Delivered at the United Church of Jaffrey.
July 1st, 2018
A Moment of truth
“Would you like to hold your daughter?”
“Yes, I would.” I said.
The nurse left and reappeared a few minutes later with what looked like small bundle of cloth. And – as if my body had known what to do from the beginning of time – my arms instinctively formed a cradle, and I received my child. And suddenly, there she was, lying in my arms—our little miracle.
The nurse paused on her way out of the room and took in the scene
a tired mom, fast asleep –
a little girl, breathing quietly,
a new father, holding his breath…
The nurse chuckled knowingly.
“Don’t worry, Papa”, she said, “she won’t break.”
“Thank you,” I said, taking a breath.
It was a moment of truth.
My moment of truth.
In that quiet moment, as the shadows lengthened over the rooftops of the West Village, I gazed down at my breathing daughter,
and as my breath gradually fell into rhythm with hers, I felt a monumental change.
My life had been governed, until that moment, by an undisputed assumption that my own personal well being — the health and wealth of Mark Koyama — was the single most important concern of my existence.
Now, suddenly, surprisingly — but completely — that assumption crumbled to dust, and the newborn child in my arms—my daughter — was, without a doubt, the single most important thing in the universe.
It was a beautiful moment.
A spiritual moment.
I was filled with a sense of purpose that, an hour before, I had no idea even existed.
I was filled with a euphoric sense that now, my life had a distinct meaning.
But soon, I also learned to be terrified.
It didn’t take long to understand that when the most important thing in the universe is someone other than yourself — everything about this crazy world seems a lot more dangerous and out of control.
I may have some small measure of control over what does and does not happen to me…
but it’s much harder to control what happens to another creature — my own child — that is now out in the world.
“Would you like to hold your child?”
These are the best words I ever heard.
“I am going to take away your child.”
These are the worst words anyone could ever hear.
This morning’s reading from the Book of Mark is what we might call a gospel twofer.
Its like buy-one-get-one-free Bible style.
The reading begins with our attention focused on the plight of Jairus, who has come to Jesus to plead on behalf of his daughter.
His daughter is dying.
The text tells us that Jairus is “one of the leaders of the Synagogue,” but if the gospel writer had not told us this detail, we would not have known because Jairus himself says nothing about it.
Jairus doesn’t say “I am Jairus, “one of the leaders of the Synagogue, therefore I insist that you must help me.”
This is the moment of truth.
And in the moment of truth, job titles have no meaningless.
Jairus may be a leader in the synagogue, but at this moment he is not in the least bit interested in religion,
Jairus may be a leader in the synagogue, but at this moment he is not in the least bit not motivated by the interests of that institution…
Jairus may be a leader in the synagogue, but at this moment he has no concern whatever for his social standing…
This is the moment of truth…
And in this moment of truth Jairus is nothing more or less than a distraught father.
Instead of elevating his stature…
He humbles himself.
He does not go up.
He goes down…
…throwing himself at Jesus’ feet.
His daughter is dying.
Nothing else matters.
And Jesus sees this.
He understands this.
So Jesus agrees to go with Jairus to see his daughter.
But at that moment, the story is interrupted.
There is a a woman in the crowd who, the text says “had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years.”
This woman has been suffering for a very long time.
Without skipping a beat, the gospel takes up this woman’s story — Mark, the gospel writer even jumps into the woman’s head, reporting her intention in the first person:
she said, “If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well.”
Inspired by this conviction, the woman “came up behind Jesus in the crowd and touched his cloak…”
Immediately her hemorrhage stopped and she felt in her body that that she was healed of her disease.
She seems to have basically stolen a miracle from Jesus… touching the hem of his garment and being healed.
So Jesus can heal people without intending to do so?
I didn’t know that!
Until hearing this story I had, quite naturally I think, assumed that, in order perform a miracle, Jesus must intend to perform a miracle.
But the events as described in this story suggest that the power that resides in Jesus can actually act independently of his intention.
The text says that Jesus was “Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him…”
He spins around, looking about him to try to find the culprit. “Who touched my clothes?” He asks…
The next moment is almost comical — the disciples throw up their hands in disbelief. How can you ask us who touched you? They ask. Can’t you see you are surrounded by a crowd of people?
But the woman has witnessed all of this, and she realizes something.
She realizes that this is the moment of truth.
And in the moment of truth, you cannot stay silent.
In the moment of truth you are called to speak the truth.
And in this moment of truth the woman is nothing more or less than a person who has suffered.
Suffered for years and years.
When honesty arises from this kind of pain, it has power.
So instead of remaining silent
Instead of running away…
She humbles herself.
She does not go up.
She goes down…
The gospel says that…
“the woman, knowing what had happened to her,
came in fear and trembling,
fell down before him,
and told him the whole truth.
And in response to this fear and trembling
In response to this honesty
Jesus heals her.
“Daughter, (the text says) your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”
Poor Jairus, we can only imagine, has been impatiently standing on the sidelines as this drama unfolds.
Jesus — and we readers too — seem to have forgotten about him because of this business of the hemorrhaging woman is so compelling and so strange.
I can’t imagine being that polite about it.
If I had been Jairus, I would have said… “Hey wait a sec, you’re jumping the line! I was here first! My daughter is dying!”
But if Jairus felt this way, we don’t know about it. He was simply edged out of the narrative.
And when Jesus (and all of us) remember that Jairus is even there, the worst has happened.
The text reports that…
“…some people came from the leader’s house to say ‘your daughter is dead.’”
These are the worst words anyone can ever hear.
Down, down, down… up
The meaning of this morning’s gospel story is expressed not only in what it says, but how it says it.
Not only by the content, but also the form.
The story of Jairus and his daughter is postponed — it is halted in its tracks.
But even when it seems hopeless, it is not abandoned.
Even when the worst words are heard
“Your daughter is dead…”
Jesus refuses to give up.
The story will not be frustrated.
Jesus will not allow Jairus to be separated from his child.
The child, who has died, hears Jesus’ words
Little girl, get up!
And she obeys.
We can see her — she is dazed.
She doesn’t understand what has happened.
She totters around.
Jesus says: Get that kid something to eat!
In another way, too, the form of this story conveys its meaning.
Jairus goes down
The hemorrhaging woman goes down.
The child also — down.
And then — at the story’s end — up!
Down, down, down, up.
Little girl get up.
Do not be separated from our father.
Do not be separated from your family.
Your God will not allow this separation.
Because the greatest thing in the universe
The greatest power
The strongest reality ultimately commands all others
is not the law
or the government
or even death itself.
It is the connection that is made in the moment of truth…
the moment the nurse says those best words that anyone could ever hear:
“Would you like to hold your child?”