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, July 01, 2012

Do not fear. Only believe.


Pentecost 5B


Preserve us, O God, from all faithless fears and worldly anxieties, through faith in your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

These past two weeks are lining up like Fear Factor for the church.  For two weeks in a row we hear stories about fear - stories about people being pushed to the very edges of their ability to cope, only to find Jesus there, ready to step in, just in time.

This week it’s hidden a little more than it was last week - with its storm-tossed boats and trembling disciples.  Fear was on the front page last week.  This week it’s still here, but it hidden a little deeper.

Perhaps you got lost in the healing stories and let it slip right past, but it was there: “Do not fear.  Only believe.”  That’s what Jesus said to Jairus after the message was brought that his daughter was dead.

“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.”

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 simply everyday life.  It makes a lot of sense to be afraid – even for those among 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.  Jairus was a leader in the synagogue while the woman was 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 were clamoring around him for teaching and support, but she was not common.  She was to keep her distance.  She was ‘unclean’.  She had been unclean for many years.

What courage must she have summoned to break the social order, to enter a crowd, and 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: that they “Do not fear.  Only believe.”

This isn’t one of the standard Sundays set apart for baptism, but as I was reflecting on this lesson today - this “Do not fear.  Only believe.” challenge - I couldn’t help but remember the challenges that we all carry with us as baptized members of the Christian community.

The challenge is to live our lives in a different way.  The challenge is to live by a standard that’s different from many of the people around us.  Even if other Christians also populate most of the circles in which we travel, the fact remains that the world - even the church - rarely lives up to the ideals we’ve set for ourselves.

Take a moment and pull out your Prayer Book again and turn with me to page 304 - the Baptismal Covenant - and follow along with me as we remind ourselves of the covenant we’ve made.

The questions at the end of the covenant have been described as the outline, or the directions, for how we plan to go about living our Christian lives.

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, we answer, “I will, with God’s help.”

It’s a lot to ask of each other.  It’s even more for each of us to promise.  Perhaps, if we take it seriously enough, it might even be enough to inspire fear.  How could we ever live up to this promise that we make to God, to each other, and to ourselves?

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 just sleep in.

It’s a lot to ask.  But again and again we ask it of ourselves and of each other.  We promise again to proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ.  We have to keep promising again and again, because we always fail.

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

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

The stories of Jairus and the woman are remarkable because they’re not stories of fear, but stories of faith in the face of fear.  They’re remarkable not because of the healings or the miracles, but because of the faithfulness of Christ.  The suffering people have faith in God through Christ, and so, too, does Jesus remain faithful to them in their need.

Christ only asks one thing of us: that we do not fear, but only believe.  Amen.

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