Sermon for the 5th Sunday after Trinity, Year B - Mucknell Abbey
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Sermon for the 5th Sunday after Trinity, Year B

Sunday 30th June, 2024

The Community here at Mucknell is, as with any group, made up of diverse individuals with varying opinions on just about everything! As such, sermons posted on our website represent the ideas of the preachers who wrote and delivered them, not necessarily those of the entire Community.

Today’s Gospel reading offers us an abundance of riches to reflect on, which in a way reinforces what Jesus himself offers to those who come to him seeking healing. His power is so abundant that all the unnamed woman with a haemorrhage need do is touch the edge of his garment to know within herself that she is healed. And all it takes for Jairus’ daughter is a touch of the hand and gentle words: “Talitha cum”, “time to get up, little one”.

Gentle words, a gentle touch, a gentle response: “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.” But this gentleness should not get in the way of the remarkable thing that has happened. It’s generally assumed that the haemorrhage this woman was suffering from was gynaecological in nature, even though this is not explicit in the text. Even in our day, getting effective treatment for a whole range of conditions seen as “women’s problems” can be a frustrating, lengthy, painful process, so I can’t imagine it was any better in 1st century Palestine. Never mind the challenge of dealing with a persistent flow of blood for twelve years. Once again, no cakewalk even today – although far easier than it was for many of our foremothers.

Along with the personal indignity of such a long term health condition is the fact that this woman would have been excluded, we may safely assume, from childbearing, and very likely from marriage too. As such, she would have no real place of her own within her society, illustrated by the way that she comes to Jesus secretly – unlike Jairus, of whom more anon.

This secretive approach makes all the more significant Jesus’ recognition of her. Not only is she healed of her condition, but she ends up standing before Jesus publicly – I always imagine him crouching down beside her to draw her up to a standing position – in the sight of the crowd, restored not only to health, but also given a place in society once again, a place where she is now also free to bear life in her womb, to take her place in the story of her people.

This story is also very deliberately interleaved with that of Jairus’ daughter, each reflecting and commenting on the other. There’s the obvious parallel of twelve years: a long time to be ill, and this young girl’s entire life. At the age of twelve, Jairus’ daughter is also nearing the age of betrothal, and so healing her, raising her to life, is once again restoring her potential to bear life, as well as restoring to her her own life.

As an aside – I am very much not suggesting that a woman’s only good is found in marriage and motherhood. I’m a nun, for goodness sake. But this is the world in which these stories were first written and experienced, and I think it’s important to take them in their native contexts.

As I commented earlier, Jairus can approach Jesus publicly: he has the role and the status to do that, and it’s clear that his child is precious to him. I wonder what he was thinking as Jesus dealt with the woman with the haemorrhage. I wonder if he knew her? Was he tapping his foot, even internally, as Jesus stopped to find out who had touched him? I can only imagine how his heart must have sunk when the news of his daughter’s death was bought to him.

But Jesus has a plan, and again the interleaving of the stories is important. For the woman he has just healed, restoring her publicly is part of her healing, but for Jairus’ daughter, Jesus puts the crowds outside, taking with him just 5 people into the girl’s room. This is a personal, intimate moment, when a child is restored to her parents. It’s not about performance, or show. What’s happening here is real, in the same way that our lives with Christ, our being here this morning, are not show, or play acting.

And the words here matter. It’s thought that one reason for including the actual words spoken by Jesus, “Talitha, koum”, was to demonstrate that he didn’t use some kind of magic spell to raise the girl, but rather that his own power was more than sufficient: he does not raise her by his words, but because he is the Word. As John reminds us, “what has come into being in him was life”.

That life is so powerful, so abundant, that it can’t help but bubble over. One author described it as an “infectious holiness”, which I quite like as an image of this quality of Jesus’ that just gets passed on, because that’s what it does. There’s no magic trick or secret society or esoteric knowledge, but rather a love, a goodness, a holiness that cannot help but overflow into the world, and it’s a love, a goodness, a holiness that we too are called on to be filled with, to overflow with, as we are made more and more into the image of Christ.

Hold on to this image as we approach the extract we heard from Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians this morning, about helping to provide for the needs of the church in Jerusalem. Now, I have to admit, I struggle with this passage. The excerpt we heard today is taken out of a much longer section about this collection for the church in Jerusalem, where Paul says something like, “I’m not telling you what to do, but if you really loved your fellow Christians, this is what you’ll do”. Over two chapters, he lays it on pretty thick, but just because he’s perhaps being just a tad manipulative and guilt-trip-y, doesn’t mean that he’s wrong.

As Christians we are called to be generous in response to a generous God. The specific situation in 2 Corinthians is a financial one, but the broader question being asked of the community in Corinth, and also of us, is, “how may we bring life?”. As we have seen, Jesus was in the business of bringing life, and as those who are being formed in the image of Christ, this must be our business too.

At the beginning of the section we heard today, Paul points out that the believers in Corinth “excel in everything–in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness”. This word ‘excel’ is not so much about being the best ever, but rather about an overflowing, about the way in which God’s power for life is being poured into and through the churches not only spiritually but also quite materially in how they manage and channel all their assets, such as money, relationships, abilities, knowledge—all flowing graciously beyond them through giving, love, mutual service, and witness.

The grace of God flows through our lives when we are willing to follow Christ and empty ourselves, willing to descend, willing to relinquish our power, our status, our authority in order to raise others up. For Paul, God’s economy is not zero-sum. In the economy of God, the pattern of self-offering results in the multiplication of grace for everyone involved.

And yes, this is a risk, because in participating in God’s economy in this way, we put our good in the hands of others. But then this seems to me to make real something which is already true. Not a single one of us is an island, sufficient unto ourselves. We are profoundly interconnected: just as the two stories that we heard from Mark’s gospel today are intertwined around each other, so our lives weave in and out of one another’s in this great tapestry that God is creating with us.

I think that the knowledge of this tapestry, this awareness of our great interconnectedness, our togetherness, our being woven into God’s life and God’s life into ours, is something that our world needs, desperately. And not as a theoretical idea, but as something that is real, that is really lived out in our moments and our days.

The ways of living this out are many: as a monastic community, in a marriage, in a family, in a church community, in support groups, in friendships, cell groups, bible study groups, prayer circles…the list could go on. I pray that as we seek to live in the light of God, we may become conduits for the love, the holiness, the care, the compassion, the power, the challenge of God, bringing the water of life to an ever more thirsty world. Amen.

Sr. Jessica

Image: Christ and the Woman with the Issue of Blood, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. https://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=58325 [retrieved July 1, 2024]. Original source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Healing_of_a_bleeding_women_Marcellinus-Peter-Catacomb.jpg