us – know what it is like to be hanging on by a thread. In our gospel reading for today we meet some people who are hanging on by a thread – one of them quite literally!
First, we meet a father who is hanging on by a thread. He is experiencing every parent’s worst nightmare: a deathly ill child. Jairus was a leader in the synagogue, and his precious twelve-year-old daughter was fading fast. She was at the point of death. Who knows what they had tried so far to make her well, but you can bet they tried everything – but to no avail. Nothing worked. And so Jairus’ was hanging on to hope by the barest of threads, and in one last desperate attempt to save his beloved daughter, he put his hope in Jesus. This dignified, powerful, respected leader of the synagogue fell down on the ground at Jesus’ feet and begged him to come lay his hands on her, so that she would be made well.
Jesus was interrupted on the way to Jairus’ house – we’ll get to that in a minute – and so when he arrived, the girl had already died. Word got back to Jairus’ on the road that it was too late, his daughter was already gone. “Why trouble the teacher any further?” they said. They knew that there was no hope once death had taken hold! Dead people stay dead. What was the point of bringing Jesus to her now? But Jesus heard what they were saying, and said, “Do not fear, only believe.”
Jesus arrived at the house. There is a sound grieving people sometimes make that is devastating to hear. It is a wail or a groan that comes from somewhere so deep inside that it sounds almost unearthly. This was the sound Jesus heard as he made his way to the little girl’s room. There was loud wailing. Jesus asked the mourners why they were making such a commotion. “She is not dead, but is sleeping,” he said. They laughed at him.
And then Jesus went into this girl’s room. He went to her bedside and he took her by the hand. He spoke to her in her mother tongue. “Talitha cum,” he said, which means, “Little girl, get up.” And she got up.
When Jairus was hanging on by a thread, figuratively speaking, he put his hope in Jesus. And even in the midst of death and those deep groans of grief, Jesus brought life.
Today we also meet someone who was hanging on by a thread quite literally! As Jesus was making his way to Jairus’ home, he was interrupted by a woman who had pushed her way through the crowd in order to get close to Jesus. This woman had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. This was probably what today we would call menorrhagia, which is heavy and constant menstrual bleeding caused by cysts or tumors in the uterus. This was not only extremely uncomfortable and inconvenient, but often causes anemia, making one constantly weak and tired and listless. Her condition also meant she was likely single or divorced and childless, which put her in an extremely vulnerable position socially. And on top of all that, the constant bleeding made her ritually unclean, and so, not unlike the lepers of that time, she was expected to be socially distanced from others at all times. (People in Jesus’ time were socially distancing before it was the cool thing to do.)
Well, this woman didn’t socially distance that day, and she doesn’t seem to have been lacking energy either! This desperate woman pushed her way through the crowd to Jesus and took hold of his cloak. She believed that by simply touching his clothes she would be healed. And so she was literally hanging on to Jesus by a thread, by the hem of his garment. And as she hung on to that thread connecting her to Jesus, she was healed.
“Daughter,” Jesus said, “your faith has made you well.” It wasn’t that Jesus’ clothes were magic. She was healed because she put her faith in the right place, in the right person! She put her trust in him. It wasn’t the thread itself, but who it was connected to. “Go in peace,” Jesus told her, “And be healed of your disease.”
We often think of health and healing only in a clinical, physical sense. But Jesus did more than cure her menorrhagia. He did more than stop the physical bleeding. Jesus called her “daughter,” assuring her that she was a beloved member of God’s family. Jesus made her clean, even as he took her uncleanness upon himself. Jesus restored her to community and to life. Jesus gave her not only health, but peace.
This is what Jesus does for all of us when we put our faith in him. He calls us his daughters and sons, assuring us that we are beloved members of God’s family. He makes us part of a community and fills us with life and faith and hope. He makes us clean by taking our uncleanness upon himself. That’s what he was doing on the cross, where he bore in his own body all the sin, all the uncleanness, that separates us from God. As we fall before him, as we reach out and cling to him, Jesus sets us free and gives us peace.
Even in those times when physical healing doesn’t come, when it seems like Jesus is a day late and a dollar short, when it seems like all hope is lost, when death comes and the deep wailing starts, even then our Lord Jesus will be there to take us by the hand. He will speak to us gently in our mother tongue and call us up out of death and into new life with him.
At one time or another we will all find ourselves hanging on by a thread, a thread that seems frayed and weak and about to snap. But when that thread is connected to Jesus, it is a lifeline that will not fail.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer
Oak Harbor Lutheran Church