|A Teaching Moment Sermon at United Ministry of Aurora, NY – June 28, 2015|
Let’s reflect on today’s lessons. The Bible is a teaching book. It is not a history book. It is not a science book, although it contains information about the structure of the physical world, about human nature, economics and sociology. It is not a philosophy book, although it contains questions and explanations about the nature of reality and perception.
In fact, the Hebrew word for the Bible is, “Torah,” which means “teaching.” Jews believe one Creator created the Universe and established operating principles by which the Universe works.
We sometimes misuse the word, Laws, or Commandments as if these were rules or regulations passed by Congress. Sir Isaac Newton described the Laws of Thermodynamics and the Laws of Motion. He did not enact them. These Laws describe immutable operating principles of the Universe. And God wants us to know and act in accord with them. Not just the physical laws, but the moral laws, emotional laws, and spiritual laws. Yes, everything that goes up must come down, every action or thought meets with an equal and opposite reaction, what goes around, comes around. For example, the measure by which we measure out will be dealt back to us.
When the Bible was composed, humans were barely human. So the operating principles are described in terms humans could understand at the time. Humans worshipped stones, trees and carved idols. Our lives were surrounded by predators, food scarcity, terrifying weather and hostile other humans. Every day was filled with fear, threat and uncertainty. God appeared to Abraham and then Moses giving difficult but simple instructions.
As time went on, we grew and were ready for more instruction. The Prophets explained these instructions, the operating principles of the Universe, at a higher level. And, centuries later, when the time was right, God himself took on human flesh and made the operating principles even clearer. So I think of the Bible as a User’s Manual for Human Beings.
This morning’s New Testament lessons are a good example. The Bible teaches us at several different levels, or layers, all at the same time, using the same words. The first level is the story level, and the story is this: On the way to help Jairus and his dying daughter, a woman touches the fringe of Jesus’ clothes and gets miraculously healed. Jesus shows up at Jairus’ house, tells the women, weeping because the girl is dead, that she’s not dead, just sleeping. The women laugh at him. He calls the girl to get up, she does, and Jesus says give her something to eat. That’s the story. What else is there to learn?
There’s far more to the world than visible, physical stuff. The Universe is complex. To teach us about life, causality, eternity, infinity and purpose, the Bible starts off with simple stories and instruction we can all understand at the surface level. But, the same teaching goes both higher and deeper the more we read it and pay attention to what it’s teaching us. Jesus was a teacher, not a doctor. In a way he was sort of an itinerant physics professor. Metaphysics as well as physics.
Let’s go back to the story scene in context. Jesus had just returned from across the lake. A crowd of Jews surrounds Jesus as he arrives at the lakeside. A sick girl’s father, Jairus is an upstanding Jew, a leader of the local synagogue, an Elder. Jairus recognizes Jesus is for real, the long-awaited Messiah. Jairus throws himself down at Jesus feet and pleads with him to come lay hands on his dying daughter and heal her. Jesus goes with him. And, the whole crowd of spectators and paparazzi swarms along with them.
Suddenly, out of the crowd, a sick woman, suffering for twelve years, reaches out to touch Jesus. Why? She believes, she firmly expects, that if she could just touch Jesus clothing, she will be healed. At her touch, two things happen. She immediately knows she’s healed, freed from twelve years of suffering. And Jesus immediately knows an electrifying connection of faith happened between himself and a believer.
Jesus stops and says, “Who touched me?” The disciples wonder why he asks, because he is in the middle of a crowd. Jesus knew this was a different kind of touch. Someone reached out and took an action of faith and expectation, believing, and really touched him. Not an accidental brush. Not a fan reaching for a rock star. Not a religious duty. This was a connection of power and belief. The woman separated herself from the crowd and touched Jesus’ fringe in expectation. This suffering woman went from just being part of the crowd, to taking a risky action in faith. And she was made whole.
But, she became afraid. Was this right? Had she overstepped, sinned against her religion, against Jesus? Trembling, she confesses to Jesus what she has done. Jesus’ response? “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”
Suddenly, runners from Jairus’ house dash up. “Your daughter is dead, why bother the Teacher anymore?” Jesus, overhearing, tells Jairus, “Do not be afraid. Just believe.”
Jesus tells the crowd to stay put, and goes to Jairus’ house. Jesus hears the crying and wailing at the house and says, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.” The women laugh at Jesus. Jesus puts them all out of the house and with the girl’s mother, father and three disciples, goes in to the girl’s room. Jesus takes her by the hand and says gently, “Talitha khoum.” Little girl, get up. Immediately the girl stands up and begins to walk around. All are astounded. Jesus directs them to not tell anyone what happened, and, very important, give the girl something to eat. Then Jesus leaves and goes home to Nazareth with his disciples.
I said these were teaching moments. So let’s take a deeper look at this teaching. The woman who had been suffering for twelve years is everybody who is spiritually hungry. Twelve is a number of completion. Twelve tribes, twelve apostles, twelve baskets with loaves left over, twelve gates of New Jerusalem. Why sick? The spiritually hungry know their need for direct contact with God. She presses through the crowd and takes the risk of personally reaching out – touching the previously untouchable. Until now, God was hidden away in the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem Temple, inaccessible to anyone but the priests. No man but the high priest could enter directly into the Presence, and then only with great caution. But a woman, the new church, thrusts herself through the veil and touches the holy. Blasphemy! But, this is what God now wants. Humanity is now ready for direct contact with the Holy.
The woman is made whole. “Your faith has healed you.” Being made whole, she is now able to “Go in Peace.” Peace is wholeness, integrity, having it together. When we wish each other Shalom, Peace, we are not just hoping we are spared by terrorists. We are wishing each other wholeness of mind and healing of soul. In our lesson, the people had not been whole, not been at peace for a fullness of time. Now this woman’s risky action of faith, reaching out to make personal contact with God has made her whole. What a powerful teaching message to the new Church!
How about the sick little girl who was thought to be dying? She’s asleep, not dead. Think of this metaphor as describing the Church then and the Church today. This Jewish daughter of Zion had been, like Judaism at Jesus’ time, symbolically asleep all her twelve-year life, and it is now desperate. The Hebrew name Jairus means, “God enlightens.” Enlightened by God, Jairus realizes Jesus is the Messiah. He goes to Jesus for help for the household of Israel, God’s Church. The household is in full lamentation for the death of Zion, the daughter. The household doesn’t realize it is now morning. Jesus has come. Weeping tarries for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. Jesus comes. It is morning. It’s time for the sleeper to awaken.
But, does the Church believe? No, the little girl is dead. The wailing and weeping women laugh at Jesus. They do not believe that with God, all things are possible. Jesus dismisses the unbelievers, and with the believing parents and disciples only, Jesus reaches out and gently speaks to the sleeping girl – and symbolically to the whole house of Israel, to his sleeping Church, and to us in America today, “Talitha khoum.” Little girl, get up. Sleeper awake.”
We hear this teaching. Today’s Church is sleeping. Faith is dormant. People pray weakly, by rote, if at all. We wander around in a stupor of news about ISIS, under-employment, economic stagnation, poor or corrupt leadership. Our Gods are Fox News and CNN. Jesus calls us to “wake up.” Stand up and walk, awake from our unbelieving stupor, our sleep. Then, after the girl was awakened and stands up, Jesus commands, “...give her something to eat.”
How do we give ourselves and the awakened Church something to eat? We look to another part of Scripture for Jesus’ answer. In the Gospel of John, Jesus feeds the disciples a breakfast of fish and bread by the lakeshore. After breakfast, Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me, Peter?” Peter replies three times, “You know I do, Lord.” Most of us misremember the conversation. Each time Jesus gives Peter a different instruction:
“Feed my lambs”, “Tend my sheep”, “Feed my sheep.” Three distinct answers. There is an important progression as Jesus instructs Peter, and all his Church for all time – and us today. “Feed my lambs”, “Tend my sheep”, “Feed my sheep.”
First, Feed my lambs. Lambs are babies. We feed Jesus’ lambs by teaching the basics of the Gospel message to our children and our family and our friends. Introduce them to the foundations of our Christian faith, teach them about trust in our Lord.
And finally, Feed my sheep. As we are taught in Hebrews: Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity… Once Jesus’ sheep are healthy, strong and growing, it’s time to move on from teaching the simple milk, the ABC’s of our faith. Learning doesn’t end at Confirmation, or when we graduate from Sunday School. We need to continue feeding on God’s Word as adults. Working especially with the Bible as a teaching book, our Operating Manual. The invisible and unseen is as real or more so than what we see. The power of God’s Word can transform us into adopted children of God, co-heirs with Jesus. God’s Word teaches us how to get in tune with this power. Leaning on our church, our faith communities and our scriptures, like the woman in today's reading, every day, reaching out to our God directly in faith and expectation.
So, as Jesus teaches: learn, teach and act with power. Reach out to God in faith and full expectation. Wake up from the sleep of anxiety and busy-ness. Hear Jesus’ words, “Do not be afraid.” And then, we can go in Peace, souls made whole, healed by our Faith.
May God add his blessing to these words.