Trinity Anglican Church, Bradford, ON
The Rev. Daniel F. Graves
Text: Mark 5:21-43, Psalm 130
“Out of the deep have I called unto thee, O Lord; Lord hear my voice.”-Psalm 130:1
The secularized world in which we live may seem like it has forgotten God. For those of us who attend church, we may seem like strange creatures to our neighbours who have largely given up on church attendance, or never even attended church in the first place. Of course there is all the bad press the church gets over abuse scandals, churches closing due to declining attendance, or the unveiling of our divisions over controversial issues. There are many who look on and say they don’t want any part of a community that professes to believe in God, but does such bad job representing him to the world. Finally, there are those who have not been raised in any faith tradition at all, and for whom God is simply a fairy tale. It may seem as the world has forgotten God, if ever it even knew him.
This may seem to be the case, although time and again I get signs that it is not actually the case. It is not true. For you see, I have come to the firm conviction that our world is longing and thirsting to know the living God. People may not necessarily know what it is that they are seeking. Often it is meaning in their lives. Perhaps they are very successful and something is missing. Perhaps a child has come along and new life has opened up a new wondering for about the mystery and purpose of life. Perhaps someone near and dear has been lost and the soul is crying out for hope in the midst of loss and meaning in the midst of meaninglessness.
I find myself encountering each of these kinds of people, and many, many more, on a regular basis. When a life change comes, it is often as if a fire is kindled in the soul, the flame may be small, but is has been kindled. When crisis comes, it may burn with rage, and then threaten to quickly go out. The words of the psalmist come to mind, “Out of the depths, I have called to you O Lord, hear my voice!” The one who has lost their faith, or had no faith to begin with, may find themselves astonished to hear these words coming from the mouths. And yet, how many, when faced with a challenging moment, a life-changing moment, or a moment of crisis have called to the Lord in need, not sure even if they believe in him.Our soul thirsts for the living God.
St. Augustine famously wrote, “You have made us for yourself O Lord, and our souls are restless until they find their rest in thee.” It seems to me that two of the characters in today’s gospel might know something of this longing. The first is the leader of the synagogue, Jairus, who pleads with Jesus to help him as his little daughter has fallen ill and is at the point of death. Jairus repeatedly begs and implores Jesus to come and lay hands on her. Though we know little about Jairus, we assume he was a faithful Jew of his community, being the leader of his local synagogue. How many of us, though, are faithful Christians and yet really act as if we don’t need God in our lives? I like to imagine Jairus as that faithful believer who yet had become somewhat complacent in his faith. It took the illness of his daughter to really pour himself out, to come to Jesus in great vulnerability, to plead with Jesus to save her. It took a tragedy for him to come to God for help.
The second character is the woman with the issue of blood that had gone on for many years. She had tried everything. She had been to every doctor, she had tried every quack remedy, and she was not well. She heard Jesus was coming, and as with so many of us, reaching out to God is her last resort. When all else has failed, perhaps God can help me, we think. Of course, we know it should be the other way around, but fools that we are, we try everything else first. We look on prayer as the last resort. And so, she thinks, if only I can touch the hem of his garment.
Both Jairus and the nameless woman reach out in faith, even if their faith was weak.
What is faith? It is taking a risk. It is being vulnerable before the one who created the universe, who created us, and in whose hands our fate rests. It is easy to pretend he doesn’t exist. Perhaps we are afraid of his power, but more likely, we are afraid of ourselves. We are afraid that if we come to the one who knows us best, our deepest fears, insecurities and sinfulness will be unmasked. We hide ourselves from the one who knows us deeply whether we wish it or not out of fear that our deepest secrets will be known. In hiding from him we are hiding from ourselves.
And yet, when we approach him, when we kneel before him, what do we encounter? Is it fierce judgement or wrath? Is it condemnation? Do our mistakes and our sins define us and condemn us? No. As we open ourselves in vulnerability, we are met with compassion, we are met with love, we are met with mercy. We are met with the words, “your faith has made you well!” We are met with the words “Get up!” and we are fed with good things.
Jairus and the woman reached out. They took a risk. For Jairus, it was a moment of crisis and threatening loss, for the woman, it was a lifetime of pain and isolation that she could no longer bear. Each of them reached out, took a risk, took the leap of faith.
It seems to me that people have a longing for the living God. The stories of Jairus and the woman with the issue of blood are not foreign stories. People in every age are met with crisis. People in every age come to the ends of their ropes. People in every age; in this age, whether or not they believe, respond to a spark that is kindled in times of need, and cry out, “Help me Lord!” and murmur, “if only I could touch the hem of his garment!”
On a recent hospital visit I passed a young man with Down’s syndrome who was with a young lady, his sister as it turned out. I had been visiting a parishioner and was getting a cup of tea before I left the hospital. They smiled as we passed each other. Then I felt a tap on my shoulder. They man and woman had come back, and the young lady introduced me to her brother, who said he wanted to ask me something. He said to me, “can you please pray for my mother who is very sick?” I said of course I would, and in fact, we prayed together in that moment for his mother.
On another occasion I was visiting my own father at Sunnybrook after one of his many back surgeries. My mother and I were walking along and a woman and teenage boy stopped me. “Are you a priest?” they asked. I responded affirmatively. The woman told me that her husband was dying and wondered if I could come up and say a prayer for him. So I asked my mother to wait for me and I went with them and offered prayers in his room.
In both cases, it took a lot of courage, a great deal of vulnerability, and the spark of faith to reach out to someone they didn’t know to ask for prayers for those they loved. God plants the seed of faith in our hearts, though. God offers courage when it seems impossible to stir it up. God offers strength when we are weak and vulnerable. And most beautifully and wonderfully, God offers hope in the midst of crisis.
These are but a couple of examples of people reaching out. It is one of the reasons I wear the collar so much in public. God only knows when people’s hearts will be stirred, but many people today don’t know how to reach out to God. The role of the church is to be open to those who may be so stirred, to be attentive to those calls for help and those crying for hope. It is our role to be present as a way of proclaiming that God is indeed with them, that God is loving and merciful, and that God hears their prayers and will not leave them alone.
People are seeking God, people are longing for God. Those of the 1960’s who proclaimed God dead are wrong. The modern radical atheist movement that claims there is no God is wrong. God is not dead. People are reaching out to God, but more importantly, God is reaching out to them, and to us. There is a holy longing taking place in this world. God longs for his people and his people long for him. May we have the grace to recognize the holy longing of God and the holy longing of his people and choose to be a part of this wonderful story and hope-filled story of grace.
c. 2012, the Rev. Daniel F. Graves