A sermon, based on Mark 5:21-43.
The Gospel of Mark was written to Christians in the Roman Empire, who were not only on the edges of society but also without social or political power. They were also facing the very real threat of death, as the Roman Emperor at the time was a guy named Nero, and he was quite okay with Christians dying.
The Gospel of Mark also tells the story of Jesus living and teaching and interacting in Galilee, a place that the Roman Empire had conquered, and every time they tried rebelling against the Romans, to throw off the shackles of oppression like Mel Gibson in the movie Braveheart (FREEDOM!!!!) they got crushed even more. It can be said that the Roman Empire had its boot to the throat of the Jewish people.
And here we have two stories of healing intertwined with each other. One, a woman who had been bleeding for 12 years, a social outcast who had no money, and nobody wanted to be with her. The other, a well respected Jewish synagogue leader whose daughter was dying.
Both of them were kind of desperate, weren’t they? The woman was alone and broke and on the margins of society. The man couldn’t do anything for his daughter, feeling quite useless and powerless in the face of death. Their worlds were falling apart all around them, and they came to Jesus looking for healing.
When reading the words of Jesus in this text, and actually, most of other texts in gospels, we notice that Jesus almost always praises someone’s faith and trust more than their love.
He doesn’t tell the woman to go and be loving. He tells her, “Your faith has healed you.”
He doesn’t tell the man to go and be loving. He tells him, “Don’t be afraid. Just believe.”
Jesus praises faith and trust, more than love.
Which is kind of remarkable, because if Jesus is what God looks like in the world, and God is love, then surely Jesus is all about love. And in the parable we heard this morning, Jesus praises right living over right thinking. It’s not about the words we say, it’s about the actions that we do. In other places Jesus says that doing to others what you would have them do to you is the summary of the law. James, the brother of Jesus, even wrote down “Love, without action, is dead.Love your neighbour as yourself. It’s all about love! We may as well just start singing like Sir Paul McCartney -“All you need is love, love love. Love is all you need.”
Except that the Beatles broke up.
If it’s all about love, then why does Jesus praise faith and trust so much?
Well, what do we do when we fall?
What do we do when we fail?
What do we do when we love someone and they don’t love us back?
What do we do when our loved ones die, when we have chronic pain, when life seems unfair?
What do we do when war breaks out? When there’s a terrorist attack?
What do we do when we lose our jobs? Or if we go bankrupt? Or if we get screwed by a business partner? Or if we have crushing debt?
What do we do when someone swears at us while curling? Or we crash our car into someone else?
All you need is love, right?
On Thursday at 12:15 pm, the headlines on CBC were about sexual harassment, federal budget deficits, job losses, doctors making mistakes, the low dollar, pipelines, refugees, contaminated water that caused irreversible brain damage in children, doctor assisted suicide, and Sarah Palin (how in the world did she make it back into the news cycle?!?).
All you need is love, right?
What do you do when you’re bleeding for 12 years and have no money and there’s no social safety net?
What do you when your daughter is dying, and there’s nothing you can do about it?
All you need is love.
Maybe we need more than love at times.
Maybe, if love is the goal, then faith and trust seem to be how we get there.
Maybe faith and trust are the path to love.
Maybe faith and trust are what keep us going when life is hard and it’s hard to love.
Maybe faith and trust are what keeps us from being cynical, from being closed to others, from being full of resentment and negativity, and from being filled with despair.
Maybe faith and trust are foundational.
Jesus values right living over right thinking, but praises faith and trust more than love.
Back to our story:
Remember the audience that Jesus was speaking to? Jewish people who had Roman boots to their throats.
Remember the audience that Mark was writing to: Christians who had no power and were facing violent persecution.
Love is what’s it’s all about, but faith and trust are how we get there.
At the time, the Romans were going around, killing and enslaving people by the thousands as they conquered the world. They insisted that they were bringing peace to the world, and they even had a propaganda phrase for this: Pax Romana. Roman Peace. Peace through Victory.
Another one of the Roman Empire’s propaganda pieces was “Caesar is Lord.” And if you disagreed with that, well, they’d nail you to a cross.
Then, a small, rag tag group of powerless people from a corner of the empire come along and say, “Cesar isn’t Lord. Jesus is Lord.” They didn’t believe that peace came through military might, but rather that God made peace through his resurrected son. For them, Jesus was a better way, a way that made the whole world better through sacrificial love, not coercive violence.
Jesus is Lord.
That takes a bit of trust, doesn’t it? That takes a bit of faith. To claim Jesus as Lord meant reordering one’s life, one’s social fabric, one’s bank account, while being so counter-cultural that you risk being killed… All you need is faith and trust in Jesus, Da-da-da-da-da-da
Trust and faith in Jesus seems to be the path for a radical new way of living and loving and being community together.
I do want to make a note here that this is starting to sound like a Christian cliché, where, if you just trust and have faith, then everything is going to be fine. Or “Smile! Jesus loves you!” We know that it isn’t that straight forward…
I like to think that faith and trust in God isn’t a false sense of reality, like we’re have our heads in the sand, being unaware of everything. Having faith and trust in God isn’t us walking through town and not hearing the firetruck sirens because we have our fingers in our ears and we’re humming Jesus loves me. When faith and trust in Jesus is used simply as a ticket to heaven, that’s not a path to love. That’s delayed gratification, and delayed gratification isn’t about love. Choosing to not eat a chocolate bar today so that you can have two tomorrow has nothing to do with love.
I like to think that, rather, that faith and trust simply keep us on the path to love. I think that when we encounter all the hard things in life, or the hard stories, or the hard people, or all the parts of ourselves that we realize aren’t all that nice, faith and trust in following Jesus keeps us looking for love and grace and peace and healing. Faith and trust keep us open.
I think that’s why Jesus praises trust and faith more than love. “It takes a foundational trust to fall, or to fail, and not to fall apart.” – Richard Rohr
This is the story of the woman and the man. In the moments of their darkness, they turned to Jesus, looking for healing.
It’s my hope and my prayer that for all of us, as individuals and as a community, that in all of the ups and downs and in-betweens of life, in all the black and white and grey areas, as we try to figure out what following Jesus means in our lives when life is beautiful and when it’s a chaos filled mess with only slivers of light, may we always remember that faith and trust are the path towards love.
As Leonard Cohen sings “Love is not a victory march. It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah.”
(As usual, thanks to Rob Bell and Richard for their words (some of which I borrowed directly) and influencing much of this sermon).