The Ultimate Word

"The ultimate Word is not a paragraph but a person. If Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, then the heart of proclamation is personal and relational, not propositional."

Marjorie Hewitt Suchocki * God, Christ, Church, page 135

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Do not fear, only believe? We will, with God's help!

28 June 2009
Proper 8B
Mark 5:21-43

NOTE: My final sermon at St. Peter's, Morristown

Preserve us, O God, from all faithless fears and worldly anxieties, through your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. (adapted from the 8th Sunday after the Epiphany, BCP 216)

“Do not fear. Only believe.”

We hear these words only once every three years as a part of the Gospel for today, but we could stand to hear them every day. We should hear them every day. They should be our mantra.

“Do not fear. Only believe.”

I suppose it’s fortuitous that we should hear these words today. Later on we’ll be celebrating the baptism of Hazel Spencer – the daughter of Cate Spencer and a child of this parish. This isn’t one of the more common texts to be used in a baptismal liturgy, but it works. It works really well. In fact, I’d be hard pressed to find a more appropriate set of “marching orders” for someone as they embark upon their life as a baptized Christian: “Do not fear. Only believe.”

Very often, in our lives, fear seems to be the most logical reaction. We live in the midst of profound uncertainty: financial uncertainty, environmental instability and climate change, threats to our physical safety from terrorism, crime, and everyday life. It makes a lot of sense to be afraid – even for those of us who are most secure.

But Christ says, “Do not fear. Only believe.”

In the Gospel that we read this morning, we hear the story of two healings intertwined with one another: the raising from the dead of Jairus’ daughter, and the healing of the unnamed woman who had been bleeding for twelve years.

A desperate father and a lonely woman. A leader in the synagogue and a social and religious outcast. These two, who were about as separated by the social order as any two could be, were united by two common threads: their fear, but also its antidote – their faith in God through Christ.

First, the story of Jairus. He was a leader in the synagogue, and as such, a leader in his community. Common people might fall under the spell of a traveling preacher like Jesus, but someone so ensconced in the establishment of his day, like Jairus was, must have been held to a higher standard.

Can you imagine the responses of his family, friends, and advisors? His daughter was sick and getting sicker with each passing hour. He was groping for hope wherever he might find it when he remembered the stories of Jesus. Word had been spreading through the countryside of the things this man had done. What must it have been like when Jairus first announced to those around him that he was leaving his daughter to seek the help of a heretic?

Then there’s the story of the woman. Word of Jesus had spread to her, too. Common people could clamor around him for teaching and support, but she was not common. She was to keep her distance. She was ‘unclean’.

What courage must she have summoned to break the social order, to enter a crowd, to dare to touch another person?

Jairus and the woman, as separate as they were, shared a common curse. The world was asking them to put aside their faith and their hope in favor of order and expectations. The world was asking a lot of them. But Christ was only asking this: “Do not fear. Only believe.”

In baptizing Hazel, we, as her community of faith, will ask a lot of her:

Will you continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?

Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

After each question, her sponsors will answer on her behalf, “I will, with God’s help.”

It’s a lot to ask. It’s even more to promise. Not one of those vows is either easy or natural for most of us. It is hard work to strive for justice and peace among all people. Sometimes I’d rather not love my neighbor as myself. Sometimes it feels good to continue in the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers; but, sometimes it feels better to sleep in.

Yes, it’s a lot to ask. And, as her community of faith, and in communion with all the baptized, we also ask it of ourselves. We promise again to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. We promise again and again, and we will promise again today, because we always fail.

The burden of each “I will” can seem so great. And as they compound, one of top of the other, five times over, the “I wills” can leave us feeling laden with responsibility.

But “I will” is not the end of the story. Yes, we will, but “with God’s help.” Hazel will. Cate will. You will, and I will. But the burden is not our own. We will repent and return to the Lord, but only with God’s help.

Like Jairus and the woman, Christ only asks one thing of us: that we do not fear, but only believe.

Amen.

2 comments:

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Well done indeed.

Jon M. Richardson said...

shucks... *blush*

Thanks :)

A worried a little over how to go about preaching a "last sermon".

Eventually, I decided to just preach...