Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Rev. Tutu's Sermon-June 28th at St. Mary's in D.C.

Mark 5:21-43

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

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.

I once saw a cartoon that showed a cow lying on its back its feet stuck straight up in the air. The caption read, “No, really, I’m fine!” That cow was an Episcopalian.

Clearly Jairus wasn’t an Episcopalian. Although he had status enough to spare he was not standing on ceremony. Here he was prostrate at Jesus feet pleading, not asking but pleading repeatedly for Jesus to come with him.

I don’t know what Jesus had on the agenda for that day. Perhaps a chance to gather with friends, maybe some time at the synagogue, after all he was just back in his home territory of Galilee after a trip across the lake into the land of the gentiles. But his fame had preceded him. He had been preaching and teaching and healing. Although he admonished those he healed not to say a word, clearly someone had said something because here he was, barely off the boat, and a crowd had gathered.

Here, in this crowd, Jairus fell at his feet. Jairus isn’t just anybody. He is described as a leader in the synagogue. That is a kind of biblical shorthand. It means that Jairus was a leader in the community and a wealthy man. “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands upon her so that she may be made well and live.” Perhaps it was that the plea was not offered on his own behalf that made it possible for the important man to so humble himself. There is no end to the kinds of discomfort we will endure on behalf of our children.

More than once, I’m sure, I have given my parents occasion to make a similar plea. One time that I heard my mother’s prayer it touched me deeply. The year I married I spent several months at home in South Africa with my parents. At the time my father was the Archbishop of Cape Town. I accompanied him and my mother on an archiepiscopal visitation to the diocese of Klerksdorp. On the Thursday of the visitation we went to the Mother’s Union meeting. The Mother’s Union is a organization similar to Daughters of the King a group of women dedicated to prayer and the ministry of marriage. The group met o Thursday because it was the traditional “Sheila’s day” (Sheila was the name that white employers gave to their black domestic workers because they could not be bothered to learn to pronounce their African names.) Thursday was “Sheila’s day” because it was the traditional day off for domestic workers. Not the weekend when the madam and Master might have need of her. Not Monday when she would be tasked with getting the household ready for the week, r Friday when she must ready the home for the weekend but Thursday so no one, but “Sheila” and her family would be inconvenienced. Most of the women gathered in that church made their living as domestic workers. A very few might be teachers or nurses, some were grandmothers and retirees but most cleaned houses, cared for other people’s children, cooked and did laundry for a living. I don’t know what message the women expected from my mother, a well educated world traveller and a very eloquent woman of deep faith. I don’t suppose they anticipated the prayer they heard from her. “I come to you not as the archbishop’s wife but as a mother like any mother. You see my child here. Soon she will marry and cross the sea to a land far from home. I ask you prayers for her and for her husband. I ask your prayers for us, her parents. Keep her under God’s guarding and guiding.” Like Jairus my mother went to Jesus as her first resort. Through all the joys, the sorrows, the tensions and turmoils of marriage I am comforted by the knowledge that my mother and that gathering of women of faith have prayed for our union, they asked Jesus to lay his hands upon it and keep it whole.

If Jairus and my mother came to Jesus as their first resort the woman with a flow of blood came to Jesus when she had reached the end of her rope. Jesus was her last resort. She had tried everything else and it hadn’t worked. Desperation drove her through that crowd. There are so few taboos in our society that it is hard for us to imagine the mixture of hope and anguish that made her take this risk. For twelve long years she had suffered with this flow. Twelve years and how many doctors had she seen? How much money had she paid? That piece is familiar, from our tabloids and news media or even from our own families and friends. We all know or have heard the stories of dwindling hope as patients travel the globe to try one treatment after another, “maybe this will be the one.” Sometimes it is. Often it is not. For twelve years this woman’s wealth had been consumed in the pursuit of a cure. In all that time she could have no place in the life of the community because she was ritually unclean. This day tasted like a jailbreak. She dared to step outside her house. She dared the walk to the shore with the crowd. Here she is hoping, praying, that no one sees her face, no one recognizes her. She is trying, despite the press of bodies, not to touch anyone, not to let anyone touch her. In a moment, there he is, Jesus. She reaches out her hand, Just a moment, just an inch, just a corner of his robe, and then...

Which calamity will finally force us out of the prison of shame and embarrassment and make us brave the crowd so we can touch Jesus? Some years ago, I think the first time I had taken a group to South Africa on a pilgrimage we worshipped on Sunday at a church my family often attends when in Soweto. It was a chilly rainy day and the church was packed, as was usual. International visitors often came to St. Paul’s because the worship was a rich sensory experience. The red and white of the acolyte’s vestments was softened by the thick fragrant smoke of incense. The polished wood of the cross and the brass of the candles gleamed through the haze. The service might have gone on for two hours. But it was two beautiful hours of polyphonic singing, dancing, clapping and prayers in many of South Africa’s eleven official languages. As the service drew to a close, the priest invited those with particular thanksgivings or petitions to come to the altar to ask the prayers of the church. There were the usual thanksgivings for an anniversary, for a piece of unexpected good fortune. There was a prayer for someone anticipating surgery. And then a woman stood to ask our prayers. “My son is in jail” she began. “He is charged with murder. I have no money for a lawyer. In January my daughter died. She was my only girl. She had AIDS. My husband couldn’t cope. He walked out of the house one day. He hasn’t come back. That was six months ago. I have come here with a heart so heavy. My burdens are so heavy I can’t lift them to Jesus.”

I don’t know if you’ve slid to the end of your rope. I don’t know if sickness or sadness has imprisoned you inside your own mind. Maybe your job has vanished or you home feels less like a slice of heaven than like a corner of hell. Maybe you are burdened in ways I can not even begin to imagine and you too are yearning to reach out your hand and touch Jesus. Maybe this is the day that you can not stand decorously through the prayers of the of people, this is the day that life has knocked you to your knees to plead. It’s okay, that’s why you’re here. This is not the country club where you are required to smile your brittle smile and intone the mantra “I’m fine!” This is the shore of Galilee where Jesus waits to lay his hands on your life and assure you that your faith has healed you and you can go in peace.

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