Sunday, October 28, 2012

Incarnation, Up Close and Personal

A Sermon Preached Today at 

Sts Anagyroi (Sts Cosmas and Damien) Cathedral Church, Nairobi, Kenya                    

Luke 8:41-56
            41And behold, there came a man named Jairus, and he was a ruler of the synagogue.  And he fell down at Jesus’ feet and begged Him to come to his house, 42or he had an only daughter about twelve years of age, and she was dying.
            But has He went, the multitudes thronged Him.  43Now a woman, having a flow of blood for twelve years, who had spent all her livelihood on physicians and could not be healed by any, 44came from behind and touched the border of His garment.  And immediately her flow of blood stopped.
            45And Jesus said, ‘Who touched Me?’
            When all denied it, Peter and those with him said, ‘Master, the multitudes throng and press You, and You say, “Who touched Me?”’
            46But Jesus said, ‘Somebody touched Me, for I perceived power going out from Me.’
47Now when the woman saw that she was not hidden, she came trembling; and falling down before Him, she declared to Him in the presence of all the people the reason she had touched Him and how she was healed immediately.
            48And He said to her, ‘Daughter, be of good cheer; your faith has made you well.  Go in peace.’
            49While He was still speaking, someone came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house saying to him, ‘Your daughter is dead.  Do not trouble the Teacher.’
            50But when Jesus heard it, He answered him saying, ‘Do not be afraid; only believe, and she will be made well.’  51When He came into the house, He permitted no one to go in except Peter, James, and John, and the father and mother of the girl.  52Now all wept and mourned for her; but He said, ‘Do not weep; she is not dead, but sleeping.’ 53And they ridiculed Him, knowing that she was dead.
            54But He put them all outside, took her by the hand and called, saying, ‘Little girl, arise.’  55Then her spirit returned, and she arose immediately.  And He commanded that she be given something to eat.  56And her parents were astonished, but He charged them to tell no one what had happened.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

The crisis is real; and if you have had children, it’s terrifying.  It happens so fast.  The parents are frantic.  Their only child, their dearest daughter is stricken.  Despite everything they do, she gets weaker and weaker.  Her life is slipping away.  She was the light in her father’s eyes, her laughter made her mother’s heart sing.  They can’t believe this is happening.  They are losing their little girl.  Their hearts are breaking.

The father, and his name is Jairus, thinks of Jesus.  Jairus is one of the synagogue leaders, and he was there in the Capernaum synagogue when the Rabbi Jesus electrified the congregation with his teaching, when he cast out that demon from that man.  Jairus was there when Jesus spent that long evening healing everybody who came with needs.  Jairus saw the leper that Jesus touched, and now he wasn’t a leper any more.  Jairus knew the paralyzed man, whose friends knocked a hole in the roof and lowered him to Jesus.  He saw with his own eyes when Jesus both forgave and then healed right there in front of everybody.  And the man with the withered hand, Jesus healed him right in front of everybody right there in the middle of synagogue.  Whatever you might think about Jesus, people were saying nobody could do the things he was doing if God wasn’t with him.  And Jairus found himself agreeing.

But now, his world was turning upside down.  His daughter was dying. And Jesus?  Where was Jesus?  Someone said he had traveled to the other side of the lake with his disciples. So he was gone.  There would be no help.  He tried to be strong for his little girl, he tried to be strong for his wife.  But his fear, his grief, his helplessness… 

And then he hears that Jesus has come back, a boat with him on board has just come ashore.  Jairus hurries to meet him.  But lots of people have the same idea.  Lots of people are running to the lake.  So many people.  Jairus is desperate.  He pushes and breaks through.  Jesus looks at him, and Jairus just throws himself down on the ground at Jesus’ feet.  Please, Jesus, our little girl.  She’s sick.  She’s dying.  Please, Jesus, you’ve helped so many people. Please, Jesus, please, come help her.  And the Rabbi agrees to come.  Jairus can hardly take it in.  Maybe his daughter will get well.  He gets up and they start to go.  But the way is thronged with people, and they can only go so very slowly.

But Jairus isn’t the only desperate person there.  A woman, whose period has not stopped bleeding for 12 years, whose flow of blood has made her unclean, unable to go to prayers, unable to enter anyone’s house, unable to go anywhere, a prisoner of her illness and of the laws against uncleanness, she too has seen Jesus heal.  So she’s come, secretly, probably veiled so no one would recognize her as being that unclean woman, she’s heard that Jesus is back and she is in the crowd, wanting just to get close enough to touch Jesus, even his robe would do.  And so she pushes her way through, up behind him and, there, she stretches out and grabs the edge of his robe.  And suddenly, she feels that the bleeding has stopped, her womb is made whole.  She feels healthy, restored, clean.  She starts to turn away when she hears the Rabbi call out, ‘Who touched me?’  Even his disciples laugh, because Jesus has been jostled and pushed every which way.  But Jesus has stopped and is insistent, ‘Who touched me?’  And she realizes that Jesus is asking for her.  So she comes.  And she tells her story.  And then Jesus does something of great importance for her – he publically declares her healed.  The community had declared her unclean, and now Jesus lets it be known that her uncleanness has been taken away and she came be restored to the community.  Jesus heals her body, but he touches her soul as well.

But Jairus is almost beside himself as he watches this go on.  He knew time was running out when he started.  His hopes had been raised.  But now, the message comes that every parent fears: ‘Your daughter is dead.  Don’t trouble the Teacher anymore.’  He just stands there, utterly lost, utterly bereaved.  Jesus says some things about believing, but he can hardly hear it.  He half expects some consoling words from the teacher, ‘So sorry for your loss.’  But Jesus presses on to his house.  Once there He asks all the mourners who have gathered in the big room and outside by the door to leave.  They laugh at him when he says that she is just asleep and that he had come to wake her.  He takes the dead girl’s mother and father to the room where her body lay, along with Peter, James and John.  And very simply, he takes her by the hand and says, ‘Little girl, arise.’  And her eyes opened, and she sees her mother and her father and she sits up, and she sees Jesus.  ‘Give her something to eat,’ says Jesus.  And by the way, don’t tell anybody what’s just happened here.

This passage is about the incarnation and what that means for each one of us.  God has chosen not to remain far away from us, but to come to us, to involve himself with us, with our world, with our lives. He hasn’t just sat on his throne on high issuing commands and threats.  Instead, he became a person, he lived as we live.  Not only does he transfigure humanity, but he meets each one of us right where we are.  He meets Jairus and his wife at the point of their desperation.  He meets the bleeding woman in the middle of her alienation.  And he comes to meet you. He comes to meet me.  Not because we somehow clean ourselves up and make ourselves better.  But right here, right now, right where we are, precisely in our own woundedness, precisely in our own dying.  Brothers and sisters, the incarnation means that we are not alone.

Secondly, the incarnation also means he really cares.  Jesus really loves you.  Jesus himself has come looking for you.  Like the good shepherd.  He leaves the 99 behind and comes looking for the lost little sheep.  He comes looking for you.  He comes looking for me.

Thirdly, because of the incarnation we no longer need to be afraid.  Everything arrayed against us, Jesus has gone before us and confronted.  All of our fears are ultimately rooted in our fear of death and all that that means.  But when Jesus became human, Jesus went all the way and embraced even our death.  And by dying, he took death upon himself and broke its power.  And by rising again he became the new Adam, and he became the door for us to enter into his new resurrection life.  So we can face our trials, our struggles, our sicknesses, our losses, knowing that none of these will have the final word over our lives.  The good news this morning is that Jesus will have the final word over you.  As St. Paul says, ‘What then can we say in response to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things…. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword [separate us from Christ’s love]?...  No in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.   For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus or Lord.’ (Romans 8:31-39)

When Jesus comes into our lives, to our circumstances, to our pain, to our brokenness, to our fear, he can make all things new.  Just ask the woman whom Jesus set free from her bleeding and from all of the stigma attached to it.  Just ask that little girl’s mom and dad.  Just ask the leper that Jesus touched.  Just ask the paralyzed man who stood up and took his mat and walked home.  Just ask the man who was no longer tormented by a legion of demons.  Just ask the prostitute who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears.  Just ask the thief dying on the cross next to Jesus.  When Jesus comes in, when we ask Jesus in, when we let Jesus in, things change.

Petrus Comestor's Bible Historiale, 1372

artist - Dinah Roe Kendall

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In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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