The Trouble Faith Gets Us Into

7-1-18 Scripture:  Mark 5:21-43

Theme:  Have you ever gotten into trouble because of your faith?  I dare say, probably not; faith is not a trouble-causing factor in our lives, rather a problem-facing, grace-trusting factor that we often think is what helps us evade, deal with, or endure challenges.  But sometimes, faith invites trouble – risking ourselves in standing for justice, in embracing those whom others condemn, in changing ourselves for the sake of others who need what we have in Christ.  The trust that faith embodies is not always tactful, but sometimes a desperate plea for guidance, an anxious cry for help, a trembling hand reaching out into the darkness for the only hope that remains.  Perhaps it is in desperation that our need for God is clearest to us; perhaps it is a desperate sense of our need for God that is missing from our lives that keeps us from a closer walk with God.

 

I remember once hearing about an experience a young man had regarding his uncle.  This uncle, who was quite elderly, had never been in an airplane before; airplanes scared him to death.  As chance would have it, he found himself finally flying due to a family crisis – it was not his choice.  After the flight, this young man, his nephew, asked his uncle how his first experience in an airplane went.  “Well,” said the uncle, “it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be, but I’ll tell you this. I never did put all my weight down!”

How hard it is to fully trust!  How hard it is to put all your weight down in something you don’t quite fully believe in or trust.

Today, we hear two stories of people who, in contrast, did indeed put down all their weight.  We hear the story of Jairus, one of the rulers of the synagogue, whose daughter was near death.  He approached Jesus and asked him to come.  He said something absolutely astonishing that’s quite easy to miss.  He said to Jesus, “come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.”  He didn’t say, “Can you cure her?”  His statement is very matter of fact; “come and lay your hands on her, so that she may live.”  There is no doubt in his request.  For a ruler of the synagogue, a leader of the Jewish faith, to say such a thing was paramount to heresy.  The laughter of the crowd later speaks of the unease of this situation; Jesus was not only among followers, but among hostiles.

Then, we have an interruption in the story; a woman who had suffered greatly for twelve years makes her approach, saying to herself, “If I can only touch his garments, I shall be made well.”  No question, no doubt, only trust.  She was discovered, and, in fear and trembling approached Jesus to confess, whereupon he proclaimed to her, “daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

Onward went Jesus to Jairus’ house, when servants gave the bad news; the daughter was dead.  Jesus said ignore that news; “do not fear, only believe.”  Jairus listened.  And against the odds, against all signs and physical evidence, Jesus spoke to the girl, “arise,” and she did.

In both of these stories, we see evidence of strong faith making the approach to Christ.  THE FAITH WAS THERE TO BEGIN WITH, leading the individuals to seek out the hope that that God would work the possible out of the impossible.

This brings about an issue that can be at once comforting and distressing to anyone who professes faith – THAT FAITH ISN’T KNOWN TO BE REAL UNTIL THE STAKES ARE HIGH.  Often times, perhaps most times, those stakes are some form of suffering.  This is comforting to us because it helps us to understand at least in part a reason for pain – to awaken, justify, reinforce, or substantiate faith.  But it is distressing to us because, for one, we don’t like pain, we avoid it as much as we can, and, for another, it is always very hard to reconcile bad things with a good God.  We think, “shouldn’t faith protect us?”  We think, “shouldn’t God be on our side?”  And we all know how those “should’s” of faith often seem to fail.

I don’t know about you, but I continue to be significantly distressed by the news in our world and nation presently.  I hear of children being separated from their parents, I hear of border walls and barriers, I hear of incivility and insult at the highest levels of our power structures in this country, I hear of growing tensions with other nations, I hear of prejudice becoming more tolerated, I hear of the climate continuing to warm and global relations cooling.  But I think for a moment – why do I hear of such things so regularly?  Is it not because we are becoming more vocal against such matters?  Perhaps they are things we hoped would not ever gain in prominence, things which speak of our darker side in humanity – but that our country and our world are unsettled, isn’t this reflective of our better side speaking out?  I sense a building momentum in people who are not willing to tolerate the present status; from rally’s like the one yesterday at the courthouse calling attention to our nation’s questionable approach to immigration policies, to protests in front of the Supreme Court this past week, to striking teachers in Oklahoma, to students and leaders continuing to call for common sense gun law reform, to outrage over the gender bias that remains a reality in our country – in response to so many things that are not the way they should be, there is a growing and continuing call for change in alignment with our better nature, defined by compassion rather than coercion, defined by justice rather than judgment.

Allowing our better nature to guide us in difficult times……..isn’t this what faith is all about?  Think of Jairus, who could have chosen to be irate at God for letting his child become deathly ill, who instead chose to see God as the one who is most needed, and most able to work the desired recovery.  Think of the woman who had been suffering horribly for 12 years, who could have chosen to blame God for her hemorraging, but instead chose to seek God out of the midst of her pain, for the hope of deliverance.  Rather than seeing faith as the way to keep ourselves out of hard times and difficult situations, perhaps the testament of these individual’s faith is seeing faith as the promise of companionship, guidance,  and support to see us through dark times?  And to move those times towards things more worthy of life, for all of God’s children?

It brings up the point that gets lost so many times in our walk with Christ – that faith is not a protectant against hardship, but rather that faith is expressed perhaps best in hardship, that faith is carried further in hardship, that trouble may be a necessary (even if undesired) agent to faith’s reality.  It’s not just what enabled Christ to work the miracle in the stories of our passage today; IT’S WHAT CAME BEFORE ANY POSSIBILITY OF MIRACLE, IN THAT IT BROUGHT JAIRUS AND THE WOMAN ON A QUEST FOR GOD’S RESPONSE AND FAVOR.  They were ready to receive whatever God ordained, be it healing or resuscitation OR NONE OF THE ABOVE.  These people expressed the agony of human reality CHECKED BY A FAITH IN SOMETHING THAT MAKES THAT REALITY BEARABLE, whether there be miracles or not.  That is the measure of true faith – a trust in God beyond any standard we may set, any condition we may face.

Dietrick Bonhoeffer put it this way:  “Faith is not shelter against difficulties, but belief in the face of all contradictions.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in a letter to his twin sister, Sabine.)

This is the approach to God:  To trust beyond vision, to believe beyond knowledge, to serve beyond strength, to act beyond reason, to forgive beyond merit, to sacrifice beyond self, to listen beyond hearing, to understand beyond the facts, to love beyond pain.  It is in the hardness of reality that God is often most clearly evident – and that we discover if our faith is real.

 

I’d like to end our time together in a little different way – I’d like to share a piece of music with you from an unlikely source.  This a song by Alanis Morisette, who began her career as an angry young rock and roll star singing songs against former boyfriends, the established order, and politics in general.  Her first album was called “Jagged Little Pill” and just to give you an idea, her music couldn’t be played on the radio without several four-letter words being bleeped out.  The album was acidic, angry, vengeful, and in general hard on the ears of many.

But then, something happened to Alanis that changed her life and her music.  She took a trip to India, and saw the ravages of poverty, pain, suffering, and chaos that she hadn’t really experienced before.  Out of that trip came an appreciation for the harder things in life that deepened her soul and made her think “outside of the box” about how challenges have their place in life.  She wrote this song to express her appreciation for those things that would seem to detract from life, but actually make it more of what it was meant to be.  It is called, “Thank U”; we’ll play the song, and put the lyrics up on the screen.

 

how bout getting off these antibiotics
how bout stopping eating when I’m full up
how bout them transparent dangling carrots
how bout that ever elusive kudo

thank you india
thank you terror
thank you disillusionment
thank you frailty
thank you consequence
thank you thank you silence

how bout me not blaming you for everything
how bout me enjoying the moment for once
how bout how good it feels to finally forgive you
how bout grieving it all one at a time

thank you india
thank you terror
thank you disillusionment
thank you frailty
thank you consequence
thank you thank you silence

the moment I let go of it was the moment
I got more than I could handle
the moment I jumped off of it
was the moment I touched down

how bout no longer being masochistic
how bout remembering your divinity
how bout unabashedly bawling your eyes out
how bout not equating death with stopping

thank you india
thank you providence
thank you disillusionment
thank you nothingness
thank you clarity
thank you thank you silence

 

I leave you with a question today – what are the hardships in your life, your past or present, which have helped you see God?  It is in those experiences that we learn of the ever-present nature of God – and can apply that understanding when all seems lost.  What are the hardships in your life which have helped you see God?

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