Do not fear. Just Believe. – A Sermon for PRIDE
Updated: Jun 28, 2021
Below is the video and text of Father Cramer's sermon for the First Annual PRIDE Worship Service in Grand Haven, MI.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
One of the odd and almost universal realities of these past fifteen or so months has been that have all learned much more about how we work, how we do our jobs. Or, maybe more accurately, how we don’t work at times. For me, whether working from home with my four-year old daughter running around me, or working at the office at the church, one of my constant work habits is to procrastinate by simply doing another task. It is, admittedly, better than procrastinating by getting sucked into social media—something I never do—but it’s often not the task I really need to get done in the moment. Instead, it’s an endless hole into which I dive, starting one project, but then needing to get something else done first, then something else, then something else until I’ve completed five or six significant projects and just so I can finish writing announcements for Sunday.
So, to our modern multi-tasking minds, it seems like this is the sort of thing that Jesus is doing in the Gospel reading for today. He is approached by Jairus, a synagogue leader who asks Jesus to go heal his daughter and Jesus immediately leaves the task at hand and goes on his way with Jairus. Then, the woman who has been hemorrhaging blood for twelve years interrupts his journey and Jesus stops once more, healing her, getting back to the task at hand, his trip with Jairus. You can call it procrastinating, I call it getting things done.
Now, of course, this is not a story about how Jesus could handle multiple tasks at once. At least, that’s not how it functions in Mark’s Gospel. Rather, we are really in the middle of two competing movements or arcs in the Gospel of Mark. On one side, we are seeing more and more evidence in Mark’s story of Jesus’ authority and his power. He’s healing people. He stills a storm. He casts out demons. Jesus demonstrates his absolute power over sickness and disease, creation, and nature, even the spiritual forces of wickedness. Jesus is growing in the manifestation of his power and authority.
But, just as Jesus’ power grows, there is a second arc taking place because at the same time the people’s suspicion of him, even the outright rejection of Jesus, is also growing. The scribes, the religious leaders, from Jerusalem insist it must be by some demonic power that he is working miracles. Jesus’s mother and siblings come and find him when he is teaching, but he says the crowds are his true family. Jesus casts a demon out of the man in Gerasene, but the people are terrified by this power and ask Jesus if he would please leave their neighborhood. Then, he goes to his own hometown to teach in the synagogue and is rejected by people who saw him grow up and cannot believe he is who he claims to be.
In fact, our reading for today is situated right between those two stories of rejection, the rejection of the people in the Gerasenes and the rejection of people in Jesus’ hometown. It is in between those two stories of healing and rejection that we are given today’s Gospel reading, of Jairus, his daughter, and the hemorrhaging woman.
And what I find fascinating is that alongside all of this rejection Jesus is experiencing, he keeps doing what he came to do. He keeps healing. He keeps demonstrating that the power of God will not be reined in by religious people who do not understand what God is doing. And one of the reasons Jesus will keep doing what he does is because of who he is ministering to: people who are marginalized and have no voice in society. Those are the people experiencing the power of God through Jesus in their life in Mark’s gospel.
In some ways, the synagogue ruler, Jairus, is the opposite of the hemorrhaging woman. Jairus is a religious man, educated, likely wealthy, with power and respect at his disposal. He is someone who is not at the margins of anything. The hemorrhaging woman is, well, a woman, so that already lowers her status in the first century. If she had any money, she’s lost it to physicians who were unable to treat her hemorrhaging. So, now she’s also impoverished. And, because of the nature of her illness, some kind of constant menstrual hemorrhaging, the woman is also ritually unclean. This means that for the past twelve years no one can touch her. It means she has to live on her own, outside of the village, keeping her distance from everyone. She has no power, no wealth, and she garners no respect. She is profoundly vulnerable.
But Jesus stops for her. For Jesus the powerful and religious will always have to wait for the vulnerable and those in need. And this woman… this woman is brave. When she saw Jesus, she broke all the rules. She came up from behind him “in the crowd,” whicih means she certainly would have touched people, violating rules in Scripture about ritual purity, in her attempt to get at Jesus, in her attempt to be healed by just touching his cloak. She is bold… and Jesus will not let her stay hidden.
When Jesus asks who touched him, the disciples are confused. Everyone’s touching Jesus in this crowd. But the woman knows what Jesus means and so she comes forward. When she comes forward, those in the crowd would have gasped, immediately stepped back several paces, recognizing this ritually unclean woman, hoping to get away from her, to keep their ritual purity. But the woman gets even closer, falls down in fear, and tells Jesus the whole truth. And Jesus responds, not by shaking a finger, but by praising her. He names her as daughter—claiming her as one of his own, just like he did earlier in Mark when he said, “All of those who do the will of God are my real family.” He calls her daughter, and he says loud enough for everyone to hear that it is her faith that has healed her—a faith that she had despite how she had been treated by religion and society. Her faith had healed her. And by announcing her healing publicly, Jesus also restores her to society, enabling her to reenter the community, no longer to live at the edges.
Now Jairus, the synagogue leader, is indeed the opposite of this woman in so many ways, a man of power, means, and authority… Well, at least he was the opposite until he came up to Jesus and asked for help. Because in Mark right now, the religious leadership is claiming Jesus is working with the devil, and so Jairus puts his entire reputation on the line in the hope that Jesus can heal his daughter. He chooses to lower his standing in society for his kid—something most parents will understand immediately.
And the daughter is an interesting parallel to the woman Jesus heals on the way. The woman had hemorrhaged blood for twelve years and this little girl is twelve years old. In the same way that the woman was ritually unclean, the little girl—as a corpse by the time Jesus gets there—she is also ritually unclean. But Jesus does the same thing he did with the woman. He touches her anyway. It was touching someone who was vulnerable, not valued by society, and who was ritually unclean… by touching the woman and the little girl, that Jesus heals them both.
Now, as I preach about these stories of miraculous healing on the last Sunday in Pride month, at Waterfront Stadium as we celebrate what is hopefully the first annual Pride worship service in our area… As we do that, I’m keenly aware that there might be some discomfort in this text. Because I would imagine that many of you that are here from the LGBTQIA+ community have probably had a religious person at some time that if you prayed hard enough and had enough faith, that God could heal you… just like he healed the woman and the girl in this story.
And so, I want to be abundantly clear that this is not what this gospel story is about. This is not about God miraculously changing someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Not in the least. But that doesn’t mean this story isn’t still about you, beloved child of God.
This story is about Jesus ignoring what people claim the Bible says, ignoring what religious people believe is proper and pious, and rejecting the claims of religious leaders in the highest levels of his own religion… it is about him ignoring all of that so that so he can reach out his hand and touch people who are marginalized, who have been pushed to the side by religion and society. It is about Jesus touching those sorts of people—and praising their great faith. Because love and kindness, the dignity of a human being, is always more important than religious customs and perspectives. Love and kindness and justice is what matters in the end because it’s what mattered to Jesus.
And having spent my fair share of time around my LGBTQIA+ siblings in Christ, I want to be clear about something else. Great is your faith. Great is your faith. Your insistence to persist in who you are despite discrimination inspires me. Your refusal to let go of the garments of God because religious people tell you that you are not clean is a fabulous act of faith and courage. And I know, I know that some of you have experienced deep pain from religion, maybe even deep pain in your family, but I hope that in this Gospel you see Jesus walking away from his own family, his own religion, because he wants to sit with you. I mean, that’s what he said, right? Those who do the will of God are his family. If your family by birth has rejected you at all, I want you to know that you’ve got another family right here who will not reject, a family led by a Jesus who keeps making the table bigger and bigger so that everyone can come home for a good family meal at this altar.
And I do hope as well that there is healing today, at least a little. I hope that Jesus heals the wounds that religion and society has placed within your soul. Even if you’ve been bleeding from those wounds for what feels like twelve or twenty or thirty a hundred years, I hope you touch just the edge of Jesus’ cloak and find that pain within you healed by a God who calls you his child precisely as you are, a God who praises your faith in coming out here today.
But I hope another equally important healing happens. I hope that you heal us. I hope that, as you persist in faith, as you seek to do the will of God by loving your neighbor as yourself, by being a person of compassion and a voice for justice… as you do all of this, I hope you will heal the church. Because the church sick right now. The church is diminished by the absence of our LGBTQIA+ siblings in Christ. The church is sick right now without you with us. I know the LGBTQIA+ folks at my own parish have healed my church, they have made us stronger and more vibrant, more reflective of the fabulous diversity of God’s love and creation.
And so, I hope this Pride Worship Service is a sort of inoculation, to use the language of the day, that God uses that begins to beat back walls of discrimination and prejudice, one that begins the healing that needs to happen in every congregation in this area, the healing of affirming and welcoming all of God’s children. I hope that you help heal the rest of the church because you have that power. You have that faith. And just like Jesus said, I say to you, “Do not fear. Just believe.”
And I’m glad you’re not hiding in the crowd, but that you're here. And I want you to know that think you are fabulous. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. And great… oh so very great... is your faith. Amen.