Cross of Grace

A community of grace sharing God's love with no strings attached.

Sunday Worship:
8:30am & 10:45am

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

12 Years A Slave and Then Some – Mark 5:21-43

Mark 5: 21-43

When Jesus had crossed again in the 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 pressed 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.

We preachers can barely keep up with the news these days. I mentioned last Sunday that I had no intention of ignoring the sadness and tragedy that happened in Charleston, South Carolina, the week before – that we would celebrate our graduating High School Seniors, as planned; that we would at least pray about Charleston and the Mother Emanuel AME church in our worship; that I would sit with the news of it, at least for another week, because sometimes silence and prayer and holding my tongue is better for me at times like this.

And while the country seems to have shifted already many ways, at least by the looks of my Facebook page and Twitter feed, to news of the Supreme Court decisions on Obamacare and Marriage Equality – even to reflections on how well President Obama’s eulogy appears to have wrapped things up in South Carolina – I don’t want to fall for the temptation to move on, as we are wont to do, or at least to be distracted away from, what is yet to be resolved or repaired or at least grieved fully enough – as far as South Carolina’s tragedy is concerned.

So here we are…a week and a few days later. I’ve watched my fair share of news about it all. I’ve read some things. I’ve been asked for my two cents. I’ve resisted suggestions to listen to or read what others have already preached. And I’ve prayed about where to go, what to do, what to say and how to say it.

And I deliberately didn’t choose a different Gospel for today, trusting there’s something in virtually every ounce of Jesus’ life and ministry that speaks to whatever we’re supposed to hear about issues of racism and hate and violence that did so much harm at the church two Wednesdays ago.

And Jesus, in the appointed Gospel for today, doesn’t disappoint.

First of all, this is a great time to say something I’ve said before: that the healing of sick and suffering people throughout the Gospels, is rarely just about the healing of any particular sickness or disease. In other words, Jesus doesn’t heal people simply for the sake of saving them a trip to the doctor, or to save them some money on their insurance deductable. Jesus heals people as a way of announcing that the Kingdom of God has arrived, and as a way of inviting people to live differently because of that good news.

Jesus heals unclean women, untouchable lepers, and blind, lame and deaf people, whose diseases were viewed as symptoms of their sinfulness in the eyes of God. So, Jesus heals these diseases as a way of loving others that society refuses to love – and as a sign and expression of the way God so loves the world. Jesus heals these diseases as a way of breaking down barriers; as a way of upsetting the apple-cart of society’s norms; as a way of changing how people like you and I are called to love one another.

So let’s let the woman in today’s Gospel – sick and hemorrhaging as she is – represent for us something in our midst from which we need to be healed. The disease from which we need healing, of course, is racism. It is a sickness in our spirit. It is an illness in our souls. It is a disease in our culture. And this woman’s 12 years of hemorrhaging have nothing on the centuries of sickness that have shed blood and lost lives and broken spirits the way racism has done in the United States and around the world, too. And the symptoms of our sickness are legion.

It is a symptom of our sickness that – true or not – one of the first things I heard about when moving to New Palestine was a rumor about why our High School’s mascot is a dragon.

It is a symptom of our sickness that one of my son’s friends told him, just three weeks ago, that he shouldn’t – could not, in fact – buy a certain sweatshirt, because the model wearing it in the advertisement was black.

It is sick that someone told me once, standing in our worship space, that he wasn’t happy with his new job because he had to work “colored man’s” hours. And it’s sick that I was too surprised and too timid to call him on that.

It is sick that a recent children’s Sunday school curriculum of the ELCA used, in one of its lessons, “Eenie, Meenie, Miney, Moe, catch a tiger by his toe…” (If you don’t know, or don’t remember, “Tiger” replaces the “N” word in this revised, politically correct version of that little ditty which, if you’re an African-American parent, grandparent, or Sunday School teacher, you would notice right away.) It was an oversight…and an accident…and it will be corrected…but it is a sign of sickness, just the same.

It is sick that the man who committed the crime last Wednesday, was a member of an ELCA congregation, and that two of his victims studied at one of our very own ELCA seminaries.

It is sick that African-American people have been expected to smile and nod and live in the presence of that flag – that flag – that some people pretend means heritage and history and Southern-pride, knowing full-well it means harassment and hangings and slavery, just the same.

It is sick that the white man who did what he did to those nine people in a church was arrested, and escorted around town in handcuffs and a bullet proof vest, while black men die in police custody for selling cigarettes; for driving with broken brake lights; or even for stealing cigars and resisting arrest.

It is sick that that white man in South Carolina killed twice as many Americans in just a couple of minutes than ISIS has killed in two years. And it’s sick that we’ve been convinced to be more suspicious and afraid of one of these ideologies than we are of the other.

We are a sick people, people.

Now, part of me hopes I’m preaching to the choir. I hope we can all see that the disease of racism in our culture affects us in large ways and small; in ways that are obvious and ugly and in ways that are too often subtle and unseen. But the problem with just preaching to the choir is there’s often no challenge or change to be had. (I overheard the coach at my sons’ basketball camp tell the kids on Wednesday, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”) And something needs to change, people. And I think it’s me, somehow. And I think it might be you, too.

We can sit through another Sunday, safe and sound in our little white church. And we can smile and nod our way through all of this – maybe even feel appropriately convicted for a spell. But where is the challenge here? How will the healing come? What will change finally look like, if we’re ever able to achieve it?

In the language of today’s Gospel, in other words, how will we stop the bleeding? And, how will we ever be raised from the death that our disease brings?

For my money – the hope and challenge of today’s healings are found in those who come looking for it in the first place. See, neither Jairus nor that hemorrhaging woman had any business coming to Jesus. The woman was just a woman – and an unclean woman at that. In her day and age, she had no place out and about in the world bumping up against the crowds or deliberately reaching out to touch another man, like she dared to do with Jesus. And this Jairus was a leader of the synagogue. He wasn’t supposed to be spending time with Jesus, either. He wasn’t supposed to be sharing space with or following around or listening to – let alone putting his faith and trust and hope in healing miracles from this knucklehead from Nazareth.

But for the woman, it had been 12 years for God’s sake. No other doctor had been able to help her or heal her. And for Jairus? His little girl was sick. Her life was at stake. These two were both desperate and afraid. They were both in need and out of options. Neither one of them could do anything but set aside all expectations; disregard all social norms; utterly, completely, wholly humble themselves. They couldn’t help but risk their safety, risk their pride, risk their lives, even, by coming to Jesus, so that he might help them.

And I think that’s just the first, small, hard, holy step we must take – that you and I must take – before we even begin to heal the disease and sin of racism in our lives and for this country. White people will have to humble ourselves utterly, completely, and wholly to own our part – past and present – in perpetuating the disparity that exists between us and people of color in our culture. I believe we have to admit … confess, really … that we enjoy – yes, that we enjoy – benefit from – take advantage of – our status as white people in this world.

As a rule, we make the rules – or we let the rules be made.  And the rules have been made, historically, to benefit us at all costs and at the expense of others. We make more money. We live in better neighborhoods. We have access to resources by virtue of our nation’s long, historical, chronic disease that separates white people from black people – in our communities, in our schools, in our prisons and in our churches. And until we’re ready to start giving that up or changing that reality, the least we can do is fall at the feet of Jesus, confess the truth of our diagnosis, and let God’s grace change us – change our behavior, change our choices, change our unfounded fears, and change our unholy self-interests.

Then…maybe…by grace and through faith…we can be healed.


All Rights Reserved. Background image by Aaron Stamper. © Cross of Grace Lutheran Church.