Sixth Sunday After Pentecost

S. Pentecost 6.24 Mark 5:21-43

And Jesus, perceiving in himself that power had gone out from him, immediately turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched me?’”

A vicar of mine, in his draft of a sermon on the parable of the sower (which came up a few weeks ago in the Sunday lectionary) made a common mistake. Because the text said the man sowing the seed did not know how it grew, he assumed the sower could not be Jesus—an assumption which led him down a very bad alley, theologically.

Sometimes, I wish you could see the first drafts of vicar sermons, like I always have to!Teaching someone how to preach is really… difficult. I seriously doubt it can be taught, actually. You either see it, get it, and take to it like duck to water or you… don’t.

The best sermon I ever preached was my first one, as a 23 year old div student. I didn’t apply principles I’d learned from a teacher, or copy admirable homilies. I was assigned to preach for morning chapel at the div school (on a text of my choosing) as all Homiletics I students were. A text caught my eye: Elisha sending 2 bears to maul 42 juvies. Seemed… fresh. And the homily (which involved Mother Theresa, a 45 caliber automatic, and quirky reflections on sainthood) was surprisingly well received, prestigious cash-prize winning; but, it just came to me, like automatic writing, basically fast as I could type, as if Someone Else were writing it. How do you teach that?

As you get older, sometimes you try to catch the lightning in the bottle like it struck that first time— like the most epic skateboard ride, ever—bombing the steepest alpine pass. But it comes unbidden, unasked, unsought, out of the corner of your eye, when you’re not trying, at all.

Donna Tartt says her best writing always comes like this, like lightning from a clear blue sky, moved by a mischievous spirit, an ‘imp’ as she calls it, a spirit that has some puzzling connection to the Holy Spirit (we think 😉 but cannot be captured, cajoled, or made to do your bidding. Certainly, the imp will not suffer you to use it to apply edifying points from Pieper’s dogmatics, or stroke the egos of the congregants. Sometimes, the imp prefers salty language that will offend some and generate letters of complaint… “Dear President Harmon. He’s doing it, again…”

The impulse to control the Spirit and his imps, instead of being a mere tool in Other Hands, is a powerful one, and has ruined many sermons as I (and Bonnie) can attest. Being a tool (in every sense 😉 a little kite blown by the high wind of the Holy Spirit, is a submission not easily made, especially by over-schooled preachers who have a company man idea of what the end result should look like.

Anyway, I pointed out to the vicar that the assumption that Jesus, during his earthly ministry always knows everything is in fact… wrong. The vicar struggled mightily with this, pointing out (quite reasonably) that 1) God is omniscient, 2) Jesus is God, therefore 3) he must always know everything. But I told him that’s not what the scriptures show us. He needed the proofs. And the second one I offered (the first was Matt. 24:36, that even the Son does not know when the Last Day will be) is this one in our Gospel this morning…

Previously, in the Gospel of Mark: Jesus has just crossed over the Sea of Galilee after casting ‘the legion of demons’ (great name for a rock band!) out of the lunatic, into ‘the herd of swine’ (another good name for a rock band 😉 which then drowned in the sea. The lunatic begged that he might be with him, but Jesus says, [Christian Bale Batman Voice] “No. Go home.”

And, on the other side, they meet a large crowd. And then came the District President, Jairus, imploring Jesus to come to his house and heal his little daughter who was near death. Jesus went. And along the way, mobbed by the crowd, the woman with the flow of blood sneaks up, weaving through the crowd, believing if she just touches the hem of Jesus’ garment she’d be healed. She did. And she was.

And Jesus, perceiving that power had gone out from him, turns around in the crowd and says “Who touched me?” Which struck the disciples and everyone else as crazy! “Lord, you’re being mobbed (like that unfortunate Who concert in Cincinnati ’79) so we really should keep moving and not ask silly questions.”

We think, the vicar certainly thought, it was silly to ask who touched him—because Jesus is omniscient and knows everything, always, about everyone, everywhere. But the scriptures show…otherwise.

They show that, though all the fullness of the Godhead dwells always, bodily, in Jesus, he did not always or fully use IT and never drew on IT for his own advantage!

The believing woman could access the divine power, sure; but Jesus won’t access his omniscience to save time and trouble. Because the whole point of his incarnation is to take the time, the trouble, the pain and suffering we’ve made for ourselves and transfigure it for us.

A strong, omnipotent Jesus can only be a frightening example of a way of life we can’t manage, now. But a Jesus who hides divine power under the form of a slave, a beat, dirt-bag hobo—well now! Here’s someone who can relate, who can make something glorious and grand out of our weakness.

He exchanges his goodness for our badness. A great exchange, indeed! And the sneaky woman tapped into that. Her blood, Jesus would shed on the cross; and his divine power, she enjoys as hers. This is why St. Paul says he knows nothing of an all-ruling, omnipotent, omniscient Christ. He knows only the Christ who gets crucified; because that’s the only Jesus that we can hang with.

This Jesus comes to us still, hidden under my weak words, under a bit of water, bread, and wine sharing his sufferings now, so that we might share in his peculiar glory in heaven. The power to heal all is always in Jesus. But his glory is not in removing the hurt, the hardship, but in transfiguring that for us…

At this point, the standard sermon lifts up Jairus and the woman with the flow of blood as exemplars of faith that we should imitate. But I’m gonna go, “Uhm, yeah; nah.”. Such “faith”—that only uses Jesus to get what we want—is not the faith that truly saves or transfigures. It’s pragmatic, self-interested, small and mean. Be careful what you wish for! Healing, health, he’ll grant. But what you really want is something… more.

You want what the lunatic earlier begged: only to be with Jesus—ultimately, to be like! Jesus may say “No. Go home,” as he did to the lunatic. (Maybe you’re just not ready?) But: hidden under that “No” is a deeper ‘Yes!’. Jesus hides so that you’ll chase after him. He evades so your yearning for him will grow stronger…

And in that yearning, in The Great Chase after the elusive Christ, is your joy and Peace that surpasses all understanding, guarding your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.

About Pastor Martin

Pastor Kevin Martin has served six Lutheran congregations, beginning in 1986 as a field-worker in Trumbull, Connecticut, and vicarages in Arlington, Massachusetts and Belleville, Illinois. He has been pastor of congregations in Pembroke, Ontario and Akron, Ohio. Since 2000, he has served as pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh. Pastor Martin is a lifelong (confessional!) Lutheran (even though) he holds degrees from Valparaiso, Yale, and Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He and his wife Bonnie have been (happily) married since 1988, and have two (awesome!) adult children, Bethany and Christopher. Bonnie is an elementary school teacher. The Martin family enjoy music festivals, travel, golf, and swimming. They are also avid readers and movie-goers.

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