Sixth Sunday of Easter
Text: Mark 5:21-43
Sean C. Kim
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
27 June 2021
When we read the Bible, we tend to overlook its literary qualities. The Book of Psalms, for instance. contains some of the most beautiful and most ancient poetry in the world. And there are all sorts of literary devices and techniques in the Bible, such as metaphor, hyperbole, and parable. The Gospels are no exception. Each Gospel writer has a distinctive literary style and uses different techniques as he tells the story of Jesus.
In today’s reading from Mark, we have an example of one of his favorite techniques, the so-called “Markan sandwich.” We have two healing stories, one inserted into the other, like a sandwich. In one, Jesus raises a little girl presumed to be dead; in the other, he heals a woman who has been suffering from hemorrhages. The purpose of interweaving the two stories is to interpret one in light of the other. The similarities and differences between the two stories accentuate the details, and the interruption of one story by the other adds suspense. Both stories involve women. One is a twelve-year-old girl, and the other is an older woman who has had hemorrhages for twelve years. The girl is the daughter of Jairus, a religious leader, hence from an elite socioeconomic and cultural background. The woman, on the other hand, is poor; she has spent all her money looking for an elusive cure. Both involve healing, but in the case of one, the father makes the request on behalf of his daughter, whereas in the other, the woman secretly touches Jesus’ cloak.
In both stories, Jesus is misunderstood and ridiculed. In the story of the woman with the hemorrhages, Jesus is in the middle of a crowd when he senses that power has gone out of him. He asks, “Who touched my clothes?” The disciples think that Jesus is acting odd, and they tell him so: “You see the crowd pressing in on you; how can you say, ‘Who touched me?’” (Mark 5:30-31). In the story of Jairus’s daughter, Jesus enters their house to find a group of people mourning her death. When he tells them that she “is not dead but sleeping,” they laugh at him (Mark 5:39-40). They think that Jesus is either stupid or crazy. In any case, the healer has arrived too late to do anything.
This incident of Jesus being laughed at recalls for me another story in the Bible. In the Old Testament, we have the story of Abraham being visited by three divine messengers. When Sarah overhears one of them telling her husband that she will soon bear a son, she laughs. She thinks the idea of a woman her age having a child is preposterous. The messenger then rebukes her for doubting God’s power. He asks, “Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?” (Genesis 18:9-15).
As we look at our own walk of faith, we may not have laughed at God in the way that Sarah or the crowd at Jairus’s house did. But we can probably recall those moments when we doubted whether God could do anything for us. Or we may not even have given a thought to God because we were so wrapped up in the situation. Perhaps it was an illness or financial problems or strained relationships – those moments when we felt helpless and without hope. Like Sarah or the people at Jairus’s house, we felt there was nothing we or God could do.
But as we know from these stories, contrary to expectation, God does come through. Jesus heals the girl. Sarah gives birth to Isaac. Such divine surprises are repeated throughout Scripture. Story after story in the Gospels demonstrate Jesus defying conventional expectations as he manifests God’s power and love. He brings healing to what seem to be hopeless situations, and he even has authority over the forces of nature, as he calms the stormy waves. And in his ultimate act of overturning human expectations, he conquers death and rises from the grave.
As people of faith, we are open to the realm of mystery and miracles. We believe in a world that we cannot see with our eyes. We believe in a power greater than our own. And we believe that our God loves and cares for us, and that God grants us help in the toils and labors of this life. But this conviction does not necessarily mean that we will always have quick fixes to our problems. God will not always answer our prayers with miraculous healing or success in our endeavors. God may have other plans. Indeed, in one strand of our Christian piety, we have the examples of the saints down through the ages who have embraced suffering in imitation of Our Lord Jesus. When we read the biographies of the saints, it is surprising how many have been afflicted with debilitating illness. But rather than praying for a cure, they live with it as a privilege.
Whether we seek the path of holy suffering or the path of healing, we all share in the same promise. God is with us. God will grant us strength, comfort, and hope. But we do not always claim this promise. Our eyes are clouded by the worries and cares of this world, and we often fail to turn to God for help.
I would like to conclude with a prayer that we ordinarily use at the end of the Prayers of the People. But it perfectly captures the gap that often exists between our vision and God’s vision, and it reminds us that we are never left alone. Whether we are aware or not, God is always with us. God will take care of us. In our daily walk of faith, may we strive to rise above ourselves and see the world with the eyes of faith.
Let us pray.
Almighty God, to whom our needs are known before we ask; Help us to ask only what accords with your will; and those good things which we dare not, or in our blindness cannot ask, grant us for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
 Mark G. Vitalis Hoffman, “Commentary on Mark 5:21-43,” Working Preacher. https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-13-2/commentary-on-mark-521-43-4
 The Book of Common Prayer (New York: Church Publishing Incorporated, 1979), 394-395.
Fourth Sunday of Pentecost
Brian J. Cowley
June 19-20, 2021
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, and his mercy endures for ever” (Psalm 107:1).
Rowan Williams, the 104th archbishop of Canterbury, was sent an article from a conservative religious journal during the worst levels of Covid 19. The author urged the readers to look death in the face and not bow to measures mandated by secular imagination for our protection. The article then maintained that with faith we should not be fearful, have our eyes on eternity, and go to church. Archbishop Williams determined there was a lot wrong with this approach but indicated there was a relevant question in there to which we will return. As I read this article, I was reminded of a childhood memory.
When I was 10 years old my father purchased my first horse. A small chestnut colored mare that was 3/4 Arabian and ¼ Shetland Pony. For those who know horses realize that this was a sturdy, sure footed, very independent, and energetic animal. Unfortunately, the first day I rode this horse, my step grandmother had to rev the engine of her car to make it through the mud in the pasture and startled the horse. Before I knew it, we were hurtling through the field at breakneck speed. After having passed over a marshy field of mud and water, I fell off on the old train track that though devoid of rails and railroad ties, was hard dry ground. As I picked myself up off the ground with a bloodied nose my dad finally arrived with the horse in tow. He then explained to me that I needed to get back on then and there or I would likely not get on again. I trusted my father and got on. To his credit, he did not relinquish the animal to my control. My father was right, it was easier to get back on afterwards and I spent many an hour riding through the beautiful Rockies on horseback and/or chasing my grandfather’s cattle. It wasn’t all paradise. Since my first fall I have fallen from a horse twice and I have jumped from one on two occasions. If you are wondering “who in their right mind jumps from a moving horse?” see me after. This idea of facing fear with faith is a powerful one. We even heard examples of it in the readings today.
We heard Paul tell the Saints at Corinth that they have commended themselves to God by facing afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, and hunger. Paul does not ask the people of Corinth to face these calamities without fear only. He exhorted them to face these afflictions with great endurance. He also used words like: purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, power of God, and righteousness.
In the Gospel (Mark 4:35-41) we heard Christ tell his disciples that they lacked faith after showing great fear when a storm came upon them as they crossed Sea of Galilee threatening to sink their boat. As Christ called for peace on the waters, he did not ask the disciples why they feared. He asked them why they were afraid.
So back to the journal article that calls for church attendance in the middle of a pandemic in the face of death where we had been advised to shelter, wear masks, and socially isolate by the political and health care leaders of our society. As a professor of psychology, I regularly teach a Lifespan development course that I refer to a my “womb to tomb” class. Each semester I stand before my students and tell them that they can count on two things, being born and dying. They always look uncomfortable and there is always one who says, “you have to pay taxes”. I always respond that they do not have to pay taxes, but by being born they will die. Our western culture is uncomfortable with death. We fear death. We do not like to talk about it, we try to make it a clinical experience, we buy products, and engage in behaviors to make us look young. Archbishop Williams said of this topic: “…denying death ends up denying birth”.
The pandemic creates fear for a lot of reasons, but death is one of the primary fears. We have behaviors and rites that help us with someone’s passing, but the pandemic has prevented many to sit with their loved ones during their affliction, covid 19 related or not. It has also impacted funeral participation and attendance. This has added to the pressure concerning our fear of death.
Archbishop Williams points out that an oft used strategy we use in our fear of death is to lie to ourselves. We think we can protect ourselves from harm and avoid death by denying its existence or engage in acts of heroism focused on feeding our own egos. When taking this path we come to believe we can change the whole world. Archbishop Williams recommends wherever we are in our journey that we strive to make a difference within our reach and recognize the existence will go on as it will. So clearly, the Pandemic around the world is completely out of our control. We must let that go and focus on what we can do in the face of this angst-ridden event.
Archbishop Williams called the pandemic our journey in the “valley of this current shadow”. He then endeavors to examine what has been communicated to our culture and turn it back to the gospel so that our community and theology can be better informed. Of the Covid 19 Pandemic he said:
“Willfully risking the health of others to demonstrate my courage or my faith doesn't only increase their danger of death. It also increases the risk of that wider range of traumas and losses we noted earlier--the pain of bereavement in abnormal circumstances, the bewildering disruptions of our life in society, the strain on those working in public utilities and healthcare (whom we have suddenly discovered to be heroic in ways not demanded of most of us), and much more.”
Archbishop Williams is suggesting that that within our realm of control is to become aware of others and their welfare. This can help with our fear of things we can’t control and is a sound gospel principle.
Now, I can imagine some our surprised by the sermon topic today. Afterall, archbishop Williams wrote this article in August 2020 at the height of U.S. and British losses to Covid 19. I can hear some saying, “but the pandemic is almost over”. It certainly appears that way as we start to return to pre-pandemic patterns. We are meeting in church, going to restaurants, to public events, etc. Just Friday night I sang the national anthem with members of The Heartland Men’s Chorus at Kaufman
Stadium to a live audience. I do want to be clear, this is not a call to start wearing masks again or calling you all back to quarantine. We will continue to adjust to this pandemic for some time. I also believe it is important to realize that we are still under the “shadow” that Williams talked about. Infections still occur in the U.S. and in certain parts of the world people are experiencing the devastation we were suffering last Summer. Many of us and our neighbors have lost loved ones and have been unable to grieve together in ways to bring comfort. Healthcare workers are still recovering from the onslaught we have just experienced. I believe it is important to take this final quote by archbishop Williams to heart:
“A summons to faith, courage and energy in the face of death isn't a call to heroics for the ego. It is an invitation to attend, to be absorbed in value, depth and beauty not our own. It is to recognise the gentle insistent pressure of a shared reality which tells us to make room for one another.”
As we continue to adjust to the fears and post traumas of the Covid 19 Pandemic we must do as archbishop Williams urges “make room for one another”. We must also remember that as Jesus faced his death, he supped with his disciples, he washed their feet, and as he acknowledge his betrayal he called on them to love others as he loved them (John 13) and so must we.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha (5th
Ed.) (2018). New York: Oxford University Press.
Williams, R. (2020, August 21). Into the valley of shadows: The pandemic has forced us to confront the issue of mortality: how do we think about death, and what does it mean for how we live? New Statesman, 149(5534), 34.
Proper 6 – Year B
The Rev’d Charles Everson
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church
2 Corinthians 5:6-17
Sunday, June 13, 2021
The experience of being truly loved changes us.
Being in relationship with another person requires intimacy and transparency. Being in relationship with someone means letting them in to see beneath our polished, outer presentation and experience the unpleasant underbelly that we all seem to have. When they love us anyway, it gives us hope! When a long-time friend knows that something is awry and offers to take you to lunch just so that you can vent, you gain just a bit of hope to face another day – not because all of your problems are solved, but because you know that the other person loves you.
The writer of our second lesson today was someone who was drastically changed by the experience of being loved. The love of Christ literally transformed St. Paul from a persecutor of the church into a tireless missionary who couldn’t keep his mouth shut about so great a love! He means it when he says, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”
But in order to become new, in order to be reborn and become a new creation, death comes first. We were baptized into both Christ’s death and resurrection, and are called upon as disciples of Jesus to die daily to sin.
St. Benedict, in his rule that he wrote to regulate the lives of his monks in the sixth century, said, “Day by day, remind yourself that you are going to die.” By itself, this phrase implies that death is something to be feared or even dreaded. But in light of the phrase before it, “Yearn for everlasting life with holy desire,” it is clear that, for Benedict, death and eternal life are not separated. To gain eternal life, death comes first.
Using the parallel Greek verbs “to be at home” and “to be away from home,” Paul acknowledges the distance between being in the body and with the Lord, and tells us that he would prefer being at “home with the Lord.” But whether at home or away, whether in the body or with the Lord, he says, “we are always confident.” Confidence here means not simply self-confidence, but faithfulness and security in believing. Confidence whose true giver and object is God.
It is with this deep, abiding confidence that Paul reminds us that each of us must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each may receive recompense for what has been done in the body, whether good or evil. We will all be held accountable for our actions when we cease to be at home in the body and go home to be with the Lord.
This is what Benedict had in mind when he said “remind yourself daily that you are going to die.” He continues in his rule, “Hour by hour keep careful watch over all you do, aware that God’s gaze is upon you, wherever you may be.” At first glance, this seems to say that God is watching over your shoulder and will punish you for all the naughty things you do. But in context, it simply means that we should live our lives knowing that temptation is just around the corner, and when it comes up, by God’s help, we should resist; and if we fall, we should repent and return to the Lord. In other words, the death into which we were baptized – Christ’s death – is something we have to intentionally put on each and every day.
Dying isn’t a fun process. It is usually painful, I’m told. But it is only through death that we can attain eternal life. It is only through death that we can be reborn and made new. It is only the experience of being loved by God that we can receive the hope not only to face another day, but the deep, abiding confidence we need to choose God’s will before our own, to put others before ourselves, and to continue with the constant cycle of death and rebirth that is our daily burden to bear. It is when we know and embrace the fact that despite our flaws, despite our underbelly, Jesus loves us so completely and deeply, that we will have the confidence to walk by faith, not by sight, and to share God’s overwhelming love generously with those around us.
“If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” Amen.
 Rule of St. Benedict 4:47
 Ibid 4:46.
 David Lyon Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, eds., Feasting on the Word. Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 135-136.
 2 Cor. 5:10.
The sermons preached at St. Mary's Episcopal Church, Kansas City, are posted here!