07/01/18 – Alive in Christ

ALIVE IN CHRIST

July 1, 2018
6th Sunday after Pentecost
Mark 5:21-43
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

 

Last Monday, at 9 am, Westminster was a beehive of activity. In addition to the Food Pantry crowd, we had over 50 children here for our children’s choir camp. We had children from all parts of Peoria and even areas around Peoria – Dunlap, Pekin, and Washington. The children were black, brown and white. They were affluent and poor. They were elementary school students and middle school students. For one week they came together, to sing, make art, play, and share meals. Volunteers from Westminster worked alongside volunteers from Bethel United Methodist Church. On Friday night, the children and their families joined Westminster members for dinner – over 200 people filled our Fellowship Hall. Then, after dinner, the children dressed in their Westminster Presbyterian Church “Sing” t-shirts sang in concert. Many of the girls had special hair-dos for the big event. Joy was palpable. This place was alive in the fullest sense of the word.

As a chaperone on one of the buses, I got to know the children riding that bus a bit more than the rest of the children. A twelve-year-old boy, I’ll call him David, popped out of his house on McClure St. every morning as soon as the bus was in view from his front window. He loved coming to camp. This was his second year. David lives with an elderly woman he calls “Grandma” who adopted him and his 13-year-old sister. She is raising 4 children, all of whom share the same mother. On Wednesday morning he told me about the young teenager killed on his street the night before. To my horror, David said he had been with the boy earlier in the evening but had left before the shooting. Yes, it was gang-related. Gangs fill in for families in impoverished areas. It is gangs, that the families are fleeing in Central America and seeking asylum in the U.S. The dreaded MS-13 gang began in Los Angelos and grew to spread into vulnerable areas – areas where poverty provides little opportunity. Gangs take over a town.

Thursday morning brought the tale of another murder on McClure St. David is bright and full of personality. Had he been born into an affluent family, he would have success written all over him. But, like one in five children in this country, he was born into poverty. I fear that the gang that operates in his neighborhood will take him soon, and there is very little hope that will not happen. He is now on my prayer list. There are few opportunities for afterschool activities at his middle school and without transportation home, he does not have the opportunity to participate. What David needs is a miracle – someone who will take him under their wing and see that he gets a good education and exposure to positive and enriching activities — what we all want for our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

I contrast David with another young man at camp. I’ll call him John. His parents are both medical doctors. His older brother attends an Ivy-League college. John spends his after-school hours with music lessons and a private math-science enrichment program. He lives in a quiet, safe neighborhood and goes to a good school that has many resources to benefit its students. John’s future is bright.

Today, Mark gives us two contrasting stories. Jesus is in the early days of his ministry. After having been in Gentile territory, he is back in a Jewish community. Jairus is the leader of a synagogue, which means he was wealthy and respected. One of the ways we know he was wealthy was because his daughter was in a separate room. Most families lived in one room at that time. Jairus was not shy about asking Jesus for help – he was used to having people pay attention to him. There was a crowd surrounding Jesus, but Jairus felt entitled enough that he broke through the crowd to go straight to the top to get a healing miracle.

The bleeding woman did nothing that caused her illness and consequential impoverishment. Jairus’ daughter did nothing to become rich, she was fortunate to be born into a rich family.

In our society, the poor are more likely to get sick and less likely to get the best possible medical care. But, there are still some illnesses which money can’t prevent or cure. Jairus’ twelve-year-old daughter did indeed need help. Time was critical. Jesus needed to get to her quickly if he was going to save her. Yet, he stopped to address a woman who had touched the hem of his robe. While he was still talking to this woman, men came to inform Jairus that his daughter had died. The situation seemed hopeless.

In these contrasting stories, two females needed Jesus. One had been bleeding for 12 years, the obvious assumption is that this was menstrual blood. This prevented her from getting married and having children. The other was 12, just ready to start her life as a woman of age to marry and bear a child. The woman’s constant bleeding barred her from the synagogue and from having physical contact with another person. She was technically alive, but dead to all that made a life.

Jairus’ daughter lived a life of wealth and privilege. The bleeding woman had become impoverished by paying doctors who were unable to cure her. The fear of becoming poor due to an illness or injury is rampant in this country, so we can sympathize with her plight. Jairus’ daughter had a loving, supportive family. The bleeding woman was alone.

In line with the Bible’s message that God wants us to give preference to the most vulnerable in society — widows, orphans, the disabled and the foreigners in our communities – Jesus heals the bleeding woman first. He tells her that her faith has made her well. Mark uses the Greek word “sozo” here. This word can be translated as either “made well,” “made whole” or “saved.” Mark is utilizing this multiple- meaning word to make a theological point to his audience at the time. For followers of Christ who were facing opposition in the own families and communities, as well as persecution by the Roman Empire, Mark’s message was: ‘do not fear, even death is not the end.’ Just as Jesus was resurrected, each of these women had been restored to new life. Jesus called each of them “daughter.” They were both children of God.

When the mourners at Jairus’ house expressed shock and awe that the young daughter had been brought back to life, Jesus gave proof that she was fully restored to life by commanding that she be given something to eat. Likewise, we come today to Christ’s table to share a meal with him and with one another. We celebrate our freedom to live fully in Christ – now and forever. Amen.

 

 

© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2018, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church – Peoria, Illinois