Sermon delivered by Randy Hyde, pastor of Pulaski Heights Baptist Church in Little Rock, A.R., on June 28 2009.
Psalm 130:1-8; Mark 5:21-43
Faith. Evidently, Jesus isn’t finding a lot of it right now, at least not where it’s typically supposed to be.
At this point, which is fairly early in his public ministry – and so far has been limited to the region around Galilee – he hasn’t had a lot of contact with the religious authorities. But we have already encountered that story where his disciples were walking through a field on the sabbath and started plucking grain. The Pharisees took issue with him (not with the disciples, but with Jesus; after all, he was their leader and was, in the eyes of the Pharisees, responsible for the disciples’ unseemly behavior). It was that small skirmish which led to that rather famous statement, “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath.”
And he can see it in the people, he can read it in their eyes. They are like sheep without a shepherd. There is no real leadership from where the leadership ought to come, and in Jesus’ mind true leadership is a matter of faith. So Jesus isn’t finding much faith on the part of the religious leaders.
Sadly, he’s not discovering much faith even in his own followers. I will remind you, it was on the Sea of Galilee during the sudden storm that he questioned them. “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?”
He doesn’t find it much in his hometown folk, which we will see next week. As Dr. Seuss might put it, he doesn’t find it here, he doesn’t find it there. It appears as if he isn’t going to find it... anywhere. And just when you might think he’s about to give up, Jesus does indeed find faith in the most unusual places and in the most surprising people.
From your knowledge of Jesus and his story, let me ask you: who were the most faithful people Jesus encountered? You might guess Peter, James and John. After all, they’re his A-team of disciples. And Peter is the Rock, the one upon whom Jesus said he would build his church. James and John have that anger issue, but Jesus can surely work with that.
Philip seems to have been an avid follower, quick to believe in Jesus and just as quick to tell others about him. And remember, he’s the one who later would baptize the Ethiopian eunuch on the wilderness road between Jerusalem and Gaza.
And how about Andrew. He was Peter’s brother, of course. Andrew isn’t mentioned that often in the gospels, but just about every time he is he’s introducing someone to Jesus. And he’s the one who told Jesus about the little boy out in the wilderness who had come to hear Jesus teach, and had brought his meager lunch. It was from that meal that Jesus fed thousands of people. If Andrew had not befriended the boy, who knows what might have happened.
But still, if we’re asking the question, “Who were the most faithful people Jesus encountered?” we can’t really start with these. Not according to Mark’s gospel. No, it all began with a church administrator. Jairus was his name, and he is identified to us as a synagogue leader.
Maybe he was the first-century equivalent of a deacon. We’re not exactly sure what his main function might have been. Synagogues were led by the laity because they usually served small villages that did not call for the presence of a temple or a priest. We can imagine, however, that Jairus is not so theologically trained that he does not believe in Jesus. He just knows what he sees and believes enough in what he knows. He’s probably the one who got to the synagogue early every sabbath morning, turned on the lights and fired up the furnace. Chances are, he was one of those kinds of synagogue leaders who took care of a lot of things, many things other people didn’t want to bother with. And he is a man of deep and abiding faith.
Jesus and his disciples are back in friendly territory after that brief sojourn on the “other side.” The “other side,” of course, is Gentile country. It was there he ran into the man we call the Gerasene demoniac. It is this story in which Jesus has that little encounter with the pigs, remember? If you’re not familiar with it, I encourage you to read it later. After all, as one of my seminary professors liked to say, it’s the first instance of deviled ham! The local people ask Jesus to leave because he’s effectively removed their source of income, and it creates tremendous resentment – and probably fear – on their part. So, Jesus leaves that place.
Now, he has come back and no sooner has he stepped out of the boat than he is surrounded again by people who want to be near him, to listen to him tell of the kingdom of heaven. Remember, they are like sheep without a shepherd, and if Jesus isn’t a true shepherd... well, he’s the closest they’ve ever seen. They can’t get enough of him.
That is when Jairus approaches him. He may not have the status of a priest or a rabbi, but we can imagine that because of his humble service to the community synagogue the people have tremendous respect for him. So, they step aside and let him through. If anyone deserves to have a quiet conversation with Jesus, it is Jairus. And besides, everyone knows his daughter is sick.
“Come and lay your hands on her,” Jairus pleads with Jesus, “so that she may be made well, and live.”
Faith. Jesus could see it in his eyes, could hear it in his trembling and broken voice. “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come... come...” Without a word, Jesus begins to follow the man to his house.
Faith. Jesus hasn’t found it in many places, and just when he thinks he has in this man Jairus, he is surprised by yet another person who exhibits real faith. All of a sudden, he is surrounded by it, and in the most unusual and unexpected places. As they are making their way to Jairus’ home, the woman with the twelve-year hemorrhage reaches out to touch the hem of his garment, no doubt thinking she could be healed in secret. But Jesus will not allow any healing to take place in secret, for of such is the kingdom of heaven. When faith is found, faith needs to be revealed, even when it comes from such unexpected sources.
Has the contrast struck you yet? The Gentiles on the “other side” beg Jesus to leave them, determined, like some of the Pharisees, to get rid of him. And others are pushing their way through barriers in order to get near him and receive his power.1 With Jesus, it’s either hot or cold... no in-between. People either embrace him or they hate him.
Frankly, Mark’s gospel is full of stories like this. It seems that no one is lukewarm when it comes to Jesus. They either want him gone or they want him close by and available. There is no in-between. It all comes down to a matter of faith, and when it comes to faith there is no in-between.
But we think we can get away with it, don’t we... an in-between kind of faith? A mild and relatively easy version of Christianity, part-time even? We put in an occasional (or maybe even regular) attendance here at church, toss a few bucks in the plate, spend a little time with our Bible so it doesn’t get dusty and think that’s enough with which to purchase a ticket to eternal life.
I was asked this week about tithing. Where did the idea come from, what does it mean for us today, should we tithe on unexpected income? My response could have come across as vague because I told the questioner that there are no hard and fast, nor definite, rules about tithing. But, I added, I’m not sure it makes any difference. You see, Jesus doesn’t want ten percent. Jesus demands it all! Look at the man we know as the Rich Young Ruler. Jesus told him that if he wanted to be a follower he had to sell... what? Ten percent of his possessions? No, he had to sell it all, and give the proceeds to the poor. With Jesus, it is all or nothing. That is his definition of faith.
Yet, the “all” that Jesus is looking for not only comes from unexpected sources, but is also found in the smallest of things. Like a tiny mustard seed, or a boy’s meager lunch, or a widow’s mite, not to mention a tiny piece of bread and a thimble-full of wine.
By all accounts, the world wouldn’t see faith present in the bread and the cup. But then again, the world doesn’t look for faith anyway. The world looks for, and depends on, the obvious and the strongest and the most powerful. But in these simple elements of life we find the keys to eternal life. And the way to unlock that secret is through faith.
What kind of faith do you bring to the table? If you encounter Jesus here, what level of faith will he find? I encourage you to answer that question as we come to the table of our Lord.
Bring us to your table, Lord, and may you find in us the kind of faith you require. Amen.