Barbaras Rhabarberbar

Proper 8B

In the name of God, our source and understanding.  Amen.

This sermon, like so many others, I’m sure, begins exactly where you’d probably expect: with thoughts on a popular German rap song.

I started hearing this song on Instagram reels, which began as one of the latest viral dance crazes on TikTok.  But for weeks now, it seems like everywhere I turn (online at least) I’m running into this song again.  Of course, the algorithms support that – the more something catches your attention, the more they put it in front of you.

But this song really did capture me.  Though I did have one class in German in college, I know basically nothing of the language.  But even so, something about the song kept drawing me in.  I didn’t know what was being said, but I liked hearing it said.  It was satisfying.  I’d play it for you now, but the streaming police would shut us down…

Because the song ensorcelled me, so much, I had to dig further into it.  The clip that the dance videos always begin with is an exclamation, in German, of “abracadabra” – so I started searching for that.  Strangely enough, however, there is a German punk rock song by that name, which I listened to in its entirety trying to figure out if this clip was buried inside it.  It was not.

I did some more digging, and eventually learned that the song was called “Barbaras Rhabarberbar” which means, “Barbara’s Rhubarb Bar.”  The song is basically a tongue-twister that comes from an “album” of other similar rap songs.  I put “album” in quotes because the entire thing is 8 songs long, and it can be heard from start to finish in under 7 minutes.  Barbaras Rhabarberbar tells the story of a woman named Barbara who made a rhubarb cake that was so delicious that it was basically magical.  There was such clamoring for her rhubarb cake that she actually opened a snack bar dedicated to it and other rhubarb creations.  That snack bar was frequented by Barbarians.

You can see where it goes…

The thing is, before my digging, I knew nothing about what was being sung.  The words meant nothing to me.  But still, it captured me.  It pulled me in and made me want to know more.  It worked its way into the recessed corners of my mind and sort of became a part of me, without me knowing it was happening.

And then, when I did dig more, and finally understood the words being said and the story being told, I still didn’t really understand it.  It still meant nothing, beyond the way it kept pulling me in – and a lot of other people, evidently.

This week, as I was encountering these familiar stories of Jesus’ healing and his ever-so-familiar assurance that “your faith has made you well”, I found myself reflecting on the nature of “faith” for the people of these two so-different stories and experiences.  The leader of the synagogue advocating for his daughter, and the suffering woman who was looked upon by her community as unclean, but who still fiercely advocated for herself – they were about as far apart in experience as any two people could be.  But the experience that united them was faith.  The woman, whose bold and maybe even improper expression of her faith led to her healing, and the man whose desperate pleading that needed to be upheld by faith when the facts of the situation seemed too great to overcome. 

There isn’t much in this world that is truly universal, but our inability to truly understand the power of faith is one of those things.

The woman came to Jesus because she believed that his power and his strength were sufficient to heal her when nothing else had worked.  But she didn’t understand that it wasn’t the power of Jesus’ healing abilities so much as it was the faith she held that God could and would work through Jesus to bring her relief.  “Your faith has made you well,” he said.  Not, “By my grace and power, I have made you well.”  Not, “At my command you are made well,” or “God has traveled through me to make you well.”  Like Dorothy and the Ruby slippers that would take her home, the woman already had what she needed; she’d had it the whole time: she had faith.

For Jairus, the man who came to Jesus for help, his faith was called on to sustain him when everything seemed impossible.  “Do not fear, only believe,” Jesus said.  Hold onto the faith that I know you have.  Dig deep and grab it so it can’t slip away.  Rely on it and use it to carry you to the next threshold.  Do not fear.  Only believe.

The common thread is that these two people needed faith, more than anything else, to get them to where they needed to be.  Neither of them understood the faith that was asked of them, nor the faith that they were able to muster, but understanding it wasn’t the point.  Having it was.

I think that’s part of why that sort of dumb, German rap song speaks to me.  I didn’t need to understand it to share in the experience of it.  I’m sure most of the people I’ve seen dancing to the song didn’t understand it either.  But the understanding wasn’t the point.  The shared experience, the joy, the silliness that comes through even when the words don’t make sense – that’s the point.  It’s not about perfecting the German language, it’s about sharing in the joy.

For us, we don’t need to understand faith.  I’m not saying we should just bask in our ignorance – there is value to exploring the many aspects of what it means to follow Christ and to dive deeper into it – but still, it’s not about having some perfect understanding.  The mysteries of the faith defy understanding, and that’s okay.  We don’t need to understand everything about faith for it to have an impact on our lives.

Really, so much of the story of Jesus and his interactions with the people he meets, is about thwarting understanding.  The people understood a certain social order, and they understood it to reflect the value and merit of people in their various positions.  But Jesus gave a new understanding.  The people understood a particular way of interacting with God, but Jesus gave a new understanding.  The people understood what it meant to live morally right, with the understanding passed down to them through the centuries, but even in morality, Jesus gave a new understanding.

So maybe don’t place too much faith in your understanding.  Understanding can betray us.  Understandings can change, but faith sustains us when nothing else can.  We don’t have to fully understand faith to benefit from it.

And when you have a second, take a listen to that stupid German rap song.  Even if you don’t understand it, I bet it’ll make you smile.  Amen.